Another day, another struggle with notorious big smallies

The author caught his first steelhead on May 1.

Gary Dodson

Another day, another struggle with notorious big smallies

Gary Dodson and I went to the Salmon River in Pulaski, N.Y. April 30 to May 1, to see if we could catch the tail end of the steelhead run and maybe annoy some smallmouth bass.

I’ve only been once before, 20 years ago, and I forgot that the name of the town is pronounced “Pulask-eye,” NOT “Pulask-ee.” Yes, this would come as news to the Polish general whose name adorns the landscape in at least 17 places in the U.S.

We stayed and fished the Douglaston Salmon Run, where we had a nice little house to ourselves.

We dined on successive evenings at the bar of the Tailwater Lodge in nearby Altmar, where I continued my study of the American cheeseburger platter. While I still maintain that the World’s Greatest Restaurant is Mizza’s in Lakeville and the runner-up is the Roscoe Diner, I can report that the best cheeseburger platter yet is at the Tailwater Lodge. At 18 smackers, it is also the most expensive, but only by a few bucks.

Gary said there was another, earthier option with excellent chow, but the last time he went there it was Lynyrd Skynyrd Karaoke Night, and the peril was too great to risk another visit. Personally, I thought it sounded amusing, and was willing to brave the peril, but Gary said no, it was too perilous.

Day One: After leaving Lakeville at 4 a.m. and driving to Gary’s in East Jewett, N.Y., arriving at 6 a.m., the result was predictable. I forgot several key items when transferring my gear to Gary’s truck.

This is called “Paging Dr. Boing-Boing.”

The doctor makes an appearance every time I (or you) forget something, or lose something, or some other issue of fishing logistics comes up.

Dr. Boing-Boing can and will strike at any moment. Eternal vigilance is the only answer.

We found a serviceable wading belt at Fat Nancy’s; the single biggest tackle shop I have ever seen. And it was only ten bucks.

Monday afternoon we fished down where the Salmon River widens out into an estuary before it segues into Lake Ontario. I caught the first of several smallmouth bass that were all roughly double the size of the biggest smallie I have ever pulled out of the Housatonic.

It doesn’t look so hot in the photo, a combination of giant net and moderate wide-angle lens. So I put the net over my extra-extra large head (I wear a 7 7/8 hat) and Gary took a photo for comparison.

Some necessary context: The stretch of river we were concerned with is only about seven miles or so, from the lake to the hatchery. DSR has 2.5 of those miles locked up; anglers pay a daily fee to fish there. There is also a lot of public access, which gets pretty nuts in the peak salmon and steelhead periods. This was the off-season.

Apart from a small population of resident rainbows, the river is home to migrating fish: two kinds of salmon, steelhead and smallies.

The salmonids are headed home. Home is the hatchery. I don’t know what the smallies are doing.

I had to throw pretty much everything I know about fishing out the window. For starters, almost everybody I saw was using a two-handed fly rod or a center pin rod. My nine-foot eight-weight single hand fly rod was an outlier.

Second, even though I was standing in the middle of some sort of hatch, the fish ignored the bugs as far as I could tell. What they wanted was something large and hairy. The initial smallie took a size 6 conehead olive Wooly Bugger with rubber legs, and Wednesday’s steelhead obligingly chomped on a black version of the same.

Tuesday morning began with a Boing-Boing moment, as I managed to sprain my left wrist trying to operate the shower controls. Such is the price of cleanliness.

That ruled out fooling around with the switch rod I brought along, to see if I could puzzle it out.

We fished all day Tuesday, except for a much-needed siesta mid-afternoon. All we encountered were smallies.

Wednesday morning neither one of us could face trudging the mile or so down to the estuary again, so instead we trudged a different mile or so upstream.

I got my steelhead on a different single hand rod, a 10 foot seven weight that fishes better with a number eight line. It was a floating line, with a short leader consisting of about four feet of butt section and two feet of 1X fluoro tippet.

With some coaching from Gary, I managed to land the thing without a net.

In fairness, the steelhead seemed a little out of it. It dove, it tugged, it jumped once. It went this way and that.

But that first smallie put up much more of a fuss. Probably because it hadn’t been milked at the hatchery and wasn’t stumbling back to the lake.

Three days in Western N.Y. state was a serious dose of America. Rolling back into Salisbury Wednesday afternoon was like entering a theme park — Disney’s “New Englandland” or something.

Back in New Englandland, after disposing of some work chores, I ambled over to the Blackberry on a sunny and almost hot afternoon and had a good time catching a bunch of normal, unexciting regular trout that eat bugs.

This was promising enough that I inveigled a friend to give it a shot the next day.

You know what’s coming.

She hopped out of her car, only to discover she had remembered her waders but forgotten her boots.

“Allow me to introduce you to Dr. Boing-Boing,” sez I.

Luckily she had a pair of muck boots, which did the trick.

And then, after observing small children training to be Jedi knights at a “Star Wars” activity, I made my way up to one of my secret brook trout streams and found that the winter’s incessant rains and subsequent high water had reconfigured the brook, mostly for the better. I landed several and tickled more wild char, most of them attacking a size 8 Stimulator that was bigger than their heads. Some less ambitious fish hit kebari soft-hackles and the always-reliable Bread and Butter nymph.

There was no sign of Dr. Boing-Boing.

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