|Cayugan Trout and Salmon
There is a proud fish mounted on my wall, a Brown trout all of nine pounds when he finally arrived netside that one fine Spring day back in '99. Salmo Fario as they like to call him in learned circles, was in an instant brought aboard the Owl's Nest and it was clear I had captured a beautiful creature complete with spots brown and indigo. Feeding on smelt approximately 90 feet down, it was crystal clear that he had been enjoying a frenzied feast....as evidenced by his gorged, swollen midships. An angry onyx eye stared at me as he lay there for here was the finest trout I had ever caught of his kind.
The day progressed and the fishing remained vibrant, filled with surprises. A pink-shaded lure trolled at 50 feet suddenly spasmed against the line and the rod beckoned us to heave to. Frantic is how one describes the behavior of both equipment and angler when nearly any Rainbow trout strikes from the depths. Salmo Irideus is a world-class fighter, an acrobatic leaper - and this finned pugilist was no exception. Breaking the watery surface repeatedly, she then switched tactics - pursuing the fight with lunges to the watery abyss below. Ever so gradually, the trout was coaxed to the surface - with the warm, soft Spring sunlight magnifying the exquisite pink stripe on her side that the Rainbow trout is so well known for. "Freedom to fight another day" was the rule at this point, for she left us feeling exhilarated and completely awestruck. Like children who just caught their first trout, another fond, vivid memory was gained.
By far the most common trout species in Cayuga Lake are the Lake trout (or locally known as 'lakers'); the morning remained busily filled with our repeatedly catching and releasing one after another. Salvelinus Namaycush (the later meaning 'deep dweller') is an apt description for this bottom-residing trout who makes it a point to reside where the greatest amount of baitfish can be found. Up until the new millenium, the Lake trout frequently were boated in the 10 pound class...or greater. They are a thing of beauty, their broad backs giving off shades of black and blue, their white markings offer classic vermiculated ('wormy') appearances. Just before netting them, they have a classic belly-up and 'rolling' pattern to their fight...not unlike an alligator or crocodile.
Landlocked salmon close out this exclusive group of noble fish - and indeed, though none were caught that day, I do remember my initial encounter with Salmo Salar (aka the Atlantic Salmon) in the late Fall of '97. The uniform hills were adorned with autumn colors and the early morning temperatures hovered in the 40's. Trolling above the 100 foot level, we could easily see the billowing masses of baitfish above and below this level. Nothing but the breeze of the morning air could be felt - the lake surface calm as glass. As fishermen and fisherwomen can oftentimes attest, one begins to meditate and become imbued in the moment...breathing warm breath into one's gloved hands, one's mind wanders to more mundane things.
*italic*All hell breaks loose. Anglers have long christened the Atlantic salmon as 'the leaper', a perfect moniker for this particular eight pound beauty who repeatedly broke free from the water's boundaries gazelle-like and filled with grace. So rapt was our attention on her performance that I completely forgot to reel in - but Lady Luck cast a benevolent eye upon me that October morning and within ten minutes, the salmon was nearly breathless as we. Later I discovered the State record for this species was over eleven pounds.....giving an even more grand quality to the catch that was made. Silver from tip to tail, she sported the black round specks across the side without the colorful halos of her neighbors of the watery depths. She was every bit the warrior I'd heard she would be.
To kill a trout or salmon is a serious business; one thanks the Spirit for giving us sustenance....
The world of Cayuga Lake is a fast-changing and dynamic one; with the increase of man-made demands placed upon it, we must strive more diligently to be more watchful of the consequences. Recently, a drastic lowering of the baitfish levels in all the Finger Lakes has impacted our trout and salmon populations; and with far fewer smelt to gorge upon, these creatures took to alewives as a secondary source of feed. Nothing is without consequence. The vital ability of ALL living things to utilize minerals and vitamins cannot be overstated; in specific, the fish populations suffer for the smelt allowed these fish to break down thaimine more readily in their dietary cycle; without this vitamin in adequate supply, the fish suffered growth problems - and failed to thrive and multiply like they have done for generations beforehand. Slowly, these problems are lessening and we are hopefully seeing the slow reversal of these changes of fortunes. Anything short of a full recovery would be a tragedy.
There is something magical about bringing a fish to net; there is a cadence, a sequence of casting, the fish strikes and thereafter begins a duet and strategy together which one has to use power and finesse at all the right moments. The art of give-and-take endures. In the end, the smell of salmon wafts under the nose, the slime of trout oozes through cold fingers, in the palms one holds a writhing and wriggling a wonderfully alive fish. Soon, the feeling floods your conscience. Live and let live. With an uncanny burst of speed, the fish darts back to the safety of the deep - leaving one filled with a feeling of respectful generosity. Such a creature was never an adversary; you may or may not realise this...for now. In the warm glow of the moment, you sense how lucky you are to be truly alive and its all the more meaningful as the October morning Sun crests over the east shore of Cayuga Lake and warms your face as you drink in the autumn air.
Nearly as old as TIme itself - this lake gives to us what it has if we remember the golden rule - that is to put back. Of ourselves especially. Nothing less will do.