Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Steelhead Habit


I'm recording this here to keep our shit together, in all likelihood just so I can find it later when I'm old and unable to find the bathroom. Things are already pretty jumbled.

They say your parents fuck you up, but I think it depends who they are. I took my kid Harris to the Salmon River last week. We stayed in a warm cabin for three nights, ate well, and fished a good river for a day and a half, hooking, losing and landing enough steelhead to make this a fine trip. We had a good time.

I think that's pretty good parenting. 

I've been going to the same river for 8 years now every November. Occasionally I've been in December, and there were a couple of trips in deep winter that were really stupid but good fun. Harris has been asking to come in recent years, so this was it.

The sheets in the cabin at Roger's place smell the same as they have each year. The dead King's smell the same too. Both really good smells. It's the kind of physical reaction that becomes more noticeable as we age, and makes you want to write things down. My Dad always said write it down. 

But I don't really know why these smells are worthy of a note. Maybe it's compensation for failing eyes.

It's a great joy to note that this fishing trip really got to us both in the way you hope things will but can't predict. I made this film of our time in the car and on the water, and wrote this note when we got back to Connecticut.

Tight lines,


The Steelhead Habit

Bill’s fish runs up and across, wrapping a submerged limb, then out and quickly downstream, into the backing to find a protruding tussock grass. Miraculously still attached, she uses the river’s breadth, pulling a big belly of fly line under the water, a long way from where this started - more backing out. He shouldn’t land this fish. But finally, not quite spent, into the shallows.

After all this improbability a botched net job provides an air of bad feeling all around, especially mine, the net man. Apologies are made and no hard feelings. It can happen. 

Steelhead fishing is a sensual affair. The fish are shiny prizes: pristine despite their bastard status in the Great Lakes tributaries. The Salmon River, its carbide scars and high-trafficked byways, is a quality fishing river. Riffles, pools, runs, twists and braids that split the main course into rivulets and island adventures. The woods are the real deal. The lake effect weather is too. Fishing hours are governed by competition for bank space, food, wool and dryness.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, tree, outdoor and nature Dead salmon lay here. The reason we and the steelhead are here. Hanging bent from log jams. Lying as the high water left them - once good looking fish. Sizable.

And their smell. The scent tells you you’re back. Like a place you grew up. Visiting grandparents. Stoking distant home fires. Wool blankets and thermostats. Absolute comfort. The smell of the laundry at the cabins hasn’t changed for eight years. The recognition is unambiguous. This is now officially a habit.

We’ve come a long way, driven five hours over the Hudson to one of the most depressed areas of New York State to fish for the ultimate pleasure. My son said it is the salmon graveyard.

Amish traps don’t bother with lights. Make sure you miss them on the drive to your early morning spot. Over three days the river is big, then falls by a half, then another quarter of itself (Winter will arrived in 12 hours and river levels need to be managed.) Mid morning on your second full day you hook a 10lb buck on the fly rod. More backing and into the pool way below. Strong, strong fish. That logjam should see him free, but after three passes to the net he’s done. On his first visit to the big river your son crouches and lifts the net, bringing the fish in as you should have. Neither of you will forget this journey away from home.

{Submitted only here for minimum audience and fuss}