Excerpt from "Steelheading Die Hard or Insanity?" Part 1

 Determined, and with one arm we packed my truck, and at 1 am, we headed for Douglaston once again.  The water was up from the recent rain, and the weather was perfect “steelheading weather”.  Rain, temperatures in the mid 30’s, and a steady west wind pushed a lot of chrome steelhead into the river.  I hooked up with my first fish about mid-morning.  I have caught stripe bass, bluefish, pike and even bonefish on the fly, but the mighty steelhead hit my blue estaz egg with an aggression and anger I had never felt before.  Before I knew it, it had peeled off almost 80 feet of fly line.  I didn’t even have any time to try and slow it down never mind stop it. Pop, it was gone.  Just like that, over before it even got started.  In that short time my adrenaline kicked in, and I could feel it leave after it broke off.  I didn’t feel any disappointment because I think I was in shock from getting my behind whooped by a fish!
 It happened 6 more times to me that day.  These fish were so fresh, we didn’t have a chance.  If we went with heavier tippet, they got leader shy.  We were using 8-10 lb. tippet, and out of 4 of us, only one fish got to the bank.  Everyone who was fishing around was losing almost all of them.  Once hooked, fish would come out of the water like dolphins. Flipping, rotating, and doing everything in their power to break free.  Drag screaming runs, and yells of “Fish on, fish off” were the common sounds you heard all day.  Everyone walked back to the car with their tails between their legs, but I was more determined than ever.
I didn’t sleep that much that night.  The rush of the hook up and battle consumed my mind.  I rehearsed my fly selection, rigs, knots, and battling the fish all in my head.  Back at Douglaston the next day, I lost a bunch more until I finally brought one to the shore.  This fish ran me up river, then back down river, she jumped a few times, and tried to bully me in the current.  It’s not easy to run with frozen feet; I fell as I backed up onto the bank to get her into Anthony’s reach. Getting up while holding the rod with your one good arm was a little difficult!  Anthony finally picked her up, and put her on the shore.  The obsessive pursuit of the mighty steelhead was over.  All that work and dedication had finally paid off. 
Cold, wet, tired, my first steelhead.

I wouldn’t land anymore that trip, but I did get to battle a bunch more.  As we drove home, the smile never came off of my face.   Fly fishing for me would never be the same.
I live about 4.5 hours from Pulaski, N.Y. where the Salmon River is located.  It is one of the major tributaries of Lake Ontario.  Usually we leave around 1:30 am, and get there well before legal fishing time.  A quick stop to get something to eat, we gear up in the dark, and walk through the darkness. Sometimes it’s in below freezing temperatures, rain, sleet, a couple of feet of snow, or just under the light of the moon, just to get the prime spots we want to fish.  Usually, we wait for over an hour on the bank, talking about what lies ahead, or sometimes just sitting with the sound of the river.  One half hour before sunrise, legal fishing time, the banks come alive with fishermen and women casting with the hopes of landing the mighty steelhead. 

A fresh chrome fish taken at first light December 2013.

As the day goes on, the sleep deprivation begins to kick in, soreness sets into your back, legs and arms.  The worse the weather, usually the better the fishing.  There have been times where I fished in sunshine, rain, sleet, lake effect snow, comfortable and almost freezing temperatures, all in the same day!  The coldest day I fished in was minus one degree Fahrenheit.  Frozen feet start to set in, you don’t want to get out of the water because you might be in a great hole and you don’t want to give it up!  Some days, the fishing makes these factors a lot easier to deal with, but there are those days where the fishing can be tough and the elements make it even harder. 

The battle will test your fishing intelligence and stamina.  The fish want to run right into any fast water they can get into.  Trying to get them under control, and getting position on them means moving your feet, and trying to run in the water with or against the current.  All this while trying not to trip and fall into the frigid water.  Patience to maneuver the fish into some soft water will lead to more fish getting to the net.  It’s that moment that satisfaction runs throughout your body, and as a reward, you get to try and do it again.

The hunt for a fresh chrome steelhead outweighs the elements.  Recently, in the upper part of the river, we were fishing in a downpour for almost the entire day.  We were doing fairly well too.  The rains and melting snow, excitedly drove us to the lower river to play with some fresh fish.  I was rewarded with a nice silver steelhead.  All the soreness left my back, and legs as I posed with my fish.  I felt very grateful that the fishing gods blessed us with rain and high stained water that day! 

Frank’s fresh steelhead from February 2014

This is an excerpt from my article in Live The Wildlife Online Magazine April 2014

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