A New Tradition: Ocean State Sebagos - The Fisherman

A New Tradition: Ocean State Sebagos

The state of Rhode Island will stock Sebago salmon in several local ponds ahead of Veteran’s Day again this season.

A new Veteran’s Day tradition offers a rare opportunity to catch Atlantic salmon in ponds around the Ocean State.

Veteran’s Day is a day to reflect. It’s also a day to take advantage of the freedoms afforded to us thanks to the immeasurable sacrifices made by the countless veterans that have fought for this country throughout its nearly 350-year existence.

A friend of mine, Greg Sipple, a veteran who lost 26 friends in various conflicts overseas, once told me, “We’re there to protect the Constitution, but I always felt like I was fighting for our freedom. And the thing that is most important to me, is that people take full advantage of that freedom we fought for.”

That quote can be interpreted in many ways, from following your dreams to the ‘white picket fence’, but it can also be simple and ‘in the moment’. The act of going fishing on November 11th may seem like just any other day, but the fact that you don’t even have to think about it, can be attributed to the fact that those freedoms have been guaranteed by men and women that were willing to put it all on the line for the rest of us. That’s something we just cannot allow ourselves to take for granted.

Slow-trolling lipped swimmers, like the Original Floating Rapala is a popular method for catching these salmon from a boat or kayak. Photo by Aaron Britto

A Special Stocking

Over the last four years, the state of Rhode Island has been conducting a special round of stockings ahead of Veteran’s Day. Christine Dudley, Deputy Chief of Freshwater and Diadromous Fisheries for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Matters (DEM) said, “We try to do it every year, as long as conditions allow and the stocks are available. It serves to prolong the fall stocking and gives us something between our October stocking and the winter stocking which can be in December or January. We try to target popular areas not stocked during the fall stocking; for instance, those areas we cannot stock due to cyanobacteria. The alerts for this usually end in November.” When I talked to Senior Fisheries Biologist, Kenneth “KC” Fernstrom about the timing of the stocking he said, “Yeah, it’s definitely in recognition of our veterans and a way to encourage people to get outside for Veteran’s Day.”

Over the last couple years, this November stocking has featured something to make it extra special, Sebago salmon. Last month I was invited by Kenneth Fernstrom to visit the Perryville Hatchery to learn more about the stocking program and the fish themselves. Sebago salmon are a particularly hearty strain of Atlantic salmon that are fairly easy to raise in a hatchery, can live in square tanks and are not aggressive toward other species of fish. “Back when most of the tidal rivers on the Eastern Seaboard had runs of Atlantic salmon,” Fernstrom told me, “Each individual river had its own unique strain of salmon. The Sebago salmon are one of those strains.”

Rhode Island’s stock of Sebagos came from the Ed Weed Fish Culture Station in Grand Isle Vermont. “They had a surplus that they were going to destroy unless someone came to take them, we loaded up a truck and made the six hour trek to get them,” KC told me. Those fish were parr, which means they were small (less than a year old), so Fernstrom and his colleagues raised the fish for a few years before they were large enough to stock. “Now we get eggs from them every year and hatch out new fish,” Fernstrom told me. Over the last couple years the salmon that were stocked were in the 2- to 3-pound class, but their goal is to get to the point that they will be releasing fish as large as 5 or 6 pounds. And if what I saw in the hatchery is any kind of an indication, they are getting close.

A tank full of Sebago salmon at the Perryville Hatchery, many of these fish will be stocked during the first week of November.

Where & When

Each year they choose the largest fish from the hatchery to be stocked into ponds around the Ocean State. In addition to numbers of Sebago salmon, (the exact numbers are unknown until the day the fish are released), they also release rainbow trout to bolster the special salmon stocking. While the exact plan for where these fish will be stocked in 2023 has not yet been finalized, they will probably hit most of the same ponds from last year, those were: Barber Pond and Silver Spring Lake both in North Kingstown, Meadow Brook Pond in Richmond, Olney Pond in Lincoln State Park, Simmons Mill Pond in Little Compton, Willet Pond in East Providence and Watchaug Pond in Charlestown. Keep an eye on RI DEM’s social media for all the details on this year’s stocking.

Stocked trout are usually pretty easy to catch. As I have said about this subject many times in the past, they don’t have any natural instincts so they are often more likely to react to brighter colors or obnoxious lures. When I saw the stocking announcement last November, I took a ride to one of the ponds listed in the post and decided to try to add Sebago salmon to my personal list of species caught.

Salmon Success

When I arrived, the salmon could be seen cruising on the surface in great numbers and occasionally taking to the air, living up to their Latin name, Salmo Salar which translates to “the leaper”. When I saw all the activity, I thought it was going to be a piece of cake, but it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped! I started with one of my favorite trout lures, a MegaBass Vision 110 Jr. jerkbait in gold/red head. This thing has crushed fish for me over the last few years on Cape Cod and I figured it would do the same on the salmon, they weren’t even slightly interested in it!

I cycled through a few more ‘traditional’ and not so traditional lures, Roostertail, Thomas Buoyant, Kastmaster, Hogy Epoxy Jigs and the smallest Exo Jig. The umpire was getting sick of calling me out on strikes. I had all my gear in this Simms Sling Pack that I use for practically everything and there was still a 4-inch Ron-Z in the bottom of the bag left over from albie season. I tied it on and slung it out into the area where most of the activity was. I fished it fast, almost “albie fast” just below the surface. I hooked up right away but the fish performed a magnificent leap and threw the hook. I assumed I snagged it until my third cast was assaulted. This fish was another salmon, and it also threw the hook, but this time right at the shore. Finally on maybe my tenth cast, I hooked another and landed it. After an hour of using a fast and ‘jiggy’ retrieve, I had hooked maybe eight of them and landed four or five. Every single one of them on that pearl Ron-Z.

Around the time I was packing up to leave, a woman who was probably in her 70s showed up and set out some bait hoping to catch a salmon. For some reason I felt compelled to stick around and she wasn’t getting any action at all. I recommended using something she could fish fast. She tied on a Phoebe spoon and ripped it in, within 10 casts she hooked and landed a salmon. And she was about as happy as an angler can get. I left shortly after that, but I’ll bet she landed a few more.

The Perryville Hatchery raises more than just salmon, here hundreds of golden trout gather around the aerator in a holding tank, these fish will be stocked next spring.

More Advice

Perusing social media that week I saw several other Rhode Island anglers posting pics of salmon. One of them was Fisherman contributing writer Jeff Sullivan. When I asked him to elaborate on his methods for success, I was surprised to hear that he too had caught several on the 4-inch Ron-Z, although he favored the color pink. He also suggested fishing a Little Cleo spoon and allowing to sink to the bottom. “Once it’s on the bottom, snap it up off the bottom like you would a blade bait and then retrieve slowly as it flutters back down,” he continued. The last piece of advice from Jeff was to fish on windy and cold days, “for whatever reason,” he said, “they go nuts on those cold, windy days.”

Another successful angler I saw on social media was Rhode Island angler Aaron Britto, he did much of his damage from a boat, so I asked him to provide some pointers for anglers looking to hook a Sebago from small boat. “Trolling the 6- to 12-foot depths along the perimeters of some of the larger ponds produced the best results. I would place my ultralight rod (GLoomis TRS 621) in a Down East Salty S-10 rod holder (set to keep the rod around 10 to 20 degrees to the surface of the water) and run the boat slowly (1-2 mph) around the pond with a line out until I found where the fish were holding. After that it was simply a matter of repeating the process from spot to spot.

The undisputed king of the tackle box turned out to be the Rapala Husky Jerk HJ6 in blue/chrome. Other metallic/bright colors and the “perch” pattern also worked, along with similar sized X-Raps.  I used an 8-pound braided mainline connected to a leader of 6-pound test Seaguar fluorocarbon (5-6 feet at minimum) which worked perfectly with the forgiving action of the ultralight rod; so long as the drag was set just right the fish almost always stayed on the hook without breaking the leader. While the HJ6 was also productive casted from the boat or shore and worked with a twitch-pause routine, I also landed several salmon on smaller Mooslook Wobblers using the same cast and retrieve tactic.”

Even if you can’t get out there right on Veteran’s Day, make it a point to visit one of the ponds that receives this bonus late-fall stocking sometime this month. It’s a unique opportunity to fish for a species that you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to catch in Rhode Island waters. And when you think about the fact that this all came about because people like KC Fernstrom were proactive about getting a batch of surplus salmon that was otherwise going to be destroyed, it makes it even more special. A little effort up front, guarantees years of enjoyment for anglers in Rhode Island and across southern New England. I can’t think of a better way to spend Veteran’s Day… can you?



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