This is the day the salmon fisher comes to roost and thinks about his season passed. Autumnal reflections. Standing in Fall Creek underneath a bridge just two miles out from downtown Ithaca, New York, I watch the broad stream pour beneath a great willow tree and sense that time, the 13 years that I’ve pursued salmon with a fly, has gone there too. This hasn’t been the best of years for chasing salmon– the Great Lakes Pacific varieties, the Atlantic and the landlocked salmon– but I’ve caught my share. The graduating class of Pacifics (the Chinook and coho), the spawners, have swum upstream, done their mating thing and died. Atlantics? I have captured and released only two of these tributary runners in all my years of fly-fishing. The last one was a 25-inch spotted fish that I admired a year ago near Lake Ontario. As for the landlocked variety of the species, it has brought me back to Fall Creek and Cayuga Lake.
Standing mid-stream near the bridge, it’s hard for me to see the big fish when they come to rest. This late in the season they are few and far between, but they seem more prevalent in the deeper quarters by the bridge supports. The browns and landlockeds that I viewed earlier from this bridge looked hefty– in the five to 10-pound class– but at mid-stream all I get are glimpses of mobile, leaden-colored ghosts. The stream is clear and the fish, heavily pressured for weeks by fly and hardware casters, are skittish as hell. Fly-fishing for these powerful salmonids is as close to hunting as I get. Sight-fishing is an integral part of the adventure, an important ingredient of successful fishing on these autumn tributaries. This is the first day of the gunning season for whitetail deer, so it’s pretty quiet here on the chilly waters, but I’ve got a bit of guidance from an angler on the bridge.
“He’s lying under the tree where that branch with the big purple fly in it (another marabou creation sacrificed to the great pursuit) makes a right-angle turn. Whoa, big salmon!” The fly-fisher on the bridge is friendly and extremely helpful. Lacking his bird’s-eye vantage point, I cast dutifully toward the spot. “Go another foot closer to the bank.” The next cast is on the mark; the Woolly Bugger brushes the nose but, according to my friend, the salmon darts away. I try Egg flies, stoneflies, Egg-sucking Leeches, even a Grey Ghost streamer, but the big ones are street-wise, river-wise, and lake-wise. They’ll have none of it, and who can blame them. Fall Creek has been good to me in the past. Here I’ve caught some battling landlocked salmon, and plenty of brown trout in the 20 to 28-inch range. I can’t complain. My angling guide on the bridge departs, wishing me good luck. “And if you don’t have any,” he adds, “well, enjoy your beer!” I tell him I’m already looking forward.
[Thus ends the Autumn Journal series. Hopefully there was something in it for you. Stay tuned, there’s a lot more coming from the Rivertop. Your comments, by the way, are always welcome here. Have an excellent Thanksgiving Day of bread and wine, reflection time, and sharing. Keep the wild and rural country close to heart, too, and think of ways you might contribute to its well-being and preservation for the generations to come.]