I’m all geared-up not just because the salmon are starting their annual river spawning migrations, but also because I can smell that heavenly aroma of sweet apple cider, fresh baked donuts and caramel apples drifting down from the 137-year-old cider mill just upstream. The amazing thing is that both are happening right here in Rochester Hills right now and the epicenter for all of this excitement is Yates Cider Mill. Yates is a Michigan landmark and a registered historic site and its mill has been making delicious apple cider with waterpower from the Clinton River since 1876. Near the mill the Clinton River cascades over the Yates dam, which supplies the millrace waters to power the cider press. Yates is a true destination and thousands of fall revelers enjoy a quiet stroll at the river’s edge while enjoying cider and donuts. But, they’re not the only ones.
The other part of this story is the salmon run. Strangely, the Clinton River has attracted a fall run of Chinook (king) salmon for many years. The salmon are not native to Michigan waters and their original stocks are from the Pacific coast. But, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources plants thousands of Chinooks in our Great Lakes and, surprisingly, a few of those fish find their way to the tributaries of the Clinton River. The salmon arrive with only one purpose and that is to spawn. By mid-October both the nests (called redds) and the salmon are clearly visible in the Clinton’s low, clear waters.
Fishermen will try bait, lures and flies to catch them and all are legal methods on the Clinton River. I’m a fly-fisherman so I use only flies and I use a method called “chuck-’n-duck” to catch them. To “chuck-’n-duck” the fly angler will need a 9 foot, 8-weight fly rod, a fly reel with a quality drag system, and the reel should be loaded with 100 yards of backing and a .030” diameter shooting line. Securely attached to the shooting line will be a weighted leader and your fly. Your choice of flies is egg flies (sometimes called roe flies) or a streamer with a strong hook. You will also need waders to approach the fish. The trick is this – salmon stop feeding completely while spawning and will not strike out of hunger, so the object is to “chuck” and position the fly so the fish swim into it, thus hooking themselves. In Michigan this method is completely legal. It has its controversies though, because some see it as snagging which, done correctly, it is not. The salmon are edible and delicious when caught early in the season, and considered a real prize – the Clinton’s Chinooks can weigh up to twelve-pounds. A Michigan All-Species fishing license is required to fish for them.
But the cider and salmon season doesn’t last long. Wait until mid-November and you might as well kick out the .270 and thaw out some of last year’s venison for the deer camp chili recipe. Speaking of recipes, here’s a great apple cider glazed salmon dish from Simply Recipes. Enjoy the season!
Wayne Snyder is the author of three books about fly-fishing in Michigan. He resides in Rochester Hills.