I once had a girl who moved cities to attend college a fair distance from our home surroundings, for new challenges and brighter lights. Going to college (university, we call it) and moving away didn't seem typical for our group and I hadn't seen it coming, but I liked her and I liked the idea of moving. Spurred by this early momentum, I haven't really stopped, and I suppose the consequences of whether to stick or twist have become what some might call an interesting subtext. Some of my childhood friends left too, some stayed home, driven by their own set of circumstances and people.
I've come to realize that this is what I appreciate most about steelhead fishing on the Salmon River, Pulaski. In fact, there are numerous other things to enjoy. For a start, there's a 6 hour drive to detach you from whatever you were doing before your temporary purpose as an angler. There's cabin life, which you haven't let go of since you were a kid and which still excites you; all bunkbeds, flatulence, coffee and survival. Home cooking and wine and beer after knackering yourself outside all day.
The Salmon has a bad rep for being crowded, dirty, and of dubious angling ethics. If you go to certain parts - within stumbling distance of most parking lots - you'll see why. But what it also has is some of the best fly water and the best freshwater gamefish in America's East: the Steelhead. Still, many anglers go there to be sure of as many fish as possible, standing shoulder to shoulder where most of the fish converge. Others hire a guide and drift the river, benefiting from an efficient conveyor of the best spots to cast for a take, and many more wake early to secure what they hope will be a productive pool, which they might fish all day. I've done this and it can certainly be good if you called the right spot, or have the pateince to be fishing for the short time when the fish decide to run, feed or otherwise be catchable. But the most exciting fishing happens when your plans head south and force you to move. A fishing partner with wanderlust has the desirable effect, too.
The desirable effect.
After two days of hard work and few fish, Todd and I were ready to roll home rather than fish our last half day. We retired for the night with no plan and no alarm call; not what you'd call dedication, but a river on the rise with dirty runoff will do that. We packed up the cabin (always melancholy), wandered our way to the middle river well after the morning rush, and began to move and fish across several of the meandering and unfamiliar ribbon streams that form this section of the Salmon. New decisions were needed as to likely fish yielding (and feasible fish landing) pools and runs. Water was weighed, ignored, and more path picked. We started to fish risky water that others wouldn't stop at (surely where a fish would choose to be?) One such was a deep gravel bend, inside of which was a rapid tapering into an unpassable torrent, nicely bound near and far by log jams that were really fallen trees. A long cast, rinse and repeat, and then the fish is taking line and backing downstream to certain departure. There's a point during the fight when you stop laughing at the ridiculousness of your position and knuckle down to the serious matter at hand, landing a steelhead and not drowning. You follow the fish through wader-high current but can go no further. It is coming back up on your side, but still has every option around islands and swollen side streams. You apply pressure in the clear knowledge that you have no control of what happens next. The net man arrives and sees what you see: a single 4' eddy and one shot to land the impossible steelhead. He does so, and it feels like the first fish you've actually earned.
The rest of the day was similar adventure. We picked our way around the high-water braids (in my case, falling often), finding the nicest, intimate runs and pools I've seen on a public stream. Each required us to learn new snags, drifts, overhanging trees, landing spots (we found no good ones) and places to drown. We fished in solitude, hooked and lost many more great fish, all unexpected and unplanned, all while on the move, hunting over the Salmon River rather than standing casting in one spot. As far from figuring out how to catch steelhead as you can get, but the last day of the steelhead year provided a most welcome reminder that satisfaction in fishing can, and probably should, be measured by one's efforts and endeavors exploring a river, with other technicalities, sedentary plans and hum-drum tackle left for when you get back home.