Thursday, September 27, 2012

Salmon on the Pere Marquette

From under the cover of a tall pine tree I watched the silver shadow glide from the far bank and slide into a narrow run layered in gravel. After a 15 minute hike through the thick woods lining the Pere Marquette, this was the first salmon I had seen. The length and girth of the fish gave me pause. More than 20 years earlier I had fished for the  transplanted king salmon along the North Shore of Minnesota. I had forgotten how much larger they are than even the largest of Great Lakes steelhead.

Later that day I was reminded in a much more dramatic way of the difference between a king salmon and steelhead. My 8 weight rod shattered as I stupidly tried to pull a foul-hooked king to the net rather than simply breaking the line. 

Over the next few days I'd break off more than my share of salmon (but not any more fly rods) and I landed a few too. The run was still in the early stages on the Marquette, but there were enough monsters around to keep our group entertained. One giant male leaped out of the Marquette and rose above my head. Michael Jordan would have been jealous of his leaping prowess. Salmon are propelled by powerful tails that send reels screaming. When their broad tail cuts through the cool air while in mid-leap it can sound as if a mallard is taking off nearby. However, these fish cannot fly. They invariably fall back into the river, often with splash and audio of a young boy's belly flop.

Salmon are much larger than steelhead, but they lack the grace and beauty of the slabs of silver. Even the fresh salmon begin to darken by the time they reach the stretch of the Marquette we were fishing. Their mad rush to spawn before death gives salmon fishing a grim feeling that is never present while chasing chrome. I'm sure there will be times this fall that I will miss the size and might of the king, but I am ready to resume my steel pursuit.

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