I’ve never fished for salmon before. Well that’s not entirely true, I put a couple in the boat many many years ago on a gray, rainy, green-in-the-face, sea sick day on Lake Ontario. So, more accurately, I’ve never fly fished for them. When a couple of my friends invited me to tag along to a Lake Ontario tributary for the Chinook run I graciously accepted. I figured I could even hit a Lake Erie stream on the way for a steelhead or two if there was any flow.
Water levels along the eastern Great Lakes have been scant this Fall and the fish that have made it into the tributaries have found themselves literally holed up. I had been considering conditions last week and wanted to swing something mottled and natural on a smaller hook. In the end I wrapped up a size 2 7999 with gold accents over hare’s ear, red golden pheasant crest tail, a little blue eared pheasant hackle toward the head, and a set of small turkey Dee-style split wings.
I like the overall size of this fly but I in the future I won’t tie these on 7999’s
After parking, gearing up, and heading down to the water I got some line out and started methodically working down the first run I saw. I got through the faster water and then right in the tailout seam I got the tug. I love when they’re right where they’re supposed to be. It makes you feel like you actually know what you’re doing. That sentiment though, is debatable at best when it comes to me and fishing.
I had my first experience with a guy fishing a center pin rig shortly after landing the little guy pictured above. As a disclaimer, I’m not painting pinners with a broad brush. People should be judged on an individual basis. There are more horse’s asses in the world than there are horses…and they fish many different ways, even fly rods. Well this guy asked if he could cross the creek above me and I told him to have at it. I even thanked him for asking. I saw his hubcap sized reel and knew he could drift the entire run if he wanted to but there was a lot of good water above me that I had already fished. I returned to swinging down the run below where I got my last pull. Sure enough, he sets up right across from me and begins lobbing his float in front of me and drifting the last 100′ of water that I was about to fish. Oblivious to what I was doing, he kept recommending what egg patterns I should use and explaining to me how, “no one ties eggs like me, cross over here and I’ll show you how I do it.” After several more comments of how he “invented this” or “was the first to do that” I pulled up and moved on. I got my fish on my terms and wasn’t going to let this guy ruin my morning. To be fair, I did meet an extremely polite guy pinning further upstream who understood good etiquette. I had a great conversation with him before moving on to my next destination.
I continued to head north toward Lake Ontario but made a quick pit stop at the Oak Orchard Fly Shop just off of the highway near Buffalo. I needed a fly line and I knew that they had some Daiichi 2091’s in stock so I grabbed those as well. I highly recommend this shop and if you’re in the area stop in and talk to Nick. You won’t be disappointed. Check them out at http://oakorchardflyshop.com/ if you can’t make it in person.
Finally, a few quick thoughts on fishing for kings…I can definitively say I’m still not sure what to make of it all. These fish are massive and even at the end of their life cycle have trememdous power. I can understand the allure in that regard. I think what is conflicting for me is that they don’t really eat once they’re in the river. So you drift and drift and drift just hoping that one will chomp on your fly, but they rarely do. In two days I hooked up with five of them and only one was in the mouth. I’ve never heard my reel scream like that before and it was over before it started. I palmed my reel and she broke me off sending my indicator rig airborn right back in my face. It felt as if the fish did it on purpose. New York state has made regulations to prevent the snagging of these fish but the culture is still prevalent. If you stop and watch one guy at a time you can tell pretty quickly if he’s trying to snag or not. I’d say that of all the fish I saw caught about 90% weren’t hooked in the mouth. Even using a size 16 egg fly, I still foul hooked 4 accidentally. I guess it is what it is as they say.
Additionally the fishing pressure is ridiculous. I saw people hook the next guy in line once or twice and numerous times people fishing across from each other would tangle. Once I saw three guys tangled and one had a fish on. It is a circus for sure. I think the amount of pressure tempered my enthusiasm for kings a bit. I was fairly content with watching and when I did fish, I had to get out of the way of running fish quite frequently.
In order to escape the crowds a bit we headed down to the mouth of the trib on the lake. Ontario being a cranky old girl had decided to whip up a good 20-30mph sustained wind to greet us. Even casting my 9wt wasn’t too effective but i managed to muscle a few out there. While fishing off of a break water pier I felt a good pull and a headshake. The fish rolled over and I thought, “is this a brown?” Then it took off. A little more muscle than I had expected. With tons of salmon, steelhead, and browns heading to the mouth of this creek you can imagine my surprise when I realized it was a northern pike.
So I drove all the way to Lake Ontario for salmon and landed a pike. I’ll take it. It was another learning experience and I want to thank Tom, Janice, and Diane for showing me the ropes. Hell, camping with friends is worth the drive alone in my opinion. I hope that I get the chance to do it again.