Anyone who’s fished the Salmon River more than a few times knows better than to be surprised by what they might see.
A mid-river fistfight, a salmon swimming in a flooded parking lot, a spectacular steelhead bursting from the stream like a cruise missile — it’s a place of unforgettable sights, for better or worse.
But there’s one thing you don’t see many of anymore: single-handed fly rods.
Spey and switch rods have been widely embraced on this Lake Ontario tributary. Throw in the guys drifting bait on center-pin rigs, and you have almost no one holding a rod whose handle doesn’t extend at least six inches below the reel.
Some fly-fishers are purists with their two-handers, flicking long, graceful Spey casts across-and-down and letting their fanciful steelhead patterns swing downstream. Cast, step, cast, as solemn and focused as Buddhist monks.
Others have no qualms about using their long rods to roll cast a nymph dangling under a Thingamabobber over and over through the same fishy run, patiently waiting until the light hits it just right and a salmon or steelhead finally notices and decides to act.
Some anglers do a little of both.
Sudden though it may be, there’s good reason for the popularity of switch (long) and Spey (really long) rods. Both allow long casts with no back cast, which is a big help when you’re near the bank of a deep pool and the woods behind you come all the way down to the water’s edge.
They’re also well suited to the big, strong fish that live in the Salmon River from September through May. And, of course, as Nick Pionessa from Oak Orchard Fly Shop said, Spey casting “is cool, and chicks dig it.” Or at least they should.
And, of course, you hear more and more about people getting (or wanting) 3- and 4-weight Spey rods for trout fishing. I myself mostly use my switch rod for saltwater, making overhead casts on the beach and Spey casts on the estuaries (Snap T when the tide’s going out, Double Spey when it’s coming in.)
Anyone with any interest in any of this stuff will enjoy Spey Nation, the annual conclave organized by Geoff Schaacke of Ballston Spa at the Pineville access parking lot on the Salmon River.
This year’s Spey Nation will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 20. As always, there will be a free barbecue sponsored by Oak Orchard Fly Shop, and raffles of rods, flies, gear and guide service that raise money for the Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club as it works to restore Atlantic salmon to the headwater streams of the Tug Hill Plateau.
Being right on the water, with the top brands of rods in attendance, Spey Nation offers an unparalleled opportunity to try out rods.
It also offers a wealth of free advice and instruction from the experts, many of whom have traveled cross country, giving talks and demos throughout the day. This year’s presenters include Travis Johnson, Josh Linn, Walt Geryk, Andrew Moy and Tom Larimer.
And if you want to learn how to make a cast that chicks will really dig, there’s an opportunity for private lessons the following day.
There’s plenty of parking, plenty of shade and plenty of friendly fly-fishing addicts to chat with. There’s no charge to get in, but if you go, do try to bring a few bucks for those raffles.