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Salmon River Fly-Fishing Tips

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  • September 25, 2019
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Salmon Fly-Fishing Tales" Learning to Fly Fish for Salmon on the Salmon River

Techniques to Help You Catch A Salmon

Angling On The Fly

Salmon River Fly-Fishing Tips is a three-day account of my first-time salmon fishing in the Salmon River, Altmar, NY.
by Joan Mead-Matsui, a five-time award-winning freelance journalist; travel writer, and photographer.

If you’re looking for tips to help you catch salmon, you’ve come to the right place. Salmon River Fly-Fishing Tips and tales reveal important information you need to know for your first time on the water. The stories from my first salmon fishing expedition highlight some of the key points I learned from anglers who come back to Altmar year after year.

It’s all here – the angling, flies, bait, encounter with international anglers, and the final word on my success during my first salmon-fishing trip to the Salmon River. My Salmon River fly-fishing tips are more about my experience as a whole, rather than one specific story or incident.

The primary objective for this story assignment was to arrive at the river and learn as much as I could through listening, observing, and interviews with other anglers. Watching fishermen of all levels reel in one fish after another was an experience I’ll never forget.

Where To Stay in Altmar, NY

Before you go, keep in mind you’ll need a place to rest your weary legs after a full day on the water. My late September trip to Altmar began in Pulaski, NY, with a long-time friend who also loves fishing and culminated with an overnight travel assignment, outstanding meals, and lodging at the Tailwater Lodge.

Tailwater Lodge Exterior Photo

The Tailwater’s accommodations tie in seamlessly with my outdoor recreation travel writing assignments and that’s why I’ve been a guest writer there four times.

Altmar offers some traditional lodges but the Tailwater is your upscale choice for phenomenal home-away-from-home lodging. When the Tailwater joined forces with the Hilton Corporation and was rebranded as an independently owned Hilton Tapestry Collection award-winning property, there were changes made to the decor and services. The changes were positive and were designed to add and not take away from the guest’s experience. Inside, the lodge-like atmosphere and the accommodations are all about comfort, exceptional casual dining, and exemplary customer service.

For the fisherman, the fact that the lodge is adjacent to the Salmon River means there’s private land that typically separates you from the droves of other anglers from around the world. Only during the fall and early winter, prime Salmon and Steelhead seasons, should you encounter elbow-to-elbow conditions. But any time of the year you can walk out the front door, hang a left, and within 50 ft., you’re on the river’s banks.

Dine, Celebrate, and Tie Flies

You’ll be hungry when you return to the hotel. If you enjoy mingling with other guests, dinner time draws quite a crowd and it’s the perfect time to compare fishing stories with other anglers. Guaranteed, you’ll find a friendly crowd waiting to chat. Hang around for a cocktail afterward before heading to your guest room. Run out of fly patterns? The guest rooms are equipped with a desk and chair so you can set up your vise and tie flies should you deplete your supply.

Now that you have a place to hang your waders at night, the experienced fisher should have no problem catching at least one Chinook, Coho, or (landlocked) Atlantic salmon. The less skilled will learn a thing or two.

Longtime Goals Met Trepidation

Salmon fishery evolved into one of my goals not long after I learned to fly fish eight years ago but only recently, did I find the courage to schedule a trip. Three days on the water was what prompted me to offer Salmon River Fly-Fishing Tips for the person, who like me, was clueless where to begin.

Why? Because I couldn’t coax any of my trout-fishing friends to take off time from their work. As a result, solo salmon fly-fishing was my only option and synonymous with wading into foreign territory. Despite mind-boggling self-doubt that actually kept me awake for a few hours the night before I departed for Altmar, I packed my gear in my car and embarked on my travel assignment to upstate New York.

Near-Perfect Conditions

A September trip, when the water is warm, appeals to me more than steelhead fishing in late October and early November. A few years ago, on a bitterly cold November day, my friend, our fishing guide and I set out to the Douglaston Salmon Run in search of steelhead. Within an hour, my fingertips and feet were numb and I was chilled to the bone despite several layers of clothing.

In stark contrast were the recent picture-perfect not-a-cloud-in-the-sky fall days with an ideal temperature for wading. Although they set the stage for three relaxing days they aren’t the ideal conditions for salmon migration. Salmon, much like trout, is a coldwater species and the air temperature was 70 degrees or higher by mid-day. That boosted the water temperature, which slowed the relocation.

One fisherman told me to return to the river to see the mass migration in mid-October. He assured me I’d see droves of salmon coming up the river once the weather turns ugly and cold. Any time after mid-October is my least favorite time to fish. I’m less than enthusiastic about cold feet and fingertips.

Learning salmon fly fishing on the Salmon River

My mood turned more serious as my trip was winding down. Keep reading for additional Salmon River Fly Fishing Tips.

Salmon Larger Than Me?

Maybe they’re not that big but I heard many stories about the weight and size of an average-sized salmon caught in the Salmon River. Twenty to 30-lbs is the most common range. As a result, I wondered how someone my height and weight could reel in a 20 to 30-pound salmon. While I saw a few salmon put up quite a fight, it’s in the technique and knowing when to strip or reel in the line and when to let the fish wear itself out. The rule of thumb is to wait for the fish to stop fighting and then strip the line. You should repeat this pattern until the fish is close enough for you to load it into your net.

Thursday

My time was spent watching anglers in the Sportman’s Pool for most of the first night I arrived in Pulaski, a neighboring town. I had my doubts if I had the skills to keep a salmon on the line and reel it in.

Friday

I awakened at 6:15 a.m. on my first full day in Altmar and was ready to fish by 8 a.m. Breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts took longer than I expected and I decided to make a quick stop at a fly shop on Route 13. The sales clerk offered expert advice but my river arrival time was set back by an hour or more.

Saturday

The crowd thickened on Saturday as multiple drift boats and a large group of fishers arrived along both sides of the shoreline. More people on the water seemed to have an impact on the number of salmon I saw but a change in travel plans allowed me to stay until late afternoon.

TIP: Be sure to get your hands on a fishing map so you don’t waste your time driving. Find one online beforehand or at the local tackle or fly shops when you arrive. Spend your first night getting to know the area and planning for the next day.

Fly or Spin-Fishing?

I wanted to increase my chances of catching a salmon so I brought the spin rods my friend loaned me and also rigged my fly rod with a heavier-weight line and attached weight and an egg pattern I bought at the fly shop. Salmon River Fly-Fishing Tips takes you into the reasons why I’m more comfortable with a fly rod. Specifically, I’m skittish about using borrowed equipment but I tried both and eventually switched to my Orvis 9-ft, 8-wt Encounter rod. I set out down the path to the Sportman’s Pool, a popular spot along the Salmon River, and joined a small group between the deep pool and the riffles.

After walking around fishing gear for more than a mile along the river bank, I was relieved to find an opening spot where the riffles spilled into a calmer pool. That seemed like the ideal scenario for me, a person who doesn’t feel comfortable in water above my knees.

Salmon River Fly-Fishing Tips and Lessons Learned

  • Every year, thousands of anglers toting spinner and fly rods descend on the river but not everyone leaves with a salmon. The beauty is those who don’t catch a salmon, have an opportunity to assist a fellow fisherman.
  • Throughout the day, there were times when anglers were elbow-to-elbow but folks came and went throughout the day. You’ll eventually find a vacant spot. Don’t crowd your neighbor.
Practice fishing etiquette even when elbow-to-elbow conditions prevail.
Salmon fishermen should keep a distance even when elbow-to-elbow conditions prevail. Maintain a safe distance to avoid hooking someone or encroachment. Be polite and follow the New York State Fishing Regulations and Rules.
  • Move out of the way of an angler who has a salmon on his line. You might hear the phrases, “Coming up,” “Coming down,” or “Fish on.” As a courtesy, you should move out of the way and allow them to safely follow the salmon. You can also offer to help.
  • Female anglers are still a minority. Only a mere 10 percent of the fishermen I saw fishing were women.
This salmon fisher was calm as he waited for the Chinook salmon to give up its fight.
  • Fewer than 40 percent of the fishermen I watched fished with fly rods.
  • Mostly everyone is willing to give advice.
  • Watch an instructional video before you go. There is an abundance of YouTube videos that will give you tips.
  • Read this Salmon River article and learn more about the salmons’ migration and spawning habits.
  • Salmon rise above the water and thrash as though theyre frolicking. Who knows? Maybe they’re celebrating their last days on earth.
  • The onset of the salmon run is similar to a silent alarm that sets off a flurry of activity that continues for months.
  • Anglers from around the world fish in the Salmon River.
  • Wear wading boots with studs to help keep you safe in the water. Salmon River rocks are slick and the current strong.
A Yugoslavian angler helps me prepare my line and bait on day three of my Salmon River trip.
Salmon Season Can Bring Out the Best in Humanity. This Yugoslavian man was eager to teach me how to fish.
Don’t be shy about asking for advice from seasoned anglers.

When Does Salmon Fishing Begin?

Salmon season on the Salmon River typically begins in September, although weather plays a role in the migration. Suffice to say, schedule your trip from September to November or whenever a dorsal fin is spotted emerging from the water. Colder temps can bring on excellent conditions and you’ll be more likely to hook a salmon.

As you wade, wait, and watch for the shockingly large salmonoids to rear their heads and make their infamous splash, look around you and admire the scenery. A Yugoslavian fisherman told me salmon fishing is his opportunity to wallow in nature and cleanse his soul.

By this time, you’re probably wondering if I caught a salmon. The answer is no and as much as I would have loved to present one to my family, I went to Altmar to learn and observe. I felt a few hefty tugs on my fishing line but to make catching any fish the ultimate goal would take away from the invaluable lessons I learned and the friends I made.

Room for Improvement

5 Improvements I Should Make (Based on the fishermen I surveyed or who offered advice. Expect to receive advice.
  • According to the Yugoslavian man, the egg patterns I had were not the best for salmon fishing. He recommended a mealworm fly.
  • My line was too long
  • I needed more weight on my line.
  • The salmon ignored my fly because I didn’t move it in front of them.
  • My casting needs work.

To Eat or Not to Eat

A salmon is a salmon and they’re all edible, correct?

Not necessarily, I learned. Depending on the salmon’s age and overall condition, not all salmon flesh is pink, flaky, and delicious. One fisherman told me some can taste fishy and others are downright foul-tasting. That was a disappointment to hear, considering I practice catch and release but would have made an exception.

Read my previous Tailwater reviews and stay tuned for my upcoming Tailwater Lodge coverage. Discover Oswego County here.

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