Being an old history teacher, I thought these modified words of Paul Revere were fitting for this weeks column: “The salmon are coming! The salmon are coming!”
Before long, the spawning run of the salmon in the rivers feeding Lake Ontario will begin. In fact, a river guide near Pulaski told me that the first salmon was in the river Aug. 11. Now, don’t go running off thinking that you’ll catch a bunch of fish. It’s too early. Large schools of cohos and chinooks seem to be further west in the lake, but the fish off of Mexico, Oswego and Pulaski seem to be running a little bigger than normal this year.
In the late 1960s the first coho salmon were stocked in the Lake Ontario watershed, with chinooks stocked soon after. The rest is history. These fish went to the lake and survived, growing big on the enormous amount of bait fish in the cold, deep water. Lake trout and brown trout stocking soon followed.
In the beginning, people thought that these fish didn’t bite once entering the rivers and streams to spawn. Besides, after they spawned, they died, completing their life cycle.
The method of catching these fish was snagging. It was a circus. Using a large lead-weighted treble hook, people would cast out and yank the hook to shore, hoping to hook the fish and drag them in. There were fights, and people hooked each other because of the shoulder to shoulder fishermen.
I remember my first trip to Pulaski. We decided to fish the smaller streams that fed the Salmon River. We ended up on Trout Brook near Pineville. We hooked into a couple of fish but quickly learned that our trout rods weren’t able to handle those fish. Lines were snapped, and the fish got away.
The next time we were prepared and landed several fish. Twenty-pound test line instead of six-pound made all the difference. But by the time the fish got up that far, the quality of the meat wasn’t that good.
In 1993, the fishing changed. The DEC banned snatch hooking and people caught fish. Many use a method called "lifting." When you get a hit, you lift your rod tip and hope you catch a fish while using flies or egg sacks from bait. It had to be in the jaw to keep them.
I haven’t fished there for several years but I just booked a drift boat trip down the Salmon River in October. The advantage of drift boat fishing is better access to the pools. The guides also know the best spots.
Right now the place to fish is out on the lake. There are plenty of charter boats. A friend of mine told me that they marked more than thirty fish on their fish finders and pulled three into the boat this past Sunday. One of them weighed 29 pounds. The fish caught in the lake are really tasty. They have silver sides, unlike the ones that have been in the river for a week or two.
As I was thinking about this column, I got a call from a neighbor lady. Her grandson was fishing on the lake last Saturday. Josh Sokolowski was fishing with Mike Croft, the Cooperstown wrestling coach, and caught a 32.5-inch Atlantic salmon while trolling. Now, I have spent countless days on Ontario and have never caught an Atlantic. His just missed the NYS record.
Lake Ontario has had its ups and downs, but it’s a fishery that you shouldn’t miss. With great bass and walleyes to steelheads and brown trout and then several species of salmon, how can it get any better? I suggest you give it a try.