Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Dream Is Over

For a period of six years, I made the Merrimack River the challenge of my angling life.  My reasoning was, sooner or later the Atlantic Salmon restoration program would be successful. The Merrimack and Pemigewasset Rivers, with their substantial volume of quality tributaries, would become my home waters.

Each of the years starting in 1984 the numbers of returns was looking promising.  I was certain that the thrill experienced in Maine and Canada would be mine a bit closer to home.  This was Atlantic Salmon fishing, after all, and each and every reasons for not making the catch was in play.  The water too high, too low, nope they are not here yet or the proverbial, "you should have been here yesterday".

So for six years I traveled to down town Lawrence, Massachusetts in the shadow of the Essex Dam.  The very thoughtless obstruction that killed the run in the first place.  Many hours were spent hanging around and looking.  Park the car near the tracks and walk the train trestle in order to get a glimpse.  A window and a little sun.  You know how that works.  Yes?

I would stand looking and my mind would wander to what that first spring must have looked like as I peered down from the bridge facing the dam wall.   I just can not imagine the sight of all those different species trapped below the dam.  I'm sure that some who saw and smelled the remains were saddened.  But as more dams were built on other rivers, they were erected with the same lack of regard.   Blocked, and begging to continue, the migration was halted.  There must have been millions of fish.

By far, Lawrence is the strangest environment I have ever pursued the King of Fishes.  Paper mills, fabric mills and shoe manufacturing companies lined both banks from the dam down river for a full half mile.  The canals on both sides of the river, receiving their flow from the dams impoundment, forced the water through the sluice ways running under each building and turning the turbines to drive leather belts and fly wheels that the young grease monkeys would keep well oiled.

And so it was just another one of the many days on the Merrimack.  I arrived at the river early in the morning of June 6.  The flow was moving in a very moderate way for early June.  I made the decision to concentrate on river left about fifty yards down from the base of the dam.  The flow sweeps under the route 28 bridge then under the train trestle and straight down river past the boat ramp.  I have seen fish tight to the steep bank before as they moved up the edge.

As I jockeyed about from pocket to pocket, a very strange thing happened.  The water coming through the dam slowed down substantially.  I was fishing a brown bomber dry fly, and casting up stream when all of a sudden a bright flash swirled under the big high floater.  "That was no shad",  I screamed it in my head a second time.  Immediately, I decided that I would change to a wet fly. I moved away from the river out of sight or vibration. Marking the location on the bank and moved quickly to get ahead of the fish. I call this the bait and switch.  I learned this trick years before on the Miramichi River while following anglers fishing the dry fly in our down river rotation.  It was like they were my spoters and would get fish to show that I could target as we made our steps.  

This day I moved up river and started with a shorter line and would work slowly down to the position where I saw the fish.  This way if the fish was higher up and followed the dry fly you would be covering the water of an up river lie properly without lining the fish.

On the fifth cast a fine Atlantic took my size 8 Coburn Special.  I always thought this to be a green river.  What a total delight as the fish jumped repeatedly and took me down river below the boat ramp.  Brought to hand, the hook removed with ease, and then a moment of reality.  At least twenty five people of all walks of life had gathered and witnessed the catch.  Not many Merrimack Atlantic Salmon had been angled that I knew about but for a few that fell to Shad darts.

Then I heard someone say, "do you want your picture taken"  I said yes and am very happy to have the photo in this story.

It's now twenty four years since that season.  I never fished another minute for returning salmon on the Merrimack  It seemed that two was too many and six years was enough.

Fast forward to today and we know the program has not worked and is scheduled to end.  I have heard talk of private money.    Who knows?  The original genetics were lost.  I believe this factor has proven the bitter pill.  The effort that all involved made has been gallant.  Each and every person who made that effort has my deepest admiration and appreciation.  I wish the excitement of a few years ago would have lasted.

But nature will always rule.  No mater how modern we think we are, the cycle of life is not a malleable environment.  Perhaps the genetic engineers of present and future, will create the Souhegan River strain as well as a few other tributaries.

I still have an emotional connection to our great river.  I love every time I see it.  I teach some casting classes on the the rivers.  Places where students and instructor will sometimes gaze over the pool and hope to see one boil.   Hope that one day we might feel the pull of a big Pemi Salmon on it's way to the head waters. You just stop, stare and dream and the words "imagine what it must have been like?" will trickle past your lips as you shake your head slowly side to side.

Sadly, for me right now, the dream is over.