Pulaski, New York, October 30-November 1, 2010
When you fish for steelhead in the Fall, especially in northern New York near Lake Ontario, you always expect bad weather. And like mail carriers steelheaders are not deterred by rain, sleet or snow because bad weather usually triggers something in a trout's brain that tells it that it's time to eat. But sometimes it doesn't.

I joined Jin to fish for steelhead with guide Greg Liu at the
Douglaston Salmon Run on the Salmon River in Pulaski, New York. The salmon season had just ended and Great Lakes steelhead were making their annual run up river. But we knew we were coming in on the back end of a huge cold snap so we were prepared with layers of fleece and lots of instant noodle soup.

We met Greg at Whitakers Sports Store and soon we were trudging down one of the many small foot paths that lead down to the water along the Douglaston Salmon Run.
We were both using spey rods on this trip. Jin was using a 13-foot six inch 7 weight and I was swinging a 13 foot 8/9 weight stick. Spey rods, and it's slightly shorter cousin the switch rod, has gone from a novelty item used by only a few anglers to an accepted technique used by many for catching steelhead. Does it catch more fish? Yes and no. It allows you to reach water that you can't reach with a single hand fly rod and the longer rod length allows you to easily mend way more line and extend your drift. But when you need to fish close to the bank or make tight, precision casts to those deep pockets sandwiched between fast currents or high stick on a tight line, the single hand rod is the tool of choice.

Just minutes into fishing, on his third cast, Jin hooked and landed a nice steelhead. The adrenaline was pumping and we continued to cast at locations that Greg pointed out. I missed two fish and Jin landed a few more as we worked our way down river. The weather began to turn cold and nasty and the bite tapered off so we broke for lunch.

Sandwiches are great but hot noodle soup on a cold day is even better. Both Jin and Greg had
JetBoil stoves to heat up water and soon we were wolfing down a variety of noodle bowls--spicy Korean Shin Ramen, Vietnamese pork noodles and Sanukiya Japanese udon. Top that off with a few micro candy bars, a bottle of water and a quick pit stop behind a tree and you're good for the rest of the day.

We continued to fish throughout the afternoon but the fish weren't cooperating. The temperature was falling and Greg told us the weather would turn really ugly the next day.
We got slammed. Frigid temperatures. Rain. Sleet. Hail. Snow. Wind. It came at us in waves. One minute it would be a slow drizzle that turned into heavy rain which then became sleet. A few minutes later it would be hail followed by more biting wind and rain which then turned into wet snow. It was a cold, soggy morning but Jin got into a few more fish and that made the conditions a bearable. However the steelhead were showing me no love. But that's fishing. By late afternoon the weather system had blown through and there were blue skies on the horizon.
We finished our day with Greg but still had a few hours to kill before meeting for dinner at the
River House Restaurant so Jin and I decided to try fishing at the Upper Fly Zone near the fish hatchery.

There were only a few cars parked along the road next to the river so we thought it wouldn't be that crowded but as we hiked down the trail we saw a lot of anglers strung out along the bank. Jin and I walked downstream and as I passed a fly fisherman working on his gear he looked up at me and called my name.
The fellow looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place the face so I just walked on. We found a spot and began setting up the rods to fish. This section of the river was narrow and you could hit the opposite bank with your cast if you weren't careful but the fish funneled up through this spot and you could
tight-line an egg pattern or nymph, bottom-bouncing as you swing with the current. I completed two swings when the same familiar-looking angler came up to me again and called my name.

It took a while for my brain to register who I was talking to. The stubble, a worn baseball cap and scruffy fishing clothing threw me off. It was my boss, John. The river is huge. There are hundreds of places to fish. Yet somehow we crossed paths. After getting over the initial shock we exchanged the information that is customary for all anglers--where have you been and what have you been getting them on? This was his first time fishing the Salmon River and he was with his brother, who was an experienced fly fisherman. They arrived in town the day before we got in and were leaving a day before we were scheduled to leave. John said fishing had been slow, but it had been that way for us too and from what I had seen so far, the steelhead were coming in but they weren't interested in biting. John and his brother were getting ready to leave so I gave him a few flies to try the next day. Jin and I continued to fish but it was getting dark and we had a dinner date in town so we packed it in for the day.
The following morning was much warmer than the previous day so we didn't have to layer up as much. It was 36 degrees. Which is a lot better than previous early morning highs pegged somewhere in the mid to high 20's. Greg changed up the routine a bit and we started at a location that was further down the river. Because we didn't have to walk as far to get to this spot it was still quite dark when we arrived so we stood around and waited for sunrise before we began fishing.
Greg told me to fish a spot that was just a few feet from shore. It was close in but very deep. The shallow gravel bottom dropped off a few feet from shore and the slow-moving water was dark. I only had a bit of line out and was just about to lift for another cast when I got a bite.
It was over quickly. It was a steelhead, but not quite 18 inches long. Bright silver and pulling hard. On a trout rod it would have been a fair fight but on a 13 foot spey rod there was only one outcome. It came to hand quickly and just as fast it was released back into the river.
We fished for a while but the bite was slow. We pulled in line and began to fish our way down the river. There were other anglers scattered along the banks but they all reported that fishing was slow. As we fired off cast and mended our drifts we would see the occasional steelhead leap out of the water or catch a brief flash of silver as the fish rolled close to the surface. The fish were there. They just weren't in the mood to eat.
After lunch, Jin picked up a few fish in the afternoon but soon it was time for us to pack up and head for home. Despite the low numbers it had been a good trip and we knew we'd get another crack at steelhead in December.

DIRECTIONS: From Virginia just follow I-81 and it's a seven hour drive north to Pulaski, N.Y., which is about 30 minutes outside of Syracuse.
EQUIPMENT: We used spey and switch rods with skagit or mid-belly lines, sink tips, heavy leaders and a variety of egg patterns and nymphs.