I went north to check on Lake Ontario tribs, expecting the worst. The flow at Oak Orchard Creek would be good, of course, but packed with anglers; the other tribs would be hardly wet for all our lack of rain. I worried about my own lack of interest, about the possibility of having grown quite bored with chasing autumn spawners.
I needn’t have been concerned. My call to a local fly shop in the area had tried to steer me clear of where I wanted to go– the flow was minimal, it said, the kings were few and struggling. So why did it all look so good to me on Saturday morning? Was the Erie Canal suddenly getting drained to benefit the tributaries? The canal had looked full to me when I crossed it earlier. No major rains had fallen recently to my knowledge. Anyway, October gave me a pleasant surprise.
The number of anglers on the stream were relatively few; the salmon were everywhere throughout the water which was fairly deep and lively, ranging from 30 to 40 feet in width. According to reports, the chinook run had been in full swing for a week or more. It starts later on this tributary than on most Ontario feeders. It was possible there were more fish in it now than on any day I’ve witnessed in more than a decade of casting here.
I would take my typical station just upstream and across from a fish and allow a weighted fly to cross the window of its outlook. Many of the fish were on or near the redd and weren’t putting up with “intruders,” including Egg patterns. They don’t feed while spawning but they do react instinctively to what might be construed as a competitor or irritant. Whereas some of the salmon had obviously been in the stream for a week or more (showing darkness or a white fungal pattern), many of them were charging upriver, green, and full of spawning piss and vinegar.
I saw a few large browns and, no doubt, they were fattening on salmon eggs. I saw a small (bluish) Atlantic salmon and even had it briefly on the line. A few steelhead may have been around as well, but for the most part it was Chinook Town. The fish, after spending three or four years growing in the lake, were coming home to breed and die. In another week or two they would all be decomposing and enriching the watershed.
I spoke with several fishermen who pulled a string of salmon to their vehicles. Again, I have no problem with folks who take their legal limit of fish, but for my part I attempted to resuscitate each catch even though I understood that for some fish their time had nearly come. The cycle of life had been completed; some of the salmon had even given to the recreational pursuits of crazy two-legged animals. A lot of guys bitch and moan about Pacific salmon, but I think for the most part they’re the fellows who believe there’s no dependable way to catch these fish without snagging them, who envision them rotting and stinking up the riverbanks after the fish have spawned, and who haven’t given salmon the respect they deserve.
Put a Woolly Bugger into the jaws of a king or coho salmon when the fish is green from the ocean or the lake, and hold on if you can. Have an 8 or a 9-weight rod with plenty of backing for the line, and a solid 12-pound leader tippet. These fish will put the soreness in your body and produce a good fatigue when the day is done. After catching and releasing more than a score of fair-hooked salmon in one day, I’ve had plenty for the season and do not need more. There’s memory enough.