Wednesday, November 11, 2015

November and a Return to Steelheads

About the time the leaves start dropping and the migratory salt water species are beginning to head south to the Chesapeake or west to their Hudson winter grounds, I start getting the itch to fish steelheads. October Salmon Madness has begun to subside, and beautiful chrome steelhead are filling into the Lake Ontario tributaries to winter over. As much as I love striper fishing, I'm ready for a change of pace.   

My love of steelhead on the fly began as I was searching for a winter fix a few years after moving up from Virginia. I read an article in On the Water on my now friend Scott Glazier who described a winter fishery in Upstate NY for those willing to wade in sub-freezing and sometimes sub-zero weather to catch a species I'd never targeted. I thought, "What the hell else am I going to do up here in December."  So I convinced my brother Doug, his old college roommate John and my buddy Dan to join me up in Altmar, NY.  Needless to say, I was hooked, and now take several trips a season up, starting in November right through the spring run. Over the years, Doug and Dan have continued to travel north with me, as have a few other friends to try their hand at landing these silver rockets on the fly or light tackle. 

I've had the first weekend in November circled on my calendar for quite some time.  While last year's run saw the Salmon and other rivers choked with steelhead, the bite never really took off as many dying fish soon had biologist scratching their heads. A diagnosis of a thiamine deficiency was eventually determined to be the likely cause, but regardless, my fishing suffered. ( My hope is that this season will see an improvement in the fishing.

All of the reports from late October into the first week in November, from the DSR to OTW and various guide sites, indicated erratic fishing at best. This is a highly pressured fishery as well, so lower numbers of fish combined with the increasing popularity of the location in early November can make for tough days. However, having just fished up here since  2010, I can hardly blame others for what is sometimes described as combat fishing (I did tell Scott that it's all his fault for his articles in On the Water and Field and Stream, as well as the TV episodes he's featured in).     
Scott wanted to get an early start Saturday morning, as prime location often determines who catches and who doesn't.  Reports had folks getting into their spots in the Altmar fly only zone by 2:30am, and we were on the water in our location well before sunrise.  Scott's knowledge and daily experience paid off and we had the early am bite while those around us got to watch.  It was literally a matter of a few yards of real estate separating catching from not.  The fish were nice and fresh and I had half a dozen shots in the early morning hours. We hit in a few more spots down the river and I got to see a lot of my backing. While some will argue that after years of fishing the river, a guide is really unnecessary, for me when fishing in a limited window and on a scattered bite, the knowledge that a local like Scott provides is priceless. Despite what some reports might say about the day, I can promise you that we had 4-5x the hookups of anyone fishing within sight, and most anglers, as I said, were just watching and hoping we would get bored catching fish and were hovering like vultures.     

Sunday morning didn't leave much time, but my brother and I walked in and managed a couple of hook-ups in the upper section. I'm already jonesing for a return trip! Bring on the cold!