Autumn Browns (and Salmon, Too)

Thanks to recent rains, the creek was high and colored. The morning sun was OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdisappearing as the rain clouds drifted in again. At last, the tributary to Lake Ontario was looking good for a run of trout and salmon.

My main  interest today was finding brown trout on a spawning mission. In the past I’ve taken and released some beautiful large trout in this location, but in recent years those encounters have been sparse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA dozen cars were parked at the bridge where I typically gain access to the creek, more than I usually note  when pulling up. Those cars meant two things: there would be more fishing pressure near the bridge (though miles of open water might be found beyond it), and… the big trout must be coming through.

Once I got past the “Pittsburgh 8,” a group of fly-fishing friends from Pennsylvania, I found my open water. The pools and riffles were deep and lively. At first the fish weren’t easy to distinguish in the darkened water, but then their massive size and movements gave them away.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Around noon the rain began in earnest, lightly at first and then more steadily. Protected by a rain jacket, I felt comfortable. The big surprise for me was that the chinook and the coho runs were still in progress. In fact, late arrivals, green and full of locomotive heat, were still streaming in from the lake. At their redds, the salmon were more aggressive toward an artificial fly than they were on my previous visit, and my hook-ups were frequent. One fair-hooked salmon fought like a deranged boxer till I finally slid it to the bank and taped its length at 41 inches, close to my personal record for the species.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith only an hour or two left before I needed to depart, I still hadn’t landed a brown, although I knew they were checking in. A few other guys were hauling out the trout, and it seemed as though more fish were arriving as they afternoon wore on. I’d been trying out several different fly patterns, but decided to continue with the  salmon favorite of the day, a Woolly Bugger with a chartreuse head.

In deep riffles near the bank, I saw what looked to be another resting chinook. Standing OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAupstream of the fish, I passed the streamer out in front and felt the take. A large brown was on the line, a full-bodied female, that I quickly photographed and guided back into the flow. She measured 26 inches. Satisfied, I prepared to leave, but several pools later I came to another pause.

The fish I made the cast to wasn’t the one that struck. A male came out of nowhere, from the murky depths behind or off to the side. I saw a flash of color like Halloween orange, and felt a weight and a thrashing struggle uncommon while fishing for browns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fish, a record brown for me, was a 30-inch male with massive kype. Its photos, taken in the rain, do not serve justice. If I were kin to a taxidermist, this animal might have gone to the wall, but instead I worked it to the safety of a pool.

It was time to go. I had come in search of brown trout and, by route of a surprising salmon run, had finally found them. No doubt the browns, in addition to spawning, were feeding heavily on salmon eggs.

I was lucky, being in the right place at the right time, while banking on experience with the creek. Through my dozen autumns of casting there, I’ve built a solid friendship with its flowing waters.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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16 Responses to Autumn Browns (and Salmon, Too)

  1. Les Kish says:

    Geez, Walt, you made my day! What incredible fish. Congratulations. After all of that work will you be seeing a massage therapist today?

  2. Thanks Les. At my age I could always use a massage, but even after battling a dozen trout and salmon my arms and shoulders feel pretty good. Stomach muscles, bearing the brunt of the fighting butt, are another matter!

  3. Leigh says:

    Looks like a great day my friend.

    • Leigh, good to hear from you. Have been enjoying these autumn days more than usual. Even on this cool and rainy one, the action kept it comfortable. Hope you’re getting out on the water, too.

  4. Junior says:

    Congratulations on the record brown! It looks pretty magnificent.

  5. Thanks Junior. ‘Twas a pretty fish, and it should be fine for a little more sowing of the seed.

  6. LQN says:

    Fantastic, those are some bruiser browns. Well done Walt.

  7. Some beautiful fish there. It’s been a long time since I made my own trout fried in lemon dill butter. . . suddenly very hungry.

  8. Thanks David. Unless I’m really hungry, I’m a catch-and-release fella, but I hear you, and I’m sure those trout tasted good.

  9. I really enjoy your ability to describe the seven-inch brook trout with the same affection and appreciation as you show toward the much larger species. You are a true sportsman!

    • Bob Stanton says:

      Walt, uh…you’re gonna need a bigger net! Seriously, those are some pretty impressive fish, and I’m glad you were able to enjoy a day when it all came together. It’s the reward for the days when it doesn’t. You’ll sleep well tonight, I’m sure!

      • Bob, I did sleep very well for a change! That net’s a funny thing. Lately it’s been a fixture on my vest and doesn’t get removed unless it’s used for a photo or something ridiculous. But I notice that even the guys who use those cumbersome boat scoopers have to have someone else around to help out. The net seems more useful for the little fellas. Anyway, thanks as always!

    • Very kind, Jim, thank you. I love ’em. Small brookies are an icon for me of the beautiful high country, and these big bruisers seem iconic for the wildness that’s in all of us. They help me stay connected.

  10. Alan says:

    Walt those are great fish. If we’re willing to walk a bit we can find solitude in a city of anglers.
    Great choice on the fly.

  11. Alan, Most anglers like to hang together for some reason or another, like drivers on the highway, and they stay close to the access points. For those of us who enjoy walking and more solitude, we learn about the stream and find a kind of satisfaction that the crowds don’t have a clue about. As for the Woolly Bugger or, as I call it, the Egg-sucking Bugger, it is hard to beat under these circumstances.

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