Thursday, October 6, 2016

Another one bites the dust

Ryley and I with his second king salmon of the trip.
We arrived in the dead of night and pitched our tents in the darkness. Bundled up in our sleeping bags we quickly fell asleep, if only for a moment. It felt like as soon as my eyes closed my alarm went off and we were up at 4:45 am for our next fishing adventure.

A few weeks prior, I was standing around shooting the breeze at one of my hunter safety education classes. The talk quickly led to what other instructors were doing for the upcoming Fall season. I gloated that I had finally gotten myself a bear tag and listened intently as everyone else detailed their upcoming plans. As fate would have it Dan, a fellow instructor, started telling everyone how he was going salmon fishing for chinook salmon (aka king salmon) at the beginning of October. He typically went around the same time every year, taking his son and other father/son groups for some fly-fishing fun. Dan saw my eyes perk up when he mentioned the trip and before the end of the night Ryley and I had ourselves an invite and a shopping list of the gear we would need for our last-minute upcoming adventure.

As we fumbled around in the near darkness getting dressed a chill came over my spine. I’m not sure if it was because of the brisk Fall air or from the anticipation of heading to the river to go fishing. We dressed in silence and wiped the sleep from our eyes and quickly jumped in the truck to stop at the Douglaston Salmon Run (DSR) to see if any walk-in passes were available. Our wait there was long but futile; no day passes were available and we would have to check back at 7:00 am for any afternoon passes that might be available. Now wide awake and only semi hungry we headed off for breakfast and fellowship at a local hole-in-the-wall where we would plan out the attack for today.

Ever since we received the invite I read up on everything I could get my hands on in regards to salmon fishing in Pulaski, NY home of the Salmon River. I methodically went about acquiring the gear we would need to make the trip a success. We would be “rolling our own” adventure without the use of a Captain or Guide and would be doing it on a shoe-string budget. First up was to buy the aforementioned day pass to the DSR. Our original plan was to fish the DSR on Sunday and hunt public water on Saturday. But in the weeks leading up to our trip we saw report after report of good fishing. A few days before we left tackle shops were reporting 20 plus hook-ups a day. Our hopes were high but as usual they came crashing down all too quickly. The Thursday before our trip the local power company reduced the water release from the reservoir effectively lowering the cubic flow of the river to a trickle of what it was. Fish which were already in the river continued their journey up stream and for the next day the reports didn’t seem that bad. But there didn’t appear to be many fish entering the river. The run had all but stopped.

Ryley receiving a casting lesson from Dan.
Saturday brought affirmation of our fears. At the first public spot we didn’t see any fish swim by and only saw one king come to hand a little further down the river. We spot hopped and saw a few fish here and there. Most were hunkered down in pools and not moving. Ryley managed to get in some casting practice, but it wasn’t until after lunch time that we actually saw a stretch of river with fish moving through it. It was here that we parked ourselves for a few hours futilely attempting to catch a king. Ryley was a trooper though. He didn’t complain and continued to cast nearly all day in hopes of hooking up with a fish. When I asked him if he was disappointed he said that he was having so much fun just spending time in the river and on the rocks and being out there with me. We drove to a few more spots before we headed back to camp to get changed for dinner but didn’t break out our rods again until Sunday.
Ryley practicing his casting. He ended up doing a lot of that.
After a nice pizza dinner our bellies were full and our hopes renewed as the forecast that night was calling for rain; rain that would hopefully convince a few fish to move upstream to our waiting rods and nets. Our excitement was tempered by the fact that the skies opened up as soon as we pulled into our campsite and we had to make a mad dash for the safety of our tents before we got soaked. Sleep came early that night as our bodies gave out on us quickly after zipping up our tents.

Sunday was a brand new day. We slept in until 5:45 and stopped at a local gas station/mini-mart to have some breakfast and stock up on supplies for lunch on the river. By 7:00 am we were geared up and walking to our spot on the lower end of the DSR. A place Dan had fished for several years which wasn’t too deep and afford us time to see the fish coming up the river through the shallows. Excitement was in the air as we took our spots in the river and began our casting. As the morning moved on we saw a guide behind us leading his clients to fish after fish. It seemed the kings were preferring to stick to their side of the river as the ventured upstream to the safety of deeper water. But the longer we stood there casting the more we saw a fish here and there make its way past us. By this point Ryley was becoming frustrated at not being able to catch one and to add insult to injury a fish, which had been released by an angler upstream, came barreling down the river headed for the lake and ran right into Ryley’s legs. All he could do was stand there, dumbstruck by the fact that he had just been run into by the very thing he was trying to catch!

Dan netting Ryley's first salmon.
Not soon after there was hope though. It came in the form of Dan, as he held up a rod bent over to the point of breaking, calling Ryley over to fight the fish. And fight he did. Ryley managed to maneuver the fish toward Dan’s net but the fish wasn’t about to give up. It thrashed and zigged and zagged dodging Dan’s attempts at capturing it. Then with one final push the fish swam directly through Dan’s legs and broke off the leader. As quickly as it began it was over. Looking at Ryley I expected to see disappointment in his eyes but saw, instead, a smile a mile wide. The tussle with the salmon had renewed his outlook on the day and brightened his mood. Not too long afterward Ryley got his redemption and fought a king into Dan’s waiting net. Ryley was all smiles.

Ryley and his first salmon.
At that point Ryley was content with having caught a fish and just decided to relax for a bit. But the fish were still running and Dan was still fishing and next thing we knew Ryley had an even bigger fish on the end of the line headed for Dan’s net. This fish didn’t pose as much of a battle as the first fish he hooked and Dan had him in the net before too long. Ryley was beside himself at this point. After some more photos Ryley settled in a chair on the island and proceeded to do what boys do outside; find sticks and branches and hit things with them. This pretty much occupied Ryley throughout the afternoon. I would fish for a bit, go back and check on him and his smiling face and then back to the river for me. A few times I did convince Ryley to come back out and cast some more, as the fish started to head up the river on a more regular basis. 

Another shot of Ryley and his first king.

By the time the guides had all left and it was our small group of anglers waiting for our turn. I cast and cast to no avail. After a few fish went buy I heard Dan give a shout that there was a fish upriver that I could cast to with his instruction. I initially asked Ryley if he wanted to do it himself this time but he shook his head and told me it was my turn to catch a fish. After failed attempt after failed attempt I finally connected to the beautiful king and Dan scooped him right up. This fish got a quick photo shoot and was back in the water headed to the lake. At this point I already had Ryley’s two salmon that I was going to have to drag out and I knew I couldn’t handle a third.

Ryley's second fish was nearly as big as he was.
As the sun set the weather took a turn for the worse; thunder echoed in the distance and rain drops began to fall in a steady cadence. As we trudged up out of the river, fish and equipment in hand, I marveled at how things had went to bad to good to great in the matter of a few hours. We had accomplished what we set out to do, Ryley has checked another fish off his bucket list and we were headed back to camp with more fish for the table. I don’t know exactly what our next adventure will be, but I have a good idea this is the last big fishing trip of the year. I still have that bear tag that needs to be filled and I’ve just decided to add Ryley’s name to my permit. Maybe just maybe I will be writing about that next. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors… 

What it's all about, that smile and spending quality time with Ryley.