Oswego County, New York, November 3-4, 2012
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We came with spey rods. We came with switch rods. We had Skagit, Scandi and Speydicator lines. We had sink tips and bobbers, egg patterns, nymphs and buggers. We had a big net. The steelhead still kicked our ass.

I was fishing for steelhead with Jin and guide Greg Liu at the Douglaston Salmon Run in Pulaski, New York, but the fish were just not in a bitting mood. It sounds a lot better saying the fish were being picky or the fishing was slow rather than “I sucked” or “Maybe I should NOT have gone down to a 6 pound leader” or “Boy, I THOUGHT that knot was tied correctly.” So I’ll say the fish weren’t in the mood.

Although we didn’t land any fish, we did get bites but it the fish gods were frowning on us because none of them were brought to net. I tickled a couple--had one boil on the surface and spit the fly and another was on briefly but after a few head shakes was off. And I saw a steelhead come up and roll under my indicator as it took a long look at it before disappearing back into a deep slot. Jin was working fast water with a switch rod and tied into a nice steelie that did a somersault through the air when he set the hook. Unfortunately a coil of line wrapped around the handle of the reel and the fly popped out. That’s just the breaks.

We moved up and down the Salmon River and fished the water hard, but it was very slow. We fished shallow. We fished deep. We swapped out flies frequently and tried different colors. We swung flies with spey and floated bobbers on switch rods. But it was tough fishing.
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I met other anglers on the water and their report was pretty much the same as what we were experiencing.

“My buddy, he’s crying over there,” said one angler from New Jersey. “We’ve been here for three days and he hasn’t gotten a nibble. We’re leaving this afternoon.”

As another lake-effect snow flurry was sweeping across the river I bumped into another angler as I was heading upstream. He asked if I caught anything or had a bite and I told him it was pretty grim and I wasn’t having any luck.

“I haven’t gotten anything either,” he said as he shook his spin rod at the river. The snow started falling harder as he looked down at the water. “This is no lie, buddy. I’m not lying to you--I swear. I haven’t gotten one bite all day.” He sighed, wished me luck, then slogged off to look for fish. The snow turned to freezing rain as I walked upriver.
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Jin, Greg and I fished hard in the rain, sleet and snow for two days. We got a total of six bites but didn’t land any of them. That’s just how it goes sometimes when you’re steelhead fishing. There are days when you pound them and fill a memory card with hero shots, big smiles and silver pigs. And other times you get stomped on. Life, and steelhead fishing, is not always fair. The fish WILL win a few rounds so don’t let it fester--just view it as a lesson you’ve learned and move on, look forward to better fishing in the future.

And there was one event that kept everything in perspective for me and it didn’t even occur on the water. A long way before I was even close to the Salmon River, as I was driving up I-95, I passed convoy after convoy of bucket trucks, utility vehicles and heavy National Guard equipment driving slowly, nose-to-tail, in the right lane. All heading north. The had plates from Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois and even a couple from California. All going north.

I didn’t get to hoist a steelhead this time, but my house is in one piece and I have electricity, heat, food, and my family is not in the hospital, missing or worse. For that, I’m very grateful.

American Red Cross: Relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy

DIRECTIONS: From Virginia, get on I-81 and it's a six hour drive north to Pulaski, which is about 30 minutes outside of Syracuse, N.Y. But watch out when you enter the Onondaga Nation territory, or Iroquois Confederacy. State police are thick in this area and are gunning for anyone going a bit too fast to reach steelhead waters in Pulaski.

EQUIPMENT: We used 7 and 8-weight switch and spey rods with floating lines. Breathable waders with 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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