Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I've never been one for true defined New Years Resolutions, but I do keep a list of goals each year, broken down into categories: personal, professional and adventurous. I've been pretty lucky in the past with all three, but rarely am I able to accomplish one on the first day of trying.

Fishing cabin

2011 changed that for me. When I hit the alarm button on my cellphone, 6 a.m. January 1st, I was starting the second day of a two-day steelhead fishing trip on the Salmon River, N.Y. I went up with two good friends, with one goal in mind – hook and hopefully land my first steelhead. Thanks to their help, we did exactly THAT the day before. In fact we did much more, hooking nine and landing two as a group.

My first steelhead; Dec 31st, 2010

Day two started with a lot of hope and anxiety. As I shook my slight whiskey-induced headache over a cup of coffee, I had high hopes of landing at least one more.

We fished early Saturday morning hard, with zero results, but found the fish by early afternoon with each of us getting in on some action.

First fish of 2011

One of the highlights happened when Collin hooked a huge fish while his line paused on his backcast. The fish ran hard down river resulting in a pulled hook, but such is life on a steelhead river. You fish hours of quietness and in one split second, you're zero to 100 bracing a giant fish running for the horizon.

Collin hooked up

Collin's steelhead; early afternoon Jan 1st

At 4:00 p.m. we found ourselves working a deep hole that held fish earlier in the day. Knowing there was only one last shot for a trophy fish, we stood in the cold-numbing water casting away. I dug into my fly box, and tied on a large black woolly bugger, figuring if anything is hiding deep, it will be hard nosed to pass up a big dinner offering before nightfall closed in.

Dave's steelhead; 12/31/10

I let out a cast upstream, and fed my line deep into the pool. When a fly drags the bottom of a river, you feel a "tap tap tap" pulse through your rod, but for me it was a "tap tap pause". Out of instinct I set the hook has hard as my fly rod would allow. For a moment, it felt like the entire river bottom was awakened – alive and confused. I raised my rod and gave more pressure and realizing it's predicament the beast shot for the surface, throwing walls of water and head shakes in an attempt to spit my fly back in my face. I was hooked up... zero to 100 like so many others.

This one was different for me. Not only was it the biggest trout I ever saw, but by far one of the biggest freshwater fish I ever hooked on a fly rod. The fish made a run down river, ripping line off my spool – drag singing and reel handle cracking against my knuckles. All I could mumble was "big fish... big fish". Luck was on my side. Rather than run downriver, where he surely would have lost me, he made a costly decision, and turned 180 back upstream to stick it out in the depths of the pool. I nearly lost him on the gamble, loosing contact with the slack in my line on his turn, but the hook stuck.

Collin has a lot of Steelhead experience.
He explained to me how steelies use highways
to travel in water that may look like dead water.

Here we had our standoff. Each time I brought him up, Dave attempted a tail-grab, but the fish saw his approach and retreated back into the bottom of the pool. Each time we let out an agonizing gasp. There's no way to put into writing the feeling of fighting a big fish. The exhilaration is balanced on a thin line (as delicate as the tippet attached to your fish) of winning and loosing. In a flash your either throwing high-fives or starting a lifelong story of the one that got away. After a few torturous minutes of this back and forth, the fight was on our side with a trophy fish in our grasp.

The fish was by far my best on the fly, and a trout I dreamed of as a young fisherman. After we snapped a few pics, we released him back to his hole, where I'm sure he'll never touch another black wooly bugger ever again. Of course, that won't stop me from paying him a visit and trying – every single time I fish that river.

A shot out to Dave Holler, and Collin Cochrane for company on the river, experience, and team work. I also want to thank Rob Ceccarini at Orvis for his advice, gear and recommendations. His fly recommendation was by far the hottest fly on the river for us.