Salmon River for First Great Lakes Steelhead

So I turned 40 last year and my wife was gracious enough to allow me not one but two fishing trips with buddies. I took them throughout the fall and early winter. My first trip was to Pulaski in NY to the famed combat-fishing stream known as the Salmon River. For many East Coasters this is as good as it gets. An easy flight from the Eastern seaboard to Syracuse will land you within a 2-3 hour drive of several good migratory rivers off Lake Ontario for big browns, Chinook, Silver salmon, big resident rainbows, and two varieties of lake-run Steelhead (Skeena and Washington-strain). And because Canada stocks just about as much as the US, there’s the genetic drift of their stocked salmonids as well. All this adds up to thousands of fish making runs into the Ontario tribs on both sides of the border to do one of two things – spawn, or eat spawn.

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Daniel and Joel Steelhead Salmon River

I called up my two closest fishing buddies, Mark and Daniel of the original Gowanus Noodlers, and we hit it in early November. Guests of the wonderful, new and luxe, Tailwater Lodge, we had impeccable accommodations in a converted schoolhouse that sits on the river. We were also guests of the Douglaston Salmon Run, a fine fishing camp that has the first two miles of the Salmon river. The camp’s manager Garrett Brancy runs a tight ship. DSR as its known, belies the stereotypes of the combat fishing perception this river has. Yes, you’ve got to work hand in hand with your guides to stake out some water early and essentially park there to hold your spot in the river. And yes, you’ll see lots of sports on the water (solitude this ain’t). However, DSR is catch-and-release, has several riverwalkers to ensure regulations are being followed, and a very comfortable reservation system that creates fairness among anglers. An interesting fact, the Barclay family opened DSR as a private water sport fishery in 1989. The property has been in the family since 1807, when it was settled by Colonel Rufus Price, an aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The Barclays advocate sound environmental practices in fisheries, farming, forestry, and natural resources management and are heavily involved with how the Salmon river is managed by the State.

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With a very affordable day rate, I recommend you use DSR on your visit to the Salmon, especially if you are a fly angler. DSR is also a TU endorsed business and the same family is behind the new line of rods and reels from Douglass Outdoors. DSR has top notch guides who are experts in single and double-handed spey casting. We were most fortunate to hook up with Mike DeRosa and Dave “Rocky” Rockwell of Zero Limit Adventures who got us up early and on the water in the best position to fish by no later than 5am. Mike was one of the best guides I’ve ever had frankly – he was a patient instructor and guide and got 3 guys spey casting within just a few short hours. Importantly, he gave us the necessary tips to hook and land big fish. Sure, learning the fundamentals on the water cost us a few fish initially, but the river had more than enough to spare and soon we were into steelhead that would come in waves throughout the day, following the big chinooks that ran upstream often in front and behind us. Though it was cold and overcast, and often wet, we barely noticed it because we were so dialed-in to the fish. Our 11′ 7wt switch rods would zip out line in a steady rhythm between roll casts and spey casts. The line would come taut as our guides nymphs were sucked down by compliant chromers. Many fish were brought to hand by each of us.

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In true fish-story fashion, at the very end of the second day after hot and heavy fishing, I had taken a long break to sit back and watch my buddies fish. I wanted to savor the moment and eventually went for the proverbial “last cast” and caught my largest great lakes steelhead of the trip. Rocky yelled “big fish! big fish!” when the feisty rainbow cartwheeled twice out of the water and then zipped downstream. We were desperate to keep her out of the rapids. With a dive Rocky went in and netted here. Words failed us all as we just soaked in the moment.

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I know we were lucky, that this type of fishing just doesn’t happen often, but I figured you know what, maybe I as due. I’ve prayed to the fish gods long and hard these many years, and all I really wanted was for my friends to have a good time. I smiled down on the steelhead before me, and gently released her back in the water, thanking God for such creations on this beautiful earth. And I think he smiled back on us.

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Best Fishing Trip, My First

So I’ve had a few friends ask me recently, “what’s up with all this…fishing…stuff? Is this your early mid-life crisis?”

“Well,” I say after a moment, “I need it. I can’t explain it, I just do.” And I’ll add that though I live here in Brooklyn, I was born in the woods of New Hampshire, grew up in the fields of Ohio on the Cuyahoga, and went to high school on a sandbar on the Atlantic.  Though I’ve lived in Chicago, Philadelphia, London and now New York, I’ve got water in my veins. I need to be on or near a body of water or I’m afraid I’ll just dry-up and blow away. Fortunately, I live a stones throw from some of the greatest fisheries in the world, the Catskills, the reservoirs of Westchester, Long Island Sound.

The “fishing stuff”, that comes from my Dad. His family fished the Chesapeake and the Delaware when he was growing up, and he wanted to pass along the tradition. On a small lake in Ohio about an hour south of Cleveland, Pop took his young sons fishing one day. Shadow Lake was stocked, and my first fish was a rainbow trout. I’ll never forget the tug on the line, the bobber disappearing into the depths, the gentle coaching of my father, “OK, now keep the line tight, reel him in–quick!”

We took that little ‘bow–caught on a worm, right home and fried him up. I think all my brothers and sisters got a taste. From there I was hooked. When my parents had trouble making ends meet, and there wasn’t food on the table, my Dad went fishing. We ignored the peril and fished Lake Erie for walleye, perch and bass. Oh walleye, the best tasting fish on Earth, is even sweeter knowing it “was caught, not bought.” Once or twice even, Pop came home with duck, the victim of a poor shot who made it into open water only to find it didn’t have the strength to fly. There were feathers floating around the place for days.

Fishing was so much more than fishing, it was father-son-brother time. Even when we left rural Ohio and moved into the ghettos of Cleveland, we continued to get out on the water as often as possible, roaming over the breakers in search of smallies and rock bass. If we came home with just a couple perch, everyone knew who would get it–my Mom was a bonafied perch fiend. Perch was an offering to the Queen of our household. Later, it was crabbing in the Great Egg Harbor during high school and surf-fishing for fluke off the beaches of Ocean City, NJ that filled my weekends and mornings before school.

After college, I put the rods away… Life called and I busied myself with a career. Fishing drifted away for years while I made my way in the world. Though every time I saw a river or a lake, I wondered what was in there… brook trout, bass, pike? A few years ago, I found myself needing to reclaim some of that precious father-son-brother time and I declared a “guys-only” fishing trip on Lake Anna in Virginia. Man were we rusty! Chugging along spooking everything for miles. We were ecstatic after we pulled in a tiny perch and then some cats. Used to be we could fill a stringer in an hours worth of fishing, but damn we were happy. On that pontoon boat with my brothers laughing and calling each other nicknames I hadn’t heard in twenty years, we remembered our time on Shadow Lake, the awe and smiles around that first ‘bow, the first fish I ever caught in my life. We remembered why we fish, for the communion, to be brothers of the angle once more, to be men in a world claimed by mobile phones and play-dates, simply–to be.

I’m glad I picked-up the rod once more and now, it’ll never leave my hands again. Recently, I’ve begun to learn to fly fish and thank God I’m old enough to appreciate it. This is a sport for someone who has lived in the world, who’s been there and back again. This is a sport for a native angler. As soon as I told my younger brother what I was up too, he was in. Turns out he’s not too far from a mid-life crisis either. With classes from the Wulff School and Orvis under our belt, we’re wise enough to have picked the basics up quickly, though we recognize and take joy in the fact that it’ll be a life time of learning. The familiar rhythm of the water, the sixth sense that there’s a nice brown waiting behind that rock just past that seam, dormant feelings re-awakening. Fishing is a forgiving sport, and once again, we’re in our stride. Only, we’re lucky enough to have the means to travel to the great waters now. In my mind though, Shadow Lake lingers, the smell of my father’s aftershave, the pulsing life of the rainbow in my hand. And though I blog often now about my fishing trips, to the Beaverkill, the ‘Hooch, the first fishing trip of my life will always be the best.

Funny things happen as you grow older. You need the experiences of youth to mean more, the memories to be truer, and the places that made your youth special to remain unspoiled. On a recent trip back to Ohio, I was saddened to see the fields and streams I ran through as a boy, dozed flat for suburban cookie-cutter communities. On the other hand, the Cuyahoga river, once polluted, has been restored and is an amazing fishery. They even say that steelhead have returned to the upper river.

via OhioGameFishing.com member

Shadow Lake remains untouched, though it seemed a lot smaller now, a pond really. I see now that my job is to make sure the next generation has clean, cold water to fish in–that my father has passed on a legacy. That’s why I am a member of Trout Unlimited, Stripers Forever and the Sierra Club doing my part to conserve our waterways and environment. Its up to us now, and believe me, there’s a father’s son out there waiting to have his first best fishing trip ever, too.

NOTE: Special thanks to The Outdoor Blogger Network and Trout Unlimited for the special opportunity to write about my best fishing trip.

Big Fracking’ Problem Awaiting New Yorkers?

Received an early Christmas gift from the Governor today–a simultaneous veto on the May 5th moratorium on “hydrofracking”, with a new moratorium that pushes it to at least July 1 in a more limited fashion. Hydrofracking or “fracking” is hydraulic fracturing done to stimulate more production from natural gas wells. Fracking injects a cocktail of chemicals deep into the ground in shale deposits, literally fracturing the rock formations, generally below 5,000 feet. Today, Gov. Paterson preserves some upstate jobs, but enables the next governor, Cuomo to do his own due diligence..

I could explain the positive effects of this natural gas drilling “innovation”, but allow me to share a demonstration of one of the side-effects instead.

This reminded me of a sad drama that took place in Cleveland more than forty years ago. When I was living in Cleveland, often when we drove past the Cuyahoga river, my father or mother would inevitably tell the story of how the river once caught fire because it was so polluted. Well, I never quite believed them, even though I knew it was truth. Fact is, the river burned not once, but on more than a dozen occasions.

The restoration of the Cuyahoga River has been a truly remarkable 40-year effort , but protecting our natural resources, before we have the opportunity to pollute is the best strategy. The “burning river” lead to the Clean Water Act and dozens of other policies, including the development of the EPA. During the 80s, my father and I fished Lake Erie but we steered well clear of Cleveland and the river. Today, the Cuyahoga has steelhead trout along with smallies and pike, I mean, steelhead? That’s nothing short of a miracle and shows you what can happen when we do right by nature. It does right by us.

Back in July, I told my fishing buddies over at Westchester Fishing and encouraged them to spread the word about the intentions of the gas and oil companies trying to hydrofrack the Marcellus Shale deposit which stretches for some 14K miles from New York to West Virginia. Should there be even a small incident, what makes us think we have the technology to protect the entire Catskills watershed AND our NY water supply? As usual, the oil and gas companies can think of a million ways to get the gas, but have none in mind to clean it up. And if the BP oilspill is any indication of what could happen, we owe it to ourselves, our enviroment, across countless counties and multiple states, to demand more time, diligence, and investigation into the effects of hydrofracking before we drill right below our very feet, possibly endangering the most populous parts of the Eastern Seaboard and its waterways.

Hydrofracking of course is just one more technology in a long list that have the potential to go awry. Not only did the Cuyahoga river fire burn in the 60s, the entire town of Centralia, PA was lost to a mine fire. Forty years on, Vice and Palladium captured just how Centralia is doing.

If you want to learn more about the Marcellus Shale and hyrdrofracking, check out the Atlantic Sierra Club’s explanation (I’m a member) and their position here. For a more official view from the oil and gas industry-sponsored lobbying organization, American Clean Skies Foundation, check out their 30-min film here. And if you’re really committed to learning more, check out the documentary by Josh Fox, Gasland. America’s Natural Gas Alliance has an interesting response to Gasland here. Gasland won the Special Jury Selection – Documentary at Sundance 2010. [Update – Gasland was nominated for an Oscar Best Documentary Feature!]

*Disclosure* I work for a PR agency, Porter Novelli, who lists American’s Natural Gas Alliance as a client. The contents of this blog DO NOT reflect the views of my employer. I was not asked to write this post on behalf of ANGA or Porter Novelli.