Oswego County, New York, October 28-30, 2011
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"This is a historic weather event. The October snow record books from Maryland to Maine were essentially rewritten this weekend, with totals one would expect to see from a major nor'easter in December, January or February."
Steve Bowen, a meteorologist at AON Corp., in USA Today

It was cold. Colder than it should have been at this time of the year on the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY. The line wasn't shooting right because the rod guides were icing up. The wind was frigid, making your eyes and nose water. I was fly fishing for steelhead with Jin and local guide Greg Liu but the weather had put a serious case of lockjaw on the fish. However Greg knew the river well and we were determined to hook a fish.

We hit our favorite spots on the first day on the Douglaston Salmon Run and although we had a few fish on the line Jin and I went 0 for 5. We had tried a bunch of different flies, mostly various egg patterns in different colors, and changed up our presentation and depth, which really means dredging the bottom, but the fish just weren't interested. However it was also a bit comforting to know later that other anglers were also having problems today. Fly guys, pin anglers, spin fishermen, floaters, boaters and bottom bouncers were all having a tough time. People landed a fish here and there, but for most folks it was a hard and cold day on the river.
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We were back on the river early the next day. We had to scrape ice off the car's windshield in the morning but luckily our wading boots did not freeze solid overnight. A serious storm was brewing up and although the weather experts were expecting it to coat several states with a sticky layer of heavy wet snow, the Pulaski area was not expected to be on the receiving end of any of that stuff.
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After a brisk walk through the woods, Greg put me on a large rock about 30 feet from a deep slot that was about a third of the way across the river and told me to fish the softer water that was between two ripping currents. I must have thrown about a dozen or more casts into the slot before I saw something big and silvery slowly rise and follow the red indicator for a while before it rolled and slowly disappeared into the dark water. I knew what it was, but couldn't quite believe what I just saw until I heard Greg behind me say, "That was a steelhead." I wasn't seeing things. I had a witness.

I know steelhead are taken with dry flies during the summer but never expected to see a fish express interest in something on top during cold weather. But I guess a trout is a trout no matter how big it gets and they say red is a color that trout seem to see the best. I went back to fishing and after another 10-15 casts there was a brief flash of silver as a fish charged at the indicator then turned and headed for the bottom. I asked Greg if he had any 2/0 dry flies, red, but he didn't carry any. I also wondered if I could rig a hook on the indicator but gave up on that idea too and began covering the water again.

I continued to work the slot and pricked a fish. A few more casts to the same spot drew a soft but solid take and I set the hook. The fish shook its head and rolled to the surface then took off downstream. Other anglers reeled up to let me pass and after a short fight Greg netted the fish. It was a bit beat up--nibbled fins and a scar on the side that looked like someone tried to snag the fish and missed. But it was a fish and I wasn't complaining.
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I returned to the slot and fished a bit more and managed to land a small skipper (a juvenile steelhead) which jumped a few times and put up a really good fight. It measured out to maybe 20-inches and was a very fat and healthy fish.

After a lunch of hot instant noodles we continued to fish but had no luck for the rest of the afternoon. We hit a few more of our favorite slots and runs but everything was coming up dry. Other anglers we bumped into on the river were also looking for fish and there was a lot of fishing going on but very little catching.

The next morning we found out the storm had hammered the regions below and above us but Pulaski escaped with only cold temperature and a few random flakes. I was perched on my favorite rock and casting to the same water that produced fish the previous day. Guide Greg came up behind me and watched a bit and before heading down river with Jin told me to throw my casts further up stream, into the fast water, because there was a ledge under the surface and the water would sweep the fly over the edge and right into the steelhead that are holding there. I threw one cast and as the indicator cleared the fast water and the fly fell into the slot I got a take. The steelhead cartwheeled across the surface and I was so surprised that I didn't set the hook firmly and the fish shook free. Greg told me to get back in there then walked down river to join Jin.
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I was working the fast water when the indicator disappeared. I yanked back hard on the rod and felt the hook bite into something solid. A silvery fish boiled to the surface, somersaulted several times then blasted off downstream. Greg and Jin were around the bend of the river and I couldn't see them so I backed off on the drag and let the fish have its way as I ran with it along the bank of the river. When I could see the tops of their baseball caps I let out a yell that I had a fish on and I could see Greg's head above the tall grass, heading towards me. I cranked down the drag and began gaining line as I maneuvered the fish into slower water. In a few minutes Greg had it in his net.
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We had another noodle lunch, which warmed us up, then continued fishing. About a half mile downstream Jin pricked a few steelhead holding in fast water then tied into a beauty which put up a good fight. The fish tried to dart downstream but Jin managed to get it into the slower water where Greg could get it into the net.
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We continued to fish. Jin poked a few more fish and I stuck one in fast water above him--it hit the fly seconds after it hit the water and I didn't get a good hook set. We continued to fish but it was slow. None of the steelhead were interested in eating a fly. I could see other anglers weren't having much luck either and after a few more hours of fishing it was time to call it a trip and head back south for home.

DIRECTIONS: From Virginia I just got on I-81 and it's a straight six hour drive north to Pulaski, which is about 30 minutes outside of Syracuse, NY.

EQUIPMENT: We used 7 and 8-weight switch and spey rods with floating lines. Breathable waders with rubber soled boots studded with steel cleats, polarized glasses and a wading staff are mandatory for navigating the Salmon River. Also thermal layers, gloves and a good, waterproof, breathable rain jacket and cap.
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