The way this winter's been going, I can't blame my buddy Fred for using pages from Al Gore's "Earth in the Balance" to fire up his pot-bellied stove.
"At least I'm getting some use out of it," he complained.
Then came last Thursday's thaw, sweeping in like a South Sea breeze. A true believer of the Weather Channel, he knew what was coming the night before and called to brief me. "You know weather like that's gonna ignite an explosive bite."
I told him I was sorry he had to work the next day, but promised I'd think about him while I fished.
Thursday found me casing-out the Pulaski area, particularly my favorite skinny creeks. Unfortunately, Little Sandy wore an ice cap only slightly punctuated with moving water. Grindstone moved a little more freely, but ran under ice so often, I figured landing a steelie would have been too much like work. Trout and Orwell Brooks were loosening up but not enough.
The Salmon River was perfect. Its tannic-stained waters were gin-clear, 34-something degrees, and relatively free of icebergs; a combination sure to draw chrome upstream.
The fish were hanging out in deep runs. The Sportsman's Hole surrendered a couple to anglers above and below me, but not to me. The fish averaged a solid 26 inches.
As the sun began sinking in the sky I decided to move to my most favorite first-thaw spot: the School House Pool.
Several dudes got there before me but there was still plenty of elbow room. Catching sight of a fish tail swirl near the head of the pool, I eased myself down the six-foot bank. Setting my float about four feet above a Northland Scudbug (northlandtackle.com), and clipping on a couple BB-sized split shots 18 and 24 inches respectively above the offering, I cast across the current and let the flow do its magic.
Several casts later, the float came to a dead stop, cocked upstream and started heading under the surface like the tower on a submarine. I set the hook and the fight was on.
I saw five other steelies caught within the course of a couple of hours. The guys doin' most of the catchin' were float-fishing with black marabou streamers.
I watched another guy land an ingot of heavy metal just downstream of the Altmar Bridge, in the pool at the bend. He was float-fishing with a trout egg fashioned from hot glue.
Spawn-minded steelies should enter the river in full force during this thaw, and they'll be easily accessible to wading anglers until the Tug Hill's snow melt swells the River to three times its normal size in about a week.
When the water gets that high, floating the river in a McKenzie Boat, and casting egg sacs or back-trolling plugs like Hot Shots, Rapalas and Lazy Ikes will be most productive. (A list of guides is available on the Oswego County Tourism Web site, www.visitoswegocounty.com.)
Still, wading anglers casting small Mepps and Rooster Tail spinners into deep pools like the Black Hole should nail some heavy metal.
Action will start getting fast and furious in the skinny creeks in a few days.