Chasing Spring Steelhead on the Salmon River

For many anglers on the East Coast, the Salmon River in New York is a notorious piece of water. Some steelheaders and salmon anglers see it as a nirvana for East Coast steelhead and salmon, others see it as an overcrowded river full of people. The salmon and steelhead were first introduced to the river in the 1960s and since then its waters have become a haven for those seeking to land 8-12 pound steelhead and  Salmon in the Fall. Steelhead are in the river from around the time the last salmon spawn in November until early May, after they finish their spawn. This makes springtime a great time to get out on the Salmon because for most of the winter, it is blanketed by some of the deepest snows in the USA. We wanted to pass along some of the lessons we have learned while fishing the Salmon, so that you can maximize your success and chances of hooking one of these big, angry rainbow trout!

Pay Attention to Weather Patterns

The Steelhead bite on the Salmon River tends to be very weather dependent. Because of their anadromous nature (Read: they move into rivers from larger bodies of water to spawn), Steelhead use weather patterns and pressure changes as triggers for various movements. Sometimes simply a cloud coming across the sun for 2 minutes can trigger the fish to start feeding. As the River is a top-release tailwater, water temps and flows also play a big part in how the fish are behaving during your time on the water. Pay attention to the stream flow gauges and plan your trips accordingly, from what we picked up from fellow anglers on the water, a low-to-high pressure change is the best weather window and preferably a drop in the flows.

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Optimism is Key to Surviving a Day on the Salmon

Spring is a time of varying weather patterns, water conditions, and angling pressure. this means that sometimes the bite turns on at varying times during the day. You can easily spend an hour casting to a pool filled with steelhead that are simply tight-lipped, until something changes and then all of a sudden bang! bang! bang! you start getting hits and hookups. Remember at the end of the day these fish are trout and can key in on hatches as well, so pay attention to the bug life around you and if there are any eggs in the system from other fish spawning activities. Sometimes with these fish in particular, it’s all about having a positive attitude and confidence that these fish will eventually eat. Keep casting and bring a few friends along because after all, you can’t catch any fish if you don’t have flies in the water!

Make Friends with Your Fellow Steelheaders

Sometimes fishing on this river can be almost communal, so don’t be afraid to ask the angler down from you what they are using if they’re hooking up more than you. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the best fly fishing sections of the river to be a bit more crowded than a North East trout angler is used to, with anglers spread out every 20 feet or so. “FISH ON!!” is a common sound to hear up and down the river, as anglers warn their compatriots about a fish ripping downstream at full speed. Especially if you are fishing solo, don’t be afraid to offer to help a fellow angler out with netting their fish or asking for some back up yourself, you’d be surprised how many people are willing to give a helping hand and a high-five after landing one of these beautiful and powerful fish.

Use Your Rod and Reel to Your Advantage

Because these fish are larger and more powerful than your average rainbow trout, having a durable reel and powerful rod can be key to landing Steelhead quickly and confidently without putting too much strain on the fish. An 8 or 9 weight rod coupled with reel with strong smooth drag is our go-to set up and you can’t go wrong with the power of the Wade Rod Co. Tide Chaser 8 or 9 weight with a Pelican Reel LG to match, the Pelican LG’s fully-sealed, smooth drag system is also a major benefit when the air temps dip below freezing in the early mornings and make roping in these big fish with confidence, a breeze!

Bring Friends!

Nothing makes a day on the water better than having a crew of buddies on the streambank to help pass the time or help you out when you snag a tree on your back cast. Whether your fishing buddies are more of a peanut gallery on the bank heckling your casting or drifts, or a quiet support group behind you helping with flies and adjusting your rig, the victories and defeats on the Salmon River are better with company!


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