Jerry Kunnath - Fly Rod & Gun shares his experience with us on a fly fishing trip to the Garden River, Ontario Canada, with Guide John Giuliani
Pink Salmon Paradise - The Garden of Giuliani
By Jerry Kunnath
Fly Rod & Gun
My first vision of the Garden river was from an old, rickety, wooden bridge, through the viewfinder of my video camera. I had followed fishing guide John Giuliani and friend John Vincent from our parked truck with the camera burning tape, to make the opening of another episode of Oakland Outdoors Video Magazine, a program that I have been producing now for over six years. John Giuliani had invited John Vincent and I up to this river in early September to chronicle another wonderful run of pink salmon in this beautiful river in the middle of the Laurntian Shield wilderness. Through the lenses I could see large, dark bodies of color, groups of shadowed water that I assumed were weed beds. It was only after we were done shooting the open of the program and I lowered the camera that I could see that these masses of darkness were not weed beds but pods of resting salmon on their way up the river to spawn. Thousands of pink salmon, crowded together, fin to fin and head to tail, made the water dark with their numbers. It was truly an astounding sight, one that I will never forget, just as I will never forget that day of fishing, northeast of the Sault.
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According to Giuliani, years ago, these salmon were accidentally released into Lake Superior and they somehow managed to naturally reproduce, working their way across the lake, river by river. At first, they only had a good run every other year. But now a good run can be expected every late August and early September here in the Garden, and in many other rivers in the watershed of Superior. The section of the Garden that we were to fish this day is only about forty miles from the fairly large city of Sault Saint Marie, Ontario. But this is still a true wilderness area, complete with bears, moose and all the other critters that call this area home.
John told us that we would be fishing for these fish with Teeny Nymphs, egg patterns, green cadis larvae and his own creation, the Giuliani Special. This fly has a purple hackle wing with a silver tail and crystal flash chenille added to the body. As it turned out, all these flies seemed to do the trick. We fished them under of small ball of Bio Strike for a strike indicator, with about three to four feet of mono leader before the fly. Since this river is mostly shallow, about two to three feet overall, we didn't need much for weight to get the offering to bounce down the bottom near the fish.
Every pool, and there were many of them, contained numerous fish, some of the males darting back and forth, vying for the available spawning females. Like I mentioned earlier, some of the pools had so many fish in them that it was almost impossible to distinguish individual fish in the group.
Giuliani told us that these fish, which average about two to three pounds for the females and up to five pounds for the males, take the fly very lightly in their mouths, somewhat like a steelie. He advised us to take up the slack and set the hook as soon as we noticed our strike indicator going under for a dive. John said to pinch down our barbs on the flies to make it easier to release the fish caught, so that they would be able to finish what they were there to accomplish, fish sex, and multiplication of the species. We all know how important that practice is for the future.
The pink salmon can be differentiated from their salmon brothers, like the chinook and the coho, by their smaller size. They are mostly dark green in color, but before and during the spawning run, the males developer a definite hump in their backs just behind the head, and the males also develop a definite hooked upper and lower jaw. This jaw change is so profound, that by the time they reach the spawning beds they cannot close their mouths completely. They use these hooked "beaks" to fight with other males for the right to spawn.
This river also hosts a run of chinook salmon almost on the heals of the pink run. Sometimes spawning pinks and spawning chinook are in the river laying eggs at the same time, resulting in a hybrid off-spring called a pinook. These fish, not able to reproduce, come up the river with the pinks. They are easy to spot since they grow to a much larger size than their pink cousins. While in the river, Giuliani told us to watch for the occasional pinook slicing their way through the clouds of pinks. John Vincent, of the Flymart Flyshop, did just that. John shouted to me that he had spotted a pinook and I ran tape as he cast to it and hooked up with a purple Teeny Nymph. The ensuing battle lasted about ten minutes, the pinook taking John about three hundred yards down river before he managed to land the fish. After a quick picture, John released the large female to fight another day. What a fantastic fish that was. John's pinook measured about twenty nine inches and weighed probably seven or eight pounds.
When you come to fish for the pinks, bring a good five or six weight flyrod to fight these smaller salmon. Some people are tempted to fish with three or four weight outfits, but this just puts un-necessary stress on the fish, taking to long to land them and tiring the fish unnecessarily. Remember, the object is to land the fish and release it in good enough shape to spawn. These pinks are known to surprise you on occasion with some great jumps and leaps. That can make any anglers day.
Take care, be well and above all 'GOOD FISHIN'
Clouds of Pinks
The Giuliani Special
John Vincent's "Pinook"
The Teeny Nymph