Salmon, Steelhead and Solitude

Salmon River

Located in northeastern New York about halfway between Syracuse and Watertown, the Salmon offers about 12 miles of fishable water between Lake Ontario and an upstream power dam. Big chinooks start to enter the river by late August, and the salmon run usually holds up through early October. As elsewhere, both the timing and numbers of fish depend on water levels. Some coho salmon are often mixed in with the chinooks. Steelhead tend to come into the picture as well by mid- to late October. Big lake-run brown trout may also be caught through November.

About 20 years ago, when New York still permitted salmon-snagging (heaving ghastly, weighted treble hooks over the backs of migrating fish) here, the river developed a horrible reputation. Now that snagging has been illegal for several years, the level of sportsmanship along the river has generally improved.

Popular pools and bridge crossings still tend to a circus atmosphere at the height of the salmon run, when abundant 20- to 30-pound salmon seem to spend most of their time trying to avoid being stepped on. But if you take the time to walk as little as a few hundred yards up- or downstream from a popular pool, you can sometimes have an attractive stretch of water-and quite a few salmon-all to yourself. It's amazing how few people bother to do this, especially because fish often tend to be spread throughout the river.

Noteworthy here is the so-called Douglaston Salmon Run, a 3-mile stretch of the lower river that's posted but accessible by paying a modest daily rod fee. The riffraff factor is greatly reduced here, and because the area is close to the lake, you're fishing over fresher salmon. Be aware when wading that upstream power generation can change water levels quickly.

For a change of pace-and still greater solitude-explore smaller Ontario tributaries to the north and south of the main Salmon River. Many hold steelhead only for a brief spawning run in the spring, but others will pull in both salmon and steelhead in October if water levels are sufficiently high.

The fishing centers around Pulaski, New York. One of the longest-running-and best-games in town is at Whitaker's Sport Shop and Motel, 315-298-6162; www.whitakers.com. New York Department of Environmental Conservation, 518-402-8920; www.dec.state.ny.us.