Sunday, November 3, 2013

Trip Report: Pulaski, Salmon, and Chrome

A few months ago I was contacted by Rockstar Fly Fishing's Mike Percelli. about jumping into a new forum, Northeast on the Fly. Through helping out with NE on the Fly and some other conversations, Mike decided to host me on a trip to a spot that he holds near and dear to his heart...Pulaski, NY.

Mike's good friend, Chris Dever, had recently bought and fully renovated Salmon River Outfitters (SRO) and there were beds available. We planned to hit the Salmon during one of Mike's favorite times of the year, mid-October, when the salmon are plentiful (due to their spawn) and Steelhead have moved up river to gorge themselves on eggs. I was down and we set the dates. Three months passed quick and before I knew it, I was packing my gear, charging my batteries, and tying some last minute flies.

I had to work on Monday, the day I was leaving, and "woke up" after a pretty-much sleepless night, around 6am. I threw on my scrubs and headed in for what would be a long 12 hour shift in the ER. As my shift came to an end, I headed home to throw some final things in the car and kiss my girls goodbye. I was on the road by 8pm and started my 4 hour trek up to Mike place in northern NJ. I arrived at Mike's around midnight and promptly loaded up Mike's truck. Joining us was one of Mike's buddies, John J., a guide, phenomenal fisherman, and all-around great guy from CT. We hit the road by 12:30am and started our 3.5-4 hour drive to Pulaski. We drove through Cortland, home of Cortland Line which was pretty cool, we made a point to hit the factory up next trip since we were fish crazy.

Since it was my first time meeting Mike face-to-face, I felt we had a lot to catch up on and I immediately began picking his brain. Mike owns and runs Rockstar Fly Fishing, a blog and guide service that not only focuses on salmon and steel but some of the biggest brown trout any east coast angler would consider a "trophy". Mike is a Cheeky Fly Fishing and Mystic Rods endorsed guide, I was pretty excited to see and feel some new gear. His wealth of knowledge was extremely vast and proven as you will read below. I owe Mike an enormous thanks for hosting me and teaching me more in two days than I could have picked up in an entire steelhead/salmon-focused book.

At around 4:15am on Tuesday we arrived in Pulaski and pulled up to Fat Nancy's, an enormous tackle shop right off of I-81 that had more gear than almost any tackle shop around Annapolis. We stopped in and picked up a few beads, line, etc and the guys picked up their annual licenses. I had purchased my 7-day NY license online prior to heading up to Mike's, just to be prepared. A non-resident 7-day sets you back about $35 and a non-resident annual is about $70. We then headed off down the road to SRO.

SRO is located right outside of Pulaski, in the town of Altmar, NY and sits steps away from the Salmon River's infamous Lower Fly Zone (LFZ). SRO is a full tackle shop, lodge, tavern, and guide/charter service that specializes in fly and float fishing. With a fly tying bench setup right in the front window, a tavern attached to the shop, great people, a phenomenal selection of tackle/knowledge, and an awesome shop pup named "Captain", it is the most comfortable lodge any angler could even dream of staying at. We heard stories of other anglers coming from the lodge across the street and other lodges to stop in and pick up some tackle/flies and immediately going back and closing their account to stay the night at SRO.

The owner of SRO, Chris Dever is an awesome guy, simply put. With his super-high level of accommodation set aside, he has done some amazing things with that lodge that none of the previous owners even dreamed of doing. With comfort in mind, Chris remodeled each and every inch of SRO, adding comfortable couches, a large flat screen TV, and pellet stove in the common area for anglers looking to warm up their feet and kick back while they are taking a break from slaying the fish steps away in the Salmon. Want to throw some darts, how about play some poker, they've got you with their gaming area on the other side of the tackle shop. Seasonally, SRO holds a plethora of parties including pig roasts and the like. There is a huge fish cleaning station under the cover of the tavern's deck where you can have your fish cleaned and smoked minutes after it takes your fly. You can't forget about Bobby, Chris' main man and all-around slayer when it comes to catching fish.

So back to the trip...we pulled into a pitch-black SRO parking lot around 4:30 and threw on our rain gear. It had rained through the night during the drive and it continued to fall all day. When light is low and rain is falling (and your running on maybe 4 hours of sleep in two days), its tough to get an idea as to what the surrounding area is like and exactly where we were. All I could figure out was that there were trash cans of cleaned salmon around us and the sounds of the Salmon River in the background. We immediately began putting gear together under our headlamps.

I rigged up my new 9wt Redington Path with the Cheeky Thrash 475 and the 6wt Redington Dually with the Sage EVOKE. All geared up and ready to go, John headed down to the river to lock down our spot for the day while Mike and I finished setting up our leaders and gear. One of SRO's cooks brought us some cups of coffee (which I was super stoked for) and we headed down to meet John. All I could see was what was in range of my headlamp and Johns faint light off in the distance. We waded upstream and finally parked under the canopy of the trees. I began to peel off layers as the rain had slowed and air temp rose. We setup shop at the top of the LFZ and I took in the sights and sounds of the Salmon. It was by-far one of the coolest things I had ever seen to watch salmon and steelhead travel upstream. I had never seen a salmon in real life other than in the locks in Seattle, WA. To watch them travel right by your feet and see their sheer size and power only within your headlamp's light made the anticipation for fishing light all that much better.

As we began to see "gray light", the watch was ticking down to fishing time (30 minutes before sunrise). I grabbed my Path (since we were going to be casting from under Hemlocks and I was targeting salmon, to know off the bucket list, I needed a shorter rod with a lot of power) and started to walk out into the stream. The water was moving and rocks semi-slippery. I didn't have my studs on my boots like everyone else so I did slide around a bit. Within the first few minutes of indicator fishing spey flies, Mike had already missed two fish. Salmon are tough, the don't eat while spawning so any bite you get is usually an agitation strike (they hit your fly because it pissed them off). Steelhead on the other hand, are aggressive, they intentionally go for flies since the primary reason for them moving up into the river out of the lake (Lake Ontario for these fish) is to feed. About an hour had gone by since we had begun to swing flies and Mike already had half a dozen hits under his belt and I only one.

Thats when it all happened. It started out with me losing my first fly and throwing on the only spey fly I had brought, one I tied the night before. It was a small black strip of rabbit zonker, blue micro estaz tied up the shank with a blue and pink hackle collar tied on an Allen Fly Fishing Classic Salmon & Steelhead hook in size 4. I randomly picked it out of my Orvis Fly-Tying Guide Book and tied it more for show. Something drew me to throw it on my tippet. About a dozen swings after tying on, I hadn't felt even a leaf hit my fly. I was beginning to think about other options and even turned and asked John what he was using. I felt a slight bump towards the end of my swing and boom, I jerked my rod towards the bank to set the hook. Thats when I felt the most power I had ever felt in my life on the end of my rod. The run began and the fish started I began to ran. I had my phone out trying to take pictures, as at the time, I thought it was a big King.

My fish danced upstream and jumped like a porpoise towards the boundary sign that marks the end of the fishable water prior to the Hatchery. I remembered Mike saying something about how King's don't typically jump unless they are false-hooked/snagged. I knew I had a good hook set in the mouth, I saw my blue estaz right in the corner as the fish ran past dawned on me, I had hooked into a Steelhead. Around that time, Mike and John began to run upstream towards me as I attempted to muscle the fish out of the boundary water. The Chromer made its run downstream at which time I yelled to Mike, "there's my backing". It was the first time I had seen backing all year and Mike knew I had been praying to see heart was racing as Mike and John instructed me on how to fight the Steelie. After what felt like an eternity, Mike landed my fish.

The rain was falling pretty hard again but John was awesome and pulled out his DSLR for some quick video footage and pictures. I held my fish victoriously and appreciated every minute of it, looking over its spots, movement, colors. What a gorge our fish. It was at that moment that I felt the bug, I was infected with the incurable prognosis of addiction to Chrome. We released my fish as it swam away happy and healthy. After countless high-fives, we assumed our positions and began to swing for the next one.

Most of the rest of the morning was repetitive...either Mike, John, or I would hook a fish, jump it, and lose it. Mike had more hookups than anyone on the entire river, thus showing his steelhead prowess. With the small tippet we were using and strong current, the fish absolutely had the upper hand. Both cold, wet, and hungry, we decided to head up the SRO to unpack and have a short nap. I couldn't sleep and decided to put my goat Head Gear Sole Spikes back into my Simms boots. I also found myself chatting it up with Bobby and Chris, picking their brains for info on SRO, the Salmon River, and fishing in general. Bobby is a guide near the Adirondacks and has been fishing most of his life. Chris is from Jersey, he's also been fishing most of his life and studied at The Culinary Institute of America (thus explaining why SRO's food is freaking amazing). After drying out, gearing up, and tying on, we decided to make the move to a smaller creek called "Little Sandies". The drive was about 30 minutes and when we got there, immediately saw signs of fish.

We put in below one of the bridges and worked a nice seam. The water was super high and running down the gradient in what looked like class-4 rapids. There were plenty of open seams to be worked below the bridge and we did just that. Within an hour of putting in, Mike had hooked up. After a fun 5 minute fight, I landed this 24" Rainbow.

We watched countless fish jump and didn't have any other hookups so we decided to move upstream. We found some amazing pockets and decided to work them. All of us hooked up over and over again on enormous Kings and Cohos. Mike hooked into one of the biggest King's of the trip which unfortunately turned his 4-pc 9wt into a 5-pc... He hopped on the phone with Mystic and had a rod shipped out before we left the stream, amazing customer service. When all we could see was what was in our headlamps light, we rolled out and headed back up to the car.

As soon as we got back to SRO and unpacked, we ordered some dinner from the SRO tavern. Mike and I ran out to Whitakers to pick up a few materials to tie flies for the next day. When we got back to the lodge, Chris had pulled out a few vises for us to tie on and poured a few shots of Capt Morgan (not only my favorite rum, duh, but had a great story behind why Chris had about 5 handles of the ol' Capt). We threw back some Blue Moons, told some great stories, and I ate the best hamburger I've had in my entire life, the SRO Bacon Bleu burger (I liked it so much I ordered it for lunch the next day). We called it a night early as we had our alarm clocks set for about 4:30 the next morning.

Morning came early and we and we had the privilege of having Chris join us for awhile. We headed out to the "Sportsman's Pool" (pretty cool that every single inch of that river has a nickname). With Chris by my side, we began to swing bright and early. The water was high and fish absent so we decided to move on. I got the full tour of town, even saw Dawn and her fly shop. Apparently the chick who stood up and dropped her has full guided trips for life...just the word around town. After traveling around, we decided to head back to the "Old Fart's Pool" right near SRO, above where the drift boats put in. We saw an unbelievable amount of salmon and steelhead swim by and even hooked up on/landed by the two or more dozen anglers fishing in the LFZ. After hooking up on two large salmon and breaking them off, I simply took in the sights of the Salmon, watching anglers catch some of the most beautiful and powerful fish in the world. One angler, an older gentleman fishing upstream from John hooked into a huge steelhead and did a slower version of what I call the "Salmon River dash" downstream. John helped him land the fish, an absolutely trophy, that was dime-bright chrome from head through the tail. We swung flies all throughout the LFZ until lunchtime.

We headed back up to the lodge again for a short lunch and visit across the street to Malinda's Fly Shop. An amazing fly shop that carry's fly-only gear. I knew I was going to love this shop from the moment I entered the front door and found a sign that read something along the lines of "We don't sell eggs sacs, snagging gear, gear only." Loved it. For those of you who have been to Pulaski or fished a salmon river before, you've seen the ridiculous amounts of "snaggers" and people doing illegal things for fish. Its frustrating but unfortunately, all you can do is report them and hope they aren't fishing loopholes (like putting sponges on their huge hooks to count as "something on the hook"). Malinda is a great shop owner with a great respect for the fish, it was a pleasure giving her some business.

We headed back to the LFZ and fished the upper area again where Mike hooked and landed an amazing steelhead. The crazy part about this fish was that Mike had moved above me into a nice gap and on his first cast hooked this fish (again showing his prowess)! John and I counted dozens of fish swimming between our legs and all around us as we swung flies below two gentlemen who hooked and landed around a half-dozen fish. True fly fisherman, they carefully landed and released the fish after a few photos. I talked to one who had some amazing photos on his phone as he told me he only lives and hour away and fishes the Salmon as often as possible. Lucky guy!

When the two guys moved on and called it a day, we moved up into their spot (our spot from day one) under the Hemlocks. I threw on a chartreuse egg pattern John lent me on the Redington Dually and Sage EVOKE setup and it was on, within my first five casts with this fly I was hooked up. We landed my fish and were able to get some great photos and GoPro footage. I carefully released my fish, appreciating ever minute and recording it mentally to tell my grandchildren about one day. As Mike contented to hook up and the rain fell harder an harder, the forecast of up to 12" of snow began to make its way towards the front of our heads.

What an amazing first Steelie!

It was around 4pm and the bags were packed and loaded into the trucks. We said our goodbyes and thank you's and hit the road. We drove through some of the craziest rain I'd ever seen almost all the way back to Jersey. When we got back to Mike's, we said goodbye to John as he had to head back to CT for some early morning fishing as the striped bass fishing was starting to heat up. Mike and I downloaded the GoPro and cameras after some amazing homemade lasagna (thank you Jen!) and at around 10pm I hit the road. I had a pretty uneventful 4 hour ride home, jamming out to DJ Girl Talk and catching up with some friends (to help me stay awake since I was running on around 10 hours of sleep in 72 hours).

I got home safe around 2:30am and I must say, my bed never felt so amazing...

A HUGE thanks goes out again to Chris, Bobby and the whole SRO crew, Mike and John for their amazing knowledge and embrace of a newbie on some waters they know well and to Redington/Sage for providing me with a great rod and reel combo to bring my second Steelie in on. A review will be live soon on the Sage EVOKE reel and Redington Dually rod.

Make sure you check out SRO on their website and Facebook. Also check out Rockstar Fly Fishing on their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo (intro of our IF4 trailer is live now on Vimeo and is todays "Daily Reel").


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