Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Hang Around Until You Catch One"

That's what the motel sign says. Good marketing and sound advice to steelhead anglers on the Salmon River this time of year. And from the looks of things, between the hunters and fishermen, business is hopping right now...we can barely find a place to park in front of the gas station in North Fork. Jamie and I have hauled a boat, 5 fly rods and a dog over Lost Trail Pass for a few days of swinging; judging from the number of Montana plates in the parking lot, this seems to be the cool thing to do this weekend.

Licenses, propane, whiskey. Bases covered, we set up camp and get down to fishing. There's a great run out back of the campground, so we figured why not get the lines wet right away? Jamie hasn't cast a two-handed rod very much, but he did well the last time I saw him cast (2 or 3 years ago), and he picked it up quickly this time around as well. After watching clients struggle with single-handed casting all season, and recalling my own frustration with learning to spey cast, watching him naturally fire out 70 footers shortly after picking the rod up was pretty entertaining. It also pissed me off a little bit...

We had great steelheading weather most of the weekend; it rained a fair amount Friday night, which motivated us to go in to Salmon for dinner and drinks at the Shady Nook in lieu of sitting around the fire in the rain. Fried chicken night, good call. And an upstream wind kicked our asses a little bit on Saturday afternoon, relegating these right-top-hand-only casters to the left bank so we wouldn't pelt our faces with string leeches. But overall the weather was good, the water was green, and the whole weekend had that late-fall, achingly fishy feel to it.

And the steelhead were grabby. We got blanked in a couple of runs Friday evening, but connected with half a dozen fish Saturday, landing two hatchery hens. Nymphing out of the boat covered the water between swinging runs, and we hooked fish both on the swing and under the bobber. When the gal doing fish counts for Idaho Fish and Game stopped by the take-out, we proudly told her that we had caught a couple of fish. She smirked and said, "Yeah, it's been pretty good." I think we were bringing the average down.

A short note about dinner Saturday night. Campfire. Clear skies. New York strips on the grill, caesar salad, and red wine. Cookies. That is all.

Sunday we floated the same stretch as the day before. On Saturday we had been able to avoid much of the traffic...I think we only saw one or two other boats the whole day. Sunday we had a little more company, including the seemingly ever-present guy that insists on pulling plugs through the end of your swing. Whatever, the sun is shining and the fish are biting.

Jamie got the stink off his spey-casting career in fine form that day, hooking a solid 7-8 lb hatchery hen on the hang-down late in the morning. That's a solid fish on the Salmon, and Jamie was rightfully pumped.

The day was a success at that point, and we wanted to hit the road back to Missoula reasonably early that afternoon. But don't think that I didn't want a fish of my own, and the afternoon held promise. We pulled in to a run where the afternoon before I had hooked and lost two fish, bringing one all the way to the bank before the hook popped. As I swung through the sweet spot this time around, the line again went tight...a very slow, soft grab. A couple clicks off the reel, and I came tight on her. Fish on! After giving me the treatment, I was able to get the upper hand and bring her in to the shallows, snap a couple of pics, and let her go.

More than satisfied, we pushed the boat out, Jamie hitched a ride back up to the truck, and we headed back to break camp. Highly motivated on steelhead and Budweiser, camp came down in near-record time. One last stop at the North Fork store for gas and some air in Jamie's ailing front left tire, and we headed back over the pass.

The drive home went easily, especially since I didn't have to drive....so maybe I should call it my ride home. We made a stop at the Broken Arrow in Gibbonsville, which is the greatest little hole-in-the-wall-Mexican-restaurant-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-that's-never-open...and, thank God, it was open. Full bellies, high spirits, and one damn fine trip. When can we go back?

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