Monday, August 28, 2017

Connecticut Broodstock Atlantic Salmon Season: Month by Month

A handsome early season salmon

     As I'm starting to compile a list of anglers interested in guided trips this season, I find myself typing the same information over and over again. Most of it has to do with the when to plan a trip, as the character of each month can very different from the other months. This information might be helpful to the greater public, plus I won't have to type it out again if I post it on my blog. Here is the rundown as I see it and as it pertains to the Naugatuck River fishery:

September: As far as I know, there has only been one season with a September start, which was in 2013. This was before the state published stocking information on social media sites and I had some "inside information" about when the surprise first stocking would happen. I was out on the river as soon as I could get there and I had the place to myself for about two weeks. I caught a bunch of salmon, however, the temperatures were borderline for a safe release. At that time, a salmon could be harvested in September. The only one I ever kept was one, caught that September, that I couldn't revive. Now, September salmon can no longer be retained. 

     Because of the borderline water temperature (often reaching 70º by mid day), fishing was best early and late. The fish were very active and aggressive when the temperature agreed with them. When it got too warm, they sulked. As such, I planned my trips for times it would least dangerous for the salmon, opting to stay home on the warmest days. Once we got into October, the temperature was no longer an issue. 

     I don't know if we'll ever see a September start again, but it was nice. As long as anglers pay attention to the water temperatures, it can be a fun and productive time to fish, particularly with small flies, dry flies, floating lines, and single handed rods.


I suspect this extremely hard fighting salmon was one of the barren fish. 

October: Traditionally, the first salmon are stocked during the first or second week of October. The first salmon are small, averaging 3-6 lbs. What they lack in size they make up for in spunk. These fish are usually aggressive, take a fly well, and are willing to rise to a dry fly under the right conditions. The chance of catching a barren salmon exists now (one that won't spawn). Barren salmon fight much harder than post-spawn hatchery fish. The best broodstock salmon fights I've experienced have been with what I suspect were barren salmon, which are usually more silvery than dull gray. They are still feeding and are suckers for a sz. 6 Mickey Finn. 

     The fewest number of salmon are in the river in the first half of October, but it is my favorite time to fish. We haven't turned back the clocks yet and the evening bite is usually still good. The fish will take a variety of flies, will be interested in different presentations,  and will chase long distances. When hooked, many will fight hard and will jump several times. If you're lucky enough to hook into a barren fish, you might even see some high flying cartwheels.  

     Late October is a transitional period. I usually start out with a single handed rod. If we have a low water autumn, I will stick with that rod for the month. If we experience normal-to-high water, I fish a short two handed rod, usually no longer than 12' or so. The water is still warm enough to get salmon to the surface, so I rarely use a sinking tip or line. 


The larger fish now make their appearance later in the season. 

November: The first Sunday in November brings us one less hour of daylight. November also brings us falling temperatures and lots of falling leaves. Though the leaves can be a nuisance, the salmon will still take flies. We might even get accumulating snow in November. The water is usually high enough to use a two handed rod all month. Early in the month, an unweighted fly on a mono leader is usually enough. As the month goes on, however, it might be necessary to use a polyleader, sink tip, and/or weighted fly to get down to the more lethargic fish.

     The larger salmon make their appearance starting in November, typically near the middle to the end of the month. The salmon can weight up to 20 lbs. or more. In past years, large fish weren't all that uncommon. Now, there are much fewer than there used to be, though they can still be targeted. With a little luck, they can be hooked. With even more luck, they can be landed! 

     Due to the falling water temperature, the fishing in November is usually a little slower paced than in September or October. The trade-off is that there are more fish in the river and there is the chance of catching a much larger fish. A warm spell in November can mean terrific fishing. The dry fly isn't as much of an option, however, the first dry fly CT salmon I caught was during a November warm streak. Anything can happen. 

     I guide more during November than any other month. It's probably the best month to get an overall feel for the fishery. The fish have spread out by then and more pools are in play than earlier in the season. It sounds strange but, on the lower Naugatuck, the higher water actually makes wading easier, allowing the angler to fish further down the runs in the less rocky sections. 


December brings sinking lines and bigger flies

December: Without a doubt, December is the oddest of all the months. Usually by early December, all of the that season's salmon will have been stocked...but...anglers are allowed to retain one salmon per day beginning on December 1. For a brief period of time, there will be more (and bigger) salmon in the river in December than in any other month, although, this is a declining balance as fish are caught and kept. Also, the old salmon will have really spread throughout the system by December.

     I have had tremendous fishing in early December some seasons. I've also had some pretty forgettable fishing in other years. The quality of the fishing is usually dictated by the weather. December 2015 was really warm and the fishing was off the charts. It was one of my best months ever. I've had a few 5+ salmon days in various Decembers. But it is a crapshoot. 

    Knowing the movement patterns of the salmon helps figure out where salmon will be lurking in December. They are usually getting ready to hunker down for winter. Covering water is essential as the fish tend to spread out more and hold in slower water. As such, a two handed rod is a very useful tool since sinking lines become a regular piece of gear. The small flies of the early season get put back into their boxes, away go the dry flies, and large, mobile tube flies become most useful. 

     As is the case in November, a warm stretch can really make for good fishing. Most of the days will be cold, however, and the best fishing confined to a short window in the early afternoon. By 4:45pm, it is often too dark fish and the fish are too lethargic to bother leaving their lies. Our commute home is just in time for rush hour traffic. 

     When it comes to my own fishing in December, I tend to cherrypick my days and times. I don't spend all day on the river. This is a time of year when I actually recommend half day guide trips over full day trips. Like I said before, it's a gamble, especially when planning far in advance. 


A nice salmon, caught on Dec. 27, 2015. This was one of five that day. 

Winter (January-March): Admittedly, I don't fish often during the winter months. I'm usually sort of tired of it by then and I have a lot of tying to do for customers traveling to Canada and Europe for Atlantic salmon fishing in the spring and summer. When the weather warms up for a few days, I'll go out and try my luck as long as the river isn't too icy. A warm streak will melt snow and bring up the river, but the fish will usually go on the feed. If there hasn't been too much retention, it can be possible to catch a fish or two, sometimes more. Mid-to-late March can be good if the winter isn't too brutal or lengthy. I had a particularly good March a few years ago. There are no guarantees when it comes to salmon fishing, particularly at this time of year. 

     Expect to fish low and slow during the winter. Cover water and fish the middle of the day. It's not necessary to get on the river in the early morning and it's usually not necessary to stay until sunset. It's a good way to fight off cabin fever. If there hasn't been rampant poaching and/or retention, there will still be a fair amount of salmon around, certainly enough to target. 


Small, silvery salmon caught on April 29

Spring & Summer: The salmon season closes temporarily beginning on April 1. It reopens on opening day, which is the second Saturday in April. If there are enough salmon left to target in spring, they will be on the feed. The sinking lines can be ditched in favor of floating lines and mono leaders as long as the river isn't too high. The salmon pictured above was caught on April 29, which is the latest in the spring I've ever caught one (I've usually moved on to spring runs by then). It can be worth a shot if you know where salmon might be. The bonus is that there are usually trout around at the same time.

     The latest I've heard of a salmon being hooked was during a cold period in early July. It appears as if some actually hold over, though it is anyone's guess if they can make it through the heat of August and early September. I once tried to find them in July, based on some local intel. I waited until we had some unseasonably cool weather and was fishing at first light. The water was about 65ºF. I didn't wind up finding any salmon, though I landed a beautiful, acrobatic, holdover rainbow trout. 

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     That's the long and short of it, at least in my experience. Though I fish the Naugatuck River, I imagine the Shetucket follows similar patterns. I like my broodstock salmon fishing to mirror my wild salmon fishing as much as possible, so I tend to favor the warmer months, or at least the months that aren't too freezing. I have a couple friends who prefer the cold and who do quite well in winter. To each, his or her own. 

If you have any questions, you know where to find me...

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