Steelhead heaven: 15 miles of NY's Salmon
(My ol friend writer Scott Sampson writes another nice Salmon River Article. This article is being run to hopefully help the local economy recover a little and also help those that are new and interested in the sport)
Steelhead heaven: 15 miles of NY's Salmon
New York fishing map feature
By Scott Sampson
* Fishing and Hunting News PULASKI, N.Y. ? It's a little like trying to stop a freight train by dragging your foot: you hang on and hope. You dance over the rocks with cleated boots in a race between you and the steelhead to the next pool. Your tail-walking friend is attached to your hopes and dreams with a 4-pound leader and 5- or 6-pound-test main line. You are layered in clothing that dulls the physical cold of 33-degree water. Korkers, the spiked sandals, are tied on over the felt bottoms of your 5mm neoprene boot waders. The spikes dig into the bedrock, gravel beds or sometimes bottom ice that forms in the midwinter pools of slower water currents, keeping you upright.
Salmon River guide Randy Jones completed the dance with this big metalhead.
You jockey your way down the river in hopes of getting below your fish, so you can let the current help you battle what might be an average steelhead of 8 pounds ... or one that is in the high-teens of trophy class. Guide Randy Jones (yankeeangler.com) advises his anglers to plan the battle before the hookup. If you can only stand still and hang on, the war will be lost within seconds and your trophy of a lifetime will be only a glimpse and a pulse of success. But Jones readily admits that planning the battle before it begins is more easily said than done. Success is measured in the number of hookups experienced and not fish landed. And "hookups" are not just a rap at your bait or fly. Hookups are fish-leaping, rod-thumping, heart-stopping experiences that are recorded in your mind forever. A hookup might last for seconds or fractions of an hour. With the light line, limber rods and fast currents, you never get a second chance. The steelhead can wrap the gossamer line around a rock or a snag as easily as you can fall into the river as you follow the fish downstream hoping to reach quiet water where you can tease it into the net.The stellar Salmon The Salmon River, in Oswego County, is the premier steelhead water in the East. It is short by river standards, just 15 miles long from Lake Ontario to the first dam impassable by fish, but it has some 10 miles of public fishing easements and another 2½ miles of private water open to a limited number of anglers willing to pay to cast. There are also two fly-fishing-only areas upstream of the Village of Altmar. The river contains classic pools, runs and riffles. A minimum water flow from the Lighthouse Hill hydroelectric dam makes the river a year-round fishery, even in midwinter when other waters may be frozen shut. Steelhead runs begin in mid-October and winter fish typically hold in the deep pools until they spawn in March and April. May is a transition fishery as the silver-sided trophies drop back to the lake and the Skamania strain prepares for summer runs. While nearly 30 percent of New York's steelhead are reproduced naturally, DEC assures adequate numbers of fish reach the Altmar Hatchery by stocking 120,000 yearling steelhead of the Washington strain, along with 48,000 of the summer fish. Other waters, such as the Oswego, seldom gets more than 20,000 stockers.Winter challenges Winter fishing takes place in crystal-clear water, and is more challenging than any other time of the year. The worse the weather, the fewer anglers and the more room you have to fish. Drift boats run from August to May with more than 35 professional guides on the river, but there has also been an increase in individually owned drift boats. If you run one, put in at Altmar and take out at Pineville or the Ball Park. A drift boat helps you cover more water but unless you are back-plugging or back-trolling, you will be doing a lot of your fishing from shore and using the drift boat as transportation from pool to pool. Much of the fishing is accomplished with long limber rods that can handle the light line and still keep as much line out of the water as possible as you drift a fly or bait through the pools. Even flyrodders will use the chuck-and-duck technique, fishing a running line on a 9- to 11-foot rod. The running fly line, normally used with shooting heads, is a means to meet the official requirement of using traditional fly gear in the fly-fishing-only sections of the river. Consult the regs for equipment guidelines for fly-fishing areas as well as the rest of the river. New this season, for example, leaders may only be 4 feet between the fly or bait and any weight added to the line.
At a glance
Fishing and Hunting News
What: Salmon River winter steelhead.Where: Pouring into Lake Ontario in northern New York. The fishable stretch of the lower Salmon is relatively short: only 15 miles of water run from the first dam down to Ontario.Why: The Salmon is the best steelhead stream in New York, and, arguably, one of the best in the continental United States.When: Best fishing is in February and March.