Salmon are in! Those three magical words mark the start of promising Fall tributary fishing. Recent rain raised water levels and cool nights dropped water temperature. While larger systems like the Genesee and Salmon River have known the presence of salmon for weeks, smaller tributaries received their first push of salmon a few days ago. With rain presently falling and more rain in the extended forecast, it looks like we’ll see plenty of salmon in October.
A friend and I recently journeyed to the Salmon River. We fished late afternoon in the Lower Fly Zone and between us, my buddy only managed one nice coho. It sucked in a large, bright orange streamer near dusk. That coho fought well and we were pleased to land it. Yet, we were frustrated with our overall results. We saw dozens of cohos and presented as many flies to them, but only enjoyed that one take. I dead drifted numerous patterns, swung flies and covered plenty of water. Multiple depth changes, split shot adjustments, sink tip alterations and types of water, yielded no aggressive, fly eating salmon. They were there, but not willing to take flies. It’s always tempting to fish to those stacked up fish. However, if they won’t take and actively avoid your flies, then it’s time to switch things up.
Next morning, we moved downstream to a less populated stretch a mile below Sportsman’s Pool. We heard that kings were pushing upriver. Our reasoning was that we needed to find fresher fish. Fish that hadn’t been in the river system more than a day or two. Fish that were more aggressive, willing to move for a fly and less focused on jockeying for spawning position. Our reasoning paid off. Between 7 am to 3 pm, my friend and I hooked 25 or more fish. Other than a rogue coho and an early morning brown, all were king salmon. These were strong, fresh, active fish that vigorously jumped, tore off line and screamed downstream when hooked. Most became unbuttoned in the lengthy riffle below us. Changing tippet from 12 lb to 15 lb allowed us to put more pressure on those strong fish. Still, we never put a hand on most of them as it wasn’t wise nor safe to pursue these guys in the powerful riffle below us.
Finding the right spot can make all the difference on the Salmon River. That day, w witnessed 200 or more kings swim upstream. We easily watched them cruise over the shallow shale shelf. We camped out on an deceptively deep run, just above a lengthy riffle. Here, the salmon would rest after surging through the long riffle. Our strategy was to find a source of fresh fish, that weren’t constantly moving. After the 200 yard riffle, fish would pause or hang out in the deep trough that we located. We took turns fishing, or squeezed together and timed our casts. Almost all of our fish came at the end of the drift, just before the tail out/gradient lip of the run. These kings took natural colored wooly buggers. Grizzly olive was the clear favorite, with variations of brown and black also hooking a few kings. Anything with too much flash or gaudy egg colors were met with constant rejection. It’s pretty cool to see a fresh salmon move to the side, or tilt upward to engulf your fly. It happened enough times to make our arms sore.
That one trip is enough to satisfy my annual “Salmon Fix”. A superb, early season trip on the Salmon River will do that to you. We didn’t experience any issues with angler crowding at our spot. Indeed, we had yards and yards of water to ourselves. Oddly, another friend fished the Salmon the following day and experienced no active fly taking fish. I suppose those are the natural nuances of salmon fishing. If you catch fresh fish on the move, it can be stellar. Or, if you catch older river fish, they can show you their definition of lock jaw. I’m just grateful that we hit good conditions and that I was able to battle multiple salmon in a day. If I have another chance to get my “Salmon Fix”, great. If not, then I’ll look forward to fresh runs of lake run browns and steelhead.
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