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My Take on Pacific Salmon Fishing in the Salmon River, NY

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Photo taken from “Trout and Salmon of North America” by Robert J. Behnke
Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri

     I‘ll be honest, I am not much of a Pacific Salmon fisherman.  There are many reasons for this the first being I have more passion for pursuing trout, landlocked salmon and steelhead than I do the two species of Pacific Salmon that were introduced into the Great Lakes. Salmon runs on the Salmon River can start as early as August. At that time of the year and into October the weather can be very nice. Nice fare weather combined with big fish in the river will also bring out hoards of fisherman.

   Years ago,  when I first started fishing the Salmon River, I took a drive from South Utica, where I lived at the time, up to the river with my sights on fishing the Sportsman’s Pool.  It was October 5th and I was pretty excited at the chance of hooking up with a salmon.  I was up early and was at the parking lot before light.  There were not many cars in the lot so that seemed encouraging.  I walked to the river and had the head of the pool to myself, but it was still to early to start fishing so I checked over my gear to pass the time.  As I waited more and more fisherman arrived at the pool. By the time fishing was legal the place was elbow to elbow with fisherman eager to fish.  I never made a cast and decided to leave.  I drove 20 minutes or so to Taberg and traveled north and decided to fish The East Branch of Fish Creek, a stream my father had taken me to fish many times as a child and teenager.  The pool I picked was void of fisherman and I was excited to see trout rising to the surface.  I spent the late morning casting elk hair caddis dry flies and caught a few nice browns.  Though not a whopping pacific salmon it was a great day and just what I was looking for: some solitude, gorgeous weather, a beautiful trout stream, some room to cast and some rising trout.

Spey Fishing the Hemlocks
Fishing the Salmon River in October
Photo by Jessica Lettich

   Over the years I have mostly avoided the Salmon River during the salmon run but a certain friend will convince me to give it a try from time to time.  One time in the early fall of 2013, my buddy called and said “Let’s go up and give it a try, it can be a warm-up for steelhead.”  I guess that was convincing enough so I decided to make the trip. Since that first trip to the Sportsman’s Pool back in the 90s, I have learned that the river is quite long and has over ten miles of public water below the dam at the lower reservoir.  There are many spots to try and it’s possible to find a whole run to yourself during salmon season, even on a weekend.

   Another thing that deters me from spending time pacific salmon fishing is the techniques I see used to fish.  I am by no means against putting a mild bit of weight on the leader to help the fly sink, but the amount of weight used by many fisherman is absurd.  Overuse of split-shot can lead to lost flies and monofilament on the river bottom.  Considering the amount of fisherman using excessive weight and consequently loosing gear in the salmon river, its easy to imagine the accumulating waste on the river bed.  I enjoy fly casting and Spey casting techniques to much to add excessive weight to the leader and make the cast labor.   When I fish for salmon and steelhead I choose to use floating lines with sinking leader systems so nice loops are still possible.

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Salmon River Chinook Salmon

    On one particular outing,  September 28th, 2013, my buddy and I were fishing up river in the upper fly fishing only section of the Salmon River.  It was in the afternoon after a morning of no hook-ups and it was a perfect fall day on the river.   I had decided to fish a bright fly that I had tied the night before.  We found a nice section of water and there were no other anglers around.  We could see fish moving up through the fast water.  I was fishing a 12 and 1/2 foot 8 weight spey rod with a weight forward 9 weight spey line and a 3.9 inch per second sinking leader with 3 foot 12 pound tippet.  I positioned myself well upstream of what looked like the main area fish were moving through.  It was at the fast water tail-out of the pool and seemed to be about 2-3 feet deep.  The area I was targeting was about halfway across the river.  The river bent to the left so by standing far enough above I could get a nice slow swing and even get the fly to dangle straight downstream into the seam the fish were moving through.

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Silver, White, Flame,and Pink Wet fly that took a King Salmon on the dangle September 28th, 2013

   I made some casts and swung the fly through the tail-out; trying to keep the presentation slow and let the fly dangle in the current after the swing was completed.  After a few casts,  the line went tight and was hooked into something that grabbed the fly as it dangled in the current.  After an intense fight with some jumps and runs up and down the pool,  I was able to land a very dark but still healthy male Chinook Salmon.  I was pretty happy and knew I had learned something that day.  With a little patience in finding a nice spot to fish and thought towards presentation a King Salmon will aggressively hit a fly.