Thursday, September 10, 2009

Comin’ Home

Fishermen at the black hole in Pulaski

Depending on how you look at it, salmon are the aquatic world’s luckiest or unluckiest fish. To a hedonist, their 3 ½-year feast, climaxing in a breeding orgy followed almost immediately by death, is perfect. On the other hand, from a traditional Western point of view, their lives are gluttonous, violent and licentious, not exactly the kind you’d want your children to lead. But they are what they are and there’s nothing else they can be. This month launches their final hurrah, a tortuous ascent up natal streams to spawn and die.

Like all wild beasts, salmon aren’t good at sticking to a schedule. Some run upriver as early as August, others wait until winter. This isn’t weirdness on their part, or anything like that; it’s nature’s way of protecting the species. You see, something can happen during the main runs, an earthquake, for instance, or even a volcanic eruption, and the early risers and late comers insure the survival of the species.

Keeping this in mind, I went up to the state salmon hatchery in Altmar the last weekend of August. Some salmon were in the river and a few were in Beaverdam Brook. A couple were even at the ladder, waiting for the gate to open and let them into the facility.

I went up again this past weekend and the fish were in the river heavier than I can ever remember for this time of year. They weren’t everywhere yet, mostly in the lower reaches; the staircase, for instance and the rapids between the Black Hole and Little Black Hole. Arriving around 3 p.m. and only staying until 5 p.m., I watched three fish, averaging roughly 20 pounds, landed—not bad for that late in the day.

It appears this summer’s cool, rainy weather kept the water in the lake from warming too much, allowing the ripe fish to come into shore earlier than normal. With the power company releasing a base flow sufficiently high to offer them easy access to the entire river, the fish stormed in.

Currently, they claim the whole stream. My contacts report seeing fish taken from Douglaston all the way to the Upper Fly Fishing Only Section.

Justin Schwalm, an employee at Fat Nancy’s Tackle Shop reports “I got on the river just before noon today (Tuesday) and saw hundreds of fish by the time I left at around 2 p.m. I saw about 50 guys fighting salmon, and losing the majority of the time. Most were getting them on egg sacks or blue sponge.”

And the fishing is bound to get better. Several guides report the kings are staged inshore near the river’s mouth in massive quantities each morning, just waiting for the biological signal to go off, propelling them into the river. Those that aren’t quite ripe enough yet are turned back into the lake by charter boats and the day’s warming temperatures, only to return that evening and try again.

This is the best time to get a fresh fish. In a couple more weeks they’ll start getting really dark, even black, showing signs that they’re close to the end of their life cycle.

The weather forecast calls for relatively mild nights and warm days, the perfect combination for drawing salmon into the river. It’s a good time to fish in the comfort of short sleeves, while dodging 20 +-pounders tearing upstream on their way home to spawn.

Bringing home a Salmon

Kayakers and fishermen sharing the staircase

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