Pulaski, New York, December 2-4, 2017
  • IMG_1702
  • P1060661
  • P1060668
  • P1060672
  • IMG_1697
  • P1060691
  • IMG_1706
  • P1060725
  • jquery slideshow
  • P1060754
carousel jquery by WOWSlider.com v8.1m

I was carefully fishing the slow water in a deep pocket flanked by fast-moving water when guide
Greg Liu suggested a fly change, explaining that sometimes a different color fished through the same area triggers a strike. So we swapped out the peach-colored pattern I had been fishing with for the past half hour and Greg tied on a dark pink/maroon fly, same size, and told me to be alert because the fish will usually strike on the first drift. He was right.

After an upriver cast and mend, the fly drifted between two small waves and through the pocket’s slow water. As it was entering the tailout, there was a hard strike. I heard Greg shout, “PULL!” as I set the hook -- felt a heavy weight on the other end of the line and watched as a steelhead rocketed out of the water, flipped head over tail, then headed full speed down river.

Normally, I don’t have excess line out of the reel but before the fly change I was extending the drift of the fly quite a bit so some of the 7 weight Speydicator line was floating below me in the current when the steelhead made the take. In a few seconds, most of the line zipped through the tip-top but a wild loop cinched tight around the lower section of my wading staff, pulling the tip out of the water and up and towards the rod. Greg and I grabbed at the mess and cleared it in a few seconds but the damage was done. The line was slack, the fish was gone. Greg stood there, staring down river, while I dropped a few f-bombs.


Our November trip to fish for steelhead on the Salmon River was a washout due to a high water event but Jin had some time for another attempt so we headed for the Douglaston Salmon Run on the Salmon River in Pulaski, New York.

In November, the water was roaring down the river at over 4,000cfs but for the duration of our trip it was expected to be a steady 650cfs, with beautiful, clear weather.

There were a lot of anglers on the water and we fished several of the known, and many not so well known, locations on the river. Jin caught the first steelhead early on the first day of our trip, and a very small one a few hours later. We didn’t know it then, but that would be the only fish caught for the duration of the trip. Despite the beautiful weather, the fishing was slow -- not only for us but for everyone fishing fly or bait.

We fished hard and moved often. We changed fly size and color. We threw stuff at steelhead that was not normally thrown at this time of the year, if ever. I even tossed a bright pink shad fly with no results. Every size and color of egg patterns, various nymphs, buggers with and without legs, shrimp and baitfish flies. The fish were here. They were just being very, very picky. Maybe that Super Moon had something to do with the fish being finicky or maybe it was that banana I saw Jin eat for breakfast that threw the fishing mojo off.

When fishing is difficult, you begin to set the hook on anything that causes a pause during the drift. Sometimes it’s nothing and the whole rig flies out of the water. Sometimes you set hard on a rock, stick, leaves or a tangle of heavy monofilament left over from salmon season. Sometimes you get everything back, including whatever junk got tangled with the fly. Sometimes you loose the fly and in the worst case you get totally cleaned and have to retie everything.

It was late in the afternoon on the last day of fishing when I got an eat. Greg had just swapped out the fly to a new color when the fish ate it on the first drift through a narrow slot of slow water surrounded by fast-moving current. Call it bad luck or sloppy fishing, some of the fly line I had dangling downstream looped around my wading stick and when everything pulled tight, the fish pulled off. It was a nice fish. Greg and I just stared down river. He was silent. I was just firing off GD f-bombs. All that walking, up and down the river. All those casts. All those fly changes. The fishing gods were merciless. But that’s steelhead fishing.

Strange, but days after the trip, as I sat in my office in Arlington, Va., sometimes out of nowhere, I can still see it -- that beautiful fish going head over tail in slow motion as silver flashed in the late afternoon sun. That one is probably going to haunt me for a while.

DIRECTIONS: Fly into Syracuse Hancock International Airport or, from Virginia, just follow I-81 for a seven hour drive north to Pulaski, N.Y., which is about 30 minutes outside of Syracuse. Our shop of choice is Whitaker’s, about a quarter mile to the right of the freeway exit.

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, streamers, and nymphs from size 2 to 12.