Landlocked Leapers (Wachusett Landlocked Salmon Report)

In the fall, big fish that spent the winter, spring and summer feeding in deeper water, move close to shore, driven by the urge to feed, migrate or spawn. This is true of striped bass and bluefish along the ocean beaches and trout and salmon in large freshwater lakes.

One species I put on my to-catch list this fall was the landlocked salmon. These are the same species as the Atlantic salmon that run (or in most cases used to run) from the ocean to freshwater rivers from Connecticut to Canada.

The landlocks come in a smaller package than the Atlantic salmon, running 1 to 3 pounds mostly, with 4- to 6-pounders a possibility in some waters. But on the end of the line, they fight for all their worth—so I had heard.


Falling Leaves and spawning Landlocked Salmon are the signs of autumn on Wachusett.

Falling Leaves and Landlocked Salmon are the signs of autumn on Wachusett.

There are two water bodies in Massachusetts that have landlocked salmon—the Quabbin Reservoir and the Wachusett Reservoir. In New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, there are far more waters with these salmon, some of the more famous being Lake Winnipesaukee and Lake Champlain.

Like their ocean-run counterparts, the landlocked salmon seek tributaries to spawn during the fall, bringing them within reach of shorebound fishermen. I met up with On The Water contributor Ron Powers the morning after Halloween to try and intercept some of these migrating salmon in the Wachusett.

We met at B and A Bait and Tackle in West Boylston. I grabbed a couple flies, a spoon and at the suggestion of the shopowner, Eddy, a couple dozen nightcrawlers. The salmon really aren’t feeding during their spawning run, but they will strike at lures or flies out of aggression. The exception seems to be nightcrawlers, which the salmon will gobble down, despite refusing other offerings.

At the shop, we met up with one of the B and A regulars, Bill, who had been doing extremely well with the salmon over the past two weeks. Bill offered to take us along to his hotspot in Thomas Basin, and the very instant the water was in my sight, I could see salmon leaping.

Even when not hooked, salmon will jump clear out of the water for no apparent reason. Theories include jumping to loosen the eggs for spawning, jumping to communicate and jumping because they just like to jump.

Ron and Bill set up with night crawlers, suspended under a float while I started with lures. I’d made a few changes before landing on an old favorite, a Panther Martin spinner. On my third or fourth cast with the spinner the line came tight, and a male landlocked salmon was doing backflips out of the water. Before I had my fish to the bank, Bill’s bobber dropped, and a substantially bigger salmon began cartwheeling across the surface.

Bill and a fine male landlocked salmon, sporting its spawning colors.

Bill and a male landlocked salmon, sporting its spawning colors.

We landed and released our fish, and it was back to fishing. Despite all the salmon jumping, hits from the landlocks were few and far between. I connected briefly on a small stickbait while Ron missed a jarring hit on a nightcrawler. Yellow perch and bluegills kept us busy rebaiting, but after a couple hours without action, Ron and I decided to call it. Bill stayed glued to his spot, and before Ron and I made it out of earshot, we heard Bill shouting, “I got one!”

At first, I thought this was a prank, but I saw a gleaming bar of silver leave the water through the trees. Ron and I scurried back down the bank, snapped a few pictures of the big hen salmon and hit the road.

Thankfully, there’s still a lot of fall fishing left, and a lot of migrations that we can intercept here in the Northeast.  If all goes well, I’ll be able to interrupt the spawning migration of a couple more landlocks before the season is over.


  1. Tyler

    Ive been trying the pump station at the quinipoxet river for three weeks going every other day and ive seen only 6 salmon. they were in packs of two, most likely a male and female, but they both had hooked jaws which i thought only males had. one of the salmon i saw though was a monster. Im not exagerating but it had to be at least 20ins and all of 5 and a half pounds. i made a cast at it and it came up to my worm and turned away and went downstream and i never saw it again. Could anybody tell me any spots at wachusett where i can go and catch my first salmon.

    Thanks and tight lines

    • Peteowl

      At this time of year, particularly after a day of rain, I can often pick up a fresh salmon or two in the quarter-mile or so of water downstream of the first bridge on the Stillwater River upstream of the reservour. Fish the bigger pools, and particularly under overhanging banks, submerged logs, and other “structure”. Best bait is a whole nighcrawler, impaled on a small salmon egg hook burried completely in his nose, and fished on a 3-foot, 2-4 lb leader. You have to go light here, as these fish are quite line shy. Boy do they ever jump like hell!


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