Fishing The Salmon River New York

Fly Fishing The Salmon River

Fishing the Salmon River New York is known to be world-class for species like steelhead and salmon. The Salmon river even has two records which include the world’s largest Coho Salmon.

When fishing the salmon river anglers have the opportunity to fish for steelhead, Atlantic salmon, Chinook salmon, Coho Salmon, large lake run brown trout, and even smallmouth bass. The time of year will dictate which species you will catch the most.

World-Class Fishing The Salmon River

The Salmon River in New York is undoubtedly one of the most coveted fishing destinations in the United States and arguably the best steelhead and salmon river in the east. The reason I mention that it’s in New York state is so you do not confuse it with the Salmon River in Idaho.

The Salmon River NY, named for the Atlantic Salmon that once heavily populated its waters, this river boasts at least five sport fish species that anglers can find in the river at certain times of the year. There are also subspecies found in the river such as suckers, carp, and walleye.

The river runs for 17 miles, 12 of which have public fishing rights. The fishing zone starts at the Lighthouse Hill Reservoir to Lake Ontario, cutting its way through most of Oswego County and Pulaski City. See Fishing Pulaski NY: Access, Species and Best Methods for more.

The Salmon River is such a fantastic sportfishing location for the following major reasons:

Size Of Salmon River NY: It is a Large River

The Salmon River is considered one of the state’s larger rivers averaging about 100 feet wide through most of the fishable water. Under normal flows, The Salmon River is relatively shallow with lots of rocky riffle sections averaging 1 to 3 feet, and with some pools 10 feet plus.

This large river gives anglers plenty of room to spread out and fish and it also allows the fish lots of room to fight.

Salmon River Water Flows And Clear water

There are several dams in the Salmon River that make up a few large reservoirs, with the most famous one being operated by the Orion Power Company. Under their new licenses, these power companies have to maintain a minimum water flow in the river.

The impact of these regulations is that there is always enough water to encourage the fish to stay in the river. Even in the summer, when most rivers typically have very low water levels, the Salmon River still has enough water for the fish and for fish migrations.

Because the river is dam flow regulated it often flows clear even when it’s high.

The ideal river flows for fishing along the banks of the salmon river are from 350 cfs to 700 cfs. I have fished it as high as 1600 cfs but fishing becomes difficult and also dangerous.

Should you get there during high water, you may find the river over the banks and into the forest. During these conditions, I fish the smaller branches and splits around the islands. These sections can be perfect during high water.

Picture of the salmon river near the many islands
During high water, I fish the branches and splits found around the many islands. These branches might be to small during low flows but are perfect when the water is high.

Prime water-flow conditions for shore fishing are anywhere from 350 to 700 cfs. Keep an eye on the flow as your trip approaches and consider rescheduling if the river rises above 1600 cfs.

Another option which I have done with great success is to move to nearby Sandy Creeks when the salmon river is too high to fish.

Anglers in drift boats can fish effectively in higher water, but it can be a challenge for fishermen working the banks.

Aggressive Stocking

The New York DEC has been stocking the Salmon River aggressively since the 1960s’. Today, the Department stocks hundreds of thousands of different fish species, with the most prominent ones being Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, Coho salmon, and brown trout.

There is also stocking of Atlantic Salmon and Skamania steelhead which enter the Salmon River starting in June and throughout the summer months. These species combined with some impressive smallmouth bass have created a good summer fishery.

The DEC’s stocking efforts have provided anglers with fantastic fishing throughout the year and is another reason why fishing the salmon river in New York is something you should consider.

Seeing that the river produces these stocked species in large quantities, days of 20 plus fish caught are not uncommon, and very large steelhead and salmon are caught every year.

In fact, the largest Coho salmon ever caught was from the Salmon River,. This world record Coho weighed an impressive 33lbs. The record largest great lakes Chinook salmon also caught in the Salmon River was 47 lbs.

What to Expect When Fishing the Salmon River, NY

You can go fishing in the Salmon River virtually throughout the year, but the most rewarding fishing season runs from early fall in September to late spring in May.

However, there are specific summer runs that you can find abundantly in the river, such as the Skamania steelhead and the Atlantic salmon.

One of the best things about fishing the Salmon River, NY, is the abundant fishing amenities, from numerous access points to lodgings, some great restaurants, as well as many fly shops and tackle stores selling all the fishing equipment and gear an angler would need.

Additionally, you will find a lot of fishing guides that offer boat trips on the river or walk trips along the banks.

On the flip side, fishing the Salmon River can be quite stressful, especially during peak times thanks to a lot of anglers.

The fishing pressure during some days in the fall or spring makes competition for the fish and the fishing spots almost unbearable. As a result, it is not uncommon for anglers to be too close to each other, a situation aptly called combat fishing.

However, fishing the river during such times can be great for beginners since most experienced anglers are often very helpful and anglers can watch and learn from the more experienced anglers. You can even watch the river guides who will be using the best techniques and will be in the best spots.

You also need to be aware of the water levels before fishing in this river. Usually, after an ice melt-off or heavy rains, the power company releases excess water from the river. This may make wading rather difficult.

Additionally, fishing in the private sections of the river will require that you get special permission from the landowners. You may also have to pay a small fee to access these fishing spots but this can be worth it when the public access areas are very busy. For private water fishing check out Douglaston Salmon Run.

Fish Species Found in the Salmon River

Chinook (King) Salmon

Fishing Pulaski NY Salmon

The Chinook salmon is by far the most prevalent salmon species in the Salmon River. This is hardly surprising, given that the DEC stocks about 3.2 million of these fish in the river annually.

You can easily identify the King salmon by its humungous size, black mouth and gums, olive body, and spotted tail. The older fish that have stayed in the river for longer may have a more demurred look than the younger fish.

Because of its huge size, the Chinook salmon is aptly named the King salmon. It is, without a doubt, the largest fish in the Salmon River. Whereas other fish typically weigh about 10 pounds, the Chinook salmon averages 15-25 pounds. Talk about big fish!

With the Chinook having the largest runs and being the largest of all the fish species they attract a lot of anglers to the area.

You can find great Chinook salmon runs in the river in late summer and fall with some salmon starting to enter the river as early as late August. The fall runs are triggered by the rising water volumes from either release at the dams or from heavy downpours. Salmon also enter the rivers based on falling river temperatures and cool nights.

The Chinook salmon spawn in the fall months of late September, October, and early November, which signifies plenty of activity during these months. Unfortunately, the fish die after spawning and the salmon river is usually void of the big Chinooks by mid-November.

Some Chinooks can be caught near the river mouth in the spring by anglers casting lures or by boat anglers trolling.

Each year, the DEC releases 3-inch long Chinook salmon fingerlings into the river between May and June. This causes imprinting in the fish, which will return annually to the river as adults.

If Chinook fishing is your thing and you want to know the methods, setups, baits and flies, used by river fishing guides to get their clients into more salmon, check out my page Great Lakes Salmon Fishing: River Fishing Methods

Coho Salmon

After the Chinook salmon, the Coho salmon are the largest salmon population in the Salmon River. The DEC stocks about 250 000 of these fish in the river annually, usually in spring.

A Great Lakes Coho Salmon

The Coho salmon’s defining features are its bright silver color when they enter the river, black mouth, and white gums. They can get a red-green color as the spawning cycle continues.

Unlike the Chinook salmon, the Coho salmon’s tail is spotted only on its upper half. Additionally, this fish variety is remarkably smaller than the Chinook salmon, weighing an average of ten to 15 pounds.

The DEC stocks 18-month-old Coho salmons in the river after the fish spend about a year at the hatchery. The fish spawn at about the same time as the King salmon, and they usually die after spawning.

I use all the same methods, flies, and baits for fishing for Coho as I do when fishing and guiding for Chinook Salmon.

Atlantic Salmon

The Atlantic or Landlocked salmon may have been the fish that gave the Salmon River its name, but they are no longer as prevalent as they once were. The fish were extirpated from the river due to overfishing and the destruction of their natural habitat.

The DEC has been trying to revive it population since the 60s’. However, the program has not been as successful as with the Chinook Salmon. This is primarily because the Atlantic salmon are more susceptible to drastic changes in their environment, causing most to die.

Unlike steelhead and Chinook, the Atlantic salmon runs are not great. However, Atlantic salmon do migrate into the river starting in June and July and will continue into the fall which can provide incidental catches for lucky anglers.

You will find the best Atlantic salmon runs in the river between June and November, alongside the native brown trout and Skamania steelhead.

The Atlantic salmon spawn in the fall, and unlike the Coho and Chinook, the atlantics often survive the spawning and can spawn multiple times. An adult Atlantic salmon measures about 12 to 30 inches in length. You can easily identify them by their white gums and mouth, and forked tails.

I use the same steelhead fishing methods for catching Atlantic salmon since they will feed on the same things and hold in the same water.


Pulaski NY Steelhead Fishing
A great lakes spring steelhead on its way up the river to spawn

Each year, the Salmon River gets two different steelhead runs: The Skamania strain which starts migrating up the river in the summer.

Ans the Washington winter-run steelhead which starts migrating the river in mid-October and both strains of steelhead can remain in the river until early May.

The steelhead usually spawns in the spring months of March, and April. After spawning, the steelhead usually heads back to Lake Ontario, where they will spend the summer feeding. Unlike the Coho and Chinook species, steelhead do survive spawning and can spawn 3 or 4 times in their lifetime.

The steelheads most outstanding feature is the red streak along its midline. It also has a white mouth and white gums. Adult steelhead can be anywhere between three and five years old, and an average steelhead is between 7-12 pounds. Some steelhead will be caught in the salmon river over 20 pounds.

According to river guides and local anglers, some of the best steelhead fishing is through the winter months when the steelhead are holding in deep pools and the crowds are gone.

Knowing how to fish steelhead in the winter is important. I discuss fishing for steelhead during all seasons, as well as the best methods and the best baits on my page Great Lakes Steelhead Fishing: Proven Methods And Tips.

Brown Trout

There is a decent population of lake-run brown trout that can average 5 to 7 pounds but can grow to over 20 pounds. At times there are lots in the river. Some brown trout also come into the river alongside the summer steelhead runs however most of the brown trout will migrate and spawn in the river from September to November.

Many brown trout will leave the river after they spawn but some will hold over in the river and can be caught all winter and spring.

I use the same steelhead methods to catch brown trout in the river since they will feed on the same things and hold in the same water as the steelhead will.

Fishing Seasons in the Salmon River, NY

There are 4 seasons of fishing on the salmon river with spring and fall being the best times.

Fall Fishing the Salmon River, NY

Fall is one the best times to fish the Salmon River because there are a ton of fish in the river at this time. The river is usually heavily populated with steelhead, Coho salmon, and Chinook salmon, brown trout, and anglers. Yes, it gets very busy during the salmon run but the crowds seem to become less once the salmon are gone and the weather gets colder.

The steelhead, in particular, are aplenty at this time because they are actively feeding on salmon eggs as well as minnows and aquatic insects.

Winter Fishing The Salmon River, NY

Fishing the Salmon River New York In Winter
Fishing the Salmon River in New York In Winter

Winter is steelhead time and it can be some of the best fishing on the Salmon River.

Unfortunately, as the temperatures start dropping and winter comes, the fish become less active and only feed at certain times. They will rarely bite at your baits, making it hard to catch them, but like many river guides, I love fishing for steelhead in the winter and there are certain things that I do that will increase my and my client’s chances of catching some fish.

I discuss these methods on my page Winter Steelhead Fishing: Tips And Tactics Of Expert Guides.

If you like fishing in solitude and don’t mind working a little harder, and you use my winter fishing tactics, winter fishing in the Salmon River can be highly rewarding.

Also, winter fishing can be tough on toes and fingers and this keeps many anglers off the river. Have you ever wondered how river guides can be out in that cold day after day? I provide my tips and tricks that guides use to stay warm, dry and comfortable on my page Fishing In The Winter – Stay Warm With These 10 Tips

Spring Fishing the Salmon River, NY

The mild weather conditions in the spring make it one of the best times to fish the Salmon River. You will find decent amounts of steelhead in the river that are both ravenous and aggressive and willing to feed after the long winter.

Additionally, many steelhead will feed heavily after they finish spawning and as they slowly work their way back to the lake.

The fish’s heavy movements and hunger make them highly susceptible to striking your baits. You may also find some Brown trout and some Atlantic Salmon in the Salmon River at this time.

Summer Fishing the Salmon River New York

Summer is typically not the best time to fish the Salmon River. This is because the water levels at this time are low, and the water temperatures are too warm for the fish.

However, the Salmon River has specific summer runs, most notably the Skamania steelhead run, brown trout, and Atlantic Salmon. You may also find some smallmouth bass in the river in summer.

The Best Methods for Fishing the Salmon River, NY

Pulaski Fishing Guide

Fly Fishing

This is one of the most popular fishing methods for steelhead, Chinook salmon, and Coho salmon. Most fly fishing is done by drifting flies or nymphs under an indicator.

Fly fishing works well for steelhead and brown because they generally enjoy eating flies.

On the other hand, it is said that the salmon do not eat flies and that they merely attack them out of instinct, but whatever their reason flies also work well on big salmon.

Because of their aggressive nature, once the fish enter the river and concentrate in pools, you can expect to catch a decent amount of fish when fly fishing provided that you do it correctly. You can see how the guides do it at Fly Fishing For Steelhead: Great Lakes Style

Guide Tips: Use weighted flies to ensure your fly stays in the strike zone throughout the entire drift. Additionally, use brightly-colored flies in poor lighting or when the water is dirty to increase their visibility. You should also consider wearing polarized glasses to seek the fish first before casting.

Spey Fishing The Salmon River

Another fly fishing method that is very popular on the Salmon River is Spey fishing. The Salmon River is wide, has a good flow, and has the right depth for Spey fishing.

You can Spey fish for all the migratory species using the methods I discuss on my page Spey Fishing On Great Lakes Rivers

Drift Fishing

This is another effective method for fishing the Salmon River, NY. It entails casting your bait upstream and then letting your line drift downstream.

Drift fishing requires some practice to perfect but it can be very effective on big rivers like the salmon river and I see both anglers and river guides using it frequently. For it to work, your presentation must be as natural as possible.

Most novice anglers make the mistake of using light weights when fishing in stronger currents. Unfortunately, this makes it hard for the bait to stay in the strike zone, which diminishes its effectiveness greatly.

Others try this method in shallow waters where there are usually very few fish. Others fail to feel the bottom which makes depth management and strike detection impossible. Unfortunately, these mistakes make it harder for the anglers to make decent catches.

For more on this method check out my page: Drift Fishing

Similar to drift fishing and a method I use a lot in pocket water and when fish are in the riffles is Bottom Bouncing.

Streamer Fishing

If you enjoy catching big fish, streamer fishing is another good method for fishing the Salmon River NY.

Here, you will cast large flies, known as streamer flies, across the river at a 45-degree angle and actively retrieve them using twitching motions to impart an erratic swimming action.

For success when streamer fishing, choose a 9 foot 8 or 9 weight fly rod and floating line that can adequately handle the aggressive nature of large steelhead and salmon.

Also, be sure to use large flies that resemble baitfish for the best results.

Where To Fish In The Salmon River, New York

The Salmon River has numerous fishing spots from the mouth to the Lighthouse Hill Reservoir dam which prevents any fish from traveling upstream. As such, the fish are trapped in that 17-mile downstream section, making this the ideal fishing location.

It is important to note that some fishing spots fall on private land. As such, you will need the landowner’s permission to fish here. You may also have to pay a small fee to fish on private premises.

One of the most lucrative private fishing spots on the Salmon River is the Douglaston Salmon Run, popularly known as the DSR. Here, you will find some of the biggest steelhead and King salmon. However, you may have to pay as much as $100 at peak times to fish here.

If you don’t have extra money for fishing on private property, you can still find many decent spots on the 12-mile strip of the river with public fishing rights. It is best to start your search downstream and then move upstream if you don’t find good runs. Some of the best downstream fishing locations are:

  • Wall Hole
  • Jose Hole
  • Little Black Hole (this one is on the DSR)

 For upstream fishing, try the following locations:

  • Town Hole
  • Black Hole
  • Paper Mill
  • Short Bridge Pool
  • 81 Hole
  • Long Bridge Pool
  • Sportsman
  • Pineville Pools
  • Compactor

Regulations For Fishing The Salmon River, NY

The two major regulations you must adhere to when fishing the Salmon River NY are the Lake Ontario Tributary Laws and the DEC Regulations. The most prominent rules that every angler must follow or risk getting a ticket include:

  • Be aware of the Fly Fishing Only sections and use the required gear there
  • You must possess a license. Even if you are only assisting another angler in bringing in the fish, you must be duly licensed. You can get your Salmon River fishing licenses here.
  • From the 15th of August to the 14th of April, you must not fish the Salmon River at night. You can only start angling half an hour before sunrise, and you must be out of the water half an hour after sunset.
  • The daily catch limit is three fish a day, both trout and salmon.
  • It is illegal to herd, stone, or kick fish to boost your catch.
  • You must use the proper fishing gear. For instance, hooks must have a single point and not be more than half an inch long. Additionally, you must not use treble hooks during salmon runs.

For a more detailed look at the regulations, be sure to visit the DEC website

Fishing Amenities At The Salmon River, New York


You will find plenty of accommodation options near the Salmon River, New York. Whether you prefer to stay at a hotel, motel, lodging, camping ground, or a bed and breakfast, rest assured you will find one near the hotel.

However, you should make your reservations early in advance, especially if you intend to go fishing during the peak season. In fact, it is best to make your reservations as early as one year before to avoid missing out on a place to sleep.

To find the best lodgings near Salmon River, New York, be sure to visit this site.

Fishing Guides

You will also quickly find fishing guides by doing a search online. There are many guides in the areas but we recommend doing your research to find the best guides.

However, beware that some guides only offer drift boat trips, others only offer wading trips, while others offer both kinds of trips. Be sure to confirm with your guide before booking to ensure your trip is successful.

Many guides offer steelhead and brown trout trips from October to May, when the rivers have the best runs. However, if you wish to catch Coho and Chinook salmon, you should book far in advance for your trip in September or October.

Before you choose your guide, enquire about:

  • The length of their experience as a guide
  • The average duration of a fishing trip
  • Whether they operate full time or part-time
  • Their typical trips
  • The payment terms

This will assist you a great deal in planning your trip.

Fishing Supplies Stores

Just as with accommodation and fishing guides, the Salmon River area has plenty of fly shops and fishing stores. Whether you need baits, lures, lines, rods, reels, or any fishing gear, rest assured that there is a fishing supplies store nearby where you will find the items you need. Some of the leading stores include:

  • Fat Nancy’s Tackle Shop
  • Pineville Sporting Supply
  • All Seasons Sports
  • Whitaker’s Sport Shop and Motel
  • Woody’s Tackle Shop and General Store

If you need advice on what fishing equipment or gear to buy, as well as the current fishing conditions and what the fish are biting on, don’t hesitate to ask the store attendants. Most of them are highly knowledgeable and will help you select the best items for your shop.

Tips on Fishing the Salmon River, NY

Dress Warmly

Because the best steelhead and salmon runs get to the river during the colder months, it is best to dress warmly for your fishing trip. Consider having a wool base, a mid-layer, and a bottom-down jacket to stay warm throughout your fishing session.

Additionally, you might want to carry an extra jacket in case the weather gets chillier than you anticipated.

Practice Proper Fishing Etiquette

The Salmon River experiences some of the highest fishing pressure in the country, particularly during peak fishing seasons. As such, anglers need to practice the highest standards of fishing etiquette to make the experience pleasant for everyone.

Some courteous behavior to display during your fishing trip includes:

  • Take home a small number of fish; if you catch more fish than you need, release them into the water
  • Clean up after yourself – Garbage is a big problem on this river.
  • Maintain silence, especially when fishing near a residential area
  • Seek permission before fishing on private property
  • Don’t park on a landowner’s lawn or obstruct other people’s driveway
  • Don’t clean your catch near the stream

Final Thoughts on Fishing the Salmon River, New York

There is no question that fishing the Salmon River, NY, is an incredibly rewarding experience. Whether you want to catch some Chinook salmon, Coho salmon, steelhead, brown trout, or Atlantic salmon, rest assured that you will find all these varieties in the river. Be sure to follow the tips shared in this post for a successful fishing trip.

Tight Lines,


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