Salmon River (New York)

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The Salmon River arises in north central New York State on the Tug Hill Plateau to the east of Lake Ontario. It flows 44 miles (71 km) westward off the plateau and there is a hydroelectric dam near Little America to create the Salmon River Reservoir. Both the Salmon River and Salmon River Reservoir are heavily visited destinations for fishermen during peak season. Below the dam it continues westward for about a mile eventually creating Salmon River Falls which is a large 100-foot (30 m) drop as the river continues its westward progress towards yet another dam and the Lower Salmon River Reservoir. It continues westward through the village of Altmar through Pulaski to Lake Ontario. The inlet is referred to as Port Ontario, though it is no longer an active commercial port. The watershed drains 285 square miles (740 km2).[1]

The river is noted for its recreational salmon fishery today. The fishery is possible due to the efforts of the Salmon River Fish Hatchery that is located north of Altmar on a tributary to the Salmon River called Beaver Dam Brook. The hatchery stocks over 3.5 million trout and salmon each year in the surrounding areas.[2] In early history this was Atlantic salmon, but now these have been mostly replaced by stocked coho, chinook, and steelhead which make spawning runs upriver from Lake Ontario in autumn.

The river has become a popular location for kayaking and river rafting during parts of the year when the dam is released, with several companies making excursions to the river.


From colonial America up to the late 19th century, the Salmon River was an important waterway to not only Native Americans but to the settlers. Huge runs of Atlantic salmon entered the river from Lake Ontario. People would catch their fill of salmon and dry or smoke it for food for the upcoming winter. By 1900, the Atlantic salmon were all but extinct in Lake Ontario. This was due to poor management and over-harvesting. Currently,[when?] the NY DEC has been vigilant in trying to restore the Atlantic salmon runs in the Salmon River. This has been moderately successful at best.[citation needed]

Chinook salmon were first stocked in Lake Ontario in 1873. However, it is not known if the Salmon River had any returns of those Chinooks. Although Chinook salmon were sporadically stocked throughout the years, it was not until the mid-1960s that aggressive stockings of both Chinook and coho salmon began. Since the extinction of Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario, there was no apex predator to control the mooneye and smelt populations. Both species experienced rapid rates of reproduction. Mooneyes would spawn in the spring and then perish. Washing up on the shore by the millions, the DEC looked towards the Pacific coast salmon as a viable source to help control the mooneye and to a lesser extent, the American smelt. Coho salmon were introduced first and after the success of the first spawning run up the Salmon River, the DEC decided to stock Lake Ontario with the Chinook to provide sport for anglers. With the mooneye now in a desperate fight for survival in Lake Ontario as well as the smelt, a newer prey fish has taken over: the alewife.

The Salmon River also receives ample stockings of steelhead (rainbow) trout as well as brown trout. Both trouts are anadromous. Living in Lake Ontario allows the trout to attain trophy sizes and they are pursued by anglers for their fighting ability.

From the inception of the spawning coho and Chinook runs, anglers were allowed to snag salmon and keep five fish per day per person. The DEC frequently adjusted the number of fish to be kept per day and for some 30 years now[when?], it has been three fish per person per day. In the late 1980s, snagging came under fire from ethical fishing groups as well as Trout Unlimited and other groups. The DEC played around[clarification needed] with the idea for a year or two, as well as doing an economical impact research project. Many shop owners argued that taking away snagging would hurt business and drive angers away. Regardless, snagging was outlawed. Many business owners in fact, did have to close due to the ban on snagging.[citation needed] However, slowly the anglers seemed to come back and today the Salmon River is a world-class fishery.

Winter Steelhead offer a great opportunity for anglers in winter. Anglers can either fish from the banks or use a drift boat. There are many guides in the area that can provide anglers a guided trip on the river. Steelhead fishing on the Salmon River is a great opportunity for anglers to fish open water during the winter.

The Chinook salmon begin showing up in the Salmon River estuary, albeit in very smallish numbers sometime around mid to late August. As early September comes, some chinooks enter the river in small numbers. However, major runs have been experienced in early September and in previous years as early as late August. The first run of cohoes usually comes in mid September. Come late September and early October, both chinooks and coho runs are in full swing and fizzles out by mid November.During the peak of the salmon runs in October brown trout and steelheads both enter the River to feed on salmon eggs. These gamefish are both feeding actively and can be caught easily using salmon roe tied in dime sized mesh bags. When the salmon are done some steelheads retreat back to Lake Ontario while some stay and winter over until they themselves spawn, sometime between late February and April. As February comes and ends, more and more steelheads enter the River to spawn.

Starting in and around June, some Atlantics enter the river as well as skamania, a summer run strain of steelhead. Smallmouth bass are present in the lower ends of the River and panfish, largemouth bass as well as northern pike can be taken in the estuary at this time.

The Salmon River receives annually (current as of February 2012): 350,000 Chinook fingerlings, 234,800 steelhead (rainbow) fingerlings, 60,000 skamania fingerlings, 113,540 Coho salmon fingerlings and 5,000 brown trout fingerlings.

The current Great Lakes record for a king/chinook salmon was taken from the Salmon River and the male weighted in at over 47 pounds. The 50-pound mark has yet to be reached.

The world record coho salmon hails from the Salmon River and was officially weighed in at 33 pounds and 7 ounces.

On September 30, 2010, nearly 3.3 inches of rain fell within a matter of several hours in the Salmon River drainage area. Historical flooding occurred as the river crested some 12 feet above normal. The water was so high that the "Short Bridge" in the center of downtown Pulaski was almost lapped by the high water. A portion of a retaining wall on the north side of the river directly downstream from the "Short Bridge" was washed away. Upstream at the Pineville Anglers Access area the water flooded the parking lot and salmon were observed swimming in the parking lot as well as moving upstream through the forested banks of the River. Many anglers resorted to fishing in the parking lot. Further upstream in the town of Altmar, the crested River flooded roads, parking lots and in some cases businesses. Salmon were sighted swimming upstream on the flooded roads while anglers were casting to salmon swimming in the calm waters of the flooded parking lots and actually having success.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

  • [2] History of the Salmon River Fishery
  • [3] - Salmon River Fish Hatchery
  • [4] - Salmon River Water Levels