Winter finally started loosening her grip on Oswego County in late March. Up until then, her reluctance to grant us even a short thaw kept the Salmon and Oswego Rivers at steady levels all season long. When spring finally showed, it remained stubbornly cold, giving only a couple hours of temperatures that rose slightly above freezing, and only on the best of days. It was so frigid for so long, average anglers stayed home.
Fortunately, the dawning of the official trout opener saw nature relent and let some warm air sweep in. Anglers who made it out onto the Salmon River found the temperature in the high 40s, and the water level at around 1,000 cfs (cubic feet per second), perfect for wading or drifting.
And the steelies were all over the place, not just in the river’s upper reaches. Fresh ones were coming in; others were spawning; and drop-backs were milling around at the edges of fast current and at the tails of pools, taking their time drifting back to Lake O, pigging out on every bite-sized morsel they could get.
By all accounts, this year’s steelhead numbers are better than ever and just about anyone who knows his elbow from the butt section of a fishing rod has a good chance at hooking one.
A lot of browns are mixed in. What they’re doing in the river this time of year is anyone’s guess. Some claim they’re river browns, but their size, light color and great number indicates they’re freshly run.
But that was before the mother of thaws. It seems once she sprung, spring couldn’t control herself and overheated, dropping some extremely unseasonably hot days. On one, the mercury shot to just under 80 degrees.
Well, you can’t do that around the Tug Hill this time of year without a reaction. Its world famous snowpack couldn’t take it and melted…fast and furiously.
At this writing on April 14, the river is testing 3,000 cfs. That’s high by any standard. Still, what goes up must come down. It’ll drop, and when it does, it’s gonna catch a lot of big drop-backs in low water. Confident over the easy pickings in the food rich rapids while the water was high, they’ll be hungry and relatively easily available. Combined with this year's large number of fish, the situation promises some of the best fast water action the Salmon River has ever seen.
The window will be open the widest from the end of April through the middle of May; right about the time when the Skamania and landlocked Atlantic salmon begin their runs.
But say the worst happens and you don’t catch the steelie swimming through your dreams. Don’t be too hard on yourself: these fish didn’t get big by being stupid.
Just hooking one is the beginning of a life altering achievement; because now you gotta land it. And if you do, well, then you’ve earned the right to sit back and glow.
But not for too long. Getting hooked in the imagination by a steelie is addicting, and you’ll be casting for another before you know it.