Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Part V - CT Broodstock Atlantic Salmon Fishing: Miscellaneous Tips

Many CT salmon anglers concentrate on the slowest water,
but the fast water also holds fish

Where to Fish:

With a little sleuthing, it is possible to find just about all the salmon stocking locations online. When the water comes up, some of the salmon move around, so it pays to fish spots which aren’t stocked. If a you have a hunch about a new spot, investigate it! I looked one particular pool for two seasons before I finally made the hike. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. It's centrally located, but doesn’t see very much fishing pressure. I landed three salmon on my first trip through the pool. 

Be as mobile as possible. I might fish half a dozen pools in an average day. If I was inclined to get out of bed earlier, I might fish even more pools. Standing in one spot for hours, trying to convince a particularly stubborn salmon that he should take my fly is not my thing. I want to put my fly over as many fish as possible in a day with the hopes of finding one (or more) really aggressive fish. 

I see many fly anglers fishing dead slow water. You’ll definitely find some salmon there, but those spots require a lot of work (stripping) to fish thoroughly. In my experience, salmon tend to cruise instead of hold in this water. You’re fishing to moving targets, which makes hooking one all the more difficult. I like to let the spin fishermen have this type of water. I prefer to fish water with enough current to swing a fly. Broodstock salmon, holding in classic salmon water, can be very receptive to a well presented swung fly. 

As I said in Part I, most of these fish don't hold in as strong a push of water as wild salmon do. Sometimes they do though, so it pays to familiarize yourself with what good salmon water looks like. Look for large rocks, spots were two speeds of current intersect, pockets, signs of depressions and changes in depth. Find a book with diagrams of where salmon hold at different water levels. More often than not, you'll find CT salmon holding in spots that look just like the diagrams. 

Try the L.T. Special when fall colors are at their peak

When to Fish:

It’s a cliché, but fish whenever you can. I like overcast days, but it seems like I end up going mainly on bluebird days, so I make it work. My favorite time to be on the water is the dusk-to-sunset period. 

The fish fight better when the water is warmest. I would be very happy if the water stayed in the mid 50s to lower 60s (ºF) all season long. Some anglers claim this fishery doesn't get good until there is snow on the ground. The way I see it, this opinion exists because it's the point where salmon behavior begins to intersect with the knowledge base of the local angler (many of whom travel to the Great Lakes to fish for steelhead). If you're an angler who has spent some time chasing wild Atlantic salmon, you will feel right at home in October and November. Please realize that I'm not knocking local anglers who are not Atlantic salmon fishermen...just that many fail to draw a distinction between the two species. If I went steelheading, I'd struggle to not think like a salmon fisherman. 

As the days get shorter and colder, I find the early morning bite less productive. At this time, the salmon seem to “wake up” in the late morning or early afternoon, making an already short fishing day even shorter. 

Always fish falling water as it starts to clear. Keep your eye on the USGS streamflow website

With a good variety of techniques at your disposal, fishing the top of the
rotation (behind several other anglers) is no reason for concern

How to Fish:

This relates to mobility...unless you’re working a specific fish, don’t stand in one place for more than a few casts. These fish aren’t actively running so you don’t have the benefit of new fish moving into the lie you’re covering. Besides, anglers who plant themselves in one spot tie up the pool for everyone else!! Getting boxed-in is incredibly frustrating. Usually I'll move out, as the salmon aren't as likely to take when they're getting whipped to death. The key to hooking more CT salmon is to be as mobile as possible. Most of the spin fishermen already know this, but many fly fishermen plant themselves in one place for some reason. It's not like we're waiting for a hatch to commence...

Refer to this post about rotating a salmon pool. Not only is it proper etiquette, but it will be a more efficient use of your fishing time. Chances are you’ll hook more salmon. Unless I'm fishing behind a hotshot or two, I never feel like being last in line is a bad thing. Don't be afraid to school other fly fishermen on rotational etiquette. It really benefits everyone. 

Though there are some similarities, remember that Atlantic salmon are not trout. Steelhead are not your everyday trout, but they are still trout. Many anglers approach this like they are steelhead fishing. Atlantic salmon are not steelhead. Even though these CT salmon haven’t spent much time in the wild doesn’t mean that wired any differently. I might have been raised by wolves, but that doesn’t make me a wolf. A CT salmon might have been raised in a hatchery, but that doesn’t make it a trout. They're only one generation removed from (parent) salmon who survived the long trip to the winter feeding grounds near Greenland, so it's not like they've had enough time to "evolve." I'm not saying that trout/steelhead tactics won't work. Day in and day out, the more you learn about the Atlantic salmon, the more successful you will be. 

It is built into a salmon’s DNA to chase food that swims or hovers above them. If you’ve ever fished a river full of salmon parr, you know how hard it can be to keep them from taking your dry flies. I’ve heard many local anglers insist that we must swing flies right in front of a salmon’s nose to anger him enough to strike. Though it probably works now and then, nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t know of any fly anglers who prefer to fish with sinking tips/lines and/or weighted flies. If you don’t have to, why would you? The good news is that you really don’t have to get down to them until the water gets pretty cold. Exceptions would be fishing high, fast and/or dirty water. I don’t fish with anything heavier than an intermediate polyleader until I absolutely have to. The same goes for weighted tubes. I don’t use weighted conventional flies at all. 

One very important benefit to fishing a fly on or near the surface is that you're able to see potential interest in the fly. If you fish very deep, you might not see the fish move for the fly at all. When a salmon takes my 1.5" copper tube Willie Gunn on a sinking line or tip, I generally don't see the take. When a fish takes my #6 Same Thing Murray on nothing but a mono leader, not only do I see the rise, I might see the fish's back come out of the water as he chases the fly. The visual aspect is especially important if the salmon rises for your fly but does not take it. Without seeing anything, you might keep moving despite the fact there's a player right in front of you. 

I don't believe most of these salmon are feeding in the fall. Fish that size need a lot of food to grow. If they fed heavily, I think they would be a lot easier to catch. The exceptions are the barren salmon I referred to in Part I. Most of the barren fish I've hooked have chased and attacked the fly traveling downstream, not circling around and taking in typical salmon fashion. Most have taken fish-like patterns, be they bucktails or tubes. Since they're not interested in spawning, I believe they're still hungry. Eventually, they'll all start to feed as they prepare to leave the rivers. I believe this is primarily a late winter to spring occurrence. 

A large White Wulff is an effective and highly visible dry fly 

Like their wild brethren, these salmon will take a dry fly with the proper set of conditions. If you want to catch one on a dry fly, you have to commit to fishing one.The main problem with that is the season in which the salmon are stocked. It gets colder every day. Dries will be most effective at the beginning of the season when the water is warmest.  Ideally, you want low and clear water. Late fall is not exactly the prime time of year for dry fly salmon fishing. It’s tough to get all the variables in sync with one another in the fall, so some years it doesn’t make much sense to fish dries. Even if conditions are somewhat right, dry fly fishing is not very efficient unless you’ve spotted a salmon (holding or rolling, not jumping) or you fish reliable, dry fly friendly lies. A swung wet fly or tube is a more efficient method of searching water at this time of year. It gets dark early and you want to cover as much water as possible! 

The bright day-bright fly, dark day-dark fly method is a good enough rule to follow, but don’t feel like you have to. Overall, I find bright flies most effective for these fish. They work on dark days too. Even my dark flies have some bright butts or are mixed with bright colors, so keep that in mind. My favorite dark fly is the Same Thing Murray. It has plenty of bright accent colors. I do carry a few drab flies on me, just in case. 

In my opinion, size matters a lot more than color does. I pick my size based on the height, speed, clarity and temperature of the water. Fly speed should be in proportion to the size of fly you're fishing in a given set of conditions. Try fishing one slower swing and one faster swing, then step downstream and repeat. After you hook enough fish, you’ll get a feel for what the right swing speed is at any given time. 

If a fish comes up for a fly but doesn't take, you're in good shape. Even if he pulls on the fly but doesn't get hooked, you're still in good shape. If he hooks himself, feels the steel of the hook and the tension of the rod and line pulling on him, it's game over. If you raise a fish, do not change the amount of line you have out by either reeling up or stripping line. That is your marker to the fish's location. Work the fish, but do so carefully. It helps to rest the fish for a few minutes after a few unsuccessful casts. If I decide to change flies, I usually switch to progressively smaller flies. It also pays to experiment with different swing speeds. When all else fails, end with the pattern with which you originally raised him. If there's no one else around, I'll leave the fish and come back to him after fishing through the pool. I usually hook him that second time around, so I do think resting the fish helps. If you're fishing in a rotation and you can't get the fish to take, after a reasonable amount of time, you should move on so as not to hold up the other anglers. 

When all else fails or when a pool has been pounded, I try fish the extreme ends of the spectrum. Most often, I fish a Sunray Shadow-type tube fly as fast as I possibly can. It’s not a silver bullet, but you’d be surprised how well it works when nothing else seems to. The other end of the spectrum is very small flies. These fish don’t see many small flies, so it pays to give them a shot now and then, especially when the water is low. Many people ask about fishing nymphs...I suppose it can be effective but, to me, it’s not efficient enough. It eats up too much time when fishing blind. Swinging wets and tubes lets me cover a lot of water with maximum efficiency. It all comes back to the mobility thing...

Salmon caught on the orange Sunray "Hail Mary pass"

If you like to fish with a partner, consider fishing where you can spot the salmon from a vantage point above (be stealthy though). I know plenty of anglers who fish the smaller water in pairs and do quite well. One angler acts as a "spotter" for the other, trading jobs from pool to pool. Seeing how a salmon reacts to a fly is the most interesting facet of this type of fishing. I mainly fish alone, targeting likely lies in bigger, darker water, but I can see the appeal of fishing in this manner. 

It's said that a salmon either is or is not a "taker." I don't think it's that black and white. If we had a "salmon taking spectrum," we'd have a fish that would take absolutely anything you throw at him on one end and one who will take absolutely nothing on the other end. I believe that most salmon fit somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, but tend to lean to one end or the other. The key is making sure each and every cast counts. You might be fishing a slow day, but you make just the right cast with a presentation that coaxes a reluctant salmon to take. That might be your only action for the entire day. This scenario happens all the time. Sometimes the most rewarding day on the river is the one which, by everyone else's account, should be a skunking, but for you is a one-fish day.

Just like anything else, you have to put your time in to be successful. Just because they're hatchery fish doesn't mean they're easy to catch. At this point, I expect to hook at least one fish every time out, but usually more than one. That said, I still experience days when absolutely nothing happens. Then there are days when everyone is nailing them, seemingly blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs. Sometimes the craziness only lasts thirty minutes, sometimes it lasts all day. That's the unpredictability salmon fishing.

The best thing an angler can do is to pick a book about Atlantic salmon fishing. It baffles me how few people actually do this. If I was to delete everything from this post, this piece of advice would be the one thing I'd save. Here are three relatively current-to-current titles that would be extremely helpful to any Atlantic salmon angler:

“Atlantic Salmon Flies and Fishing” by Joseph D. Bates - 1970 (easy to find used on Amazon)

“Salmon Fishing” by Hugh Falkus - 1984 (eBay is your best bet)

I have more useful information than I can possibly give out here. I will be offering guided tutorial sessions on the Naugatuck River this fall as well as posting periodic fishing reports. Check back soon for info on both.
This post concludes my series on fishing for Connecticut broodstock Atlantic salmon. I hope you found it helpful. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have. 


  1. Ben, this series is great. Fundamental question (I am not from CT and have never fished there): do broodstock salmon manage to spawn? or are they just re-stocked every fall?



  2. Hi Alex, thanks for the kind words.

    Except for the barren salmon (a relatively small percentage of the whole), the salmon have been spawned at the hatchery prior to stocking. They are re-stocked every fall. They try to head to sea in the spring just like normal Atlantic salmon kelts.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to write and share these tips, Ben, they are very insightful. The question I have relates to sight fishing for these salmon. I have gone a couple of times to the Shetucket, and after fishing a couple of pools with no luck I end up nearly tripping over these fish as I step downstream for the next swing. The water typically is low when I fish, just after they close the dam release. My question is, if these fish see you (and I assume they see me as I'm almost even with them 10' or so out in the middle of the run) is it game over? Any ideas on when it's better to fish to these salmon on a dam release controlled river?

    Thank you.


    1. Hi Bob, thanks for checking out the blog. I think I'd have to see the piece of water you're fishing to tell you what I think might be the best approach. For the most part, these fish aren't too shy, however, I've been in situations like yours and I've never hooked one when it saw me first. If you can spot them without them seeing you, great. If they can see you, I think you'll have a hard time getting them to take. They might not flee, but they won't bee overly cooperative, at least in my experience.

      I guess my advice is to wade shallower and take a pass or two through the run with very short casts. If you can cover the whole run from that position, great. If not, try your best on those close fish before you wade through them to cover the rest of the water. Sometimes, 5' of fly line and a leader is all it takes and sometimes you have to launch it. If those close-in fish are lying in slow water, you might have to animate the fly a bit to get their attention. Sometimes that means stripping, some times is just twitching the fly line.

      As far as the dam thing goes...I'm not an expert on the Shetucket. You probably already know this, but there's a phone number you can call to estimate when the next release will be. I fish when I can, but the best time to be on the water is as it's falling (like a day or two after a big rain). You can try to time your trips with the releases, but you'd have to have a pretty flexible schedule to hit it just right since you'd be waiting around for them to cut the water. Falling water is pretty ideal, but you can catch them in low water too. If I had a choice, I'd take high water every time though.

      In low, warm water conditions, look for areas with a good push of water and a moderate amount of depth. They don't necessarily lie in really deep holes all the time, especially given the current water temps. It's kind of a catch 22 in that you have to hook enough to know what good water looks like (in various conditions), but getting that ball rolling is the tough part. Keep at it and once you start hooking up you'll start to see trends begin to form.



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