I honestly never thought I'd ever be sitting on a Champlain trib, cradling a massive 10 lb salmon, but things just fell into place that fine September morning.
First, let's rewind back a few days. I'd just landed my first landlocked of the year on the swing with a few other hookups. I hit the water the day after - landing yet another big landlocked while losing a few more - all on the swing!
To keep the momentum going, I hit the river for a third day in a row after work, it was Friday, September 20th.
I'd just gotten a new net with a much larger basket and a long wooden handle that I wanted to get some slime on...I had no idea what I was going to hook into.
I had been swinging a Mickey Finn without any interest. A friend had sent me a picture of a decent sized male he'd taken on a
marabou black ghost the previous morning, so I figured why not? As i flipped open my box full of streamers, the memories followed will be forever burned into my memory. The sun was bright, and a breeze hit me as I was glancing at my selection. One of my smaller ghosts fluttered as to say, "pick me!" I obliged, and plucked it from the box and then put Mr. Finn back in his home.
A few short back-casts and a powerful forward cast later, about 60' of line was laying in front of me, attached to that my sinking poly, with about 3' of fluoro tippet, then my ghost. As the line hit the water, I did a big mend, placing my line upriver for a slower swing. I followed my fly line until I could see my fly line start to straighten. The C shape in my line was slowly straightening. Right as it completed straightening, I paused for a few seconds before retrieving my line - how did I know?
After a few second pause, a subtle tug came from the other end of my line. I set the hook sideways quickly and held my rod high to determine where the fish was in the water. Once I knew it was too close to the downstream rapids for comfort, I put the side pressure to it. A few minutes after hooking up, I eagerly picked up my new net off the rocks below me, somehow thinking this behemoth of a fish may come in easily - I was dead wrong. I was forced to drop the net and start zealously stripping fly line as this silver torpedo ran straight towards me. Honestly I thought it was off with all the slack line it had caused. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was still attached when I got a tight line back.
At this point, I had no idea just how big the fish was. I was thinking between the 4-5 lb range. It wasn't until it was close that I saw just how big it was. It was a massive hen, the fattest I'd ever seen. After realizing how big she was, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. After her close-up, she took off downstream, ripping off line faster than I could say, "Oh S#%&". She got right at the border of the calm water and the rapids downstream. It was at this point that I had to grab my net and prepare myself for a chase downriver. Thankfully I somehow turned her and she came back upstream. After a few net attempts, I slid my net under my personal best salmon, a 29" 10 lb 5 oz hen. I was overwhelmed with joy, and couldn't believe my eyes. She didn't even fit in my net, which was MUCH bigger than my regular trout net that I'd been using for landlocks and steelhead without any issues. She fell right out of the net, luckily I scooped her back up before she got her bearings....
After the celebrations ended, I just sat in thigh-high water on my knees, holding her under water in my net, hoping I wasn't about to wake from this dream. I must have sat there and looked at her for 5 minutes. It felt like she was staring into my soul - asking me for mercy. Little did she know, she'd be out of my net and into the water shortly after. A few pictures of her, a measurement and a few minutes of holding her in the water, she was back in the river for someone else to catch! Coincidentally, so was my net - I had let it drift off downstream in the commotion and ended up losing it and not realizing until 20 minutes after. That's alright though, she had ripped my net in two places when I first netted her, so the basket would have needed replacing anyway.
The pictures definitely do not do her justice whatsoever. She was beautiful, and I could not believe the tail on her(look at it compared to my hand!!). I only wish someone had been around for a picture of me holding her....but I'll take what I can get. She makes my new big net look like a little trout net...unreal!
After the release, she swam away and held behind a boulder right in front of me. I stood in front of her, guarding her from the sun and other anglers who may come and see her in the water. It wasn't until she left that I was ready to go home. The great thing is - the Biologist running the fish ladder informed me he'd tagged her just a few days after I released her....he confirmed the 10 lb 5 oz! Never thought I'd have landed the heaviest biggest salmon to ever be tagged or even caught in the Winooski River. It's an awesome feeling, and I hope that big hen lives a long a healthy life...maybe we'll meet again when she's a State record.