Bill Schaadt with a King Salmon on the Smith River. (King's Archive)
Ever Since I first started working at King’s, seeing the pictures and hearing the stories of the Smith River always intrigued me. Every fall Steve Jackson and Chris Aff would head up north to the majestic Smith River. A River filled with salmon so large it seemed more of a tall tale then truth.
Steve Jackson Smith River Salmon on the fly (King's Archive)
The Smith is nestled right on the boarder of California and Oregon. One of the last wild rivers in California it’s undimmed and most of the watershed is protected. It holds the state record for the largest steelhead and hosts some of the biggest salmon. The river’s average salmon is around 20 pounds and can produce fish in the 50 to 60 pound range.
Smith River Photo by Nick Wheeler
After rummaging threw all the old photos of Bill Schaadt and Grant King fishing on the Smith, and then seeing “River’s of a Lost Coast” I was determined to catch a salmon on my fly rod at the Smith. I prepared for months getting the right lines, tying the right flies, and finding a pram to borrow. It became a disease, “Smithgitis” Someone would come in the shop and bring up salmon and I’d get the shakes. Some how some way I was getting up there even if it meant closing the store down for a day or two.
Grant King Smith River Fly caught Salmon (Kings Archive)
The hardest thing was to hear the reports the days before I left. Huge fish being hooked, monster returns. Enough to make you go crazy…..
fly desk with superb organization
The moment my shift was done on the Sunday I was leaving I was on the road. My mind might have already been up there, but it took quite a few hours to drive up. Between three Starbucks, 2 monster truckers, and a pack of Jelly Beans I arrived up at the Ship Ashore Resort around 2am. I don’t know if it was all that caffeine or the excitement of fish, but I only slept for 2 hours that night. And for the First time of my life I woke up before the others. Normally for me it’s get up now or miss the boat.
The first day ended up being a scouting mission. Luckily I had some of the most knowledgeable guides to show me the spots. Steve and Chris drove me around pointing out put-ins, pull-outs, what sinking line to use at what river height, and pretty much where to land the fly. They unfortunately had clients the next couple of days and were going to be floating another section, and would be unable to join us.
Chris Aff getting ready..... for some dark side cureing
Smith River dawn, photo by, Nick Wheeler
The Second day I ended up fishing with Shad King Jim. I had high hopes that one of us was going to catch at least one fish. Throwing our prams on my Jeep we raced to the river. We couldn’t even get the boats off fast enough for my taste to start fishing. It’s the crack of dawn, fish are rolling, huge toads at that, and we row over and anchor up. Jim doesn’t even start pulling in on his second cast and FISH ON!!! Wait, wait, wait…… I don’t even have my fly in the water yet and there a fish on, what’s this crap, I have to get in on this. Let me put this in perspective. My first cast Ever fly fishing for salmon and I hook up! That just doesn’t happen. This day was Epic! We ended up hooking 16 King Salmon that day, and fish into the 35 pound plus class. One of the best factors was we had the hole all to ourselves. It just doesn’t get any better, laughing like little kids as we rail on these fish. Jim had one fish on for 45 min, afterwards I thought he was going to have a heart attack, he took an hour rest before casting again. These salmon just had a little more of a punch then the Shad he was used to. This day will be in my memory for a long time, I just hope that there will be many more like it.
Shad King Jim with Fish ON!
Hell Yes Fish On. "Zen" self portrait
Small Jack King Salmon
Oh look a boot and there's me shoe too.
King Salmon adult Smith River
The third day may not have been as good as before but a worth while experience. I was fortunate enough to fish next to Tom Ugrin, Chris Aff and Mike Jones. Tom was in the Movie, “River’s of a Lost Coast” and his reputation preceded him. That man was incredible, with hardly any effort I watch him hook 18 salmon in half of a day. It’s just amazing to watch that man fish. Being welcomed in and able to fish in a line up with great fly casters like that was worth the trip by it’s self. Seeing Mike and Jim catch there first Smith River Salmon, with grins ear to ear, laughs, joke, and most importantly all the sarcasm was better then hooking any fish.
Tom Ugrin and Mike Jone with a double header. Chris Aff on the sticks. photo by, Nick Wheeler
Tom Ugrin putting a real bend on a rod. photo by Nick Wheeler
Chris with a 40 plus King Salmon. battled over an hour. photo by Nick Wheeler
Chris Aff and Mike Jones battling a Chome Salmon
That’s the real point of fishing to me, the people around you, connecting on a level only found on a river.
Smith River at Ship Ashore. photo by, Nick Wheeler