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Landlocked Atlantic Salmon

The Atlantic salmon is one of the most highly regarded sport fish in North America and Europe. Known to many as "the leaper," Atlantics are noted for their spectacular fighting ability, which usually includes several jumps completely out of the water after being hooked by a lucky angler. In New York State, Atlantic salmon spend their entire lives in freshwater and are usually called landlocked salmon.

Many New York State anglers are surprised to learn that Atlantic salmon were not only native to some of our waters, but they were extremely abundant. Atlantics were historically found in Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, and in many of their tributaries. They were so abundant that spearing them was easy and netting could result in catches of more than 100 fish per boat on a good night. Unfortunately, the rapid settlement and development of the state occurring during the mid to late 1800s spelled doom for this species. Dams blocked spawning streams, pollution choked waters, and widespread deforestation filled headwater nursery streams with sediment. By 1900, Atlantic salmon were all but extinct from New York State waters.

Interest in this species never disappeared, and programs to restore Atlantic salmon to New York State's waters have been under way for nearly 50 years. Currently, DEC manages about two dozen waters for Atlantics, including some of the State's biggest waters (lakes Ontario, Champlain, Cayuga, and Seneca), as well as a few small or medium-sized waters in the Adirondacks. Since very little natural reproduction occurs, annual stocking is required to maintain a desirable population size. Most stocked waters receive Atlantic salmon from a non-sea-run (landlocked) variety that has been developed in New York State over the past 16 years.

Atlantic salmon are found in a variety of habitats. In the spring, warmer temperatures and abundant food attract salmon to nearshore waters and even into the lower portions of rivers. Once water temperatures reach the mid-50s, Atlantics move offshore and into deeper portions of the lake. They are active predators throughout the summer, generally being found where water temperatures are 65 degrees Fahrenheit or less. In the fall, sexually mature fish move back toward shore in search of their home stream or the site where they were stocked. Atlantics feed heavily on other fish, with rainbow smelt being their preferred food. Other prey fish include alewife, cisco, or even yellow perch. If prey fish are lacking, salmon will eat insects and large zooplankton.

New York State anglers use a wide variety of techniques and tackle to catch Atlantic salmon. During springtime, trolling or casting lures or flies that imitate preferred baitfish produce the best catches. After lakes stratify in the summer, downriggers or lead-core line are needed to place lures and bait at the correct depths where salmon occur. Fall fishing focuses on spawning fish moving near and into rivers and streams. Since spawning salmon greatly reduce their food intake, the fish must often be enticed to strike bait, lures, or flies. Patience and perseverance are often the key to hooking a big adult Atlantic salmon in the fall. Although salmon fishing is limited in the winter, ice fishing is permitted on a number of lakes, including Lake Champlain and Lake George. Tip-ups with live minnows work well. Good waters for Atlantic salmon fishing include the Finger Lakes, Lake George, other Adirondack area lakes and ponds (Schroon Lake, Piseco Lake), Neversink Reservoir and Lake Ontario

All fish species descriptions are from the NYS DEC’s Freshwater Fishes of NY



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