Matt and I showed up in Pulaski, NY after dark Friday. He had never been there before so I drove him around a bit to show him the river from a few easily accessible viewpoints. The river was flat out raging. The flow out of the dam at that time was 1,800 c.f.s., adding a few feeder creeks after that and the end result was probably close to 2,000. Extremely high. But the hotline called for a reducton to 1,250 for the weekend, which is still very high, but fishable. It rained all night, but the river was down to the less angry 1,250 and at 7:00 a.m., we were in it.
After a brief but intensive lesson in the art of fly fishing for steelhead from our guide, Randy, we were putting our newfound knowledge to use. The first fish on was mine (my only fish hooked all day), and Randy did an awesome job of coaching me through the fight. Letting the fish freely take all the line he needed, letting the drag of the reel decide if the fish was ready to bring closer, and letting the distance of line out determine when to move downstream in pursuit. Twenty minutes of pure fun and maybe a hundred yards of clumsy, exhausting pursuit downriver and he finally got close enough for Randy to net him. My first steelhead safely in hand! I can say without hesitation that without Randy's coaching there is zero chance that I land that fish. I learned more about fighting big fish in that one fight than all my previous knowledge on the subject combined.
We didn't see many people hooking fish at all, so when Matt hooked two but lost them, we felt like we had done okay, although I really hoped Matt could have landed one. The tug of a big fish on the line has gotten to him, and he's already signing on for spring steelhead and fall salmon trips back to the Salmon River.
See this water? It's 34 degrees. Air temperature started at 37 degrees (and snow) first thing in the morning, and steadily dropped to about 24 by the time we were done. But my attempts in the weeks leading up to this trip to prepare myself for cold weather were a waste of time. Of the many, many things I learned this weekend, the one thing I know I will retain is this: Make sure your waders are waterproof. I struggled through an eight hour day of fishing with ice cold feet, thinking I had just not purchased or worn the right clothing for a mid-January upstate New York fishing trip, only to get back to my room and pour a quart of ice cold water out of each leg of my waders. My brand new heavy duty Cabelas socks, loaded with technology and, evidently, irony, mocked me with the word "Genius" stamped across the toes as I tried to peel them off my frozen feet. Must have been a hole in my waders higher up than my usual wading depth, I'll find it tomorrow and repair it, and will never go cold weather fishing again without checking my gear thoroughly.
One final note for you steelheaders out there, I'd love to get your opinion on how big this fish might be. We didn't weigh or measure it, and I think it's probably below average for that fishery, but I'd just kind of like to know.