My Trip to the “Far East” Salmon River New York Style!

My Trip To The “Far East”
Well I did something most west coast swung fly Steelhead anglers would not do. I went to New York and Spey fished the Salmon River. The story I am about to tell is true and all accounts are accurate. I am not going to mention what runs we fished, that’s not the propose of this story.
 
This is the first thing I saw at the first parking area that first day, aggressive logo.

 

 

As I stepped off the Plane in Syracuse NY, I was tried leaving Portland International at 10:25 pm putting me standing here at 10:05 am, after the hurried connection in New Jersey. My eyes red lack of good sleep and food, I was just tired and hungry. There was Patrick Ross owner of the Angler’s Lodge with a big grin to welcome my arrival. We talked about the flight and then a bit of fishing talk, I told him I was starving he had a remedy for that too. He and his buddy Randy drove me straight to the Cracker Barrel. This place was packed!!! After a good 25 min wait in a room pack with more holiday nick knacks then you could imagine. Old-timy signs hung for any piece of available wall and ceiling space. The floor space was pack with every thing from pies to Christmas tree ornaments. Walking space was tight and with others in the same hungry boat we were time seemed to drag. All I could do was peak into the dinning area… food smelled good. Finally seated and a fresh cup of Joe in my hand I eased up. Well Pat how’s the fishing been, I asked? It has been he said…the damn regulation has been up and down, really effecting the fishing lately. Well how are our classes shaping up? All are full but the last one only has 3 sports, he let me know. That’s fine we might need a break by that time in the week anyway, I mentioned with a sly grin. Guides all have a subtle language that is read even while speaking. The Country Fried Steak arrived long with a bowl of grits, interesting, I thought to myself. Grits not the most appetizing thing my hungry eyes had ever laid eyes on… that this point, what ever.
Lots of great runs to fish, plenty of room too.

 

Back on the road, after Randy could not resist the smell of the fresh baked chocolate chip pecan pie, looked good too sitting next to me in the car. What do you want to do, Patrick asked me? Well, feeling better now I said lets dump the crap off at the lodge and take a peek at the river. He and Randy smile to one another, Aright he said with assurance. In just over an hour we were stream side. Looking over a high river. Flowing at 1800 cfs, very different from the 350 cfs I saw at Spey Nation back in July. The Salmon River does not have much of a flood plain, so as the river gains volume it gets deeper and FASTER. Having nowhere for the water to go we were on the hunt for any soft water spot we could find. I knew Patrick would have a plan. After a brisk walk through a leaf less hard wood forest, over a well treaded path. Hiking and driving along rivers for me can be tough; I am always looking at the stream and not really pay any attention to where my rod tip or myself may be going. After several rod-untangling missions and a few un-choreographed dance moves to maneuver myself and backpack through the trees we emerged at a lovely run. Having never fished there before, all the water looked good to me. The water was deep right off the bank and fast! Pushing on my back and sides. Finding it hard to keep my feet stable while casting and swing the fly. A long cast was required to cover the only soft spot in the pool. Making those first few casts. I felt like a rust pair of pliers, damn I suck, I thought to myself. Rough like an old squeeze box. Slow down, don’t grip the rod so tight, more bottom hand, same shit I tell my students. The Rain poured and the wind blew. The mid 40-degree air seemed more like 33. After 30 mins of polishing finally felt the casts gliding off the water and tip of the rod. I as stepped down the 200+ yard long pool with out a touch. This never gets me down… it drives me. I knew by morning I would be back to 100% on my fishing. Guiding makes your fishing rusty; this afternoon outing was just what I needed.
Good old bar food, Makes you feel at home.

 

This is one of the flies that we tied in the evenings with the sports, what are you gunna do?
After sliding out of my waders and a good hot shower I was ready for so grub. We hopped into Pats truck and zipped down to the local watering hole, The Altmar Motel. Like our small town western taverns, all the same characters were there… lined up at the rail. Looking them over fitting them all into the stereo typed area of the bar. Sitting down and looking over the menu, standard bar food…what looks good. Burger, yeah that’s what I am after. Does the burger come with fries, I asked the waitress? No…Chips, she stated. Better give me fries, I informed her. This may have been a mistake. When the food finally arrived all I could find was a plate of fries???? Excuse me where is the burger? You better start digging, she tells me. After the spare plate arrived to place the excess fries on I found my mushroom being the foundation for massive skyscraper of fries. This could explain the shape of some of the other patrons of the bar. Washing down the carbo load with a classic east coast beer Yuengling, another part of the trip to remember, great stuff.

 

The first east coast Steelhead to the beach.

 

 

The next morning started early, for me what seemed way to early for me. Getting dressed in all my layers and wadering up before stepping outside. Trapping in as much heat as I could. The breakfast bell sounded, the raisin bread breakfast sandos were a surprising hit, and actually they were awesome! All the sports were up and energetic to learn. The caravan started, and the quick drive to our first piece of water. Cold wet air, smells like steelhead, Pat tells me. Snapping back into steelhead mode I take a big deep breath of the air…OH HELL YEAH, I said. The excited often over emphasized tone in my voice carries and the others looked a bit surprised. The parking lot seemed empty for a place that has the reputation for being super busy… seemed devoid of people. Hey Pat, where are all the folks?? SHHH, he said like he had a secret spot. In this position just take everything in stride. The walk through the foggy Hardwoods the short walked seemed like something out of a fairy tale. The sound of the river took over the through the mist, catching glances of the broken water through the trees my excitement seem to grow. New water is awesome, the mystery of places you have never been. I almost felt like Marco Polo.
Did not take long to hook a few fish!

 

Damn that’s a Bright fish!
Finally reaching the rivers edge and getting everyone organize, I stepped into the water to the give the opening presentation for the class. As I do in every class I like to look over the class to see how much attention they are paying to the spiel. All sports seemed to be attentive and ready, like sponges, taking in everything I might be able to offer. God I love teaching classes like this kind of makes you feel like an important person. After my short speech Pat and I spread the anglers out in the pool. I walked up to the first sport and helped to START SHORT!! Please if you get nothing else from reading this them just start short when you being any run your going to fish. Standing out of harms way in my peripheral in notice a Skagit line moving fast and down stream…. OH YEAH!!!!! Opening battle cry sounded. The Steelhead began to put on an aerial display that would rival the flights of most upland game birds. The fight lasted longer than I had anticipated, given the cold river and weather conditions. Patrick came out with the net, scooping up the fresh run beast. Feisty, I said with a raised brow. Pat looked over his glasses at me with a slightly more serious look, these are good fish, and he tells me. The 9 lb buck still trying to resist even for his photo opportunity. The Picture was taken, about the same time that the screaming for another reel alarmed us. Hooked up again…HELL yeah!! These fish are making Pat and I look like studs, can help that I guess. Mon this fish is a hot one I whisper to Pat. Wading out to help give a few Steelhead battle pointers, I notice more jumps out of this one too. Hey Pat…these fish always jump this much, I ask? He again looks over his glasses with the same sneer, these are good fish, and he assures me for a second time. The sport sliding the head of the chrome bright hen into the net, with Patrick’s assistance, success. I reached into the net pulling the Steelhead from the net looking her over, before the release. Beautiful fish I let the Student know. The best time to hook another one is right after you landed the first one I tell the sport. He quickly gets back to work. Hey Patrick, just in those first 2 Steelhead there was a ton of diversity between them. The first fish looked like a Steelhead one might catch in the Deschutes in September, the second looked like a fish you might catch in the Sandy river in February. We get a lot of diversity not only in the over all spot and color configurations but in the length and build as well. Having a few theories we chatted as the boy continued to fish.
 

 

This is about the average size, I was not complaining.
My First fish to hand on the trip.

 

 

As the morning pressed on and the rain came and went, another couple fish were hooked in that same pool. Quick hook sets and just bad luck prevented those fish from finding a temporary home in Patrick’s net. The lunch hour was approaching and the thought of corn bread and homemade chili sounded awesome. A quick bite to eat and a relaxing few minutes, guys just cracking jokes and laughing in the misted of the bad weather for the common goal of becoming better casters and Spey Anglers. Now I was up for the main demonstration and instructional part of the day. Patrick and I thought that mid day would be better for the sports, as we did not want to waste valuable fishing time. Grabbing my Loomis dredger in waded into the top of our second pool of the day. Starting short and going into my fishing speech, looking at the class while my fly is in the river. Glancing back toward the river just in time to feel my first grab of the trip… The hesitation in my voice alerted the class to the happenings. The Hardy Marquis started to sound, there’s one, notifying the classes and I set the hook. Instantly the Steelhead few from the surface of the water, again and again, 19 times in total, WOW, I muttered to the sports. Gliding the fish into tailing distance teaching the guys how to handle a fish if you’re on your own, good bonus info I thought to myself. Lifting the 7 lb hen out of the water for a quick picture and then off she went. Damn these fish are good!!! Making me looking like a real pro, as I have had plenty of days where the Steelhead seemed not even to exist at all.
Look at the girth on that fish, only 32 inches long!

 

Just putting on the finishing touches to this battle.
The classes pressed on and the learning and casting portion were smooth. Hearing good questions and lots of accolades about things I have covered in my demonstrations. With these fish responding so well to swung flies, it really made we start watching the other anglers and their methods to see if other were catching a few. The only other guys that I saw catch fish that first day were pulling plugs, nothing on bobbers or indicators. I figured I would have seen more of that. Classes ended at 3:30 or so, asking the guys if there was anything else they needed, because if they did not I was going to go make a few casts. Patrick and one of the sports were setting up another guided day for later in the month, I grabbed my rod and backpack and started hoofing it up river. Each step taking me into new water, almost feeling like the explorer of the unknown, I could feel my angst building. Walking for maybe ¾ miles, I found what looked to be a great stretch of water. Taking a double look to make sure that I was the only guy here. I mean after what I here back home is the idea of having water to one’s self here was about as common as winning the lottery. Starting at the top of the run I could just feel the fish were there and after the sports had hooked 7 during class that was all the confidence in needed. I started short, and soon was letting casts fly. The 300+ yard run was as good as any of the runs in could have picked to fish back home. I was fishing about a 1000 times cleaner than the night before. My fly was finally about to reach the first soft spot at the top of the pool…ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ my reel was screaming. As before the fish was air born, cart wheeling all over the pool. After minutes of a good back and froth battle I managed to coax the fish into the shallows for a quick hello and safe return to the watery environment that she was used too. Back to the top of the run I waded, noticing that I was not going to get a lot more fishing time. My goal now was to finish the run I hate leaving water un-fished. Then whatever Steelhead gods are recognized on the East coast seemed to smile upon me. Over the next hour I hooked 8 more fish in the same run. The fished ranged for 4 to 14 lbs. Only landing 6 of the total 9 fish hooked I was more than happy. I thought I could easily spend the next 6 days here and not catch another Steelhead and I would be perfect with that too. The walk back to find Patrick and all the class still fishing was great, these guys out here were serious about learning, I was impressed.
This fish could not resist the “Lady G”

 

 

 

Another victim of my favorite West coast Winter Steelhead pattern.

 

That night I really had to sit and rethink all I thought I knew about what I had been told about the Great Lakes Steelhead. I am now sure that I had been wrong about a great many things concerning these wonderful fish, and the opportunity to catch them. What else could I be wrong about, what other fallacies could be disproved. I was going to find out!
Frozen reels suck!
One of the 8 he hooked that day!

 

Over the next 5 days of classes I made some great connections to people and saw a lot of personal progress in the growth in all the anglers that were in the classes. Every student hooked fish in every class, not all were landed. The water level dropped and the cold air from the lake came in, conditions changed and as we do here on the west coast, we fished on. 48 fish were hooked and 30 came to the beach. All methods from sink tips to full floating lines were employed and flies from 4 inches to size 8 summer Steelhead flies were used and all worked. Leaning on Patrick’s knowledge of the water and my teaching a casting style, the hunger our sports had to learn was curbed…at least for a short while. The top day for the students was 16 fish hooked, not bad no matter what coast you’re on!!! I will be doing these classes next year and I know that Patrick and I will make them even more streamline and a better experience for the students.
Another great fish, Hard fighting, high jumping.

 

brilliant Buck!
My end to the trip came too soon, but I was missing my gals back home. The last day was not the most exciting day of fishing, but for one of the last classes’ students the day will not soon be forgotten. I wont forget it either, as a guide there are always the situations that one will never let go. As Wayne and I fished down the same piece of water that I had done so well in earlier in the week and taking my guide stance behind him watching the line and casts go out over the water. 2/3 of the ways down the pool the cast was a good one, laying out straight as an arrow. The subtle mend placed in with care, as to never loose swing or control of the fly. The fly came into the center of the well-defined river channel, the full floating line under an even water tension. A BOIL…my eyes blinked to see that the front half of Wayne’s rods was down into the river. His Abel reel singing that heart racing harmony that all Steelheaders long to hear, the pulling of a wild animal at the opposite end of the terminal tackle. A lightning speed run followed by a wild series of talk walking. The line instantly lost tension…then Splash the crashing of the deep-bodied Steelhead back into the river on our upstream side. REEL Wayne I screamed, FN fast TOO! What seemed like minutes to catch back up to the fish and then, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ the reel screamed again and to the tail out of the pool. Shit I hope that fish slows down, (and stays in the pool). We had lost 2 other big fish that week; because the fish elected that the run they were hooked in was not as good as the next 2 runs down. Wayne lowered the rod and applied as much side pressure as he would dare, maybe more than I dare. Long runs, more jumps the fish becoming tired. The last efforts and shorts bursts of the massive fish energy wasted as Patrick’s net glided under the big hen. Everyone’s eyes looking to catch a glance at the fish that lay in the net, Wayne and I walked over as I reached down to extract the tired animal for a look at the great fish. The weight of the fish becoming a huge reality as my muscles worked just to lift her up. The fish measured well over 40 inches and the girth was something words can never catch, nor does the picture give justice to the fishes mass. High fives and hollers of victory filled the air, I knew that this was the eclipsing moment of the weeks. A fine moment in any guides career and a personal mark in ones steelhead journal, great fish for an awesome week.
Wayne’s monster, ripping line!

 

As far as I know next years classes are almost full, if you are interested get a hold of Patrick Ross. He is one hell of a guide and his knowledge of the river and zest for Spey fishing are unsurpassed. I can honestly say I am looking forward to next year already. The fish back east might not be what we here on the west coast consider Steelhead. I am not going to tell you that they are or they aren’t, those fish love swung flies. Those fish grab hard jump and I can say most will hit the backing… what those fish are or are not does not take away form the beauty of taking a wonderful fish swing flies on two-handed rods. If I lived there or was given the chance to fish there I would recommend it to anybody. As I was the river will impress you and so will it’s fish. I want to say thanks to all that were in the class and hope to see you next year too.
That’s a huge fish! that’s 4 hands on one fish and you still don’t see the tail. Great job buddy
4 replies
  1. Geoff Schaake
    Geoff Schaake says:

    Nice job Travis. So glad you got to see the river with fish in it. What they are or aren’t isn’t up for debate. They come from sturdy stock and have developed that NY attitude. Say hello to the family and we’ll see you next year!

    Reply
  2. LQN
    LQN says:

    Just started getting into spey casting, thought I saw you guys either last weekend or the weekend before as I was packing it in mid river. You casted across the river from underneath the bridge, you made it look so easy. Inspiring. Looking forward to your future posts!

    Reply

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