King Time

The salmon are in!  Those words are no exaggeration on the Salmon River.  Over the past week, thousands of king salmon poured upriver.  These fish don’t care that it’s mid-September.  I’d heard multiple reports about stellar early season fishing on the Salmon River.  Even though the water temperature was hovering around upper 60’s and the flow  rate a mere 185 cfs, fishing has been superb.

I was itching to savor one last dry fly day on the WBD.   It’s tough for me to say goodbye to that magnificent technical dry fly fishery for the season.  At the same time, images of fresh charging, somersaulting kings is tough to resist.  The multitude of exciting salmon reports convinced me to visit Pulaski.  This is such a popular destination fishery, there’s an abundance of good fishing websites available regarding the run status.  It’s always a unique experience to be there in September when  kings are fresh.  So, I voted for the Salmon River over the WBD.  Besides,  WBD reports were inconsistent.

A friend (Brian) joined me for the adventure and we were psyched to tug on some salmon.  We located a less crowded stretch above I-81.  Hiking to the water, another angler informed us that there were only 100 salmon in the pool.  I guess he was mildly disappointed, because he estimated that there were 400 last night. Since we got up at four am and drove two hours to fish, we liked the odds of 100 salmon in the pool.  It takes one nice fish to make my day!  Arriving at the pool, there were 6-8  anglers scattered along the opposite bank and tail out.  Glancing upstream, we witnessed several salmon waking upward through the shallow riffle.  It was impossible to ignore the speeding, splashing submarines as they powered upriver.  I wasn’t geared up yet and encouraged Brian to fish the upper riffle.  There wasn’t anybody within 100 yards of our location, on our side of the river.  I hadn’t even selected a fly, when Brian was tight to a salmon.  On his second cast through a shallow riffle, a 35″ king chomped his fly.  It’s either a good omen, or bad one if you catch a fish on your first few casts.  Well, this was a good omen   We enjoyed the good fortune of pulling on fish from 7 am to 7 pm.  I didn’t count 100 salmon in that pool, but there certainly were dozens.  More than enough to satisfy a salmon angler’s fancy.

Once the sun hit the water and the air warmed up, we departed that pool.  We were watching too many fish foul hooked and preferred more space.  We hiked upstream and focused our efforts at the very top of a long riffle.  We located the deepest spot of the riffle as it pushed against a point.  All fish traveling upstream, passed through this 15′ long,  4′ deep trough. We had 300 yards of water to ourselves and camped out on this 15′ long, 4′ deep  trough.  Each fish would rest here, after traversing the lengthy riffle.  It was a convenient resting area before a long flat stretch. We picked off fish after fish in that trough.  The only time it didn’t fish well was towards dusk.  Brian and I battled several dozen salmon.  Our best was a 40″ fish that likely weighed between 25 to 30 pounds.  They beat us up as we chased them upstream, downstream and held on during their tirades.

That unique trough was the most promising fishing spot along our stretch of river.  We explored other water, but none yielded consistent biters like these fresh, resting fish.  The slow pools boasted plenty of fish, but they shifted away from flies.  I even dropped down to 8 lb test and gently nymphed no weight, tiny egg or stonefly patterns with no success.  Those salmon resting atop the water column in pools, weren’t cooperative.  Our best bites were in fast water.  I did manage to hook two fish swinging a fly, but dead drift nymphing egg patterns, stoneflies or olive/black wooly buggers was the key.  Those fish preferred purple or rose colored egg patterns, as well as chartreuse.  If we dropped down to 10 lb test, we experienced more hook ups.  At the same time, we landed more fish with 12 pound test.  It was wise to re-tie after each fish, as our tippets became so scraped on the rocky ledges as we fought each salmon.  Because of the low flow these fish had less room to escape.  It was easier to hang on to them once hooked.  We cranked down the drag and only  2-3 fish made it into our backing.  The warm water temperature was another factor in taming them quickly.  Warm water forced the salmon tired quicker and fight with less vigor.

We did manage to foul hook several salmon, but the vast majority were cleanly hooked in the mouth, or corner of the mouth.  When you witness a salmon elevate through the water column to intercept your fly, you know it is a clean take.  Crowds weren’t bad and we even landed several fresh, silver fish.  Fishing the Salmon River was a blast.  We were semi-exhausted from fighting so many fish.  It was epic fishing and a memorable day.  Who knows how long it will last?  If you’re itching to pull on some hard fighting, large fish,  make it King Time and head to the Salmon River!

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Craig Dennison

This is Craig and I host Fly Fisher's Workshop. My fly fishing experiences include plenty of travel (Montana/Florida/North Carolina/Maine) and a few years part time guiding for trout. While I primarily target trout and steelhead, I still manage to chase warm water species and enjoy chasing stripers and bluefish. I'm a 3rd generation fly fisher trying to share the passion with my two sons!

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