On the way up to Pulaski NY Ken and I started to encounter some snow cover in central Pennsylvania. I commented that most people on the move were probably trying to run out of the storm not into it. But then they weren't going steelhead fishing either. We were watching the weather channel, and by our interpretation of the map we should be able to slide into Pulaski just ahead of the big blow.
We left Maryland at 4 am on the dot with an estimated arrival of noon, and believe it or not the clock on the dash turned 12:00 as we pulled into Fat Nancy's parking lot. On the way up we wondered where Fat Nancy's got the name, so Ken posed the question; the clerk leaned over the counter and pointing to a huge mounted Steelhead hanging by the door saying that's fat Nancy. Well...I was hoping for something with a little more intrigue. Licensed up we headed for the Douglaston Salmon Reserve's main office to get our fishing passes and keys to the estuary House. Walking to the office from the parking lot I saw two guys coming up the path from the river. Both had ice in their beards, and as they plodded by I heard one say after some lunch he was going to try it again. The other just waved his rod and said good luck.
By the time we got on the river the storm had increased to a squall, wind gusting 30+mph with blowing snow that was starting to drift. We decided to try some braided water by an island a half mile down from the parking lot where we have had success in the past. The water was running very shallow, at 335 cfs the river was easy to wade but made the flat water a foot or less deep. Plenty deep to hold fish but there didn't seem to be any. After hitting the banks along the island and shore we had about an hour's fishing left so we hiked up river looking for fish, finding none we said tomorrow.
Ken and I had unpacked our stuff and thinking of supper when Jed and Art burst through the door bringing the wind and snow in with them. This house has a mud room just off the porch to keep waders and gear, and while Jed was singing at the top of his lungs about the storm and how great it was, they added theirs to ours. Driving back after supper at Stephano's the snow was beginning to drift across the road. In places where snow blew off barren fields walls of swirling snow would envelope the truck making me slow to almost a stop till I could see again. Back in the warm house I made coffee and we lounged about as Jed unpacked a handful of bamboo rods. We stroked their varnish and wiggled their tips while Jed told us the story behind each one. This led to a discussion on recent books we have read on bamboo and we spent the evening playing with rods and trading opinions on books like Playing With Fire & Casting A Spell and talked about the makers Edwards, Thomas & Payne.
All night I could hear the wind pounding through the trees, and the next morning the scene out the window was a combination of white and wind. The trees swayed while their branches did a wild dance, the surface of the river rippling against the current as the wind roared in from the lake. For awhile we sat around the house drinking coffee, Talking, and making breakfast. It struck me that in spite of the weather this was really becoming a pleasant trip. Rarely do we spend this much time lounging and talking on trips with no one in a hurry. After awhile the conversation finally turned to where we might go, and people began to gather their gear. Ken and I decided to go to the lower fly zone, Art and Jed down on the Reserve. I had thought to throw a snow shovel in the truck before leaving Maryland and good thing. The caretakers had bladed the drive clearing off the snow just up to and behind Jed, and after clearing off is windshield he was able to just back up and out. However in the space between his front and my back three feet of snow had drifted in that I needed to move. As we hauled out our stuff in arm loads wind tore at our coat flaps grabbing anything not fastened down or in a tight hold.
Forty mph gusts play havoc with a cast. I would stand there, snow blasting into my face speckling my glasses, holding my rod with line whipping waiting for a lull. I had fair amount of weight on to get the fly down but the wind still would grab whatever line was off the water and suspend it holding up the drift. Wading up river I was surprised to see the carcasses of rotting salmon piled up in places, then even more surprised to see a live fish, coal black except the patches of white I took for rotting flesh. I was skirting what I thought was a log but as I waded by it didn't look quite right. Getting closer to what I thought was a leaf covered log turned out to be a large salmon just off the edge of a drop off, Still red and bronze in color. The hole dropped off quick but I was able to get close enough to push on her a little but instead of taking off she would drift back into her holding position. I think she missed the run and seemed a little pitiful to me.
Standing in about a foot of water changing flies the bottom section of the rod I had cradled under my arm came loose and fell in the river. When I reached down to get it the top three sections slid out from under my arm into the current. I reached down to get them but found I was so bundled up I couldn't bend over that far. I made a couple stumbling attempts at grabs when the realization hit me that I didn't have anything tied on the end of my line and once the line slipped through the guides the rod was free floating. It was just getting to the faster water when I did a diving pounce on it. I got the rod, but now was wet up to my elbows on both arms. My first thought was I didn't think I put dry clothes in the truck, the second was I hope nobody saw that. The good news was my Under Armor wicked the water away from my arms and in less than 10 minutes I was warm again.
In the time we were there, one guy below the bridge had a brief hook up that I saw, and Ken said he also saw a center pin guy land a fish, and that was it. Standing just upstream of the bridge I was watching Ken below when a heavy truck crossed the bridge throwing snow to the wind. Ken was looking upstream and said I just disappeared. So after about 5 hours on the water without a touch and the snow piling up we decided to head for the house.
Art and Jed finally stumbled in about dark reporting the same basic experience and we all headed out for supper at a place called 11 North. This place serves a 1 pound hamburger called the Boss IV. It's stuffed with two bacon wrapped meatballs between 2 grilled cheese sandwiches, with fried pepperoni, cheese curd, marinara sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. Nobody ordered that, but I can say the 1/2 pound Cajun burger with French fries and 6 large jumbo shrimp was delicious.
On the way back we noted the snow had stopped. I think with an average area fall of about 24 inches. By morning the wind had slowed to about 13 miles an hour and 25 degrees. I went out to grab some breakfast stuff out of the truck and compared to the previous day it felt downright balmy. Talk around the table had me and Ken thinking of fishing the Reserve, while Jed was on the phone lining up a guide for him and Art. I decided to swing flies with my spey rod thinking I couldn't catch any less than I had caught with my single handed. It was my first time fishing spey so I don't know if its normal to lose most of your best flies or not but that was my experience. My casting was clumsy, I was having trouble setting my anchor and fly in the correct position to cock and fire, but, did manage to hit the deke and the dangle on several spots. Ken said he saw two guys with spinning rods get into a fish maybe two but that was it. Fishing till dark I didn't have a pull and I think Ken said the same.
Jed and Art fared a little better each getting a fish with their guide. Jed got a small steelhead or a large rainbow depending on whether you think the fish might have run out into the lake or not, I'll let Jed straighten that snarl out, and Art, an 8 pound brown. I'll let them chime in the details.
These trips just speed by and by this time it was Wednesday, meaning we only had the morning left to fish. The river was beautiful, frocked in snow, cold and clear. Ken and I were on Josh's hole dredging the bottom with nymphs and swinging flies. We fished that hole from to bottom and then again without a hit, then Jed gave it a try. Jed told us later a Center Pin guy drifting an egg sac came in behind him and caught a fish. Hmmph.....
Thanksgiving was closing in on us and it was time to go. We were gathered on the bank just looking at the river but we had done all we were going to do.
On the way out we stopped for coffee and apple fritters at Dunkin Donuts. Everybody said they had a good time. On Tuesday I talked to a couple locals who said there weren't a lot of fish in the river, and right then one to two fish a day was a very good day. I think we all really enjoyed this trip. It's the first lake effect storm I had been in, however it seemed a lot like those prairie blasters we got on the farm. I think what separated this trip from some of the other recent trips was that even though there weren't a lot of fish in, there were definitely some fish in and the water was very fishable. As Art said, steelhead fishing is supposed to be tough, deal with it. As for the flies that worked; they all worked equally well for me.
On the drive back I was thinking maybe I could get away again to either NY or PA. Maybe in the Spring.
There does seem to be something up with the low numbers of returning steelhead in the Great Lakes. Maybe it will sort itself out.
The next outing is December 18th to the Yellow Breeches. This will be my last outing as Outings Coordinator, Rob Shane takes over in January. I want to thank all the folks who have supported the Outings program for the past 12 years and give special thanks to my fishing buddy Ken Bowyer who has put in more effort setting up some of these outings, especially the Steelhead outings than I have.