April 2011 Outing Report.
Salmon River Steelhead

Early Sunday afternoon Dick Friss, Carl Smolka, Tim Bowers, Will Amland, Dave Simms, Lou Reichel, Ken Bowyer, and I pulled into Fat Nancy’s parking lot in Pulaski New York to buy fishing license and other bits and bobs of steelhead fishing. Earlier in the week we had received reports that the upper fly section of the Salmon River was producing some fish, so we decided to try there first.

The temps were in the 50’s with an overcast sky, the wind putting a raw chill in the air that made it seem much cooler than it was. Gearing up in the parking lot we left in groups of twos and threes to meander down to the Paradise Pool, a long stretch of river with a slight curve to it maybe a quarter mile long before it tailed out into riffles. On the gravel bar just below, a monument had been constructed of river stone and crowned with a petrifying salmon head adorned with ratty flies.

Dick's 9.5 pounder

The Salmon River in this stretch is tail water, and the flows had just been increased to 750 cfs from 500 cfs, which I was told had been the stable flow for some weeks. At 750 cfs the flow is still somewhat manageable and we were able to wade out to within casting distance to where we thought the fish would be holding. It may be spring, but the melting snow pack in the surrounding mountains made standing in the cold water for long periods of time a test of endurance where your feet go numb and knees ache. As the afternoon progressed I think everyone was into at least one fish with a few even being landed. Dick found a pod of fish just a few feet out from the river’s edge where the current met some slack water and he landed three on a cream egg pattern, the last fish snagged.

Carl’s 24” Brown

I landed one stripping a #6 cone head olive wooly bugger past a half submerged rock a few feet from shore just above where Dick was fishing. In the net I could see an olive bugger snagged in its gill flap, Carl said “she’s snagged”, and then I remembered my fly was a cone head and opened the fish’s mouth to reveal my fly. A little later Carl, who was fishing just below Dick, got a nice brown on a Patuxent Special, so sticking close to Dick seemed a good strategy for catching fish.

By this time the weather had improved. The sun came out and it became quite pleasant. For the rest of the afternoon we hung out in a cluster on the bank watching Dick fish, listening to him cuss as he fed flies to the tree limbs above, and discussing our supper possibilities.

We woke Monday to find the flows had been increased to 1250. Splitting up in smaller groups and spreading out to explore the various creeks and river spots we hoped someone would find a concentration of Steelies. The forecast was for heavy thunderstorms in the early afternoon so we were hoping for at least a half day of fishing before they hit. Ken, Lou, Dave and I decided to hit Orwell Creek. Hiking in, Ken and I went down stream, Lou and Dave went up. We found no fish downstream but Lou found fish immediately upstream. Lou hooked three fish -landing one steelhead and a brown all on egg patterns. Carl and Dick went to Big Sandy but said it was just a chute of fast water. Tim and Will hit the diversions above the Trestle Pool where Tim found some fish in the braided water and hooked a couple Steelhead on white sucker spawn; he landed one.

By early afternoon Ken and I had briefly fished the lower fly section without a strike and were back on the upper fly zone on the paradise Pool. Ken had a hook-up on a 10 pound plus fish he landed that turned out to be snagged in the tail along with a collection of other flies that we liberated before releasing him. A little later Carl and Dick showed up, I knew who it was before seeing them as I could hear Dick bellowing as he came down the path that I was in his spot. After a few hours and hundreds of cast I finally had a hook up on a fish on an orange egg pattern. Not wanting to put too much pressure on him early in the fight I let him take line out into mid river then lost him after getting him about three quarters of the way back when the 8 LB tippet parted at the loop to loop connection. He felt big, but he might have just been snagged in the tail or dorsal and bellying sideways in the current making him feel much larger.

It never did rain, but Tuesday flows were increased to 1600 cfs. Looking to the creeks again we all split up. Throughout the morning we hit several. Lou and Dave went to upper Trout Brook; Ken, Will, Tim, and I to John O’Hara Brook. It’s small and very picturesque running through farm country, something like fishing Big Hunting with an 8 weight. We did find a couple fish not many; or maybe a better term would be spook fish, because all we saw of most of them was when they scooted beneath the undercut banks.

By afternoon all eight of us were on lower Trout Brook, a lovely mid size creek that runs through timber all the way to the Salmon River. The snow melt from the mountains had it roaring but fairly clear, and the timber was flooded in several spots. It’s amazing the chances one will take trying to catch a fish. I almost got swept away by water shooting thorough a dead fall after seeing what I thought was a fish holding against a sand bar in shallow water on the far bank. Finally getting there I made several drifts to a stick of dead wood that looked remarkably like a fish in profile. I would have fished to it longer but after snagging my fly on it I became suspicious when it didn’t move. Later, Ken braved some rapids that had him and his wading staff shaking like a couple dried corn stalks in a stiff wind. I thought he was gonna get wet for sure, but he finally got himself in position on a little island mid stream to cast to some spawners he had spied in a pool that he couldn’t get a drift to from that side of the bank.

About half way down to the mouth Dick landed a really nice Steelhead out of the poacher’s pool on a black woolybugger, and if I recall correctly someone got a brook trout, Will I think. Will, Tim, Ken and I all fish/hiked down to the mouth where the creek dumped into the Salmon theorizing the fish would be stacked up to get out of the current. No such luck, but Lou, who came down a little later, hooked and landed a Steelhead on an egg sucking leech right where we had been fishing. Proof that the right fly with the right drift will catch fish.

It really got warm that afternoon and the stoneflies dived and fluttered around us like brown snow. Ken and I finally pulled ourselves away for a doughnut break back at the truck after which we headed for Grindstone creek where we met Will and Tim. We didn’t catch any Steelhead, but Will had a twenty fish afternoon on dry flies on a variety of fish ranging from 2 to 6 inches. By this time the heat was on and it felt right warm in those chest waders. Parked in the sun, the truck thermometer said it was almost 80 degrees.

The next morning as I lay in bed at 5am I could hear it raining hard against the roof and the flows had been increased to 1800. Loading up we met Jay Sheppard and his step son Darrell in the parking lot of the Fish On motel who had arrived late the night before. We gave them a brief rundown before wishing them good luck and headed for the uptown café opting instead for breakfast and an early start home.

The Great Lakes are a phenomenal Steelhead/Salmon fishery, and we have had some great days in years past. Unfortunately the last few trips to both Erie and Ontario Rivers and tributaries have proven frustrating. The last two November Outings to Erie had fish scarce and water levels extremely low. Two springs in a row to Ontario were difficult fishing, last year it was the warm temperatures that had the Steelhead falling back to the lake early, this year the fish were there but high water due to melting snow and increased dam flows made it difficult to impossible to fish for them.

We had a parking lot meeting before leaving and decided not to put a Steelhead outing on this fall’s calendar. These outings are a substantial commitment in time and money and the general consensus is that currently we’re not getting back what we are putting in. We might try a short notice outing but that makes it tough for those who have jobs and need to schedule their time off. So, at the moment there are no immediate plans for a return trip to either Erie or Ontario. Instead we decided to utilize a closer resource and a fall trip or two and maybe even an early winter trip to the Savage River in Western Maryland.

Dennis Covert


The Crew at Fish On Motel

Salmon Memorial

Another of Dick’s

Stonefly with Egg Sack

John O’hara Brook

The Crew at the Upper Fly Fishing

Dick on Trout Brook

John O’hara Brook

Ken's snagged 10 pounder

Closeup of Salmon Memorial