Angler's Delights Ch. 01byLong Strongdaily©
This is not a story just about Atlantic Salmon fishing, it's a factual remembrance of happenings past and the unbridled passions of the girl I love!! (names have been changed).
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My wife, Virginia, and I had been driving continuously for over eighteen hours in a mad dash to get to our favorite Atlantic Salmon river for the season's opening day. The biggest obstacle that remained in our way was Kurley's Mountain! Commencing at near sea level, Kurley's Mountain Highway climbed the sea side of the mountain to over fifteen hundred feet above sea level. Climbing a distance of slightly less than four kilometers, with the last kilometer having the highest grade incline, the engine of our fully loaded four wheel drive howled in protest as we neared the mountain summit! We had arrived at the foot of Kurley's Mountain just slightly before daybreak. I geared down to second gear, as recommended on the highway signs, for the long assent ahead! We reached the mountain top just as the sun's shimmering rays peered through the high trees cresting the mountain! There was a "look-off rest site" atop the mountain where we parked to relax, snack and to enjoy the beautiful sun rise! The sun was a blazon red!
"We'll have rain within the next forty-eight hours! I hope it doesn't destroy the fishing!"
I anxiously noted to Virginia as she nodded her head in agreement. I was genuinely concerned that any heavy rains would spell disaster for our fishing trip! We had planned this trip the moment our last one here last year ended. This trip was an annual pilgrimage for us! Having rested for some forty-five minutes, we began our descent down the mountain into the valley below. From the mountain top we would be ten kilometers from the head of a river that meandered some eighty kilometers through the most breathtaking mountain and valley scenery that the Lord had bestowed anywhere upon this earth. It often occurred to me that perhaps the good Lord hadn't been satisfied with His work so saw it necessary to place into this river the most magnificent of his marine creatures, the "Atlantic Salmon!"
I sincerely believe that it was at this point that He created man, such as myself, to behold his wondrous works! If the Lord needed reassurance that His creations here measured up to our highest expectations He was assured the votes of Virginia and I. Certainly I would often ask myself why such a magnificent sight ever existed outside heaven itself! Whatever my curiosity as to the reasons why, there it was, the most scenic and magnificent "Atlantic Salmon Rivers" on earth! It was to be mine for two glorious weeks to wander, to fish and to enjoy to the fullest. I would be putting my finest steel, fur and feather creations against the wiliest and most magnificent fish in all creation, "Atlantic Salmon!"
Atlantic salmon are born in freshwater rivers, grow for one year or so, then travel down stream to the cold salt waters of the North Atlantic. There he would spend several years, grow into adulthood, and later return to the exact spot to where he was born in the river. There he would spawn and give birth to a new generation. Having done so, he would again commence another journey to the North Atlantic, with all it's perils, trials and tribulations, to prove once again the powers of its creator and its indeterminable prowess to abide by its predestination of being the greatest sport fish on earth. The Atlantic Salmon is the only fish in the Salmo Genera with the genes permitting it to return to and from the ocean numerous times. Returning to its river of origin and give birth to a new generation on each visit, unlike its cousins whose return to their birth river spells certain death, each to live and have the opportunity to spawn but once, then die.
Our accommodation was located at the estuary of the river. Here it flowed into the cold vastness of the North Atlantic. Our timing was such that we would commence fishing at the river's place of origin and fish our various favorite fishing spots until we arrived at our lodge. It seemed strange how quickly we would forget or weariness, the eighteen hours of steady driving, and fish all day till darkness, without a murmur of tiredness. It's amazing what the expectation of a good days fishing will do for one's mind, body and soul. No drug, legal or otherwise, could ever be prescribed to bring on such a high. It allows one to be totally oblivious to all and every possible torment, all except that is, the torment of the challenge presented by the Atlantic Salmon itself. This, the sport of kings!
Parking at our first fishing spot, Virginia prepared an early morning breakfast on the riverbank. She enjoyed fishing as much as she enjoyed just being out in the wide-open spaces. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, pan fries, hot coffee and toast. We cleaned the dishware and immediately began assembling our fishing gear. First the rod, reel and line and then chest waders, fly vest and we were ready for a days fishing. The water levels were disappointing! It was evident that it hadn't rained for some time and perhaps the mornings blazon sunrise was a good omen after all! It was still not yet fully daylight! The first light of day was yet to spread its rays on this side of the valley. I cautiously, and carefully, viewed the entire stream in the dim light before attempting my first cast to where I knew salmon should be. I entered the water and made my first cast of the season and of this trip! Both sides of the stream were enclosed by high standing trees ideally located to snag any backcast should one lose a moments attentiveness as to what existed around them.
I was using a nine foot Orvis graphite rod with a number nine line and nine foot, six pound, tippet, to this I had attached a fly creation of my own making. I always liked this fly, having had much success with it, not only for salmon, but for sea and brown trout, as well as speckled. On some occasions I found myself fishing with it an entire day. My creation is a copy of the Bomber, except, I dye my own deer hair in two shades of brown, mid and dark brown. Both colors are equally effective! However I have found that daylight and time of day, watercolor and sometimes water levels, do require a change from one shade to the other. I prefer Tintex mid-brown dye. I attain the desired color shades by varying the period of time I leave the deer hair in the dye and the time it's allow to "fix". I use either pure vinegar, or a mix of vinegar and water, to set colors. What you want to attain is two shades of brown dark hair, one dark and one mid-brown.
Another important factor is hook size. For Salmon I use sizes two to twelve, for trout I use mostly size twelve. Although I would never be without sizes ten, fourteen and sixteen. For hackle I use Grizzly and various browns, tied Palmer style. The heads are usually black. I have never had a need to try any other color, and I will "sometimes" but "definitely not always" experiment with a colored "butts", usually red or green being best. Another well held secret of mine, till now at least, is that I also tie these flies in a weighted version. I tell the difference by adding a dot of red varnish on the head. I often immerse these creations in my own fly floatant mixture of paraffin wax and solvent. The air temperature I'll be fishing in will dictate its formulation. This concoction gives off a noticeable concentric covering of wax and solvent when the fly hits the water. Whatever this does to the fish, it is at this moment that the fly is the deadliest! It's an offering that the fish cannot seem to resist.
My first cast of this trip was cast at a forty-five degree angle across and down stream. I made a long cast and bounced my fly against the far side of the riverbank. I allowed the fly to swing mid-stream before beginning my retrieve. I immediately felt the sudden pull of a salmon as he struck my fly, then nothing! Disappointed, but no less determined now that I knew there were fish in the pool, I continued fishing. I chalked my loss of my first salmon of the season to "buck fever". The excuse eased my pain and disappointment if nothing else. The sun now began to crown the mountain behind me and shortly would hit the river's waters.
The sky was cloudless, not one of my favorite type days for salmon fishing. I prefer a cloudy or overcast day. Just as these thoughts were passing through my head a beautiful, ten to twelve pound, salmon rose five feet into the air in the same spot as where I hooked the first salmon. I didn't hesitate! I placed my fly almost perfectly and exactly to where I wanted it. It made a slow swing and, just as it was about to straighten out, the salmon was upon it. He ran, as the reel spun in protest, for about twenty feet or so, then nothing! I reeled in, looked at the fly, and to my amazement the very tip of the hook was missing. I hadn't inspected the hook after the first fish struck, as I would normally do, after all it was a brand-new fly! No mistaking it however, it was broken. I could only explain it by suggesting that it had to have had been a defective hook. In any event, two beautiful Atlantic salmon had survived to fight yet another day. Hopefully with myself I thought! Unfortunately that was how my first day of this trip started and ended. I did raise a few fish later that evening, but no takers. To plagiarize one famous quote, I thought: "Better two fish hooked and lost than no fish hooked at all!" That night the thought of not having a good nights sleep was definitely not in question! I set the clock for a five a.m. wake-up call! Within minutes we were both asleep.
The next morning I awoke and left for the river, leaving Virginia fast asleep. The plan was for me to fish till ten a.m. come back to the lodge and we would have breakfast. Afterwards I would rest till late afternoon and then we would both head to the river for a quiet evenings fishing. We planned to stay at least till sunset. The following morning was less than ideal. It had rained heavily overnight; the water was rising fast and was discolored. The day proved to be a "lodged lodge day", i.e., a day fit for activities other than fishing. Perhaps like reading and sleeping, or other such activity which may raise ones enthusiasm for any type of sport! We both did, however, enjoy a very relaxed day which tended to lift our spirits for the challenges to be had during the following days. That evening we enjoyed the lodge's specialty: "Fly Fishermen's Seafood Special". The meal consisted of seafood chowder, a combination of several different type fishes, baked potato or fries, and garnishes. One order, in fact, should have had been sufficient for at least two very hungry fishermen. Combined with more than sufficient wine, it was a truly a feast.
The lodge, located on a bluff over looking the river, had a large screened porch. From there we could see the river from ample, yet low keyed, lighting in place on the surrounding terraced embankment and a magnificent moonlight sky. While the weather had been rather miserable all day, late evening saw the skies partially clear with large clouds breaking, from time to time, the brightness of a glorious full moon. I knew from whence I came, if not tomorrow, then the next day, or as soon the rains run off rescinded its hold on the rivers waters level, that I would be the most fortunate salmon fisherman on the face of the earth. I would be the recipient of ideal fishing conditions for several days. My anticipation would not permit me settle down for a night's sleep. Instead we ordered a bottle of our favorite beverage and, with some anxiety, sit the night if necessary, on the porch. There we would enjoy the fresh country air, the views to be had and allow ourselves to get lost amongst the vastness of country odors and noises!
We spent several hours quietly enjoying and cherishing every second of our time there. "This is what memories are made of!" I said to myself over and over again throughout the evening. It was two a.m. before we decided to turn in for the day. The next morning at about seven o'clock, we both headed for the river, believing that the waters would still be high and perhaps somewhat colored. I was surprised the waters were almost clear and its levels lower than I had anticipated. We would not bother to fish and decided to have breakfast at the river's edge. Today it was fried sausage; pancakes and camp fired home brewed coffee! It just didn't get any better than that! That's what I though at least. However the best was yet to be! After breakfast I decided that we would travel further up river where I had a few "secret fishing spots" I would check out. I felt that the further up river we went the better the chances of the water being clear and lower. It was a rough ride over the narrow dirt road, freshly awash after the heavy rains. Thanks for the four-wheel drive! "Whoever invented them!" I thought to myself. The drive from the main highway to my fishing hole took almost an hour. It was rough going all the way! The point from where we had to stop to the river's edge was a walk of some twenty minutes or so.
"The chances of anyone being here under these conditions are second to none, and second left town just before the rains started!" I said to Virginia. That is what I thought anyway!
We assembled our gear and headed for the river! The path to the river led to a high embankment, which overlooked the river. At the bottom of this embankment was a grass clearing of some fifty feet or so wide and extended down river some several hundred yards. The sight from the hilltop was always a favorite place of mine. I would sit there and survey the river and, as sometimes happened, the chance to observe a salmon or two breaking in the waters below. The scene was always a welcome sight! This time however I was in awe! Peering thought the trees from our observation point on the hilltop we could see what appeared to be a tent pitched in the field below. I at first became suspect of my eyesight! "No one ever camped here before!" I thought out loudly.
I had difficulty swallowing the lump it bought to my throat. In over twenty years visiting this "hot spot" I had never seen anyone here whom I didn't know and, I thought to myself again, they would never have a need to camp here. In fact the number of people that I knew who would stop by this site would only do so every intermittently, and these I could count on two fingers. My suspicions and imagination were now taking hold of me, conjuring up all types of evil scenarios! Who might have discovered this spot! What might they do to my secret fishing hole! Not wanting to turn back, we moved quietly down the steep bank, making as little noise as necessary for fear of frightening off whoever may be camped there!
"Poachers no doubt!" as my imagination went into overdrive! "If we catch them we'll report them to the authorities!" I thought. Reaching the end of the pathway, and to our left, we observed two gentlemen sitting on a fallen tree. The spring floods probably washed it here as no such large trees were in the immediate area. They were obviously having breakfast as the aroma of bacon, eggs and coffee permeated the air. They still had not seen us, nor did we have a clear vision of them to permit us to identify them. I whispered to Virginia that I would speak loud and attract their attention, which is exactly what happened. They turned, acknowledged our presence, and invited us over. That was a great start from my perspective at least. As we approached it became evident that the two gentlemen were black and, as we introduced ourselves, judging from their accent, were not from within this province!
This relieved my anxieties but not my curiosity as to how they arrived at this spot. "Hi! They call me DJ! This is my wife, Virginia!"
"Glad to meet you Sir! Glad to meet you Mam! I'm Allen and this is my brother Alex!"
"Glad to meet you!" Virginia responded.
"Looks like you two are going fishing, Sir! Are you?"
"Yes we are! Are you here to fish?"
"No! We're just a couple of tourists who got lost and found our way here by canoe from up river! We were planning to stay here till the river drops before heading down stream"
"We had planned to be back at out lodge by yesterday! The rains changed that on us, so here we are!"
Their explanation made my entire day worthwhile! "Care for a coffee and something to eat! We have plenty of food!"
"No thanks! We ate a short while ago! Your generosity is greatly appreciated though! Maybe some other time!"
Then we heard a loud splash when a salmon jumped in the center of the river!
"Something must be chasing that fish! He's been doing that all morning! What would be after him to make him do that?" Allen inquired. I laughed as I explained the fish's action to Allen and Alex laughed upon hearing the explanation. "That's how much we know about fishing!"
"I guess Virginia and I will see if we can accommodate that fish's desire for some action!" I responded as Virginia and I headed toward the river. "Maybe we'll see you both later! Have a safe trip down river!" "Thank you!" they replied in unison.
On our way to the river, Virginia commented that Allen and Alex were two very nice gentlemen and how strange it was to meet them here! I agreed! Virginia and I stood on the river's edge observing and anticipating the whereabouts' of the salmon that had breached earlier. Several minutes later, up he came!
"He would weigh at least twenty pounds or more!" I suggested Virginia try her luck first. Virginia positioned herself in the middle of the river and commenced fishing. Satisfied she had sufficient line out, made her first cast. It was as near picture perfect as any cast could be. After several casts however, she had no success in attracting any attention!
"Let me change your fly!" I recommended to my wife!
Virginia retrieved her line and I tied on one of my own "killer recipes", as we like to call some of my concoctions. Virginia returned to her earlier position and cast to what we hoped would be a waiting salmon! On the very first pass a salmon came flying into the air just missing the fly!
"Did you strike him! Did you strike him!" I anxiously asked.
"No! He missed it completely!"
"Place you fly exactly where you did the last time! If you didn't hit him he'll come back for it! He's a taker!"
It took several casts before she got the fly exactly to where the fish rose. This time there was no splash, just the tip of Virginia's fishing rod bending, the sound of her reel at it screeched in protest as the fish struck and made its first run! In high water the fish had both the current and water level in his favor. The salmon ran some seventy yards or more on his first drive to free himself from Virginia's offering. Virginia gained some line back as the salmon sulked at the bottom of the river near the far bank where the water was deepest!
The battle continued from some twenty minutes, both Virginia and the salmon loosing a little, then gaining a little, in their tug of war. The salmon then headed up stream at a terrific rate of speed. The reel grew hot from friction generated by its protest to the pulling of this denizen from the deep. It then turned and headed, just as fast, down stream. This time however Virginia was able to restrict its movement to the middle of the stream! There it sulked once more! Another twenty minutes passed as the two tested each other's strength, each exchanging gains and losses, time and time again! Forty-five minutes passed and it appeared that neither the salmon, nor Virginia, were going to surrender. Both were, by this time, totally spent! The salmon made three more consecutive jumps, each a little lesser in effort from the one previous!