Spectacular as it may be, it was a bit of a weird year numbers wise. Our Champlain steelhead runs were incredibly low, almost unheard of in some rivers. As for the Winooski - I only landed a few cookie cutters and lost quite possibly the biggest steelhead I'd ever hooked in VT....but that will be a story for later.
2013 will be insanely hard to top in terms of salmon, I landed dozens of BIG salmon, all but one on flies as well. I somehow managed a 10 lb hen on the swing during a sunny September day when the water levels were quite low.
As the season progressed, fish started to get more territorial, and started to just whack everything out of aggression. I'd never seen such aggressive behavior from salmon before, it was just incredible!
I took out a few friends who had minimal salmon experience, and they both got into some very nice salmon as well. One was even his FIRST salmon on a fly, which took less than 20 minutes of fishing for him.
|Mike with his first atlantic on a fly! A colorful hen with a few lamprey scars|
He went on later that day to lose a monster! It broke his 8 lb tippet like nothing after it somersaulted across the water like it had been dragged behind a speed boat on a tube, and then fell off!
I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. I did very well on a couple of solo trips too, yelding 2-4 fish almost every time!
|A hen that took a swung fly right before the male below this picture. Two fish in 10 minutes!|
|Big kype on this guy! Took a swung leech right before dark!|
|We called this guy dolphin nose|
|One of my favorite pics....such beautiful color on this guy, and next to my new Helios 2!|
Not nearly all the fish caught, but just a few for examples...My buddy Jerry also got out for some salmon action too!
This picture at the bottom was of yet another 10 lb salmon! A good match for the 10 lb hen 2 months prior. He was all colored up and kyped out, and absolutely destroyed this yellow and brown streamer after only a few swings. I couldn't believe it! Good thing I brought a little digital scale with me, because there was no way I was keeping this guy just to find out his weight. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was into the double digits after subtracting my net weight, it was 10 lbs 1 oz, and was 28.75" long.
One of those fights where your hearts beating out of your chest....I saw how big he was right when I set the hook!
In late November, and my buddy Kenny from NH came up in hopes of some salmo salar action as well. I had been on the fish for a few weeks already when he came, so when he arrived we headed straight for the river, and got him into fish!
His first fish was a big male, which had some shoulders on him for sure. He wanted nothing to do with me, and when I stepped in the water and waded toward him, he peeled off line from Kennys spool and went straight downstream, past a set of rapids that just screamed out lost fish.
I did what I could to slide the net under this guy, but the fast current and a fish doing barrel rolls sideways made it quite hard. Kenny was pushing his 10' 5 wt to the max! I started to get a bad feeling in my stomach, and sure enough he popped off - along with Kennys fly in his beak before I could get a good chance at a net. I won't lie, that fish deserved to win that battle... it was intense!
After composing ourselves after that great loss, Kenny lost no time hooking up again, into a respectable hen.
We scratched our heads at this hen, she looked like she didn't get the September run memo and had just entered the river not too long ago. A huge color difference between the two, yet they were caught on the same day. Very cool contrast!
At the end of the day, Kenny went 2/3(losing his biggest of course!), which was a great day for any atlantic salmon fishermen. He went home only to return that following weekend for more action. Our first spot didn't seem like it was holding any fish, they must have moved. So we tried a different section of river and sure enough we saw signs of life. It was quite a small, shallow section of river that I've spotted cruising fish in before. Kenny had first drifts, and he picked a great spot. Right next to the bank was a downed log with very deep water along it. It was a bright and sunny day, so we suspected fish to be hiding underneath it. He casted upstream and we both watched his fly sink and then start to drift by the log. Out of nowhere comes this HUGE salmon, darting towards his fly, opening his mouth, clamping down on the fly and then shaking his head as to finish off his prey, WOW! We both turned into little excited kids......until he set the hook and the fly popped out!!!!
We just could not believe what had happened...wow. The fish looked like a solid 8+ lb fish too. We still can't believe the fly just popped out of his closed mouth like that. We both saw the fly go into his mouth before he closed it, so it was even more upsetting to know there was pretty much nothing Kenny did wrong there.
After that, we fished our way downstream without much. A few hours had passed, and we made our way back to the same section of river with the log. This time it was my turn, and I'd been having luck with white bunnys and buggers, so I threw on a white bugger and did the same drift as Kenny.
Yet again, this massive salmon came out from under the log and inhaled my fly...I was almost paralyzed with excitement after seeing him take the fly with such aggression. A quick hookset was followed by deep disappointment. My fly had popped out of his mouth just like Kennys. It was obvious what was going on here - the fish had a hole in it's mouth. We tried to get him to come back out to play for about an hour after the second take but he was too smart to budge.
Kenny and I decided to go fish off a big rock I always love to fish off of, so we made our way to it and started fishing before it got dark. Since it was November, I was hoping the steel were in and cruising for a meal. I rigged up to drift deep water, and threw a simple egg above a black stonefly.
There is a certain run that I've seen before in very low water that fish just love to hang out in. It's a depression in the gravel with big boulders at the head of it, making it easy for fish to sit behind and wait for food to come by from all directions. I focused on fishing that run while Kenny fished in closer, through another promising run. Less than 30 minutes into fishing, my indicator disappeared. Yes, disappeared. It was like a magician came along and made the thing disappear instantly. I was taken by surprise, but knew right away this couldn't have been bottom. I had probably 80' of line out, so I stripped as much line in as I could and set the hook as hard as I could sideways. It felt like a solid hookset, and then all hell broke loose. After the hookset, this behemoth of a steelhead went skidding across the surface of the water. I looked at Kenny and my mind was just blown. The only thing I kept saying was, "OH MY GOD!" This was a truly massive steelhead, and easily on par with the 10 lb salmon I'd landed right in the same area earlier in the year. I quickly got the fish to the reel, and was running 8 lb fluoro so I was fairly confident with a decently high drag setting. The fish had other plans though, it took off like a rocket upstream, almost faster than I could strip line in with my hand. It then turned away from me and started to run across the river. It peeled off all of my running line, and then about 30 yards of backing before stopping the first run. I was honestly worried it would just keep running and I'd run out of backing. I kept the side pressure to it and it was just whooping me around like nothing. Even with a 7 wt and 8 lb tippet, I felt seriously outgunned and was at the mercy of this fish.
Then, disaster happens. My line all of a sudden went slack. Oh the things I hollered....I was broken, shattered...in a state of confusion. I thought for sure it broke me off, until I reeled up my rig and found out that I still had both flies, and they were both still sharp. I wish I had a reason for losing that big of a steelhead besides the hook just, "came out" somehow. I was hoping for a 10 lb salmon and a 10 lb steelhead year, but it managed to slip away.
After that, we had no other takes, and Kenny was on his way back home. The salmon run was just about over, and they were all starting to head back to the Lake. Things were tapering down, and I was hoping the steelies would be plentiful like the last few years. I was wrong though. Other steelhead tribs on Champlain had terrible runs, and I couldn't even hook up on the Winooski after the last trip with Kenny besides a few small landlocks. My best year for salmon and my worst year for steelhead, go figure! I won't be detoured by the Fall and Winter numbers though, I'll still be back at it this Spring.