The Salmon River in New York: it makes angler’s smile while making the hair on their necks stand up. It’s both exhilarating and frightening. The potential to land a giant salmon or steelhead makes the Salmon River an absolute blast to fish. Few rivers in the Northeast are as productive and challenging to fish as the Salmon.
The Salmon River is located in Oswego County runs for 17 miles, and 12 of the miles are considered public. The river flows out of Lighthouse Hill Reservoir in Altmar all the way down to Lake Ontario. Even though it only flows for 17 miles, it’s a massive money maker for the state of New York due to the phenomenal sport fishing opportunities. It’s a thrilling body of water to fish. Below are some of my favorite places to access these exciting waters.
East of Pulaski – Great Salmon and Steelhead Water
This section of water is known as the Pineville Pool. This is the ideal section of water you want to hit if you’re hoping to land salmon or steelhead. Here, you can make your way up or downstream and find some more seclusion. Near the parking area, it’s going to get busy, but with some effort, you can find peace and quiet.
This is great water for swinging or dead drifting streamers. There are a few pools within easy walking distance that often have fish stacked on top of one another. Stay patient in these sections and make sure your presentations are as accurate as possible.
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Upper Salmon River – Fly Fishing Only
East of the town of Altmar, there are two different fly fishing only sections. This section is just below the Lighthouse Hill Reservoir and above the fish hatchery. This section of water is open for angling between April 1 and November 30, so make sure to pay close attention to when you’re fishing.
This section of water varies in its width, so depending on when you’re fishing, you’ll find some fast currents that can make fishing challenging. Nymphs, dries, and streamers all work well in this section of water, so feel free to get creative.
There are a few pools downstream from this access area, so make sure you start there and work your way back upstream for the true experience. Stay focused and present those flies as accurately as you can.
In the Town of Altmar – Fly Fishing Only
The lower section of fly fishing, only water starts in Altmar. Generally, this water is open from September 15 to May 15, so you can get some great winter fly fishing done in these waters. Since the flows are controlled via the dam, you can get up-to-date information on flow rates and conditions.
Downstream, you’ll get excellent access to salmon and steelhead through these waters, so be prepared with various flies and try a few different techniques to ensure success. It can get busy during the salmon runs, but the rest of the year has phenomenal trout fishing.
The Salmon River is a tailwater fishery, so flow levels and water temperatures are going to stay pretty consistent throughout the year. Plus, it’s one of the best salmon and steelhead fisheries in the Northeast.
Also, public access is plentiful, and there are plenty of fly shops and guides to hire if it’s your first time on the Salmon River.
Yes, you’ll see and interact with other anglers while fishing, but it’s a friendly community as long as you have etiquette and do your best to stay out of people’s way.
Generally, you’ll want to fish the Salmon River when it’s flowing between 250 and 700 CFS. It’s a slow-moving river in the wider sections, but the water can move quickly as it gets skinny up near the Lighthouse Hill Reservoir. Since it is a tailwater, you can keep track of stream flows on the USGS website.
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The Salmon River has a variety of fish for anglers to catch. Depending on when you’re fishing, you’ll find different fish swimming through the river.
The king salmon in the Salmon River are around 15-25 pounds. Generally, they run from August through October. The Department of Environmental Conservation stocks around 300,000 of these fish yearly in the Salmon River, so you have a great chance to land one.
In the spring, there are 250,000 Coho Salmon stocked in the Salmon River. Generally, they weigh around 10-15 pounds and are incredibly aggressive. Like the King Salmon, they run between August and October and die after they spawn.
Atlantic Salmon are a rare fish to catch today, but they’re regularly stocked in the Salmon River. They’re known to run from late June through October. Most anglers will fish for Atlantic Salmon as they do for Steelhead. These 15-30 inch fish are a treat to catch since they are so rare.
The Skamania strain of Steelhead runs in the summer, and the Washington strain runs from October through May. The spawn usually occurs in March and April, and the fish will return to Lake Ontario.
The lake-run brown trout are some of the most exciting fish in the Salmon River. These 5 to 7-pound trout are highly aggressive and catchable in the river from October to April. They fish similarly to the steelhead, so stick with the same methods you would.
The Salmon River is filled with predatory fish, so make sure you use flies to bring out their aggression.
Bead Head Woolly Bugger- Black, Size 6
You cannot go wrong with a black Woolly Bugger in the Salmon River. If you aren’t sure what the fish want, start here and go from there. Make sure you have olive and white patterns in your box as well.
Zonkers- Size 4
Zonkers are a perfect baitfish imitation pattern. The predatory salmon, steelhead, and trout will feast on these. Dead drift them or swing them, and you’ll be in business.
Golden Stones- Size 6
The stonefly hatch cannot be ignored in the Salmon River. Steelhead and brown trout both love these dries. Salmon will even eat them as well.
|Date of Hatch
|Little Black Caddis
|March 1 to May 30
|March 1 to October 30
|Blue Winged Olive
|April 1 May 15
|May 1-May 30
|May 1-June 15
|June 1-July 15
|June 1-July 15
|June 1-August 15
|July 1-July 30
When fishing the Salmon River, you want to make sure you have plenty of power to handle the large fish. A 7 to 9-weight 9’ or 10’ rod is going to have the amount of power you’ll need to handle whatever fish you hook into.
Sage Foundation Fly Rod and Reel Combo
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Make sure your reel matches the weight of your rod. If you’re using a 7-weight rod, use a 7-weight reel.
For your line, use a floating line that matches the weight of your rod and reel. The river isn’t overly deep, so you won’t need a sink tip line. Your heavy flies will get you low enough in the water to find the fish.
Fat Nancy’s Tackle Shop is a full-service guide shop. Purchase your gear or hire a guide for a day on the water.
Salmon River Sports Shop is the place to stop for any of your Salmon River fishing needs. You have options to hire a guide or purchase the equipment you would need.
The Salmon River is one of those bodies of water that should be on every fly angler’s bucket list. It will challenge all your abilities, but you’ll be rewarded for good casts and presentations. Be prepared with heavy enough gear and the patience to wait for the fish to strike. The Salmon River will not leave you disappointed.
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels
More Reading and Resources
- Salmon River – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation
- Fishing for Salmon and Steelhead on the Salmon River : FishSalmonRiver.com
- Salmon River | NY Fly Fishing Reports & Conditions | Orvis
- 13 Best Places to Fly Fish in New York: MAPS INCLUDED – Guide Recommended
- DEC Announces Oct. 31 Opening of Salmon River Lower Fly-Fishing Area – Oswego County