the Salmon River Area
Fish of the
Salmon River Area
Bait and Flies
Salmon River area, located in the Tug Hill region of New York, is widely known
for it fantastic chinook (king) salmon runs each fall, and is becoming better
known for its excellent steelhead and brown trout fisheries. The Salmon River is
the principal angling stream in the region. Its holds this distinction for
several reasons: It is relatively large, it has a relatively constant flow due
to water releases from upstream dams, and it is heavily stocked with Chinook
salmon which are raised in the hatchery on the river.
River and stream fishing
in this region is principally for chinook and coho salmon, steelhead and brown
trout. Atlantic salmon and smallmouth and largemouth bass can also be found in
these waters. Chinook salmon in the region generally average 15 to 25 pounds.
Steelhead average from 5 to 15 pounds, and brown trout average from 10 to 15
pounds. By anyone's standards, these are large fish, and they are all aggressive
fighters and a challenge to land.
The Salmon River received its name not for the chinook salmon that now make
their fall runs there, but for its once-famous runs of Atlantic salmon. In the
past Lake Ontario was known for the largest population of lake dwelling Atlantic
salmon anywhere. By 1900, Atlantic salmon were gone from Lake Ontario and its
tributaries, including the Salmon River. The last recorded Atlantic salmon at
Pulaski was found in 1872. It is generally believed the extirpation of Atlantic
salmon was the result of a number of factors, including over-fishing, pollution,
introduction of exotic species into the lake (especially the lamprey eel), and
destruction or degradation of their spawning habitat.
Millions of chinook were stocked into Lake Ontario in the late 1800s, but they
did not survive. In the early 1900s rainbow trout were stocked into the Salmon
River. Some of these fish survived and some ran to the lake each year. Others
were stocked above the reservoirs and have also survived. However, the sport
fishery on the Salmon River was insignificant from the late 1800s until the
In the 1960s New York State began a program to revitalize the sport fishing in
the Lake Ontario watershed. Beginning in 1968 the state began stocking coho
salmon in the Salmon River and other Lake Ontario tributaries, and chinook were
first stocked regularly in 1969. In 1973 New York State began stocking steelhead
and brown trout into Lake Ontario and its tributaries. In 1974 lake trout, a
species native to Lake Ontario, were also being stocked into the lake. Now the
state stocks approximately 1.6 million chinook, 250,000 coho, 50,000 landlocked
Atlantic salmon and 800,000 Steelhead into the Lake Ontario tributaries.
Salmon and trout fishing opportunities currently exist on approximately 12 miles
of the Salmon River from its mouth to the dam at the Lighthouse Hill Reservoir.
The reservoir behind this dam is known as lower reservoir. Construction of the
dam stopped all salmonoid migrations at the dam, and there have never been
attempts to permit any spawning fish to pass this obstruction.
The regional power company, Orion Power (formerly Niagara Mohawk), operates the
hydroelectric power generation station at the dam. There are two dams and two
reservoirs on the river. The lower reservoir is the Lighthouse Hill Reservoir
and the upper reservoir is the Salmon River Reservoir. The spectacular Salmon
River Falls is located between the two reservoirs.
1981 the Salmon River Fish Hatchery began operation. It is located just above
the lower fly fishing only section of the Salmon River on Beaverdam Brook. It
raises approximately 250,000 Coho, 3.2 million Chinook, 750,000 Steelhead,
300,000 Brown Trout and 150,000 Landlocked Salmon each year.
snagging was permitted on portions of the river. There were strong critics of
this practice. Anyone who has seen how it is done - with very large weighted
treble hooks flung across the river and violently jerked back - could understand
why concerns about this practice would be voiced. Ultimately, in 1993 the DEC
banned all snagging on the river.
The flow of the Salmon River is controlled by the power company (formerly
Niagara Mohawk). The more water it decides to release, the greater the flow.
Generally it will release more water after heavy rains or an ice melt-off, but
this is not always so. You can call their hotline for information on the flow,
which is given at the top of the Reports page of this site. A flow of "one
gate", or 750 cubic feet per second (cfs), will produce a moderately fast flow.
A half gate is often considered ideal. Two gates will be a hard flow and will be
impossible to wade across in most areas.
In the mid-1990s the power plants were due for relicensing by the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission. As part of this process, numerous interested groups
participated and as a result, the power company now must maintain minimum flows
for the river throughout the year (except in emergencies). Beginning in 1997,
there must be a minimum flow of 185 cfs between May 1 and August 30, 335 cfs
between September 1 and December 31, and 285 cfs between January 1 and April 30.
There must also be five "whitewater" releases during the year (of either 400 or
700 cfs), one in June, two in July, one in early August and one during the Labor
Day weekend. The whitewater releases are to provide recreational activities on
the river, such as kayaking. The last whitewater release may also produce a
first run of chinook.
It is hoped these minimum flow requirements will return the river to more
natural and consistent water levels, which, in turn, will improve the natural
reproduction of aquatic and insect life and natural fish reproduction. It is
also hoped the minimum flows will produce a resident brown trout population.
These minimum flows have already produced a significant increase in the insect
activity on the Salmon River. Before the minimum flow requirements, the only
significant hatch on the river was the caddisfly. Now the river is beginning to
have all the traditional insect hatches, which is certainly a positive sign for
the health of the river system.
In the early 1990s concerns began to surface about declining numbers of chinook
salmon being harvested, especially in Lake Ontario. Stocks of alewives, which
are the primary forage food for chinook and other salmoniods in the lake, were
dropping. Ultimately New York State and the Province of Ontario decided to
reduce the numbers of salmoniods stocked, especially chinook which are the
largest and fasting growing of the stocked predator fish. The levels of chinook
stocked were reduced by over 60%, and the level of lake trout stocked were
reduced by 50%. Stockings of steelhead were increased slightly. After complaints
of decreased populations of chinook, stockings were increased in the mid-1990s,
but to a level below the high stocking rates prior to 1992. The responsible
agencies continue to struggle with the difficult task of trying to find a
suitable balance to maintain a sustainable fishery in the ever-changing
environment of Lake Ontario and its tributaries.
New York State has acquired public fishing easements on most of the length of
the Salmon River outside the Douglaston Salmon Run area. These public rights
make angler access to the river easy and convenient.
Currently the New York State Department of Health has issued an
advisory which recommends that persons eat no more than one meal per month
of smallmouth bass taken from the Salmon River. Oddly, although the state
recommend against eating any Chinook from Lake Ontario, it does not currently
have an advisory in place against eating Chinook taken from the Salmon River or
other streams in the region.
Currently the Salmon River below the dams provides fishing for chinook salmon,
coho salmon, brown trout, Atlantic (landlocked) salmon and two strains of
steelhead from its mouth to the Salmon River Reservoir. Each of these game fish
is described below. There is also fishing above the dams for native rainbow and
Chinook or King Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) of the region are derived from
the chinook of the Pacific Coast of North America. They spawn in the fall,
generally between October and November. The female creates a "redd" in the
gravel by pushing away the stream gravel with her tail. Once the nest is built,
one or more male salmon fertilizes the eggs. The female then buries the eggs by
pushing gravel loose just upstream of the redd. These salmon die after spawning.
In the late 1960s the New York DEC began to aggressively stock chinook in Lake
Ontario. The eggs hatch in November and December and the fish are placed into
the rivers as three inch fingerlings in May or June to be "imprinted" with the
scent of the stream. This imprinting allows them to return to the stream in
which they were released. Typically a fully-mature Chinook which has returned to
spawn is either two or three years of age and will weigh between 15 and 25
pounds. Sometimes juvenile Salmon, known as "jacks", will make "false" spawning
runs and be found in the river along with mature fish. Occasionally four year
old chinook will be found in the rivers. The current Great Lakes record Chinook
Salmon was taken from the Salmon River in 1991 and weighed in at 47 pounds and
Male salmon and steelhead can generally be identified by their hooked lower jaw.
The closer they get to spawning, the more pronounced the hook in their jaw.
Typically females have a blunt or rounded nose which does not deform during
Chinook are bright silver while in Lake Ontario and as they enter the river, and
become darker the longer they are in the river. A chinook can be differentiated
from other salmon and steelhead by its black mouth and black gums. It also has
spots all over its tail.
Recent studies indicate there is considerable natural reproduction of chinook
salmon occurring in the Lake Ontario tributaries in general. Many native chinook
have recently been found in seines of the Salmon River. Research is continuing
to attempt to assess the levels of natural reproduction in these waters.
During the summer, anglers may find Atlantic salmon, resident brown trout and
Skamania steelhead. With the recent minimum river flow requirements, and the
increased emphasis on stocking these species, the opportunities for summer
angling are improving considerably.
Anglers may also fish for smallmouth bass in the river during the summer, and
for northern pike in the estuary. Both can be very good fisheries.
Floating line is the norm. The streams are typically too shallow for any type of
sinking line. For chinook, a WF10F or a DT10F line should work. Be sure to use
sufficient backing to be able to play the fish. If you use a lot of weight on a
fly line for chinook, a running line can be used rather than a tapered line. Use
line of .029 or .032 diameter. Some anglers now use a sinking tip tied to a
floating line to get the fly down to the fish.
For other river fishing such as steelhead and brown trout, again floating lines
are used. However, lines are generally 7 or 8 weight.
Leader and tippet sizes depend, as always, to a large degree on what flies you
are using. Many anglers tie their own leaders. Since you are often fishing with
split shot, this is not finesse fly fishing and it is not necessary to have a
perfectly tapered leader. Similarly, the leader need not be too long for this
type of fishing, unless you are fishing in very clear water with a very small
fly. Under normal conditions, a leader and tippet combination that is not longer
than the rod itself should work. A longer leader and tippet combination on the
smaller streams will be too long and difficult to handle. Many anglers tie in at
least one length of high visibility line (such as "Amnesia") in the upper end of
the leader. Use of a fluorocarbon tippet is becoming more popular because of its
nearly invisible properties.
Not surprisingly, small flies (e.g., size 12 or smaller) should be fished with a
light tippet. 5x and lighter tippet will have difficulty landing steelhead. 3x
and 4x tippet is popular for steelhead. Fishing a power egg on a size 6 hook
with several split shot in high water can be fished with straight monofilament
as a leader and tippet. When fishing for chinook, tippet material of from 8 to
12 pound test is common.
For chinook, anglers typically use 9 or 10 foot rods from 7 to 11 weight, with 9
and 10 weights probably the most common. Most rods in this class have a fighting
butt, which is helpful. For steelhead and brown trout anglers typically use rods
from 6 to 8 weight. A 6 weight rod will not give you much backbone to land a
large steelhead, and an 9 weight rod has more than enough backbone.
Any respectable fly reel will work, but a reel without a disk drag will make
landing a chinook very difficult. A smooth disk drag is certainly helpful for
playing a larger fish. For chinook, a reel which accommodates a 9 to 10 weight
line will work well. If you can afford it, try an anti-reverse reel for chinook.
For steelhead, a disk-drag reel which accommodates a 7 to 9 weight line is
adequate. Be sure to use plenty of backing; these fish can make very long runs.
A reel for chinook should hold at least 150 yards of 20 pound backing.
High-visibility backing is a good idea so you and other anglers around you can
see where your line is.