Potomac-Patuxent Chapter Trout Unlimited
Before he took us over to our rental, an old farm house converted to fishing lodge, the proprietor told us there were still plenty of Steelhead upriver that should be dropping down in small pods. That brown trout were entering the river this time of year, and that the unseasonably warm weather had fooled the Atlantic salmon, and they were unexpectedly in the river in catchable numbers from two to nine pounds. This had us pumped, and once at the house we quickly unloaded our gear and rigged up. Pat, a local guide, was also there waiting for Jim Greene and Art Friedlander who were flying up, and while waiting for them he graciously dispensed some free advice on flies to use, how to rig’em up, and answered our questions. Soon all were present and headed for the river.
The Salmon River is much larger water than the creeks we usually fish around Erie. Roughly three times the width of the Gunpowder it can be imposing to wade even at the reduced flows of 285cfs. I couldn’t wade across in most places on the DSR. The rocks are slick, and even with wading staff and lugged boots I did the twist and shout mid-river more than once. There are runs, deep holes, and long riffles throughout. In the lower section down by the bridge, islands create braided water where we tried to locate fish by stalking the banks and shallow riffles drifting our flies close to the far banks.
The fishing was tough; I didn’t think the water level too low, maybe lower than normal, but still plenty of good lies up against the banks and deep holes that could hold fish. However, the only good fish I saw the first afternoon/evening was the one jumping on the end of Tim’s line that he hooked on a stonefly nymph in the Spring Hole. Blue Quills and Hendrickson mayflies came off in good numbers in the afternoons, bringing up hordes of five to six inch fish to tear at the surface. Most of the time we were there a stiff wind added to the fun, steadily picking up throughout the morning and making casting into it practically impossible. Tim and Lou headed down river to the Meadow section and its islands where Lou later reported seeing some fish. But the result was the same for them as for Dick and I, who stayed up around Spring Hole, just thrashing the water without a response.
Back at the house we compared notes before heading out to supper. Jim and Art had each landed a Steelhead at the Wall Hole, Jim getting his on a black Woolly Bugger, Art by swinging a Spey fly. So by golly, there really were some fish in the river after all.
Clear and in the mid 30’s, I let the defroster knock the frost off the windshield before heading out under skies as bright as a robin’s egg. We had decided to head up to Black Hole which is the largest in the DSR and has public access on the other side. Stopping along the way just long enough to make a couple of casts at the little Black Hole, Ken and I reeled in and hiked up to the larger Black Pool. Some locals were fishing on the other side which I took as good sign, but as the hours drifted by, and the crowd perched on the other side constantly changed with no fish of any size caught we began to have doubts.
Heading back down river we detoured back into the Little Black Hole for a couple more drifts, just as we were fix’n to leave a large fish jumped mid-river rising to a string of Hendrickson duns drifting down the seam. Thinking we might have found a pod of Steel dropping back we immediately regained interest and settled in. Minutes later the fish rose again, then again, only instead of jumping he just ripped the surface with his snout sucking up duns. I’m usually not this clever, but it was immediately clear what I needed to do. Putting on a longer leader I mentally went through my fly boxes for something I could swing like a Hendrickson emerger. Remembering the #12 Pheasant Tail wet with brown hackle and biot tails that might represent a shuck I tied it on and cast down and across letting it swing through seam a couple inches below the surface. On the third drift an ivory torpedo shot up out of the dark and sucked it in. On the hook set it hung in the current just long enough for me to tell Ken “I got ’im on!”, then exploded out of the water like a pop bottle rocket on a string. I remember Ken yelled, “I think it might be a salmon!” Then after a couple more runs ending in cart wheeling jumps I beached my first Atlantic. Not a huge fish by any stretch, just an even 20 inches, but beautifully shaped with magnificent color. There’s delicateness in the color of these fish, their hues more suggestion than bold statement. In the water I see ivory and silver; in hand a translucence of gun metal and blushing greens freckled with black spots.
Back at the parking area Dick excitedly regaled us with a story of hooking and landing a huge Steelhead that made five great leaps right under the noses of some Canadian anglers on the Glide Hole that he had eased his way in between to ply his Black and Chartreuse Steelhead Stonefly. It sounded exciting the way he told it, but we wondered what their version was after he described the squinting looks they gave him afterward. I’m sure they didn’t mind.
Gathering back at the lodge we found Art and Jim both reporting success. Art with two Steelhead from the lower fly fishing area, one on a Beadhead Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, The other on an Orange Spey fly; Jim getting a nice brown trout on a Green Wooly Bugger in the meadow.
Tuesday morning had us pondering our options, Lou, Ken and I finally decided to head for the Meadow section. This turned out to be a pretty popular spot; Art, Jim and five other anglers were already in the water. Hiking down past the tip of the island we set up in the near channel and drifted various flies tight to the far bank without a tap. Working our way down past the island into the more braided water I saw my first Steelhead of the trip, but the water got so skinny and slow we soon headed back up to our little channel. Ken and Lou walked up and across the island and peered over the edge to see, and then spook, a couple of fish. So we knew they were there, just a matter getting them to strike.
An hour went by before the first fish of the day grabbed Ken’s pink Estaz Egg. He put up a great fight then just popped off as Ken was easing him into the shallows. We didn’t get the picture, but it is really an easy and probably healthier way for getting the fished released. A few minutes later my green Wooly Bugger came cart wheeling out of the water fast to a fish that was headed downstream as fast as he could get there. A cart wheeling jump and I could see it was an Atlantic, and bigger than the one the day before, but what I didn’t notice was the loose line that was shooting out on the run was also wrapping around the butt of the rod. When the fish hit the end of that line and the drag didn’t squeal I glanced down to see the line tight around the handle and under the reel just as I felt the tippet snap leaving the fly in the fish. Ugh! I rocked back on my heels looking straight into the sky and muttered all my favorite cuss words knowing full well that even hour after hour of fruitless casting is no excuse for poor line management.
After lunch Lou spotted and liberated a stranded Steelhead from a small isolated pool while I took up my position. Lou and Ken were taking an extended break when it all broke loose. Whether these were fresh fish just moving through, or had been there all the time I don’t know. But in the next 30 minutes I hooked and landed another Atlantic, then, hooked three Steelhead landing two of them, all on my last #6 Olive Wooly Bugger. Getting a drag free drift was very important. All my strikes came on drifts where I was able to successfully mend the line so that when the un-weighted fly drifted through the approximately eight foot section of river close in to the bank and indented maybe six inches back into the bank allowing me to high stick with just the leader in the water. If the current caught the line before I could mend it, nothing. The action was fast, and coincided just ahead of the Hendrickson’s coming off, then once the hatch was on it all stopped except for a couple of small trout and one large fish that took flies in large splashing rises. Lou and Ken both drifted dries and wets to him, but other than a couple short strikes Ken got on an Elk Hair Caddis the fish showed little interest in our flies instead filling up on the naturals.
Heading back in to rendezvous with the others for supper I saw another snake. Numerous little garter snakes of about fifteen inches were amongst the leaves making dry slithering sounds as they scurried out from under foot. We had seen a variety of wildlife on the trip, lots of deer, turkey, some muskrat and waterfowl including a gorgeous male wood duck that flew directly over us his copper breast shining in the bright sun, and a bald eagle off in the distance hunting low over the water.
I wasn’t the only one having a good day. Jim landed two more Steelhead, one in the Meadow section of the DSR, the other of more than twelve pounds at the lower fly fishing area on an Olive Wooly Bugger sport’n legs. Art getting another on an Egg Sucking Leach, and Dick with a near miss having a huge Steelhead get off after hooking it on a size 2 Orange Yarn at Ellis Cove, where Dick and Tim were fishing with the local rowdies.
Our last morning after packing our gear left us with about three hours to fish. Dick and Tim headed back to Ellis Cove, the rest of us to the lower fly fishing area. Both Jim and Art landed a brown the rest of us struck out. After a quick lunch stop at Mickey D’s in Pulaski we were homeward bound. The fishing was tough. Unseasonable warm weather had us missing the peak drop back by a week or more, many fish were already back in the lake. The wind was just an annoyance most of the time, but would blow hard enough at times to make casting almost impossible. But such is fishing, if we were guaranteed great success every trip I think I would fish a lot less. I think it’s the unknown outcome that holds our fascination.
As I stated at the beginning, warm weather and low water has plagued us the last couple of trips, the ride back provided ample opportunity to consider and discuss alternatives. At present we have on the schedule another trip to NY for salmon in September, and a Steelhead trip to Erie in November. Rather than committing to a set schedule no matter the weather and water, it may prove more reasonable to just watch the conditions between now and then, and if one place or the other offers better conditions just go there regardless of what’s actually on the schedule. The distance is about the same. If there is drought or floods over the entire region we’ll have to make the decision to either abort or tough it out then.
The New York Salmon trip is a camping trip. We plan to camp at the state park and fish wherever we find the fish, DSR, public, in town, wherever. There may be opportunity to book a drift boat that will get you closer to the fish and make it easier to land them as Salmon are big honk’n fish that can be a real handful especially when trying to follow them in powerful currents. So far we have no one committed to this outing and camping out, so let me know if you’re planning on going.
April Shad Outing Report
© Potomac-Patuxent Chapter of Trout Unlimited 1999-2017
P.O. Box 2865 Wheaton, MD 20915
This document last modified 04/28/10