Monday, April 28, 2014


I went to bed chilled the evening of our first day in Pulaski, New York, following a dangerous stunt that can only be inspired by a fish and the promise of an epic story.  My body was tired—the kind of tired that leaves your eyelids without a comfortable place to rest.  Nevertheless, I squeezed them closed.  Four-thirty would arrive early.

Photo by Matt Reilly
        There was no moon as we walked briskly, clad in waders and layered in cold weather gear, through the parking lot.  The man to formally introduce us to the river, Randy Jones (The Yankee Angler) emerged from a weathered SUV, resting his forearms on the bow of the aluminum driftboat in tow. 

        “Good morning!  Got everything you need?”

        Six o’ clock.  We slid downriver to the creaking of oars and the rippling of current on the hull.   Dark blobs emerged around every bend—driftboats anchored on spots known to hold fish.

        When the darkness lifted, Randy began rigging rods systematically, reviewing the fine points of his style of fishing.  High-sticking is the technique—maintaining a high rod tip in order to hold the fly line clear of the current and achieve a dead drift with a weighted nymph.  Casting is improvised—not the purist’s cup-of-tea, but a technique undoubtedly effective.

        We began flinging flies as soon as the sun crept over the horizon, and hooked up almost immediately.  Fish on!

        The fish soon lost the hook, but our hopes were fresh.  Three more hookups in the following minutes kept the spirit high.

        On the Salmon River, there is a definite tradeoff between leader size and number of hookups.  That being said, smaller diameter leaders result in more breakoffs and lost fish.  On the Salmon, anglers count success in hookups, not fish. 

        By mid-morning, we had fought several fish.  The bank anglers were edging closer to the boat.

        “Try to snag their line!” one of them whispered.  But such tricks are mediocre.

        “We’ll take it,” voiced, Randy, reaching out to free the jealous angler’s fly from one of our own.  No one gets to inspect a working man’s flies.

        Randy had just begun to count his blessings when hookups diminished.  It was about this time that someone let fly that Randy was not the only writer on board.  Writer to writer, I joked that the light in which he would be portrayed in this article would be directly proportional to how many fish came to net.  For his sake, I hoped we’d catch a fish.  I was starting to like the guy.

        In response to the lull, my dad opted to fish a thicker leader, to increase the chances of landing a steelhead.

        His next hookup remained solid for several minutes.  Tension mounted as rod sweeps inched the fish closer and closer to the net.  Finally, the first fish of the trip was scooped up and tailed!  The fish was unhooked, and torpedoed back into the icy river.

        Another lull ensued.  I opted to fish a lighter leader to increase hookups when my screaming reel brought action back to the scene!  I kept the fish hooked, allowing him several runs before bringing him boatside.    In the current, he surfaced, revealing a gargantuan white mouth and scarlet lateral line—a strong buck!

        Another run downstream seemed to be his last.  I swept the line over the stern of the boat, throwing the fish off balance, and guiding him into slower current to be netted.  Just a few feet from the net, a soft headshake loosed the hook and dashed the hopes of all on board.

        “You don’t want me to tell you how big that fish was,” Randy said solemnly.  “Probably 15 pounds.”  He then began painting a verbal picture of the fish in a shaken tone—a classic symptom of what can accurately be described here as “buck” fever.

        Recovered from disappointment, he jabbed:  “You might have a better chance catching a fish if you took up golf!”  I reminded him that deadlines often tempt me to take my stress out on my characters, and may even cause me to forget any fish caught at all!  Not likely, but it seemed to help.

        As the afternoon grew older, hookups increased.  In the last hour, a subtle take got my hands sweating.  I made a hard hook set, determined to drive the hook home.  A few minutes of elevated battling--upstream runs, headshakes, and long, screaming sprints downstream--followed, before I inched her close enough to be netted.  Finally!

        Immediately after releasing the fish, my dad hooked up with, and landed, another!  A bigger hen—a beautiful specimen.  He held the fish for the camera; and when my shutter clicked, the scene was instilled in my mind—the last moments of our Salmon River experience; and hopefully the first of many. 

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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