Chasing Chinooks on The Upper Fly Zone

On September 29th the Salmon River saw the best run of salmon so far this season. The Douglaston Salmon Run (“DSR”) was reporting large numbers of fish clogging the river entrance in their morning report and the afternoon report mentioned a client hooking 100 fish and landing 20. While the fishing slowed on Friday, I was still anxious to get on the water Saturday morning. Access to the DSR for the weekend had been sold-out for weeks. The first weekend in October is a common time that many anglers who do an annual trip to Pulaski make their trek. With the DSR out of the equation, I decided I was going to target the public water in the Upper Fly Zone just above the Salmon River Fish Hatchery. I knew this area was not going to hold the volume of fish that were in the lower river, but for what it lacked in fish, it would make up for in limited fishing pressure.

 The state parking lot sign at the Upper Fly Zone.

The state parking lot sign at the Upper Fly Zone.

I arrived at the Upper Fly Zone parking lot off of Rt. 13 around 6:30am on Saturday morning. There were six cars in the lot when I pulled in. The air temperatures were in the upper 50s and there was a light breeze blowing. I got geared up and headed down to the water. When I arrived I was surprised at how much water was in the river. On Wednesday, the New York State DEC and Brookfield Renewable had put out a notice that they would be lowering the water release from the reservoir from 335CFS to 185CFS because of drought conditions. I was expecting to see a lot of rocks, but this was not the case. I’d estimate that the flow on the Upper Fly Zone was closer to 250CFS. Anyone who has fished this area knows that the wading can be challenging and even with the lower water, a wading stick was still a good idea for crossing the river. As I headed downstream the pungent odor of rotting salmon was everywhere. I hadn’t made it 75 yards and I walked up on a young guy that was hooked into a good Coho. I asked him if I could film some GoPro footage and just as I was starting to record, he lost the fish. He mentioned that there were some small pods of fish holding in the deeper holes and that one or two would periodically run upstream. I was encouraged to know there were some fish around. When I got about three quarters of the way down the mile-long stretch of special regulation water, I came upon a hole where three fishermen were intently focused on casting. I figured they had salmon in front of them and didn’t bother them. Below them was a nice run of riffles that went around the bend. As I crossed the creek at the bend, I searched the seams, and then there they were. I saw three big Chinooks sitting in soft water. I stopped wading and slowly started prepping my fly rod. No sooner had I shifted my sling pack and the lead salmon must’ve seen my movement and the fish scattered. I watched them swim around and two of the fish came back into the spot after a minute or two. I cast a Pink Deceiver above them and the second fish took my fly. As I pulled to set the hook, I watched the fly pull on his lower jaw and then pull right out of his mouth. This made enough commotion to send those two fish running up into the pool above me. I threw a couple more casts with the Deceiver and then I unexpectedly hooked into a foot long brown trout.

 The brown trout I unexpectedly caught.

The brown trout I unexpectedly caught.

I knew there was still one good fish in the riffle so I dead drifted the riffle for twenty minutes and eventually changed to an Egg Sucking Leech with an orange head. On my first drift with this fly I hooked a fish. It was a good Chinook and he was in fast water. He started running downstream and he got into heavier white water. Soon I was doing my best to run on round rocks letting the fish take line off my reel. The fish made it 50 yards downstream and posted up in a deep run. When I got there I put side pressure on him to move him and he went into a series of violent headshakes and eventually he threw the hook.

 A good stretch on the Upper Fly Zone, running at around 250CFS.

A good stretch on the Upper Fly Zone, running at around 250CFS.

After losing the fish I explored the last couple hundred yards of river down to the boundary line. I watched one other angler hook into a good fish and eventually lose him, but did not observe any other fish moving. In the lower section there is a small creek that fish will occasionally run up and I hiked over and checked that water out. I ran into two anglers who have historically been very successful at finding wayward fish in the creek. They said that they are used to arriving to find fins breaking the surface of the water, but not this year. The water is just too low. By the time I was done exploring downriver, it was an hour to lunch and I decided to hike back out to my truck and drive to the DSR to see if any afternoon passes were available.

When I arrived at the DSR lot, there were a lot of cars. I parked and walked up to the clubhouse and chatted with Charlie briefly. There were so many anglers on the run that they had decided not to give out any afternoon passes. I stopped and ate my lunch in the lot and then headed into town to see what the pressure looked like at the ball field. The water stretching through town was in full season fishing mode. Anglers were shoulder to shoulder from the Town Hole to as far as I could see upstream. I decided there was no way I was going to deal with the pressure so I headed back to the Upper Fly Zone for the afternoon. After arriving back at the lot, I decided to hike downstream to the boundary figuring my best opportunity for fish might be to catch them running across the line into the lower water. As I got down to the lower stretch I was crossing the river and I suddenly moved a large salmon that was holding in a riffle.  I watched where he relocated to and got into a position to cast to him. After several casts, I finally put one in his lane and he took an orange egg pattern. He put up a good fight and took me downstream right to the property line.  After fighting him for ten minutes, I figured it would be a good idea to try and get some underwater footage of him on my line with the GoPro before netting him. Well that was a bad idea. As I leaned down to get some underwater footage, that awkward angle gave him the leverage he needed to remove the hook from his lower jaw and I watched him move through the riffles into water I couldn’t fish. I got some good fight footage but I never got the money shot. I saw three other salmon later that afternoon and had one lost hook up and was unsuccessful in getting the others to take a fly. The fish movement in the late afternoon was slow and almost non-existent. I made my way upstream at dusk and watched a gentleman with a Spey rod hook up with a big Chinook that put on several acrobatic displays. It was awesome to watch. With the temperatures dropping and darkness falling, I hiked out to my truck. I ended the day with three hook-ups, but only one "sort of landed" salmon with no picture to show for it. Well, there’s always next weekend.

 The Upper Fly Zone at dusk.

The Upper Fly Zone at dusk.