By Chris Shaffer | 03/19/2012
Lewiston, NY – Frank Campbell calls me special. In fact, since we first met on a cold, windy, icy, miserable Tuesday morning in February of 2008, Campbell is confident that I’m one of the selected few that can shut down a bite with my presence – no matter how good its been. I can turn a strong, high barometer into a low pressure system, he says.
Too bad these qualities don’t attract women.
Every time I’ve flown from Southern California to Buffalo to meet Campbell, Mother Nature has tested his skills. In 2008, frigid temperatures in the low teens combined with fierce winds and miles of ice greeted us. In January 2010, high winds whipped up 15-foot swells on Lake Erie, pushing mud over Niagara Falls and into the Lower Niagara River. This year, my presence in late January in Buffalo brought almost no ice and snow for the first time since Campbell has been alive. It came as no surprise this year’s steelhead outing would be yet another adventure.
I called Campbell in February and proposed the idea for our second episode of Pautzke TV (he was to follow Mike Nielsen and Lake Tahoe) and seemed cautiously optimistic.
“If we do this are you going to bring tornados with you this time? Maybe hurricane force winds?” he said.
Nonetheless, as poor as conditions have been in the past, Campbell has always come through. He’s one of the top guides in North America and decades on the system keep him confident in even the harshest conditions. My presence, it seems, simply forces him to work harder.
This time would be no different. The first day was brutal. Drifting Fire Brined single eggs tied in spawn sacks, we managed three small steelhead, between three rods in nearly 8 hours. On the West Coast that might not be such a poor day. However, on the Niagara River (at least when fishing with a veteran guide) it’s pitiful.
While it didn’t make us feel any better we weren’t the only boat struggling. Roughly 30 mph winds, a changing barometer and semi-dirty water were creating havoc on the fishery. A few guides retreated to the Niagara Bar and convinced browns to bite, but they were grabbing jigs, not eggs. We were here to film Pautzke TV. Jigs weren’t an option.
Fortunately, day two served up better conditions. Nevertheless, I wasn’t done pitching curve balls at Campbell. Co-Host Tim Roller and I stayed in Niagara Falls, Canada that night, a short 15-minute drive from the launch ramp in Lewiston. We had agreed on 7am at The Villa, our traditional breakfast spot. Campbell was there. Unfortunately, my alarm didn’t go off. We didn’t make it on the water until nearly 9.
The extra two hours of sleep did the trick.
Within minutes of launching we had our first steelhead. And, by the time we finished around 2 p.m. more than a dozen fish grabbed the Fire Brined eggs. They ranged between four and 13 pounds and all cooperated well on camera. We released all but one fish. That steelhead was to be smoked and eaten.
For me, however, it was an entirely new experience. Since 08’ Campbell had been a BorX O Fire/Fire Cure guy. While the pieces of skein we’d used were tiny; no bigger than a nickel, rarely did we use spawn sacks. This time, that’s all we used.
“Chris, the Fire Brine has made it so easy for me to get the egg I’m looking for that I’m using it everyday. And, it’s idiot proof,” he told me, teasing me for catching only one fish in two days, while he and Roller picked up the slack. “The Fire Brine makes incredible eggs. I like it because when you use fresh eggs they loose color quickly. These Fire Brine eggs milk out and keep their color probably 10 times longer.”
Canadian and American steelhead seemed to agree. While I didn’t land more than one steelhead, I did hook up on many. And, whether we fished the US side of the river or the Canadian side the steelhead wasted no time grabbing these spawns sacks with Fire Brine eggs in them. (We purchased US and Canadian one-day licenses to be able to target both sides of the river).
And, while it may look on Pautzke TV like I didn’t have the hot stick (I didn’t) I learned that you can teach and old dog new tricks. Fire Brine did so with Campbell. And Mother Nature did so with me; oversleeping isn’t always a bad thing.