Monday, June 30, 2014

Finally (Salmon Hole opener)

Most people that know me know that I love to practice catch and release for almost every species of fish besides the occasional panfish, and on rare occasion I'm able to target river walleye, and this year was no exception.  The annual Salmon Hole opening was looking very promising.  After a long, and quite chilly Spring, I was really looking forward to fishing the Salmon Hole.  Since it legally opens June 1st, I made plans to get to my favorite spot just before midnight on Saturday.   After talking to a family friend, and long time Salmon Hole fisherman, Walt, he surprised me by telling me he'd also be down there around Midnight as well.

After a quick phone call to my girlfriends father, a long-time angler and walleye pro who's been going through shoulder injury issues, he said he'd be willing to go as well.

My plan was to walleye fish with bait and lures until a little after sunrise, and then switch to flies for salmon and steelhead.  The water levels were above average, but very fishable.

Midnight came quick, and after the quick 2 minute walk down to the Hole, I was surprised to see the old timer Walt was already there.  Unfortunately, the water was just high enough so that he couldn't get to the, "hot spot" so I opted to sit and chat with him and fish the spot he setup in while I waited for Randy.  45 minutes and no bites later, Randy showed up and we climbed over a downed tree and a rock to reach where we wanted to fish.  Walt didn't feel safe enough climbing over in the middle of the night, and I don't blame him.  We parted ways and headed off into walleye town.

Randy and I began drifting crawlers, and 20 minutes in I had a fish on the end of my line.  Fighting a fish in the middle of the dark was pretty fun, especially having no idea what it was until I got it close enough to shine our headlamps on it.  To our surprise, it was a huge white sucker, a solid 5 lb fish.  I was blown away for the next hour.  We both were catching massive white suckers, all over 5 lbs.

Around 1:30 A.M, two headlamps made their way down to the water and just sat for a few minutes, lights gleaming at us.  We knew where they wanted to be, and apparently it made no difference that Randy and I were already there.  They climbed over the rocks, strolled on up to us and dropped their gear and setup to fish right in between us.  My mind was blown!  Not even a, "Hi, do you mind if we fish here?".  They just strolled on over without saying a single word and just started fishing within arms reach of us, casting their lines over ours.  In the back of my mind, I really wanted to ask how the drive was from Pulaski, but I kept my cool.  I could tell Randy was thinking the same, but we didn't let these knuckleheads ruin our night.  An hour went by before either one of the two guys said anything, which was "fish on!!!!!!!!!!!!!".  Randy and I, not lacking fishing etiquette, reeled our lines in and got out of the way.  As he cursed out the white sucker he just released, Randy and I couldn't help but to chuckle.   The mood finally lightened up after the two guys got a small walleye, confirming that there were still in fact walleye in the area.  We all got our hopes up, and for good reason.  Around 3 A.M. I hooked up and finally felt a different kind of fight besides a sucker.  Luckily, Randy was ready with the net and slid it under a nice 25" male walleye.  Success!  Gotta love it when a plan comes together!

We were fired up, and ready to drop the hammer on a few more fish.  It was extremely difficult to fish around the two guys that nudged their way in, as we were all trying to fish the same section of water.  After a few more big suckers, Randy was headed home around 4 A.M.  I stayed, hoping to get at least one more fish before the sun came up.  As it started to get light out, I was hit with heavy eyes and a headache. Maybe from the headlamps being on all night, who knows. 

I had landed my fish, so I strolled up to the apartment and knocked to have Katlyn let me through the side door.  Her eyes opened wide when I flashed the 6 lb walleye in front of her with a smile.

I put the fish on ice, showered and got into bed.  6 hours later, Katlyn was off to run errands and I was gearing up again to go back down for steelhead and salmon.  I grabbed my gear and headed down.  To my surprise there was only one person where I was headed.  It happened to be a coworker who had been there for a few hours.  He informed me that when he got there, there were 4 people fishing in the spot when he got there, and they had something like 9 walleye and one big steelhead!  I wanted to kick myself for leaving during sunrise.  It must be the fish turned on right after I left.  Either way, it was good news!  There were plenty of fish left, and steelhead were in for sure.

I did my usual streamer setup first, with about 10' of 7 ips poly-leader and 3' of fluoro.  I was getting deep enough, and changed flies a dozen times, but no love.  There were suckers rolling all over the shallow side of the river, so I switched rigs and nymphed the shallower water, about 70' out.  I was hoping there were steelhead hanging out with the suckers, gobbling up their spawn. It didn't take long before I hooked up.  Unfortunately, it was just a big redhorse.  Not what I wanted, but I'll take it!  Redhorse are especially hard to get to eat since they're bottom feeders, and are not quick as trout or salmon for the take.  Things just have to be that much better when nymphing.  It was good news to me, it meant I was in the right depth and zone.  A few hours later and a few more redhorse, I was sunburned and exhausted!  I headed home to relax before heading out yet again before it got dark.  My co-worker, Hakija, didn't manage to get much either, so he headed as well.

After telling Katlyn about how many walleye my coworker saw some people catch, she wanted to go herself!

We headed down around 5 P.M., but couldn't get where I wanted to fish, 3 people were already occupying it.  We waited our turn since they didn't seem like they were staying long.  Sure enough, an hour later they took off.  We hopped out to the spot and began fishing.  I showed Katlyn where to cast, and when to reel up to avoid getting snagged.  She got the hang of it quick, and had a few hits that she missed.  Things were looking promising since suckers usually always get hooked when they bite.  I had a feeling they were walleye hitting her crawler.  The way I set the rig up, when hooked, the octopus hooks I use are almost always in the lip instead of the throat of the fish.  This avoids line breaks from teeth, but is a bit tricky when setting the hook after a bite.

Finally, I got a hit.  I paused and counted to 3 before setting the hook.  I knew right away it was a walleye.  Katlyn went to grab the net, and that's when we realized we had forgotten it at the apartment.....ugh!  Luckily someone in a kayak was closeby and saw me fighting the fish.  He came over to where we were and insisted he netted my fish.  I politely asked if I could do it myself, that way if it came off it was nobodys fault but my own.  He almost felt insulted, stating he'd netted plenty of fish, "man".  After barely fitting the walleye in his little trout net, I was happy as could be, another 25" male walleye!  I was all smiles, and so was Katlyn.  She was eager to get her own now.  We continued to fish and less than 20 minutes later I hooked up into another walleye of the same size.  This time, I opted to grab the fish without a net.  I brought it into calmer water and slid my finger until its gil plate and lifted it out of the water.  We were both hooting and celebrating, it was another male, this time 24.5".  That meant I was at my limit for walleye, so I stopped fishing and let Katlyn continue, hoping she'd get one of her own.

A few suckers and an hour later, she was fighting something she knew was "big".  I was giddy, because I could tell it was a walleye.  Her eyes grew big when she could see what it was.  She did an awesome job and lured the fish into calmer water so I could reach it and grab it.  Right as I grabbed it and pulled it out of the water, the hook popped out - wow she was lucky!!

She was ecstatic!  It was like someone had cloned all of these fish, because hers was yet another 25" male.  Must be all the big hens had already spawned and started to drop back into the Lake.

Shortly after, it started getting dark, and we called it a night.  I was exhausted!

The tally for a days fishing was 4 walleye, all males, 3 25" and 1 24.5".  For not being a walleye angler whatsoever, it was a great day to say the least. 
Walleye bites....delicious!

Why not?

Since I take up residence less than 100 yards from the Salmon Hole now, it was a real pain having to wait until it opened on June 1st to fish it, especially since I knew just how many big fish were lurking in the water.

On a side note, I did do my part to keep the waters protected during the closed season.  Although there are signs everywhere letting people know the waters are closed to fishing from March 16th to June 1st, people intentionally ignore it and still fish the water.  Since it's a quick walk to overlook the Hole, I often walked down just to look at the water, and the plethora of fishing rolling and porpoising.  Mostly suckers, but the occasional sturgeon.  The first time I went down for a visit, there were 2 poachers fishing on the opposite side of the river, and even had a fire blazing.  A quick call to the Warden and 20 minutes later I watched as he went down and caught the two poachers.  Justice served. Surprisingly, almost half the time I went down there, people were fishing!  I ended up having to call the Warden 4 times, and let a group of kids know the waters were closed(they seemed genuinely surprised to know the water was closed).  It's amazing how ignorant people can be though.

Not many people are aware, but the water directly above the falls above the Hole actually have quite a wide variety of species that live in the short section of water above the Hydro One dam and below the next dam a few miles upriver.  Including the most common species - fallfish, there are pike, suckers, smallmouth bass, trout, salmon(stocked smolts turned parr that are dropping back into the Lake from the Huntington River, these fish are uncommon, but should NOT be targeted on purpose) and even carp!

A few weeks before the Salmon Hole opened, I decided to go explore the water above the Dam.  Easily accessible, it was a short walk to fishy looking water.  It didn't take long before this huge fallfish slammed an olive crystal bugger, which made for a great fight.

After losing one of similar size, I moved spots without much to show for it.  The trees made it difficult to reach where I wanted, and roll/switch casts just couldn't cut it.

Having always eyed the fast, ladder-type water above the dam, I decided it was time to finally fish it.  I sat and figured out a plan of attack to get where I wanted to without endangering myself, and took off on foot and maneuvered around the rocks and through the water until I was where I wanted to be.

While the view was spectacular, the fishing - not so much.  I did manage to land half a dozen smallies, but they were 12-15".  Not any big slobs like I was hoping for, but they may have all been upriver spawning still, which is why these little guys were so willing.  The deep run in the bottom picture looked most promising, but all my fish came from the shallows on the far right.  Since I ended up standing in deep water.

What I wouldn't give to see salmon making their way up this water back in the old days.  I still wonder how things would be if it weren't for all these impassable barriers that mankind has placed on our rivers. 

After a few hours, I worked my way back.  I didn't want people thinking I was just another crazy guy out in the middle of the river.