The Hook-Up, and More

It always takes me awhile to re-adapt to lowland trout and salmon fishing, but once theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA first king salmon takes off with a fly in the lip, the blood begins to flow through every lazy muscle, and I can’t imagine what demonic energy and sense of terror pushes these great fish to escape.

Here was the problem: the tributary was lower than it usually is at mid-October and the trout and salmon run from Lake Ontario was just beginning. A timing issue. The air was cold, in the 30s to low 40s, and the wind became an issue. I covered two miles of water in four hours of fishing and saw only half a dozen fish. The ones I saw were skittish as phantoms and not yet settled on their redds. At quitting time I was feeling anything but hopeful.

DSCN7189Heading back to the car I came up to the final pool, a hundred feet from where I typically exit from the stream. An angler stood on the bridge, peering at the water, searching for fish. A fresh king salmon swam upstream. I tried to keep up with the fish. Several casts fell short of him. I rushed ahead, along the bank, and tried to place a Woolly Bugger at his “window” from upstream.

The fly swung down and across. Perfect. The salmon struck. A real head-shaker, and the 8-weight rod was fully tested once again! The angler on the bridge had been there at the start of this long struggle but apparently had departed like most of the others on this disappointing day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My hands had been so cold from the inaction that I couldn’t tighten the drag on my new reel. I worked the salmon downstream to a point where I could finally beach it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Nice work there,” said an angler who suddenly appeared. “I watched you for a minute up there on the bridge. What did you get him on?”

“Black Woolly Bugger, with a green head. In the lip.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“I’ve got Woolly Buggers. I’ll try one. Want a picture with your fish?”

I had just met John C., from Alfred, N.Y., a short distance from my home. I learned that we both started college there in the same year. He attended Alfred State and I had gone to Alfred University.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And here we were, four decades later. I had finally caught my salmon today (38 inches, 20-25 pounds), fresh from Lake Ontario. Although the fish are fated to die shortly after spawning, I nearly always put the fish back in the water. I offered this one to my new acquaintance, who carried a stringer to begin his day of fishing. John was eager to accept the king.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What’s the lesson here? I don’t know. This outing, which had “skunk” written all over it until the final minutes, ended happily on the stream. Two friends. One fish. Two guys just a couple of hours from home. ***

And More: Here at Rivertop Rambles, it’s always more than just about fishing, so I’ve got a few photos to share from recent days along the streams near home. The regular inland trout season in New York ended last week, so I’ve got a few reflections from the final hours of the season: a defensive porcupine, a brook trout on the water, brown trout from the final pool, the bright sumac leaves, and last but not least, a busy but inquisitive beaver.DSCN7198




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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18 Responses to The Hook-Up, and More

  1. You left me breathless Walt! My favorite story and the pictures are awesome. I had a very similar experience on my last trip to the park. Of course I wasn’t chasing kings! Thanks once again.

  2. Glad you liked it, Howard. It’s a different ball game than the one you played at Rocky Mountain (an enjoyable post, btw!), but the ball park and the spirit are the same.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Wasn’t this great? Cold start, and then a warm finish…the best of days sometimes go like that. Thanks for this, Walt!

  4. Brent says:

    Wow, that’s a magnificent fish there. And funny how a shared experience like that can bring together two people whose lives have basically existed on parallel lines for so long.

  5. loydtruss says:

    This trip is just another reason why I wish I lived in the northeast. I’ve never landed a salmon, and hope someday to get the chance. I can only imagine the fight this fish put you through, but the angler won today, so congrats to the winner. Thanks for sharing

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    Great narrative of your pursuit and capture of oncorhynchus, Walt, and another human connection made astream. Fished the First Fork of the Sinnemahoning last week, caught a few, hooked and lost several more, mostly due to me fishing like a bonehead. Saw some giant bull elk too while there, but I can’t wait to fish it when the hatches are in full swing.

    • Thanks Bob. Bull elk on the First Fork… Guess I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that. I once saw a pair on Cross Fork Creek. I wonder if you saw them on the lower end, below the reservoir…
      Well, I’m glad you got some fishing in on the Fork. I like to fish it, too, when the hatches are really going, late in spring. Maybe we should try to hit it next May. Some of the feeder streams are nice, as well!

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is an awesome piece Walt. Full of connections to nature and photos to help one appreciate it all. Great blog as usual.

  8. If I connect this “Anonymous” to the name Doug, I’ll probably have it right. Thanks Doug, I always appreciate your comments fired thru the blogsphere. I hope that all is going well in your neck of the forest.

    • Doug says:

      Yeah, I don’t know why it posts me as anonymous, but it’s done that the past 2 weeks. Anyway, you have it right Going through a rough time right now, but that’s nothing new. Peace bro.

      • Doug, I have that issue occasionally on other blogs. Can’t figure it out. Sorry to hear about the struggle. Let me know if there’s any way that I can help you out.

  9. Alan says:

    I know it’s part of the salmons life cycle, but to see this truly majestic strong silver rocket reduced in his attempt to carry on is tough to take.
    Nice post Walt.

    • The chinook is a noble fish, and a fighter of incredible power, and I also find it difficult to see the one big run of life end up like this, taken from the stream by one who fishes. This particular salmon fought the life right out of its body. I made an exception here, transferring the energy of the fish/river to a human for consumption rather than to the usual river. It’s not easy for a C&R angler to do this, perhaps, but occasionally that transferral makes sense. Thanks, Alan, for submitting an interesting perspective.

  10. Les Kish says:

    Tell you what Walt, if you would have hooked that beaver you would have had one hell of a fight!

  11. Les, I wouldn’t even get in the same ring with that fighter. He could topple a tree 10 times my weight!

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