Between Two Oceans

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.

pink gills thru the peephole

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.

Coho’s spawning color

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!

king salmon, day #1

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.

landlocked salmon… no, that’s not blood there under the fish….

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.

blow-down near the house, winter 2017-2018; how I felt while wading the big stream…

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.

what lurks beneath the bridge…

finally got something to work… thanks T.D.!

the creek on Veterans Day…

King’s jaw…

my singular landlocked salmon…

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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12 Responses to Between Two Oceans

  1. plaidcamper says:

    A spirited piece, joining many dots ocean to ocean. Energy and exhaustion, positives and negatives, you sure covered a lot of ground here, and with great photographs. I’ll take the sometimes cheerless dark beauty of fall, as it still seems brighter than the dark shadows cast by the narcissist ego lurking in DC…
    There’s no denying it, it’s always a thoughtful read when a Rivertop report lands – thanks, Walt!

    • Thanks Adam! Hey, like you, I’ll take those dark autumnal shadows of the great outdoors over the myopic narcissism at the podium any day or any season of the year… Thanks, too, for helping to connect for me the ocean to ocean world we live in.

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    Three species over a weekend? That’s what you call “hitting for the cycle.” Glad you were able to get out and get some fishing in. It has been a literal washout here.

    • Bob, it’s been close to a literal wash-out here, as well. I had to stretch pretty far and wide to get those two days, and they were more than a week apart. And now it looks as though the rains are turning pretty white, perhaps a little early, eh?

  3. Brent says:

    There’s a recurrent theme through a lot of your writings that particularly resonates with me at times: that the only way to restore ourselves, both mind and body, from the effects of the tired world we’ve created for ourselves is to immerse oneself in and reflect on the natural world that is still bigger than all of our works and pretensions. And even though I haven’t had the energy to write much lately, this theme is almost always on my mind.

    Neat pictures too!

  4. Jet Eliot says:

    Such a joy to read the wisdom and depth of this two-day adventure, Walt. The reverence you have for the earth and its wildness, the connections that you see and sense of the many fish species, the beauty and vitality of the surroundings, wild and created. A delightful post, my friend.

  5. Tim Didas says:

    Hi Walt, Beautiful words, and photos as always. I’m glad you found success, and a good experience on the tribs. Also nice to see Mike Martinek’s “Rocket Smelt” securely in the jaws of “The Leaper”. I look forward to getting out with you soon. I’ve been focused on deer hunting over the past few days.

  6. Tim Didas says:

    Hi Walt,
    Thanks, already killed a buck and have some venison in the freezer…along with some good tales to tell. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

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