I can't say enough about how welcoming Joe has been to me over the past years. Here is our story.
Tom and I were fishing 8 or 9 years ago on the Salmon River. We watched a guide up river with a client and a huge dog. The client was hooking into steelhead left and right. It was insane. We could not believe how many fish this guy was putting on his client. We watched for several days. One day the guide walked past us and muttered "I'm going for cough-ee, don't take my f'ing spot." Wow, this guy was a curmudgeon. He was like the captain Quint from Jaws with out the saltwater. We called him the 'gnarled old fishing guide' and told stories about it until the next year.
The following fall we drive up to the Salmon River. We camp and get up at about 0400 to get to the river and get first dibs on the spot where the guide was last year. Tom and I were all geared up with rods in our hands. We were sitting in the parking lot and getting a few more minutes of sleep. Its around 0500 now and a truck pulls up. A big dog jumps out and I say to Tom "thats the dude from last year, we need to get out of here and down to the river to get the spot." He hears that and tells us to chill out, there is plenty of room down there for everyone. Tom and I took off for the river before they were in their waders.
As the sun rose and the day warmed we warmed to the guide. He was across the river from us and we started a conversation. We threw sticks to his dog, Sinbad. We started to fish a pattern called as sucker spawn and it was the hot fly. He invited us back to his camp for beers and to hang out. That was the first sign of Joe's incredible hospitality. Joe and I stopped off at a store to get some cream colored yarn to tie up sucker spawns for the morning. Here is the tying set up in the 'kitchen.'
We all hiked down to the Black Hole together in the dark. Headlamps and lanterns to light the way. We had the section to ourselves. This stretch of river was beautiful. Like no other place I had fished before, not just on the Salmon. We set up our gear on the rock ledge and began to fish. Cream colored sucker spawn was the fly of choice. "This is steelhead water" he told me. Fast water with lots of riffles, turbulence, and deep holes. Egg patterns and sucker spawn flies were taken with ferocity by the steelhead. I had never experienced fishing like this in my life.
Joe laughed at me and Tom. We had all sorts of gear with us. We had stoves and tying kits, and toilet paper. We were running low on flies so used red strike indicators and some sweater yarn to turn out some more sucker spawn. We cooked hot chocolate and soup to warm up. You get the 3rd item. Joe taught us about tying leaders for steelhead, what flies to use up there, different colors-patterns-sizes. When to switch patterns, when to use this size split shot, when to use that size. It was priceless information that he shared with us. Information he has learned from fishing that river since the early 70's.
Joe invited us to fish with the him and his clients and friends the next day down at the Black Hole. We were offered to crash at the camp but had all of our gear back near Trout Brook. We agreed to meet at first light at the Black Hole lot.
Tom was hooking some monster steelhead and fresh salmon. Joe asked why Tom would run down river to land a salmon "Because its a salmon!" Tom told him. Joe was amazed at Tom's enthusiasm and skill and he decided to take us under his wing. We all went out to dinner that night at the classy Ponderosa.
The next day was our last up on the Salmon and Joe met us at the lower fly stretch. He fished with his clients and kept his eye out for us. I was having issues landing some big fish and he stood next to me, spoke softly, and gave directions on how to fight a big fish in big water. I lost several fish. He stood with me all day until dusk. I finally landed a nice fish with his assistance. I had some major surgery a few months ago and was not sure if I was going to make it up to fish the fall run. I'm sure glad I made it up there and made some new friends while fishing.
We exchanged contact information and made plans to fish again the next year. Joe gave us a call in early February of 2005 and asked if we wanted to come up and fish in March. We obliged and got on the road. I was a substitute teacher and tied my flies while showing films in class, Tom took time off his job. Tom will always refer to this road trip as the one where the girls flashed us on 81 outside of Syracuse.
Joe had a client that was from Puerto Rico and on business. He was in Canada and made the drive down to New York to fish for spring steelies. It was cold. Tome and I had fished in the snow up there in fall but never in winter. This was brutal. The fish were lethargic and Joe taught us how to fish low and slow. Split shot or pencil lead, running line, nymphs or streamers. By now Joe was drinking less sugar with his cough-eee. Joe took us to the Altmar Hotel for lunch. What a warm meal on a cold day. Joe had to get back to his other job and we had no roof over our head. We drove to our regular campsite and set up. It was 33 and raining when we set up camp. It was -10 when we woke up and -35 with wind chill. Awesome.
By the fall Tom had moved to Denver and I was teaching full time. I did not make it up that fall. The next year I drove up during torrential rains and missed Joe. I had learned to get a substitute teacher and leave my students to go fishing. Most people had decided not to fish the river. It was strange not fishing with Tom or Joe. I didn't catch a fish. Blame it on the rain, blame it on not knowing how to fish the river in the rain. My campsite was under water and I slept in my car.
2007 found me up on the river during Columbus day weekend. The leaves were changing and the snaggers were out in full force. Joe hates snaggers. He has spoken of their abuse of the fishery for years. Their blatant killing of fish that could reproduce and further provide offspring for the fishery. How they snag salmon and drag them to shore, how undersized steelhead and brown are tossed into coolers and taken away before the law finds them. They leave a lot of litter too. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of unethical fly fisherman out on the water but the snaggers is like nothing you have ever seen. This section of river is now private due to the amount of litter left behind on the island in this section.
I arrived in the early morning and got a few hours of sleep before it was time to hit Timbers diner for breakfast. We got out in the Black Hole lot and geared up. Before long we were met by a stinking Sinbad. He had found a skunk and pissed it off. Joe slept in the same room with that dog that night. He loves that dog.
We fished all day and had one hell of a good time. Steelhead and browns with a few coho and chinook salmon. Egg sucking leeches, buggers, pheasant tails, spring wiggleres, etc. Joe's client Dave was destroying the steelhead. This guy was an animal. Joe had him in the lower black riffles. Tossing cream colored eggs with a blood dot. Dave started off as a steelhead novice and ended the day a veteran. Joe displays one of Dave's steelhead. Sinbad is always curious. Don't forget, if Sinbad can't find a stick or tree branch for you to toss for him, he will grab a rock out of the river and bring it to you.
I lost my job two week later and Joe invited me up to fish for a week to clear my head before I started looking for work again. He offered his sofa and I obliged. We drank pinot noir and told fishing stories at night. Discussed fishing techniques, the health of the river, and effectiveness of fly patterns.
I was out of work the following February and wanted to go fishing to get out of the house. Joe invited me up to the camp. He would meet me in a few days so I stayed at the School House Inn. It snowed the entire time. I had never seen snow like this before. Full on lake effect snow. I spent the first day and night fishing, warming up, walking dr jones in the snow, fishing, and loosing fish. I was hooking steelhed on pheasant tails left and right. Each time I turned around my gear bag was buried under the snow.
Joe calls and tells me he is on his way. He asks about the weather and I say it is snowing like I had never seen. He tells me he is 20 min away and that it is sunny. I think he is bullshitting me. He calls 10 min later and says he can't believe the snow. It turned out to be 49" of snowfall that day.
We figure out that the heating oil was not refilled. We have no oil to heat the house until morning. We settle in for a cold night. We wake up and its freezing in the house, literally. I turn on the stove and oven and we wait for the oil guy. Once the oil is filled and we turn on the heat, we are out the door with the drift boat.
We float the river and have a beautiful and fun day after the massive snow storm. The air temps were in the single digits.
Joe is very outspoken about the state of the river, the mismanagement of the fishery, and blatant disregard for the fish by several anglers. He catches a big steelhead on a chartruse bugger and I have to land it with my hands. That water was liquid ice. I would have shed a tear if not for fear of having his raspy voice call me a cupcake.
I return in October. I find Joe and Sinbad at the lower fly stretch. Sinbad takes a nap on the rocks. He is getting older and is slowing down a bit.
Chris stuck with the fly pattern Joe gave him. Joe also lent Chris an entire box of flies for his duration on the river. How cool is that? We ended up going to the shops to tie up a batch of the purple flies. It was one of the only flies Chris used the entire trip. Although Chris did not land a fish, he came close several times. That purple fly was on fire.
I won't be able to make it up to fish with Joe this fall. I am too busy. I have been sending him some of my clients. Most people do not realize they can catch salmon, steelhed, and huge browns just a few hours drive from D.C. I recently spoke to Joe and he stated he has quit smoking. Good for him.
I hope to fish with Joe and Sinbad later in the fall or throughout the winter. I'm going to miss his stories, hospitality, generosity, and teachings. One less trip out with Joe is like missing an entire semester of college. I have learned so much from Joe that I can go on and on. He has helped me learn about fish, how and where to catch them, why and when of steelhead fishing and more. This is the information I pass on to you. Go fish with him and experience him for yourself.
I just found out that Sinbad passed away this week via Joe's site. He was one of the best fishing companions I have ever had the pleasure to fish with. He will be missed.
For more information or to book Joe, you can contact him via his website.
River Run Troutfitters
mobile: (518) 527-7104
As always, he promote Catch-and-Release fishing. Contact us to schedule your trip.