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.
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.
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.