I‘ll be honest, I am not much of a Pacific Salmon fisherman. There are many reasons for this the first being I have more passion for pursuing trout, landlocked salmon and steelhead than I do the two species of Pacific Salmon that were introduced into the Great Lakes. Salmon runs on the Salmon River can start as early as August. At that time of the year and into October the weather can be very nice. Nice fare weather combined with big fish in the river will also bring out hoards of fisherman.
Years ago, when I first started fishing the Salmon River, I took a drive from South Utica, where I lived at the time, up to the river with my sights on fishing the Sportsman’s Pool. It was on October 5th and I was pretty excited at the chance of hooking a salmon. I was up early and was at the parking lot before light. There were not many cars in the lot so that seemed encouraging. I walked to the river and had the head of the pool to myself, but it was still too early to fish so I checked over my gear to pass the time . As I waited more and more fisherman arrived at the pool. By the time fishing was legal the place was elbow to elbow. I never made a cast and decided to leave. I drove 20 minutes or so to Taberg and went north as I decided to fish The East Branch of Fish Creek. The pool I picked was void of fisherman but there were rising fish. I spent the late morning casting elk hair caddis dry flies and caught a few nice browns. Though not a whopping pacific salmon it was a great day and just what I was looking for: some room to cast and some active fish.
Over the years I have mostly avoided the Salmon River during the salmon run but friends will convince me to give it a try from time to time. One time in the early fall of 2013, my buddy called and said “Let’s go up and give it a try, it can be a warm-up for steelhead.” I guess that was convincing enough so I decided to make the trip. Since that first trip back in the 90s I have learned that the river is quite long and has over ten miles of public water below the dam at the lower reservoir. There are many spots to try and it’s possible to find a whole run to yourself during salmon season, even on a weekend.
Another thing that deters me from spending a lot of time salmon fishing is the techniques I see used to fish. I am by no means against putting a mild bit of weight on the leader to help the fly sink a little but the amount of weight used by many fisherman is absurd. Overuse of split-shot can lead to lost flies and monofilament that ends up in the river which with the amount of fisherman can really add up. I enjoy fly casting and Spey casting too much to make the cast labor in the least by adding shot. So for salmon and steelhead I choose to use floating lines with sinking leader systems so nice loops are still possible.
On one particular outing, September 28th, 2013, my buddy and I were fishing up river in the upper fly fishing only section of the Salmon River. It was in the afternoon after a morning of no hook-ups and the weather was perfect. I had decided to fish a bright fly that I had just tied the night before. We found a nice section of water and there were no other anglers around. We could see fish moving up through the fast water. I was fishing a 12 and 1/2 foot 8 weight spey rod with a weight forward 9 weight spey line and a 3.9 inch per second sinking leader with 3 foot 12 pound tippet. I positioned myself well upstream of what looked like the main area fish were moving through. It was at the tail of the pool and seemed to be about 2-3 feet deep. The area I was targeting was about halfway across the river but the river bent to the left so by standing far enough above I could get a nice slow swing and even get the fly to dangle straight downstream into the seam the fish were moving through.
I made some casts and swung the fly; trying to keep the presentation slow and let the fly dangle in the current after the swing was completed. On one of the casts during the dangle the line went tight. I was hooked into something that hit the fly pretty hard as it dangled in the current. After an intense fight with some jumps and drag testing runs I was able to land a very dark but still healthy male Chinook Salmon. I was pretty happy and knew I had learned something that day. With a little patience in finding a nice spot to fish and thought towards presentation a King Salmon will hit a fly.