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When the going gets tough, make sure there's a way out  

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Once I got there, I wasn’t so sure it was the right place to be.


On Alaska’s Thorne River, a few miles from its mouth, salmon funnel up a little pinch at the end of a rocky spit, then spread out in a deep pool. From the spit I couldn’t get the angle and speed I wanted, so I hiked on a tiny moss-covered ledge that took me up and over a monolithic limestone face. I lowered myself down onto a flat section then began casting. My boots almost hung over the ledge.


“If I fall in, it’s over.” I yelled to my buddy on the spit. There was no place other than this rock to get out of the water, and I probably would drown before the current got me to the flat rocky spit and my buddy, Dean.


Needless to say, it wasn’t a great place to land a fish. Thankfully I had 12-pound test on my spinning rod and we were catching and keeping the coho salmon so I just had to get it close enough to brain it with my club.


This all came back to me Saturday on the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. I had worked my way onto a ledge that would give me a great drift through a deep run. But the ledge was slick and two feet above the water. I couldn’t step down into the water so the only way to land a trout was to get on my knees and reach down and swoop with the net.

 

I don’t like doing this. Falling head first into a fast, deep current with waders on might make a good story but it also might kill me. 

 

All anglers find themselves in situations like these, but it is one of the most over-looked elements of getting into fish safely. You get to a great spot to get at the salmon, steelhead or trout, but it might not be conducive to a safe hook and landing.

 

On the Upper Sacramento in August I lowered myself down a rock face, berry bushes poking holes in my waders in the process, only to discover the water wasn’t deep and the drift wasn’t what I expected.

 

After half a dozen drifts, I moved. Had I taken a few minutes to watch the water, ensure it was moving how I wanted, plotted a safe climbing route, I then could have decided if it was worth the holes in my waders and the chance of going swimming or splitting my head open.


If everything does look okay, and you have a spot to fish, consider how you will land one should you hook up. Just because you can get there and toss a lure or roll cast a nymph, doesn’t mean you are good to go. We all know what happens when big fish pull against our line and the effect it can have on rational thought. You’ll do something crazy like trying to lift the fish out of the water with 6X tippet.

 

 I did that once. When the line snapped and the rainbow that had to have been close to 20 inches swam off, I chastised myself for being so stupid. 

 

But Saturday I had a landing strategy. I’d kneel here, set my rod there, scoop with my left hand in that little calm water out of the current.  When the brown took my black birds nest there was no panic. Kneel, scoop, photo, release. No sweat.


With water and temperature getting colder, remind yourself that you want to tell stories about fish, not survival, and not get in over your head. Literally. 

 


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