Salmon fly fishing


Among anglers, salmon is a name to conjure with. Salmon are easily the most mysterious and aristocratic of all our American fresh water game fish. Fly fishing for Atlantic Salmon from a canoe in the Restigouche, with virgin forests of pine and spruce coming down to the edge of crystal clear water, is the acme of any fisherman’s pleasure.

And clear across the continent there is the romance of the great Chinook salmon run in the Umpqua in Oregon—fishing in the misty morning between dawn and sunrise in a tumultuous trout river with rushing rapids and gin-clear pools between mountain sides of deep green cathedral stands of Douglas Fir.

The Pacific salmon, the Chinook or King salmon anyway, are much larger than the Atlantic variety; but you have to take the Pacific fish by trolling, even though it is done in a white-water trout river, while the Atlantic salmon is taken on a fly.

From a fisherman’s standpoint, the Pacific Coast furnishes “salmon fly fishing” of just about the same caliber as that for Atlantic salmon in the wonderful Steelhead fishing of the Rogue, Klamath, Umpqua and many other streams of the Pacific Coast. Steelhead for a time were considered to be salmon; they are nearly as large, on the average, as many runs of Atlantic salmon.

The scientists tell us, too, that structurally Atlantic salmon and Steelhead are very similar; and finally, many students of the subject believe that both fish derived from the same common ancestor, which probably originally lived in the Arctic Sea. The Steelhead and Atlantic salmon are much closer allied than are the Pacific and Atlantic salmon.

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon were once common from the Hudson River northward, but now are found in the United States only in a few streams in northeastern New England. In Canada they are now limited, for the most part, to the streams of the Maritime Provinces. They range from ten to twenty pounds on the average, with a good many fish between twenty and forty pounds. The world’s record Atlantic salmon, 79 lbs. 2 ozs., was caught in Tanaelv, Norway, in 1928 by Henrik Henricksen.

Atlantic salmon come back from the sea to the same rivers in which they were spawned. The salmon runs vary from May through August in different streams. The fish spawn in the gravelly shallows of headwater streams much as do the Steelhead. Atlantic salmon do not die after spawning as do Chinook and other Pacific salmon (except the Steelhead, which is a sea run trout).

Atlantic salmon fry remain as parr (young salmon) in the river where they are hatched for one, two and sometimes three years before going down to the sea. The parr all carry bluish bars on their sides. Just before migrating to the ocean, the young salmon assume a coating of silvery scales.

If they return to fresh water the first year they are called grilse. They weigh about three or four pounds then and put up a splendid fight on a light fly rod. If the young fish do not return to their home river the first year, they come back the second year as salmon. Of course, the grilse return in later years as salmon also.

Atlantic salmon are silvery when fresh run from the sea but become darker the longer they stay in fresh water.

Landlocked Salmon

A few anglers are fortunate enough to fish for a variation of the Atlantic salmon. This is the Landlocked salmon, one kind is called Ouaniche. They are found in the lakes of Maine and in Lake St. John and the Saguenay River. Landlocked salmon spawn in the fall in tributary streams to which they migrate. The young remain in the streams for two years before returning to deep water. Dr. Henry Van Dyke described this fish as the prince of all fighting game fish, the “sunburned champion of the water-folk.”

Chinook Salmon

The great salmon of the Pacific Coast, the Chinook, doesn’t take a fly and therefore has perhaps no place here. Nevertheless, I am including this magnificent game fish because the Chinook belongs with the other salmon and trout and because they are caught in, or at the mouths of, trout rivers.

Besides that, there is the very human reason that I happen to hold the world’s record for the biggest Chinook salmon ever caught on a rod and line—83 lbs. in the Umpqua River of Oregon in 1910.

Chinook salmon are found from Central California into Alaska. They are the greatest fighting fresh water game fish of the West.

Pacific salmon have the highest commercial value of all the salmon and trout. You can tell them from trout and chars (aside from the much greater size and heavier build of Chinook salmon) by two simple things used by the scientists to differentiate between these two families of fish.

In the first place, look for spots on the dorsal, or back, fin. The trout and chars have many black spots on the dorsal fin in both young and adult fish. The Pacific salmon (either Chinook or the Minor Pacific salmon) do not have spots on the dorsal fin in either young or adult fish. There will, once in a while, be an exception to this rule. For that reason, I’ll give you one structural difference between Pacific salmon and the trout or chars. This is a scientific method, but it isn’t hard to use if you know how.

Each fin except the fleshy, or adipose (fat), fin on the back between the dorsal and the tail fin is supported by rods or rays of cartilage. The anal fin is the one on the lower side of the body between the vent and the tail, or caudal fin. The number of rays in the anal fin tells whether the fish you have caught is a trout or char or whether it is a Pacific salmon.

The method of counting the number of rays in the anal (or dorsal) fin. The first two or three short unsegmented rays closely crowded together are not counted. The first ray counted is unbranched and extends nearly as far as the first branched ray which follows. The last ray is usually double branched at the base, giving the appearance at first sight of two rays, but is counted as one ray.

In all Pacific salmon the anal fin is long and has from 13 to 17 rays in it. In the trout and chars the anal fin is short and has only from 9 to 12 rays.