The array of light rods lined up in the racks at Legacy Lodge is being supplanted by still lighter tackle. No one who tries these crazy-light rods wants to go back to anything else.
One of the main drawbacks of almon fishing in the ocean is that the heavy tackle so often required comes with a pronounced side-effect: it dulls the senses. Fishing with galoot equipment is not unlike eating prime rib with a jaw shot full of Novocain. No matter how succulent the cut of beef (or how big the salmon), without keen sensory feedback the experience turns out vapid. A muffled pleasure, at best.
Guess what? Heavy tackle isn't always required. In fact, during high season at Rivers Inlet-mid-July through mid-September-heavy tackle isn't required at all. Indeed, at Legacy Lodge, one of the premier sportfishing operations in Rivers Inlet, the word "required," as it applies to a good many things besides angling, just doesn't get much air play. It was that, plus our awareness that salmon surging into Rivers Inlet have a marked tendency to feed quite shallow, which firmly convinced Jerry Kustich and me to make the foray to Rivers Inlet last August. Our aim wasn't merely to hood coho on light tackle, but on the lightest of light tackle. Fly rods.
During the early dog days of summer Kustich and I showed up on the docks at Legacy Lodge so laden with dangling bags and bundles it looked as if we usually slept in cardboard. one of the great ironies of fly-fishing is how much stuff one must lug around.-a byproduct of the vainglorious attempt to waylay insecurities about having the right rods, lines, fly patterns, etc. etc. ad infinitum.
Jerry Kustich, an ardent fly-angler and author from Montana, found the crisp marine air, the rambunctious coho, and even the mooching rods (the ultra-light brand) to his liking.
Rather than bore you with the eye-glazing details of our efforts, suffice it to say that the first day out we got our heads handed to us, duckbill hats still attached. Basically, we were just plain OTF, out there flapping. One could easily conclude that there's less truth than pathetic optimism to the notion that saltwater coho take flies. Nevertheless, it can be done. I know; I've done it. Right there in Rivers Inlet. But here's the deal: conditions have to be conductive, if not damned near p-e-r-f-e-c-t.
First and foremost, salmon fishing is a numbers game. Beaucoup coho must be churning in the brine before nursing any expectation one will actually grab a fly. For whatever reason-changing ocean conditions? shifting marine currents? global warming? an angry god?-in 2007 the bulk of the coho run in Rivers Inlet arrived way behind schedule. Kustich and I showed up at the appointed time; the salmon didn't. In fact, during the last few years there's been a trend toward later and later coho returns throughout Alaska and British Columbia.
Consistent barometric pressure is another crucial factor. It can be steady high pressure or steady low pressure-feeding coho don't seem to care which-but if the barometer yo-yos erratically they may become moody, too dour to lunge at flies. Of course, wind always plays a key role: anything above a stiff breeze can make a mockery of fly-casting. And last, but definitely not least, in the whole fly-fishing equation is the presence, hopefully profusion, of forage fish. It takes rolling masses of baitfish to entice normally furtive salmon to come flashing and slashing into the upper water column. If you don't see flocks of diving birds merrily whirly-gigging into baitfish balls, you probably shouldn't bother dusting off your fly rod.
Unfortunately, you can't requisition all of the above conditions as if ordering Chinese takeout. You can't make it happen. As John Lennon once observed, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."