In two days of fishing, eight days apart, I caught enough salmon to last me, in spirit, for the year. The ancestors of these fresh-run fishes came from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and it was good to meet this latest generation on the high ground of New York.
On the first outing, Chinook and Coho salmon ran the tributary from the lake, replenishing the spawning stock, the first arrivals already dead or dying. The sky overhead was blue; the stream was full; the air crisp with autumn promise. I looked for brown trout, as did nearly every angler on the stream but, for the most part, there were salmon. Lots of them.
I hooked and landed more than a dozen Chinooks, mostly with a jaw connection on a Woolly Bugger and a 12-pound tippet. Several of these, still green and feisty, chased the streamer from a border of their territories. A Coho, said to be unusual and seldom seen at this location, proved to be my best fish of the day. With the pink tones of the spawn along its gills and handsome sides, the Coho (like the Chinook, a Pacific variety) grabbed a dead-drifted streamer in the depths of a pool and gave a powerful, head-banging display of leaps and runs.
These Pacific salmon, the descendants of first transplants to the Great Lakes system in the 1960s, brought a Northwest feeling to my bones, an energy transferred from body to body, an exhaustion at the day’s end that was good. Today that feeling lingers, and helps to soothe the anger and the sadness when I think about the western fires, the destruction and heartbreak fueled by the science and climate-change deniers who run, or think they can run, our government.
On the second day of fishing, I still sought the brown trout, as well as landlocked salmon, but in a different watershed. It wasn’t easy. The sun was out; the morning air was cold; the creek was river-wide, full, and dark enough for treacherous wading. To fly-fish was to hunt for shadowy forms and to cast for hours without a strike. Eventually, I acknowledged that, if I could get single hook-up, I’d be happy and call it a day.
I started seeing salmon but they had no interest in the flies I usually find successful. I hooked a fish’s tail, unfortunately, and the salmon swam downstream to freedom. Shortly afterward, I noticed several fishes moving into deeper water and pausing. I tied on a streamer created by my friend, Tim Didas. A salmon took it right away. I fought the head-shaker to a landing and took a couple of photos. Removing an old fly and leader from its tail, I realized it was the same fish I had foul-hooked fifteen minutes earlier!
Landlocked salmon are Atlantics that have lost the urge to taste the salt. Nonetheless, while the fish recovered in the stream then shot away, I sensed Atlantic waters deep down in its core, a wave that pulled me from my knees to stand and regain my wits.
With three species of salmon in two days of fishing, I felt the freshness of natural cycles, of fishes programmed to survive, of comfort from the grandness and diversity of nature, and of pleasure given by our thoughtful interactions with another form of life. But autumn, almost by definition, has a cheerless element, a despondency, as well, a darker complement to the beauty of the season. I can sense it when our inhumanity raises its ugly head, when our alienation from the world around us gets the better of me.
Then its time to think of those fishes again, working to fulfill their destiny (oh yes, my time for the browns will come). It’s time to think of the good folks in the land, unflinching in their labors to help the stricken and the poor.