Spectacular is the only word that repeats in my head after spending some time in the Pulaski area of New York State on the famed Salmon River chasing fresh Steelhead and Brown Trout on the Centrepin.2008 has been exceptional so far on the run of Steelhead entering this 12 mile watershed since about the end of October. The Salmon River has controlled flow from an electric dam upstream. Our trip occurred on a steady flow of 750 cfs which continued to bring waves of fresh chrome into the river.
For me, it was a return to some of the best Steelhead fishing in North America when you consider distance, cost and quality of the experience that I first experienced twenty years ago. These fish are descendents of the Chambers Creek Steelhead in Washington State are unlike most Steelhead we are accustomed to catching along Lake Ontario North-Shore Rivers and Creeks. They do resemble a lot of our Georgian Bay and Lake Huron fish in strength and physical appearance.
The Salmon River needs to be respected by the wading angler in most sections as it is slippery, wide and fast- upwards of Class3 rapids in a lot of sections. A wading stick, cleats and a local guide either for bank running or drift-boating would be a great start should you consider a trip down to the Salmon. In my combined 23 days on this river, I have only begun to map and understand the better sections for float fishing or “pinning” as the locals call the technique. You can also certainly get into fish with the resources that exist on the Internet but the learning curve will be longer. There are dozens of “named” pools with parking access at each for the first timer to try. I particular gained intimate experience with 2 or 3 pools in each of the lower, mid and upper river sections which proved successful for multiple hookups and releases each day. Timing was huge, especially on lower river Chrome. Every morning, the first dozen or so drifts could produce 6-8 hookups, then a lull…then another wave of insanity. Changing colour was the often the trick for more hookups but the real key was recognizing the actual holding water on pools, runs or rapid sections that usually were no larger then your vehicle. These Steelhead are the hardest fighting fish I have experienced, with long power runs, 2 second leaping hang-times and tail walking across pools. They use every inch of this river to deny you a photo op and will break you heart more often then not. Lost fish do make for great evening conversation with other anglers come dinner time.
I met tremendous Steelhead anglers or “chronics” and exceptional guides that all were willing to share memories, experiences and tricks in pursuit of this common passion we share. I picked up a few new presentation systems I will be trying locally and see no reason they wont work. This is the place I first learned of Blue spawn sacs as deadly effective on the Pulaski Chrome, something that has proven successful on certain Ontario tribs over the last 20 years for me also.
For a first timer, a 2 or 3 day trip would be a great start to begin to learn the river and certainly have some hookups. The river does get pressured but during the heat of the Salmon run in September and October where it is common to see license plates from every US state through Pulaski. Chasing fall Steelies begins as the Chinook run dwindles in November then continues in April with fresh pods of fish pushing upriver daily. The winter fishery also booms in deeper wintering sections of the river as the river generally remains ice-free. The river has a private, pay to enter section with limited headcount in its lower section and a fly-only, no kill section in the upper river as specially managed areas. The sale of lead shot is banned in New York but not possession so you would need to come prepared or use the eco friendly substitues such as Tin or Bismuth. Other positive rules enforced by New York DEC (Game Wardens) such a rules on hook gap, night angling, foul-hooking, chumming point to a very bright future for ethical anglers looking for a quality Steelhead experience. Everyone needs to be aware of these to stay on the right side of the rules when visiting. I myself living in Toronto drive East to the border crossing at Gananoque and catch the US Interstate 81 South. Pulaski is about an hour from the border crossing at exit 36. I allow upwards of 4.5 hours for my travels.
There are no shortages of tackle shops, restaurants, guides and accommodation possibilities that can fit any of your budgetary needs. The economy of most of Oswego County is based on the visiting outdoor enthusiast, especially anglers so you generally get exceptional service wherever you visit. Numerous other Creeks and Rivers exist within 20 or so miles of Pulaski that can serve the adventurous angler with untapped angling opportunities should the conditions make the Salmon unfishable. Most of these are the flows that get enormous Brown Trout runs as well as Chrome-but without the intimidation of big water.
None of the phenomenal angling I’ve experienced has occurred by accident. Heavy stocking along with new progressive fishery regulations is the lifeblood of what is happening now around Pulaski. A visit to the Salmon River Fish Hatchery in Altmar (5 miles upstream from Pulaski) is a MUST on your visit. The visit is free and you will see how thousands of fish return into the hatchery from the river itself to breed future generations of angling opportunities. This visit had me seeing 36 MILLION Chinook & 2 MILLION COHO eggs hatching. Lake Ontario trolling by Ontario residents actually owes a tremendous amount of gratitude to the stocking done here. Our stocking numbers in Ontario pale in comparison to what is occurring on the Salmon River. There is also a high quality of fish coming from this hatchery when you consider the fact that the WORLD RECORD Coho Salmon was a product of this hatchery. The Chrome is brighter on the other side for sure and don’t forget to pack the RUB A5-35.
Enjoy the videos and PM any questions you may have. I will be coordinating full service trips very soon.
About the Author
Mark Tarnawczyk is the holder of two Canadian Live Release Records in Atlantic Salmon & Brown Trout. Check National Fish Registry - Live Release Records. Mark has participated in all types of competitive fishing events across North America over the last 15 years with several wins & numerous Top 10 finishes.