06-28-2005, 10:14 AM
My recent experiences in the vicinity of Pulaski point to a degrading fishery for steelhead and salmon. I've heard it said that's due to earlier overstocking efforts and the resultant depletion of forage fish in the lake, but I'd be very curious to hear others' view on this issue.
What's happening with the salmonid fishery in Lake Ontario tributaries? Is there a long-term issue here?
06-28-2005, 12:49 PM
josko, im not an expert on this subject, but here are my thoughts. if any part of the fishery is degrading, it would the salmon fishery. that doesnt include the steelhead fishery by any means. if anything, the steelhead fishery is on the up. steelhead, being more diverse in there feeding behavior dont rely on forage fish like salmon do. therefore, the forage fish depletion in the lake(due to lower phosphate levels, nutrient absorbing zebra mussels) isnt putting the steelhead fishery in jeopardy. its hard to say what will happen with the future salmon runs, although i hope its just a hurdle that needs to be overcome and not the end to an excellent salmon fishery. either way, i think the steelhead is the fish that will carry this fishery. plenty more to say, but thats enough. dont give up on the salmon. best, mark
It's interesting how individual perspective sometimes varies from the data based on personal experience. MarkNY...sounds like you have been having some fun with the chrome lately which is great! But believe it or not, it is actually the Steelhead fishery that is in significant decline in Lake Ontario and it has been for probably the last 10 - 15 years. Check out the LOSA website for the link to presentations that the DEC put together for the state of the lake this year and for more info on the subject.
Lots of data has been generated over the last 15 years and the fact that the steelhead numbers are significantly down is impossible to argue at this point. Salmon River returns have actually been declining to the point where the state is starting to get anxious about having enough returning “Washington State” fish to supply the egg demand. In addition, returns for Ganny Strain fish on the Canadian side are also way down from historical highs in the mid 90's. These are all wild fish so some of the problem has to do with the liberal creel limits set buy the Canadians at 5 fish per day but if you talk to the Biologists who have the creel data etc. they feel that there is more to it than that. It’s a very complex problem and nobody to this point really knows exactly what the issue of Steelhead survival is other than the fact that the fish are not surviving to adulthood in the Lake. Most biologists feel that the decline is related to the exotic zebra/quagga infestations that began in the early 90's as this is when the steelhead decline started. Diporia (shrimplike invertebrates)...a staple food for young Steelhead have virtually dissapeared in the lake, and this is again probably linked to the mussels.
I have seen no data that suggests that the Chinook fishery is depressed from a numbers standpoint at this time. In fact last season was probably the best season that the lake boys had with chinooks since the halcyon days of the mid 80's. I would agree that you wouldn’t get too much of an argument that the chinooks are recently trending smaller on average than they used to and the DEC feels that this is likely due to a decrease in Alewife fitness. The wild card in all of this is that there are very significant numbers of wild chinook that are produced in the Salmon river each year now ever since the new water licensing agreement went into effect in the mid 90's. That is well documented but what is not known at this time is how many are surviving to adulthood. So another theory is that the steelhead are now expensive fish food for chinooks who key on the steelhead more because of less forage is available in general. I have not seen any data to support this but it seems plausible.
Finally, I just read a summary of a summit that was held regarding EMS (Early Mortality syndrome...the thiamine deficiency problem that is plaguing Great Lakes salmonids among other fish populations). It appears that chinooks need less thiamine to survive relative to the other species so a diet on Thiaminase rich Alewives isn’t as problematic for them. In addition there is evidence that the changing structure of the food web out in the lakes is making the problem worse becaue the fish are lacking certain specififc lipids (I believe) that theye are not getting now and are related to the problem from a biochemisrty standpoint. So that may have something to do with the decline.
Because many of our rivers are tailwater fisheries we still get Steelhead that “Stack” up in the rivers and fishing can still be unbelievable at times but the data does not lie. I also believe that most fisherman that were around in the 80's had much more productive Steelhead fishing than they do now...at least that is the case with the fisherman that I run with.
Sorry to be so long winded but this is an important issue that has been much politicized lately. South shore steelhead trib fisherman (who have one fish limits and who creel data shows are virtually all C&R with Steelhead now anyway) are attempting to reduce the liberal creel limits that the charter boys enjoy out on the lake in an attempt to spread the wealth. As you can imagine they want nothing to do with it and they are well organized and connected in Albany. Anyway, there is a ton more information out there on the subject...just Google a bit and you will stumble across it.
Tight Lines and I hope you are into all the chrome you can handle come fall.
06-30-2005, 08:36 AM
This is some very good info. My talks with DEC biologists and my personal experiences seem to confirm what you have stated. Thanks for posting it and keeping us informed. :cool:
07-03-2005, 06:35 AM
Dmas, thank you, and that is consistent whit my observations. I feel that steelhead numbers int he area are way down and declining. While there is a lot of 'guidespeak' and blameflinging going on, it seems to me the principal cause is stocking of many more fish than the ecosystem can support. There4 was great fishing while the stocked fish were busy depleting the forage base, but now we are swinging into an equilibrium. The real question is whether anybody is investigating the 'maximum sustainable yield' or the maximum salmonid density that the Lake Ontario forage base can support.
My guess is the number would be MUCH lower than what the state has been stocking.
This spring I fished the area hard for two days (with a guide) for one 14" rainbow (steelhead??) and one other steelhead hit. My son scored a ~6lb brown (which had sevceral fresh lamprey bites). It was fun and the crowds were minimal, but that's the least fish we got there per hour of effort since I began fishing the river. Reports from other fishermen seemed similar.
On the good side, 1 steelhead per 2 days is still a respectable number and is low enough to really chop crowds. In that sense, the Salmon river might actually become more fun to fish for dedicated anglers.
Maybe this decrease in fish numbers will help address the river's meatpit mentality.
Why do they keep stocking such a large ratio of chinooks to steelhead?
In my opinion the state will not significantly reduce the chinook stocking numbers anytime soon. Bottom line is that the charter boys on the lake call the shots regarding the fishery...this has become more apparent than ever in the last year. The chinook is their bread and butter fish and I am convinced that they would rather see the whole fishery collapse than give up the chinook. On top of that the stake-holders in Pulaski (i.e. tackle shops, gas stations, motels etc) have built an entire economy on a 2 month stretch in the fall when the salmon run and the circus begins. Very shortsighted in my view but that is the reality of it.
You are right, there is something to be said about Steelhead fishing in solitude!
07-04-2005, 05:34 PM
hey guys, good thread. ive learned quite a bit. as i mentioned earlier, im not an expert on fisheries or the politics involved. but, i base my opinions on the experiences i have while on the water. i fish the salmon 2-3 days a week from october till mid march. in the last several years, i just havent seen a decline in steelhead numbers on the river. at least not where im fishing, and i DONT fish the fly zones. i guess it just depends on how often you fish and maybe sometimes where you fish. interesting to see different points of view. best, mark