Glory Days for Salmon River Steelhead

Fly-Fishing: Salmon River thriving

Most anglers agree the steelhead fishing on the Salmon River in Oswego County has been terrific this season. New figures from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation show it has, in fact, never been better.

More than three times as many steelhead trout were caught between Sept. 7 and Nov. 28 as during the same period in 2005 and 2006, the last time counts were taken, according to the fall 2010 creel survey, which is scheduled to be officially released in March.

By the numbers: an estimated 32,146 steelhead were caught last fall, compared to 7,738 in 2005 and 9,125 in 2006. Most were caught and released; the harvest rate was about 12 percent in all three years, the survey said.

The September-through-November catch was much bigger than the catch numbers for the entire fall and winter seasons of 2005-2006 (20,705) and 2006-2007 (21,489). It dwarfed the catch numbers recorded in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“Steelhead recruitment and fishing has picked up in recent years,” said Daniel L. Bishop, regional supervisor of natural resources for DEDC Region 7.

Ample water may have helped bring in a good run last fall. The Salmon River flowed at about 1,000 cubic feet per second for almost all of October — so much water that fishing for Chinook salmon was that much more difficult and the catch rate was down considerably.

And if more steelhead ran up the river from Lake Ontario to spawn, there were more anglers waiting for them. Total fishing effort was up from 483,792 angler hours in 2005 to 705,229 last fall. One possible reason, the survey report said, was that more people were out of work and had some time on their hands.

“The reason for the large increase in angler hours on the Salmon River in 2010 isn’t clear,” the report said. “The poor economy, higher levels of unemployment, and increasing participation by several immigrant groups may have all played a role.” The anglers fishing shoulder-to-shoulder just downstream of the Altmar Bridge have sometimes been called the “unemployment line,” and these days, there might be some truth to that.

Most steelhead (21,813) were caught by wading anglers in the conventional regulations section of the river. Another 4,821 were caught by anglers floating the river in drift boats. The catch-and-release fly-fishing-only zones produced 4,793 steelies.

It’s encouraging that more and more wild Chinook salmon are being observed, as opposed to fish born in the river’s hatchery and stocked. Higher minimum flows implemented in 1997 are probably responsible.

The steelhead, however, continue to be mostly hatchery fish. Most salmon migrate to Lake Ontario in their first spring. Steelhead trout, on the other hand, live in the water where they’re born for a full year before migrating. The ones that spend that year in the hatchery do fine, but fish spawned in the river struggle to survive warm summer water temperatures, Bishop said.

NEW MAGAZINE

Do yourself a favor and visit www.tenandtwomagazine.com and take a look at Ten & Two, a new online fly-fishing publication with absolutely superb standards for writing and photography. Ten & Two’s second issue, focusing mainly on the Catskills, issue is online now and boasts 263 pages, with profiles of big-league writer Art Lee, dry-fly guru Dave Brandt, Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum Dir­ector Jim Krul, 22-year-old guide John Clark, the Woman Fly Fishers Club, historian and conservationist Ed Van Put, author Mike Valla of Stony Creek and more. There are stories about fishing, habitat rest­oration, local restaurants and lodges, plus a beautiful package of feature stories on Guatemala.

Ten & Two clearly aims for the Scotch and cigars demographic, but it will keep any angler good com­pany for many winter evenings. There are few familiar names on its roster of writers and photo­graphers, but there’s a ton of talent. Ten & Two is an ambitious and commendable project, led by publisher Walter Hodges of Washington state, and I highly recommend it.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at morganlyle@gmail.com.

First published in The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. Thursday Jan. 27.

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