Freshwater Fall Runs Part 1: The Return of The King

Most fishermen associate the fall run with striped bass, blues, and false albacore tearing through massive balls of baitfish nearshore, but the truth is, the changing seasons drive migrations and intense feeding in freshwater fish as well.

The Rivers

After three to five years feeding and growing in Lake Ontario, king salmon return to the tributaries where they were spawned (or stocked) each fall.

After three to five years feeding and growing in Lake Ontario, king salmon return to the tributaries where they were spawned (or stocked) each fall.

The Run:

After three to five years feeding and growing in Lake Ontario, king salmon return to the tributaries where they were spawned (or stocked) each fall. The kings quickly lose their open-water chrome, taking on the dark coloration of the river bottom as they push through the currents to gravel areas upstream. The fish aren’t feeding on this journey, but they retain the aggressive instinct that helped them pack on as much as 30 pounds over their short stay in the lake. Fishermen line the banks, hoping to do battle with the returning kings, and while many fish are hooked, the majority escape, using brute strength to snap lines, straighten hooks and empty spools.

The Gameplan:

Stake out staging areas where the salmon are likely to rest during their upstream journey. This can include the head or tail of a pool, or even a current break created by a bend in the river or a large mid-river rock. Chokepoints, where fish are forced to travel during periods of low water, are also popular, although many fishermen believe that moving fish are less likely to bite than staging fish.

Back-trolling a Storm Wiggle Wart off a drift boat can draw furious strikes from staging kings.

Back-trolling a Storm Wiggle Wart off a drift boat can draw furious strikes from staging kings.

When fly-fishing, swing large, colorful flies to get the attention of and aggravate the migrating salmon. On spinning gear, drifting skein, the cured egg sacs of salmon, is a deadly technique, but swinging spinners, or bottom-bouncing with colorful flies is effective as well. Driftboat fishermen should have great success back-trolling with plugs like the Storm Wiggle Wart. The frantic action of these plugs in current can draw furious strikes from staging kings.

  1. Lou Reda

    I was in Pulaski on 10/11 and 12. Our plan was to stay through the 14th but the water was just too low for the fish to make the run into the streams we prefer to fish. The river was full of fisherman standing shoulder to shoulder where ever the water was deep enough to hold the salmon. We actually went over to Little Sandy and found the water level even worse with many fish dead or dying trying to crawl upsteam on their belly. Vey sad. No Glogal Warming you say, bull dug I reply.
    Fishing in such conditions is no longer fun for me or my friend so we returned to CT and the Sound for the fall run!

    Reply
  2. Neil Cronin

    Went to the salmon river last week for the first time. Prepared by tying countless colorful egg patterns. Naively I thought the salmon would be biting flies (out of aggression). Learned that this is a “snag” fishery which to me is a huge turnoff. Not my thing.

    Reply
    • ernest

      Neil Cronin, go back after the salmon are gone, and there is more water. Steelhead bite !!!

      Reply
    • BigPaul

      “Snag” fishing was legal at one time but those habits die hard with the less technical fisherman. Catching Steelhead, Kings, Cohos Giant Browns and Rainbows takes skills to do it correctly and staying within the ever changing set of rules and regulations. With practice and using the right gear and techniques it is one of the greatest freshwater fishing in the world. Next time hire a local experienced guide ( if your pride and wallet can handle it) and they can provide you the knowledge and skills to have one of the most enjoyable freshwater fishing experience. You then can show up the staggers with yours skills!

      Reply
    • DanM.

      Well Neil, I almost didn’t reply to your conclusion, but after only three years of fishing the Salmon River, I feel the fishery and the area deserve better. I am totally impressed with fairness of pricing in the area (tackle, food, accommodations, etc.), the support from DEC (both on and off season), and even the returning fisherman that all have their special week that they return to the river every year. Yes, I have seen and cleaned up the black sponge on monster hooks on 50 pound test leaders on the riverbanks. But I was so satisfied to head up there this season with my new home-made Lami rod and some home-made lures and flies that scored approval with some crazy-fast river fish (Coho’s, Jack’s, and of course the King’s). I suggest you invest in a guide for a day, talk to the great people at Melinda’s, All Seasons, Fat Nancy’s, and plenty others when they’re not busy. Also study the techniques from the Northwest and Alaska. Much of it applies. Or stick with your first-season conclusion, but I think the area deserves better.

      Reply
  3. ernest

    What ever happened to the Lake Trout coming up the tributaries of Lake Ontario in the winter ??

    Reply

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