Pulaski, New York, December 14-16, 2018
Weather, water flow and general fishing conditions were nearly perfect on the Salmon River in Pulaski, New York. It was a good time to find Elvis.

Our guide, Greg Liu, told us that Elvis lives a quiet life during the winter, hugging the bottom of some of the deeper holes scattered along the Douglaston Salmon Run. He appears now and then, when a lucky angler manages to stick him in the face with a Size 6 1x heavy egg hook fished on a dead drift. But he doesn’t come in easily.

When Elvis gets pricked, he gets very, very angry and will blast off down river as fast as his tail and current will push him, with some serious head-shaking thrown in. Greg told us you can’t stand and argue with Elvis when he’s that angry. You just have to check your drag, be firm-footed, and follow along as your rod bends strongly and the reel drag sings. And maybe, if you’re very lucky, you might bring Elvis to hand and hoist the hog for a hero pic.
Jin and I met Greg at Whitaker’s fly shop on Friday and after gearing up we headed for the Douglaston Salmon Run. It was a fairly mild day for December on the Salmon River. It was a relief to Greg. He had almost two weeks of heavy rain, high water and close to freezing temperatures before we showed up.

The decent weather also brought out all the other steelhead anglers who had been sitting at home, cursing the daily weather reports. It was a bit difficult, but we managed to find several spots that were open and we fished them hard.
Jin and I split a large seam. I fished one side and Jin on the other, where he hooked and landed a couple of nice fish, but they weren’t Elvis. I waded across to shoot a couple pictures of his first steelhead but got lazy and didn’t bother to cross over again for his second. I settled for photo-bombing his hero shot from across the river.
I also managed to pick up a decent fish before the day was over and it was satisfying to know that, for now, I got A fish. Walking off the water fish-less—you begin to have doubts. Did I cover the water correctly? Was that twitch on the bobber caused by a rock or a fish? Was there too much drag on the fly? Those mends looked a bit sloppy. The nymph had four legs on one side and three on the other…the fish could probably tell it was a fly and not food. Maybe I should have used the lighter pink yarn for the egg patterns instead of the regular pink. Size 4 instead of Size 6? Too much split shot. Maybe not enough split shot. I think I need to stay up late tonight to tie more flies.
John joined us for the Saturday-Sunday Elvis expedition and after getting him properly outfitted at Whitaker’s we were off to join the angling crowd on the DSR.

This was John’s first time on the Salmon River so Greg stayed with him to explain how things worked. He sent Jin and I to several spots that we had fished before. The water flow was lower today and the temperature was also on the rise. The sun even peeked out between the overcast now and then.
We fished hard and moved often. Jin and I moved down river to the same seam while John and Greg worked a deep slot just off the tip of an island.

I took up my position on one side while Jin crossed over to fish the other side. I was working a narrow strip of slow water and when I saw the indictor tick down, I set hard. After fishing this spot yesterday, I knew there was no obstruction—except possibly Elvis.

It was a fish. Fairly large and very angry. In the first few milliseconds after setting the hook I could feel the head shakes as the rod went heavy, then the fish rocketed out of the water and thrashed on the surface as it tried to throw the hook. I yelled at Jin across the river, telling him I had a big one on, and he came running. But Greg had the net.

I waded to the bank and Jin joined me there. The fish was in the faster water and heading down river and we were getting ready to follow when I saw, over my shoulder, Greg and John heading for us.

Greg said John had hooked a big one that might have been Elvis just after we left. They fished for a while but when nothing else bit decided to join us. They just turned the corner when Greg saw me with a heavily-bent rod.
We fought the fish and it felt great when Greg slipped the net under him. A dime-bright steelhead, fresh from the Lake, on its run up river to the hatchery. Much to Jin’s delight, I stuck my hands into the stinging cold river and raised the fish for a few quick photos. Seconds later, with a big splash of his tail, he zipped off to deeper water.

It felt great to land a decent fish. The weather felt warmer, the colors brighter. Life was good. I surrendered my area to John as Jin waded back to fish his area.

It wasn’t long before John had a strike. The fish was on momentarily, thrashed on the surface, then was gone. He continued to fish. He got another take and this one was big. He fought it, the rod bent deeply, but it threw the hook. Greg said it was very large—possibly it was Elvis. John continued to fish.

Another hookup. This was a smaller fish but it was full of fight. John got it in close and it was zipping around. It charged up river and went straight between my legs. I was jumping around to avoid the line. It reversed and went zooming past Greg, trying to get to deeper water in the middle of the river. Just as Greg was preparing to net it, the fish threw the hook. John checked his rig then went back to fishing.

About a half hour later he had a monstrous strike. His rod bent deeply…much more than what I saw on his other fish. Greg saw it. I got a glimpse of the tail as it turned and dove. It was Elvis, and he was very, very pissed.

He ran down river and boiled on the surface now and then as he tried to throw the hook. John followed him down the bank as Greg unslung his net. He told me there was a chance the whole fish would not fit in it. John and Elvis fought each other as Greg slowly edged out into the river to get a clear shot. But the fish managed to get the line wrapped around a large boulder and snapped the line at the swivel.
On the next, and our final, day the weather forecast was not good. A front was moving in, bringing lower temperatures with a rain/sleet mix. We fished hard. Jin wanted another crack at Elvis, so he moved quickly down the river to try his luck at the seam. John and I fished some slower water for about an hour before Greg took him to the other side of an island to try a spot located in very fast current.
The current was pushing the river swiftly through a narrow slot right next to the bank. Greg rigged up John’s line with extra split shot and warned him to be alert, because if anything was going to happen, it would happen quickly in the fast-moving water. He was right. John scored a nice steelhead, which helped everyone by not taking off down the river after it was hooked. And just about the same time John stuck his fish I managed to stick and land a smallish brown trout.
Anglers were wandering all over the place looking for fish. The weather was starting to close in and I could feel the temperature begin to fall. We moved further up river and noticed there was nobody fishing there. Other anglers had either moved further down river or decided to call it a day and left. We fished hard at several locations but didn’t draw a strike. Finally, with clouds thickening and the temperature still falling, we called it an early day and headed back to Whitaker’s for coffee and hot chocolate. It was a great trip.Even though we didn’t get to meet Elvis, it was satisfying to find out where he lived and to get a quick look before he disappeared back into the river.

DIRECTIONS: Fly into the recently renovated Syracuse Hancock International Airport in New York or, from Virginia, just get on I-81 for a seven hour drive north to Pulaski, which is about 30 minutes outside of Syracuse. Our fly shop of choice is Whitaker’s, about a quarter mile to the right of the freeway exit.
We used single-hand switch rods and two-hand spey rods with steelhead, skagit or mid-belly lines, sink tips, indicators, split shot, heavy leaders and a variety of egg patterns, streamers, and nymphs from size 2 to 12 to drift or swing through possible holding areas on the fast moving river. A suggestion: those switch and spey lines are much thicker than normal fly lines so be sure to have a reel large enough to accommodate the line. About 100 yards of backing should be enough.