A steelhead trip was planned for good ole Pulaski, NY on the banks of the famous Salmon River. The weekend excursion corresponded with the end of the salmon run and most of the leaves being gone from the trees, otherwise known as the second weekend in November. The time came quick, a product of life as a teacher and simultaneously going to graduate school full-time. On the night before, I found myself packing for two. My girl, Katie, would be joining me on the first trip north of the year. Scrambling through all of my possessions, I had a hard time finding a supply of egg patterns from several seasons earlier when I had an epiphany. Would she be more likely to enjoy the monotony and assembly line approach of chucking a bobber and an egg, or the creativeness of a spey cast and a swung fly? I stopped looking for the egg patterns, my bobbers, and a leader. I texted her with a few simple words: swing or go home.
A week prior, I had her out for an hour on a local stream practicing her first spey cast, the underhand. Basically, it is the one cast that I wanted her to know, before and if, she would swing flies for steelhead. The underhand is easy to perform, but difficult to master. I figured a little bit of instruction would go a long way in helping her catch her first steelhead. As the picture above shows, she was more than adequately prepared to straighten out her line and swing efficiently through a run.
Quality would be an understatement: Loop Lainio Jacket
Gearing up in the parking lot produced an odd moment. Two older guys pulled in next to us and began to stare, perplexed by some oddity before them. Who was this creature holding a spey rod? Few things draw the eyes of men, like a woman in waders, and I could tell they wanted to talk. They finally gathered up the courage to simply ask, "Is this your first time?".
Katie and I, simultaneously responded, "Nope".
The one guy stated, "I sure hope you aren't married, because this river will make you get a divorce. She sure is a tough nut to crack".
I replied, "I think we will be ok. Good luck guys".
Naturally, I was a little worried. Reports had been slow with several river Jedi's producing scant catch rates over the past two weeks. Katie and I headed to the river, and hopped in behind a very good spey caster who was working his way down a run. I gave Katie a few pointers and set her up before heading upstream. I barely casted enough to get the shooting head out of my guides, when I heard a commotion downstream and saw a nice fish cartwheeling downriver.
The initial moments were tense, as I calmly stated directions on rod position, drag, and keeping tension. Katie remained calm, and steered the chrome hen towards my position downstream. I grabbed leader and the base of her tail, cradling a fresh one in the water. The tension gave way to a moment of pure joy, as the below picture can attest. We exchanged positions for a few quick pictures before Katie sent the fish on her way. The river Jedi, whose pocket had just been picked, gave us a standing ovation.
Fly fishing vibes...
A really cool moment.
Lots of private property appearing on the river...
My happy place.
Not to be out done, I continued where she left off, ditching my rod for the one with the steelhead mojo. I was working the small purple wet fly, fished on a fifteen foot intermediate tip, broadside through each little boulder displacing water at the tailout. The casts were far, maybe a little too far, but I was trying to swing through a fishy looking piece of water when I got the "pull". So close to fast water, the fat hen screamed line off the reel and cleared the water going in the complete opposite direction of my line. Before I could gain the advantage, my line went tight, caught on the pancaked piles of leaves in the shallows. I was slightly disheartened, believing that I had lost the chromer. However, I still had to cross the fast water to free my fly line. When I did, the fish was still on, despite a de-barbed fly, and went berserk. A moment or two later, my cold hands grabbed tail, and I said hello to my first steelhead of the season.
Spey is most truly the "way".
Yellow line love.
Working a tail out.
Opposite bank, under those overhanging branches...
A great way to spend a Fall day...