I usually don't travel or pay to fish - mostly because
I'm too cheap but also because I have a
near-world-class-fishery right out of my front door
so there is really no need. I recently made an
exception when, caught in the doldrums of a too-long
and too-cold winter, I booked a guided drift boat trip
down the Salmon River in Pulaski, New York. The guides,
two brothers, assured us that a trip in the early spring
would provide ample opportunities to catch steelhead,
big fish that have been described as 'rainbow trout on
A drift boat trip is one of the few situations
where you can almost be assured that a guide earns
his money. I've seen too many shore guides with
clients at bridge pools on well traveled roads with
abundant parking-places that a novice fly-fisher
could easily find without paying $300. And I
actually once heard two guides gleefully discussing
how they had chased the stocking truck, allowing
their clients to catch numerous trout straight from
the hatchery. Productive, yes, but hardly the
sporting experience one would expect when shelling
out a few c-notes for a guide's expertise. But drift
boat guides spend eight long hours rowing a boat,
maneuvering into likely fish habitat, holding the
boat against the current to give sports a shot at
fish. Or so I thought.
After a too-long ride on secondary roads (there are
no east-west interstates in New Hampshire or Vermont),
we arrived in Pulaski, a town on the shores of Lake
Ontario whose very survival depends on its fishery.
Pulaski likely has more bait and tackle shops per
square mile than any town in the world, and everything
(not just the tackle shops) is named "salmon" this and
"steelhead" that, which was charming in a Branson,
Missouri kind of way. There were even these Coke-type
vending machines that actually dispensed live bait.
It had rained the entire trip, and continued raining
throughout the night. Todd, our guide, called our
hotel to tell us that we wouldn't be able to fish
the Salmon River in the drift boat; the water, which
usually ran at 1750 cfs was running at over 3500,
much too high to fish. He suggested instead that
we fish along the shore of Lake Ontario from his
powerboat. We were disappointed, but what choice
did we have? Plus it meant an extra half hour sleep,
and, as we had been up since 4 am the day before, we
When Todd arrived we noticed the boat was rigged
with spinning gear. "We'd like to bring our fly
rods," I told him. He looked at me for a bit, then
said, "Well, that's your choice, but you won't
catch anything. What we'll do is troll for fish,
and it doesn't work well with fly gear." I wasn't
too enthused about the spinning gear and trolling.
It's not just that I'm a snobby fly fisherman (though
I am); it's just that I felt like a grouse hunter
being told to hunt rabbits instead. But that was
the option, and, being amicable sorts, we decided
to go with the flow (a painful cliché in this case).
When we got to the boat launch the water was much
too rough. We tried another spot with the same
result. "Let's drop the boat off and I'll take
you to some streams that might be fishable," Todd
said. We dropped off the boat and then hit one
stream then another, then another, and yet another.
All were too high and too fast to fish, and we didn't
even throw a cast. Todd mentioned that if something
didn't turn up we'd "work something out," which I
took to mean a rescheduled float trip.
After five hours we pulled into a lot where we could
spot a stream in the distance. "This should be good,"
Todd said. "Rig up your rods." As we walked down
to the water we passed three fishermen heading back
to the lot. They were noticeably empty-handed. Todd
took us right to the very first fishable spot, a place
that had no doubt been hammered by the fishermen we
saw leaving, and had us drift egg patterns for about
15 minutes. The water was high and fast, it was
freezing cold, and the rain continued to fall.
"Well, guess there's nothing here," he said.
"We might as well go."
As we were driving back to the hotel I asked, "So,
what can we work out?" naively thinking that we
could credit our deposit toward a future trip. I
trust realtors, bankers, and lawyers, too. "I won't
charge you for the rest of the day," he said
magnanimously, meaning that he was kind enough to
only charge us $135 for riding in his truck for 5
hours and fishing in a swollen river in the freezing
rain for 15 minutes. And now I understood his
persistence in finding a place to fish even though
it was obvious that conditions were a good bit less
than optimal. Once we had wetted a line, he
considered his obligations met.
He dropped us at our hotel, and, adding insult
to injury, had the cajones to loiter, making
small talk and waiting for a tip. Feeling that
$30 an hour for driving us around was adequate
compensation, we ignored him and he finally left.
But before he did he said, "If you ever come up
again, you should plan on later in April, when
there isn't so much runoff," good advice that
would have been great advice if he had shared
it when we originally booked the trip.
We had reserved the room for two nights, planning
to spend one day on the drift boat and another on
our own, but given the conditions, we decided to
leave early and surprise our wives--pleasantly,
we hoped. All told, we had driven over a 1000
miles through two snow storms in about 36 hours
to fish an unfishable stream for fifteen minutes
in the freezing rain at the cost of a few hundred
dollars each. Enron stock would have been a
"All a steelheader needs," the old saying goes," is
a big arm and a small brain," two attributes I possess.
I'd add two more conditions: good weather and an
ethical guide. Without the last two, you'll get
soaked. Like we did. ~ Dave
Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an
avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor.
He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet
newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats)
and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.