Stephen Rose, George Reynolds and I fished the Sheboygan River today, and we saw way more fish than anyone should expect to see in one day on a river.
Salmon are crazed, sex-driven zombie-monster fish that are incredibly-impressive natural specimens. They are, as I may have mentioned before, very impressive. Nearly every fish we saw today was a King Salmon. They are all, impressively, equivalently-shaped and sized, meaning they are big. I would guess each one is fifteen pounds and about thirty inches long. That’s big. They can move from the mouth of the river to the falls in Kohler in less than twenty four hours. They are made to swim vigorously up stream, through fast and slow water, jumping if necessary. They are not concerned about anything aside from finding a nice place and a nice partner, and once those two conditions have been met, just leave them the eff alone because it’s time to squeeze out some eggs and milt and then die.
Therein lies the conundrum of fishing for lake-run salmon. They aren’t interested in you or your damned flies. Not in the least. In fact they would prefer that you all just go away. Getting a salmon to “eat” your fly is, for me anyway, nigh-on impossible, because they aren’t hungry! They can get pissed, or curious. And then they might snap at your fly. And then you will have hooked one in the mouth. But there’s this thing called “foul hooking”, which is different from “Fair Hooking”. Foul hooking means you have hooked a fish somewhere away from the fish’s mouth, like the dorsal fin or the tail fin. And this happens a lot because when you drift or swing flies through a pod of salmon the hook often sweeps over them. What you’re trying to do is sweep the fly in front of them so they get pissed and snap at it, but as often as your fly goes in front of them, it also goes past them and over them.
So then you have a fifteen pound, thirty-inch-long muscle hooked in a spot that allows the fish to have incredible resistance to your direction of pull. But you don’t necessarily know if the damned thing is hooked right or wrong, so you play the fish (instead of just snapping the fly off your line with a mighty pull). You play the fish because it feels like the biggest freaking monster you’ve ever had on your line and you just want to hoist that thing up a look at it, and then get your picture taken.
So you play it and play it and play it and it goes up and down the river and hunkers down in the holes and mingles with other salmon who say “Nice new piercing, Larry” and so forth, and then maybe when you get a look at it you see that the brilliant monster is hooked on a fin, and then you feel like a jack-ass because you’ve tormented this fish for thirty minutes only to find out the poor, sex-crazed, dying beast wasn’t sportingly hooked in the mouth, and then you can snap it off.
At least that’s what a guy like me, who hasn’t done this much, has come to conclude.
All that being said, the Sheboygan River in Kohler is a very beautiful place that I intend to visit again. And I am grateful to George for his hospitality, patience, flies and sandwiches, and I hope to repay the favor to him soon in the Driftless or the Brule or who-knows-where! I had a great day, and feeling the tug of those beasts on the line is really a thrill, no doubt about it.
Also, I’m not sure, but I think I hooked that fish I’m holding below in the mouth. Honestly I was too thrilled to have it in my hands to remember from whence the hook came as George was removing it. I felt like I’d just gotten off a bucking bronco and was happy to have that prize in my hands. These salmon are wonderful, beautiful (and impressive) creatures and watching them today was a great experience.
A female King Salmon in the Sheboygan River
George and me in Sheboygan
The reason for the season – Salmon Eggs
Stephen with a lunker on
A thirty minute wrestling match with a large fish in Sheboygan
Tomorrow I’m heading to Sheboygan with my fishing buddy Stephen, where we’ll meet up with George, a local Sheboygan-area fly-fisherman, for some Sheboygan River Salmon Fishing (S.R.S.F.).
I’m hoping for a few Kings and maybe some Coho. Sheboygan got 3.2 inches of rain over the weekend. The only question mark is whether the water will “look like cappuccino” in George’s words.
I’m hoping to do like this guy tomorrow…
I geeked out this morning and did some extrapolating (or is it forecasting?). The last time the Sheboygan River was up to 450 CFS was in June, and it came down under 200 CFS in a couple days.
Sheboygan Flow June 2012
I traced the downward-sloping flow rate and plastered it onto the tail end of the flow graph as of this morning, and by tomorrow the flow should be below 200 CFS. Which hopefully means we won’t drown and there will be some new fish in the river.
Sheboygan Flow Oct 2012
That’s the theory anyway.
For any of you thinking this data would be worth banking a trip on tomorrow, I’d suggest you wait until I get back so you can read my trip report before deciding to head out.
Plans are in the works for a trip up to the Bois Brule, and perhaps the Cranberry River, Flag River, White River, Marengo River, Sioux River, or who knows where. Hopefully the fish will be our guide.
I can’t wait to see that lovely tanin-stained water, hear the wolves howl, and see the flash of those silvery fish in the riffles. I’ll be keeping my eye on the fish forums to see how our chances look for getting up there during a run.
For now, here are some memories of last year’s visit…
Wood Turtle on the banks of the Bois Brule River, Wisconsin
Stephen Rose: Extreme Trout Fisherman
S. Rose on the incredible Bois Brule River, Wisconsin
The Amnicon River in Douglas County, Wisconsin
Yesterday’s trip to the Root River in Racine was not a good use of a half day of vacation. Stephen Rose and I took the trip looking for bellicose Steelhead, but instead we found disinterested Salmon.
The river was low and trashy and needs a good flushing. These urban rivers leave something to be desired in terms of scenic opportunities. Put me in the Brule or the Big Spring any day.
The best chance we had at catching something was toward the end of the day on the big bend of the river that flows through Washington Park in Racine. There were fish flopping around doing their thing. One particularly road-weary fish was tucked into a hole about 15 feet away. I had a pink egg pattern on my fly rod leader and I popped that egg inches in front of the fish’s nose over and over and over, in an attempt to annoy it into striking, but it just ignored my efforts.
Seems like the only game in town was snagging fish on treble hooks, which is illegal and not at all sporting. There was a group of three guys playing this game and even they couldn’t get a fish – not that I’m disappointed in the outcome.
We did check out the fish weir in Lincoln Park in Racine. They have a window at the base of the facility arranged so you can see underwater to get a cross-sectional view of the final spillway of the fish ladder. We were able to watch a salmon clear this last spillway on its migration upstream. It was fascinating to watch the salmon make the leap. It sure didn’t look like a big deal for the fish. I can see how they might get up a 6 or 8 foot waterfall.
Root River Fish Weir
Fishing for salmon in a river is a bear’s job. The fisherman is better off in a lake at this time of year. Fishing the salmon runs is a smelly, frustrating, ugly endeavour that I’ll leave alone for the forseeable future.
I’m going to cool my heels and wait for March, when the spring creek trout season opens. I may return to a big river to chase steelhead during their spawning run.
You’ve got to try something to know whether or not it appeals to you. Well, I’ve got my answer.