Pulaski, New York, December 14-16, 2012
I stepped into the cold Salmon River, stripping line off the reel, getting ready to bomb a cast out to a section of quiet water located behind a set of standing waves when guide Greg Liu stopped me.

“Don’t fish too far out, the fish are right in front of you,” said Greg. “That slow water right here is where you want to fish.” He pointed to a section of the river about 10 feet off the tip of my
Beulah switch rod that was about 25 feet long and a few feet wide. I reeled up the excess line and began casting.

After several drifts Greg told me how to adjust my presentation to get a better dead drift. I began slicing up the water, starting in close and gradually fishing further out. As the line was getting tight towards the end of a drift I suddenly saw the line go tight as a steelhead grabbed the size 10 egg fly. After a short fight the fish was in the net.
I was invited to fish with Jin and Tom at the Douglaston Salmon Run in Pulaski, New York, for a couple days and it was an invitation that I never refuse. The river is usually pretty deserted at this time of the year, so there’s room to spread out, and you have the chance to tie into a big steelhead if you’re lucky and can place the fly in the right spot. At this time of the year that’s usually right in front of the fish’s face.

The water was running around 750 cfs, a jump up from 335 cfs but it had been running at the new flow rate for about a week so the fish had time to settle in. The weather was a bit warm for this time of year with the temperature running somewhere around the 40’s during the day and down into close-to-freezing at night. It was overcast most of the day although we did have spots of sunlight now and then.
We fished up and down the river over the next three days. Greg played around with the length of the leaders and went with fluorocarbon for most of the setups as we fished with egg patterns and nymphs of various colors and sizes. And it’s finding out what the fish want that can drive you crazy. On one day chartreuse worked, and we all pricked fish with that color. On another day all they ate was orange or Oregon cheese and on another they refused almost everything. But that’s fishing. However I think if you have the right presentation--an absolute dead drift--you’ll get a fish. Or at least have a better chance at hooking a fish than if your line is dragging your rig down the river.

Winter fishing is slow and methodical. You fish through a spot, making sure your fly is ticking the bottom but not so deep as to get hung up on each drift. You also get bobber fixation, watching for a telltale tick or dip that indicates a take. I am guilty of letting my attention wander and loosing track of the indicator, usually just as it goes down. Tom told me a fish is capable of inhaling a fly and spitting it out so quick that you won’t even see the indicator move or even feel it on the line. The ones that usually move your line or indicator are the ones that really want the fly and aren’t just sampling it to see if it’s edible.
Our final day on the water was the toughest. The wind was howling down the river, making casting quite challenging. And authorities decided to close a few gates at the dam, bring the water flow down to 350 cfs and by the afternoon we could see a noticeable waterline along the shore. These conditions weren’t making it easier to fish the Salmon River and a majority of the anglers we ran into reported the fish had lockjaw and weren’t biting. We fished hard throughout the day but soon it was time to reel up and hike out. Time to go home.

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 single hand, spey and switch rods with steelhead, skagit or mid-belly lines, sink tips, heavy leaders and a variety of egg patterns and nymphs.