Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: Early-season salmon fishing is worth it
By DICK PINNEY | April 23. 2017 12:49AM
There are some early days in the season that truly qualify for this label. But by the first of May there are some days that are a complete gem! After a couple of hours of melting ice blockage of my fly-line guides by holding them in my mouth, we begin to question our intelligence, and when my feet lose their feelings and my legs begin to tremble a bit, it provides the answer to that question!
Does that mean give it up and head home? Only on days when there is absolutely no sun out to warm you or you haven't seen a fish move or had a hit would we usually give in, and it's until we reach home that any feeling begins to turn to pain as those toes punish your for your mistreatment!
More often we'd sit in our vehicle with steamy windows until the blood would start to flow along with that yearning for that surprise yank on the end of my line and the kind of sluggish (because these fish are also impacted by the cold water) fight of a salmon and the satisfaction of lifting it out of the water to be put on a stringer, kept in the cold water and taken home for our first feast of the season of a great fish meal.
But we've learned to be fussy on what we do keep when we occasionally do kill a salmon. Often these early in the season fish are beat up after a rigorous spawning effort the previous fall. These fish make for very poor table fare and we've learned the hard way to release these fish as quickly and humanely as possible.
When we do land an early season salmon that is bright and sassy, we have to let a quarrel between the hungry Dickster and the conservationist Dickster. That often is avoided when we leave home with Jane's advice to "Bring me back a nice feed of salmon."
Early in the season, before the big lakes lose their ice cover, it doesn't take much of a decision on where to fish. It has to be in open water where currents have kept all but cold night skim ice from forming. So our chaises are quite limited.
One of the places that we have fished most often in these circumstances is the outflow through the dam that feeds Opechee Bay from Lake Winnipesaukee's Paugus Bay. This is a favorite spot for early season anglers and often the short river banks and outlet are lined with people that are mostly using all the tricks, drifting bait and casting lures or flies.
We avoid that shoulder-to-shoulder fishing by launching our aluminum boat at the Public Service small power station there. It's an easy place to launch from with seldom any waiting. There are very few anglers who go through the trouble of hauling and launching a boat in these waters as shore fishing is productive and gives you plenty of mobility to move around and cast to a lot of new spots.
Our boat, rigged with a bow-mounted anchor drop, also provides for easy moves as the anchor can be dropped and wound back in without standing up in a tippy boat. We'll find spots where our fishing and casting won't interfere with boat or shore anglers, then move from place to place looking for that yank on the end of the line, and often get the reward of seeing a hooked salmon jumping and twisting trying to shake that hook.
Most often we'll be fishing with a friend so we'll take turns fishing from the bow or stern. Since these waters are not covered by special regulations, we'll often fish with two rods. If we'd taken the time to stop at the local bait shop and pick up some live smelts or shiners, we'll carefully as not to injure the bait slip a light-wire hook-up through the bait's lips and by just feeding line back with the current lock up the reel on a light drag setting and put that rod in a rod holder and hope for a strike.
But that's too boring for us to maintain, so we'll rig a sinking or sink-tip fly line with a marabou streamer fly on our fairly light fly rod and reel, and commence covering the current fed water with casts that eventually will cover most of the water within our casting ability. It's quite a wake-up call when you are engrossed with the fly fishing to get awakened to reality when a salmon hits your live bait that is constantly in the water behind the boat.
It's quite tangled if you don't bring in your fly line so we try to get that into the boat without too much finesse. Most often the salmon on your baited line will have pulled out a few yards of line and given you the thrill of a couple of jumps before you have that rod in hand and begin the fun of playing the fish to boat-side.
When the fish has tired and is boat-side, we'll decide whether to kill it or release it. If the fish has post-spawn wear, we'll just slip the hook or fly out as painlessly as possible and give it some thanks as we watch the fish swim away.
If this salmon is bright and shows no sign of wear and tear of spawning, it's going to go home with me on a bed of chipped ice and make for a great feast for Jane and Dick! With thanks to our maker for making these kind of days that we outdoor lovers live for.
Dick Pinney 's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.