SAULT STE MARIE- What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago in the Soo, we managed only two smallish Atlantic salmon after a half day of casting flies into the frothy, bubbling swirl behind the giant power plant on the St. Marys River. Oh sure, it was fun, but no matter how much I hoped for more action, it wasn’t in the cards.
This summer, guide Jason Carstens of True North Guide Service posted some impressive catches on social media. My favorite photo of his shows three nice salmon on a cleaning table, their skin, dotted and smooth, their bellies distended from an uncertain meal. Those posts piqued my interest.
When I reached out to Carstens and asked if the 4th of July was available, he said “yes, and the fish are running big this year.”
That declaration was music to my ears. Although a three or four-pound salmon are just right for the grill, the fish of a sportsman’s dreams are the ones that appear to be miniature killer whales when they leap three, four or five feet out of the water. All that’s missing from the big predator’s illusion is a hapless baby seal or a penguin in their chops.
Catching a big fish on a tiny fly is as challenging as it is sportsmanlike. We were using caddis larva flies in size 12 or 14, which were nothing more than brown yarn wrapped around the bend of a scud-style hook. It worked magnificently when fished wet, beneath a medium sized float.
After tying up Carstens’ boat to the back of the power plant, we cast our flies into the tailraces. Ten or fifteen minutes into our trip, my bobber darted beneath the surface. I set the hook and all hell broke loose. Imagine opening the gate on a bucking chute at a rodeo, and out crashes a bull with a cowboy on his back. Instead of a bull and cowboy, it was an Atlantic salmon doing its best to throw the hook from its grill. Carstens unhooked the anchor from the back of the plant, and we drifted away, into the St Marys River.
The 7-weight, 9-foot flyrods Carstens deploys for his clients are tailormade for battling salmon. They’re sensitive and strong, and have enough backbone to overwhelm the largest of St Marys Atlantics. After ten minutes of give and take, Carstens slipped the net under my first salmon, which tipped the scales at 8.5 pounds.
It was the first of three salmon that I landed that day. The largest was four ounces heavier than ten pounds, and the smallest, five pounds. My fishing partner landed two, but lost five or six, including one behemoth that cartwheeled five feet out of the water.
Because the flies are so small and the fish are so big, it’s not unusual to lose more salmon than are actually landed. One thing for certain: it’s so much fun, and destined to last until the end of August.
To book an exciting day of fly fishing for Atlantic salmon, track down guide Jason Carstens at www.truenorthguideservice.com.