When making a fishing game plan, surfcasters rely on tide charts, offshore fishermen live by sea-surface-temperature maps, bass pros check the barometer and steelheaders look to the US Geological Survey water flow data. So on Sunday night when veteran Salmon River guide Gary Edwards reported that the anticipated flow at the Douglaston Salmon Run would be 1200 cubic feet per second, our group of fishermen let out a collective groan.
High water can be a good thing. It can encourage more steelhead to move into the river from the lake and it can make the fish more willing to bite. But high water brings plenty of challenges too. For one, the fish are able to spread out in the river, making them more difficult to find. It makes wading difficult in some areas and dangerous or impossible in others. It can make getting a good drift along the bottom a challenge, and it can make landing a hooked steelhead even more difficult than it already is.
All of this makes the catch below all the more impressive. Gary Edwards, who has been fishing and guiding in the Lake Ontario tributaries for more than 30 years hooked into his biggest ever steelhead this past Monday. The fish, which had probably just left the lake hours before, snapped at Gary’s chartreuse egg fly in the high waters of the Douglaston Salmon Run. The fish wasted no time putting the strong current to its back and almost instantly took Gary into his backing. From a bit upriver, I watched as Gary held his rod high over his head—reel still screaming—and waded to the bank, where he then jogged down river with the fish, which by then had put 50 some yard between itself and Edwards. I grabbed my camera and followed the fisherman and fish downstream.
By the time I caught up with Gary he and the steelhead were locked in a stalemate. The fish would roll on the surface occasionally, but otherwise dogged down in the heavy current. After a minute or so of this, the steelhead started a slow, then moderate, then Mach 3 run downriver once again, and Gary and I followed. Garrett Brancy, manager of the DSR had caught up to us by that point, net in hand, prepared to net Gary’s fish should the fight progress to that point.
I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but another 200 yards downriver, Gary coaxed the fish into a shallow eddy where Garrett dropped the net under the largest steelhead I’ve ever laid eyes on. After high-fives and a brief photo session, Gary directed the fish head-first into the current and we watched it kick off into the high water we’d been cursing the night before.