Many fly fishers won’t fish the Salmon River in September and October. It’s tough to fault them, as it can be a crazy, crowded scene. Over nearly two days of fishing, I witnessed fish snagged, angling space invaded, fish illegally possessed and way too much trash left stream side. The Salmon River isn’t for everyone. It takes compromises and a tough stomach to enjoy that fishery. That said, if you know what you’re getting into and can remain flexible, it can offer a good time and superb fishing.
Part of that good fishing requires getting out early and making the most out of the early morning bite. Without a doubt, our best angling occurred within an hour of daybreak. A friend even hooked a scrappy, dime bright steelhead on his first cast, just as it became legal to fish. If you want to fish a better spot, plan on staking out at least half an hour before daybreak. On some of the more popular stretches of the river, you may be competing with dozens of fellow anglers within 100 yards. On one particular riffle, I counted 38 anglers by 8am. It’s a crowded, popular river. At the same time, there’s a degree of angling banter and mutual interest to be had while sharing the river with so many other anglers. I chatted with anglers from PA, NH, MA and throughout NYS.
With so many anglers, not everybody plays fair. On one particular unpleasant pair of anglers, I called the DEC Violator Hotline #1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267). They were “lifting” kings and kept several illegally hooked fish. It’s tough to claim that a salmon hooked in middle of the belly is a fair hooked fish! The DEC responded, I met with them and without compromising my safety, the DEC fined each angler ($250 for snagging and $250 for keeping an illegally hooked fish). The two officers confiscated the fish and also escorted the anglers away from the river. If you haven’t programmed the DEC Violator Hotline into your phone, do yourself and other anglers the favor and get it done. While not perfect, the DEC is doing their best and they want to help protect fisheries.
There are plenty of good aspects about the Salmon River. First, it’s always an awesome sight to witness a fresh push of kings. One morning, I had the best spot on a run with aggressive salmon. I was dialed in with my leader, light weight, stealth tippet and a flashy, Enrico Puglisi dubbing brush fly. Those fish crushed my fly and we were off the races repeatedly. When you get enough aggressive, territorial fish together they will suck in a fly and it can be a hoot! Another cool fishing aspect is that steelhead showed up. I landed a nice 8 lb chromer, that rose above a pod of kings to chase down my green streamer. That fish was itching to chase down anything in it’s path and I saw the bite.
Lastly, the Salmon River can be a great spot to develop fly fishing skills. I went with two, relatively inexperienced fly fishers and they learned plenty. It’s a helpful experience to learn how to apply side rod pressure and to battle big fish. Most years, I make a 1-2 day trip to the Salmon River each Oct/Nov. I’ve now have my salmon fix and can focus on tributary browns and steelhead. Until things cool down and we receive more rain, browns and steelhead may be delayed. If you are really itching to fish, then the Salmon River may be your best tributary bet for NYS. Lastly, if you walk far enough or get up early/stay late you will eventually find some water for yourself. Whatever you do, be kind on the water, pick up trash and let’s continue to nicely share and protect our special fisheries!