When it comes to world-class fisheries, you’d be hard pressed to find one that isn’t chopped up into special-interest sections. Oswego County’s Salmon River is a pioneer in this process, offering a place for every fishing taste.
Its most famous section is at its headwaters a short distance from the Lower Reservoir’s dam. Restricted to fly-fishing, catch-and-release only, this mystique is more than purist anglers can resist.
FRAN VERDOLIVA, SALMON RIVER PROGRAM COORDINATOR FOR THE NYS DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION, CASTS FOR STEELHEAD ON A CHANNEL OF THE UPPER FLY-FISHING SECTION OF THE SALMON RIVER. THE UPPER FLY-FISHING SECTION IS OPEN UNTIL NOV. 30. THE LOWER SECTION IS OPEN SEPT. 15 THROUGH MAY 15. (PHOTO COURTESY NYS DEC)
But there’s more to the place than just image. The main river runs just above and below the mouth of Beaverdam Brook, the recipient of the Salmon River hatchery’s tailrace and off-limits to angling. Hence, the special area’s two sections allow angling as close to the hatchery as is legally permitted.
Split into upper and lower stretches, these special areas run less than a mile combined. But their close proximity to the dam draws and holds the river’s greatest number of Lake Ontario’s migrating salmonids: brown trout, king and coho salmon in the fall, and steelhead year-round. Indeed, autumn sees so many salmon milling around above the Altmar bridge, anglers joke they raise the water level a couple feet or more.
Some make it into the relative safety of Beaverdam Brook, climb the ladder and enter the hatchery. Those that remain in the river are fair game for fly-fishermen, considered the gentlest, most patient segment of the fishing fraternity.
Self-professed purists, fly-fishers use lures made of feathers, tinsel, maybe a little yarn for body, all held together on a single hook by thread. Unlike lures in your average tackle box, these delicate creations are practically weightless, requiring long rods and heavy lines to propel them to the target. Anglers need lots of room to whip the line through the air, slowly playing it out, generating enough force to go the distance. The technique requires good timing and coordination; and when done properly, looks like a dance where man, physical forces and the fly are in perfect motion.
The tackle is of the most elementary design, modern improvements notwithstanding. What’s more, the heavy main line doesn’t help with fighting the fish. You see, it’s too thick to thread through the fly’s eye, and makes too much noise when it hits the water. So a monofilament leader at least 8 feet long, averaging 10-pound-test, is used as a remedy. What you gain in stealth, you lose in strength, however. When hooked, a large salmon or trout does everything in the book to break free, including hiding behind boulders, diving into root balls, undercut banks and sunken timber, even going over waterfalls. It’s enough to make the leader feel about as useful as sewing thread.
Fly-fishing’s poetic moves and unique challenges have hooked the imaginations of the uninitiated, convincing them it’s highly specialized and difficult to master. Anglers ranging from bank fishermen to deep water trollers admire its choreography. So when fly-fishers asked for a special section–complete with environmentally-friendly stairs down a steep cliff and improved banks for solid footing–everyone went along.
Altmar marks the start of the special zone. The lower area runs from the County Route 52 bridge upstream for 0.25 mile to the marker just below the mouth of Beaverdam Brook. The upper section runs from a marked boundary above the hatchery upstream for 0.6 mile to the marked boundary at the lower reservoir’s tailrace.
The special sections have their own seasons, too, apparently to allow salmonids, primarily steelhead and brown trout to spawn naturally without harassment. The lower section is open from September 15 through May 15; and the upper section is open from April 1 to November 30.
For Oswego County fishing conditions and visitor information, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com, or call 1-800-248-4FUN.