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The Salmon River is located in Oswego County in upstate New York and provides excellent late season fishing opportunities.
By John Hanecak
Tags: freshwater

The Salmon River is a tributary of Lake Ontario and every fall thousands of migratory rainbow trout, also known as steelhead, begin to enter the river system where they spend the winter months before spawning in the spring and then returning back to Lake Ontario. Peak steelhead fishing typically occurs from mid-October through mid-December and then picks back up again in March and April after the fish have spawned and begin to move back to the lake. Fish can be caught throughout the winter months as the river rarely ever ices over and the fish will continue to feed, especially during warm spells.

According to the New York DEC website there are 12 miles of public fishing rights along the river and there are a number of public parking and access points. The uppermost section of the river is in Altmar and features a catch-and-release, fly-fishing-only area above the Route 52 Bridge and open-fishing below the bridge. Moving downriver from the Altmar Bridge, along Route 13, there are a number of well-marked, public access spots with ample parking for a number of anglers.

Anglers typically wade into the river from shore or hire a drift boat to take them down river stopping to fish any number of areas along the way. If you have never fished the area then hiring a drift boat guide for a day can significantly shorten the learning curve and provides valuable insight into where to access the different parts of the river from shore on future outings. Much of the river features fairly shallow, fast-moving water with many areas of “pocket water” created by large rocks or downed trees which is where many of the fish will reside. Wading into the river should be done with extreme caution as water temperatures are typically in the high 30s to low 40s and air temperatures may be well below freezing. Heavy boot foot neoprene waders or insulated breathable waders are ideal for this type of fishing. A snug wading belt, some form of spiked footwear (Korkers), and a wading staff are all advised. Dress in layers as air temperatures can vary significantly day to day and even during a given day.

When it comes to tackle there are a number of options but the standard setup for steelhead is a light action 9- to 10-foot spinning rod paired with a quality spinning reel that is capable of holding around 200 yards of 8- to 10-pound test mono. Steelhead are very line shy so a 3-foot section of 6-pound test fluorocarbon leader should be connected to the main line using a small swivel. Anglers typically drift their baits along the bottom using just enough split shot to keep the bait near bottom while not constantly hanging up or rig their baits under a float using a series of small split shot between the float and the bait to keep their offering down near bottom as the float drifts down current.
In the fall the steelhead feed heavily on salmon eggs which are abundant due to salmon spawning in the river in September and early October. Egg sacks, which are available at a number of local are tackle shops, are very effective as are flies and beads that imitate salmon eggs. They will also take a variety of natural flies from nymphs to streamers and pink worms are very popular in the spring.

Fighting these fish can be a humbling experience and it is often the case that more fish are lost than are landed. Steelhead are very well known for their long powerful runs and acrobatics and they rarely fail to put on a good show when hooked. Often it’s the ones that get away that leave the most lasting memories and keep you coming back for more!

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