As October rolls into northcentral Pennsylvania, anglers start to chatter.
If it starts with, “I am heading to New York for some salmon fishing,” it’s likely the next words out of most fishermen’s mouths are: “Where? Oak Orchard?”
Oak Orchard is a river in Genesse County, N.Y. It dumps into Lake Ontario, which offers lots of sport fishing opportunities.
The river is most famous for its coho and chinook salmon, brown trout and steelhead.
In Pennsylvania, rivers such as the Susquehanna and Tioga are mighty, big and wide.
Oak Orchard looks more like a creek, meandering through the high banks of New York, often only inches deep.
I ventured to the town of Point Breeze, N.Y., which now is known as “America’s Ultimate Fishing Town.” It received that title in June by the World Fishing Network.
If you want to see a shiny trophy showing the town’s status, visit a small business called Narby’s Superette and Tackle on Oak Orchard Road, right along the water.
Owned by Sharon Narburgh, the superette isn’t your typical gas station/convenience store. Sure, it’s full of drinks, snacks and some souvenirs, but in the back is a small tackle shop. There you can pick up licenses, lures, bait and even have your own fly tied.
A trophy board and scale are posted just outside the door. Anglers come in to weigh their “slobs” or “toads” – nicknames for big fish – and to check for any trophies that may have been caught.
First time fishing
At this time of year, from early October until early November, salmon run up
tributaries from the lake to begin a journey to spawn, and then die.
The most common fish caught in the waters I fished were chinook, also called king, salmon. They are very sought after but are not native to New York state. According to the New York State Department of Environment Conservation (DEC), about 1.8 million salmon are stocked in the state’s waterways.
This was my first time salmon fishing, although it wasn’t the first for my fishing partner, my husband, Tim.
He has been coming here with his family since he was 16. His first trip was a birthday request he made to his father to take him to Point Breeze, N.Y., to fish for steelhead, and that is just what they did. The family returned year after year.
I had no high hopes to catch anything. I was more concerned about not falling in and spending the rest of my day soaked and cold.
The temperature was very mild and the first day out, we headed to a small tributary off of Oak Orchard called Marsh Creek, where the salmon are well known to run.
Before the trip, Tim checked the fishing reports and called “the hotline,” which tells anglers if the salmon are running and gives reports on brown trout, which can be found in the same waters as the salmon.
Brown trout also are stocked and sometimes can be found migrating with salmon. This tributary also is well known for some nice brown trout catches.
As we walked to the creek, the fall beauty showed in bursts of color in the trees. The air smelled of autumn.
With our waders on, we just walked into the water.
I believe there is a technique to this kind of fishing.
First of all, I was paranoid that I would be doing it wrong. Many words have been used to describe how you are not allowed to catch a salmon. Lifting, snatching, snagging and foul hooking all refer to how fish are landed without being hooked in the mouth.
All of the terms are defined by the New York DEC as “repeated, exaggerated, jerking motions of the fishing rod,” or when a fish is caught on a part of its body other than its mouth.
Blind snatching is the taking of a fish when it isn’t visible to the angler.
According to the 1993-94 Fishing Regulations Guide, snagging was prohibited in most tributaries. By 1994, snagging was banned in all Great Lakes waters and tributaries.
When a fish is foul hooked or snagged, it must be released immediately.
With all that said and read the night before, I nervously stepped into my waders around 7 a.m.
We hooked up with a one egg fly – one pink and one green – hand tied by local angler Josh Fortin, of Fortin Flies. He was up the weekend prior and had much success with them.
With patience comes success
I shuffled into the creek, asking Tim about a million questions. To me, he was the pro.
But, I still didn’t understand any of his answers.
After fishing for what seemed like an eternity, I hooked a fish. But, the line broke and it escaped.
I was so frustrated, I dropped my rod. I felt like that was the only fish I was going to get close to that day.
I was wrong.
Finally I picked up my rod, retied a new fly on the line – this time, a white one egg – and tried again.
I heard some coming upstream, splashing through small riffles in the water.
With patience – and many, many casts later – I figured it all out.
I nailed a nice sized male. I followed him upstream, as he fought the pull of my line. I changed my drag and let him tire himself out, reeling every now and then when he found a place to rest.
I had never caught a fish so big, and I was surprised by its huge teeth.
Fishing for salmon isn’t easy, and that’s what I like about it. I had to work to catch fish, and when one was on, it was a thrill.
Salmon will plow through the water with no regard to what is in their way. They’re on a mission – unfortunately, to die, but also to make sure that their species lives on.
My husband, who was fishing not much more than 10 feet from me, caught a really nice female salmon. I had no idea, though, because I was concentrating so hard on what I was doing. I was completely oblivious to what was going on around me.
It was just me and the fish. And, as far as I was concerned, they were getting caught and I was going to stay in that creek until I limited out.
Well, we did. By 10 a.m., we both had caught our three salmon, and it was off to the cleaners to get them filleted.
Pretty good for a rookie
Not one of the three fish I caught was snagged. I didn’t have to put any back on this technicality. I say that is pretty good for a rookie.
I can only imagine the letters-to-the-editor that will roll in, telling me it isn’t possible. But it really is – and I have witnesses.
I learned something much more than a new method of fishing. I learned that if you want something, you will work for it. You will be patient, and it will lead you to success.