Jerry and Steve Kunnath of Fly Rod and Gun, John Vincent and I hit the Rapids in Sault Ste Marie on Oct 10th 2002. Hoping to get into some good Chinook salmon fishing and possibly some steelhead. We arrived Sunday evening and fall weather was in full swing. We got our lodging and caught some rest before we ventured down to the rapids in the morning.
Winds were gusting up to 45 MPH with freezing rain when we parked for our walk in to the rapids Monday morning. When we arrived on the river there were salmon everywhere working the gravel and stacked thick in the pools. We headed for deeper holes and left them alone to do their thing on the gravel.
We were the first anglers in and I did not see another angler for the first 5 hours. The weather was apparently keeping everyone else off the river. It is amazing how comfortable you can be with the right gear. We must have looked like a Simms catalog photo shoot as we had layered up for the nasty weather.
Jerry and I fished this day using two-handed rods and Spey casting the deeper runs while the rest of the crew was working up and down the wall. John and Steve used 8 weight fly rods this day rigged with traditional patterns and nymphs or estaz eggs. Green caddis is a popular pattern here. John was evaluating a new waterworks-Lamson reel and using Spey flies in purple and red and black. I am sure that he got to "test" the reel. The spey flies seemed to be doing the ticket as everyone was rewarded with some nice hookups and a quite a few break offs in the swift current.
The Salmon are in the later stages here but there were still some fresher fish that had worked up into the system. It had rained the previous three days, according to the locals which had probably turned the fish on.
I found myself focused on enticing some Steelhead to bite as I had seen a couple here and there, holding below and behind the pooled salmon. No luck with Steelhead for me. I thoroughly worked some deep holes using an indicator rig, with various flies I had tied up for the occasion and did not entice them. There were only a few and they seemed pretty spooky.
The weather started to ease up and short blasts of the sun, between the clouds, seemed to get things really going. Salmon were now very active jumping all over the place and providing arial displays. The afternoon action was picking up for us as a result. I was able to generate a bite fishing the slacker waters in the deep holes by almost dead drifting the buggers under the indicator. The fish were suspended and this technique was rewarded with some explosive strikes on Woolybuggers tied up with new age chenille and a little flash. Olive was the better color for me. The Riverborn "new age" line of chenille is really hot stuff. I am using it for all kinds of patterns right now. It has just the right amount of flash to put that different touch on your flies and makes them stand out from the crowd.
I was startled when I hooked up two brute males this way. Each was close to 30 lbs and had huge shoulders. They were a light olive color and appeared in great health and quite fresh. Both were instant head shakers, ripping the bugger on the tail end of the swing. They really put the pressure on the 8lb Ultragreen Maxima I was using as a tippet. This is just awesome tippet material as it did the job on the fish even after being roughed up on the rocks.
I was using a G.Loomis GL3 14' 8/9 Spey rod. This thing was completely doubled over with these big Chinooks and did a wonderful job of protecting the light tippet while putting enough pressure on the fish to enable me to work them out of the main river and into shallow water for landing. This was the first "real" workout I had with this rod. Nice job Loomis, this is a great rod at a very affordable price that I picked up at Flymart. I matched the rod with a Harris Solitude 6 reel loaded with tons of backing and a full Cortland DT Spey line. The drag on this reel is just awesome as the line is smoothly released with no fluttering of the rod tip when under the load of a racing Chinook buck.
John soon joined me for the indicator fun. I landed 6 fish with only one foul hooked in the last hours of the day this way. Both of us were almost dumbfounded at the apparent effectiveness of this "new technique". I am sure that my smile was as wide as the rapids at this point.
John had some nice fish that worked him well into his backing from this new perch on a rock next to me. It was just a great spot to catch them since they had a huge deep hole to show you their muscle with lots of room to run and no snags to break them off on. Everyone got in to quite a few fish this day and had a lot of fun. I was in my glory as this turned out to be my Chinook salmon fishing day this year. Unfortunately I took no pictures of the trip since I had left my camera in the safety of the truck, due to the weather. Now if someone made a waterproof housing for my big digital camera I would really be happy.
We left at dusk and started the long journey back to the greater Detroit area. The trip back was filled with lots of conversations and a great appreciation for the fish and the fishery. The Solunar calendar worked for us this day as it had showed this as a peak time this month.
I hope you spent this weekend with a fly rod in hand and were able to enjoy it as much as we did. Now I start to look forward to the wonderful fall steelhead opportunities that await us here in the Great Lakes region.
It is a long drive from the Detroit Area and if you don't have a lot of time to learn the rapids, I would really suggest getting a local guide. The rapids water level changes frequently. This is based on the amount of gates that are open. Wading can be dangerous in high water. Carry a wading staff and make sure that you have an elastic wader belt riding high up your waders. This way if you do take a dunk, your waders will not fill with water as fast. Safety is very important here as it is anytime you are fishing cold, fast water. I have never "floated" this section in my waders but I have seen many people do it. Be smart and wade safe.
I would like to thank the Flyrod and Gun crew for arranging the trip and allowing me to tag along. They have a new show premiering in January 2003 on Fox Sports that is sure to be a winner with the outdoors crowd. It will give you a chance to travel with them and watch the adventures as they hookup with great guides and take us to visit, fish, and hunt awesome places around this fantastic region. I can't wait to see the shows. Thanks again. Remember if you have a story you would like to share, just join as a member and submit news. I am sure that others would appreciate reading it.