Salmon River Steelhead Fishing: Everything You Need to Know

Salmon River Steelhead Fishing can produce large steelhead like this one
Salmon River Steelhead

I had heard about the fantastic Salmon River steelhead fishing long before I fished it. I’d heard about the huge runs of steelhead and the many steelhead over ten pounds.

This river has its advantages and challenges, and anglers who know how to adapt to the conditions and understand the river and the steelhead will do very well.

Everything you need to know to fish for steelhead on this river is right here.

Key Takeaways

  • River Flows: The Salmon River is a tailwater fishery and is dam-regulated, which means the water level can rise or drop even with or without rain. Anglers should watch the flow charts and learn to adapt based on the conditions.
  • Timing: The Salmon River can have steelhead in it 12 months of the year because they stock summer run Skamania in the river every year. But peak steelhead fishing is from November to April. Due to it being a tailwater river, much of the river will not freeze solid, and the fishing can be good throughout the winter.
  • Where to Fish: All steelhead fishing takes place from the lower reservoir to Lake Ontario. There are some private property areas in the lower river, but access is otherwise very good. Maps are available listing the many fishing holes, but anglers should also search out their pockets and pools.
  • Fishing Methods: All methods of steelhead fishing can be used. The most common methods used by guides are fly fishing, float fishing, drift fishing, and lure fishing.
  • Baits and Flies: Steelhead on the Salmon River will eat the salmon baits and flies used all around the Great Lakes Region. Using Roe bags, beads, pink worms are good options. Eggs and worm flies are good, too, but black and brown nymphs can also be very good.
  • Dress Properly: Being a tailwater fishery, the river is always cold, so anglers should be prepared to layer under their waders and jackets.

Salmon River Steelhead Fishing

The steelhead fishing on the Salmon River is some of the best steelhead fishing found anywhere around the Great Lakes region. Salmon River steelhead are big and strong and can be caught by fly fishing or float fishing methods. There is good access for anglers to fish for steelhead below the dam.

The Salmon River is located in New York’s Tug Hill region through the City of Pulaski, NY.

The Salmon River is a med-large river that averages around 60 – 100 feet wide and often flows clear thanks to the dam and the Redfield Reservoir.

The Salmon River is renowned for its excellent fisheries, which include some of the best steelhead, salmon, and migratory brown trout fishing. Anglers can be fishing for steelhead and end up with huge salmon or brown trout on the line in the fall.

The Salmon River is also home to the world record for Coho salmon and the record for the largest Great Lakes chinook salmon. For more info, check out my page Salmon Fishing On The Salmon River.

The fantastic steelhead fishing makes this the principal steelhead angling stream in the region. The river is relatively large with a relatively constant water flow due to releases from upstream dams.

Steelhead in this area have an average weight of between 5 to 10 pounds, with some over 20 pounds. 

Most of the fish in the river are hatched by the Salmon River Fish Hatchery, founded in 1981. The hatchery raises approximately 750,000 Steelheads every year. 

In general, due to heavy stocking efforts, many rivers in New York can provide excellent steelhead fishing, and I discuss this on my page Steelhead Fishing NY: Catch More Steelhead.

Popular Spots To Find Steelhead on Salmon River and Common Access Points

There are numerous deep pools along the Salmon River where you can find winter Steelhead. In fact, there are about 12 miles of public access and a few pay-per-use spots that are not that expensive.

It is advisable to start searching for spots from the lower end of the river as you move upstream. Some popular pools where you can find plenty of steelhead include the Wall Hole, Joss Hole, and the Little Black Hole located inside The Douglaston Salmon Run. 

Popular upstream pools include the Town Hole or Short Bridge Pool, Black Hole, Long Bridge Pool, Paper Mill, and the 81 Hole. Other popular sections include the Sportsman, Compactor, and Pineville pools.

In addition, there are numerous other pools, runs, and pockets in the Salmon River where you can find winter steelhead. 

Steelheads are found spread out, and at times, the shallow sections of the Salmon River can be great in early fall and spring. 

Steelhead Fishing The Salmon River In Summer 

During summer, you will likely find a few Skamania steelheads in the Salmon River. Skamania are summer-run steelhead that can start entering the river as early as May and June. This strain of steelhead are known as some of the strongest fighting steelhead.

Although this was uncommon in the past, summer angling is improving significantly due to increased emphasis on stocking the river with Skamainia and enhanced minimum river flow requirements.

There is also an annual stocking of about 30,000 Atlantic Salmon which can start entering rivers in June and July and at the same time as the Skamania. There is also stocking of migratory brown trout and resident brown trout, which can both be caught during the summer while fishing for steelhead. 

Steelhead Fishing The Salmon River In Fall

In October, steelheads begin to enter the Salmon River to feed on spawning salmon eggs and the steelhead will continue up the river in small and large runs until about mid-September.

The best steelhead fishing is just after the salmon are done spawning in early November it can stay excellent until January. In most cases, you are likely to find the fish at the head or tail of the pool where the food is more abundant.

After years of guiding every day during the fall, I have found that there are three stages of the fall steelhead run, which are based on water temperatures. During early fall, the steelhead is often everywhere, and many can be caught in shallow fast water.

As the water becomes colder in November, the steelhead will start holding in the pools with fewer steelhead in the shallower fast water.

In December, the steelhead are mostly in pools but will hold and feed in different areas of the pool than they did in November’s warmer water.

This matters because it changes the way they feed, where they feed, and the baits that will work. I discuss fall fishing tactics for catching more steelhead on my page Fall Steelhead Fishing: Proven Guide Tips And Tactics.

Steelhead Fishing The Salmon River In Winter

Many anglers believe that winter is the best time to fish for steelhead on the Salmon River, and there are some benefits to winter steelhead fishing on the Salmon River.

Early winter steelhead can be as aggressive as fall-run steelheads, which are renowned for their aggressive and often violent takes.

Later in January, they can become harder to catch but not impossible. The behavior change can be attributed to the significant decline in water temperature, but with less fishing pressure, anglers who know when and how to fish for winter steelhead can do very well.

Weather changes directly affect the feeding habits of steelhead and the positions at which they hold in the Salmon River. You will likely find the fish in the deeper, calm pools over the winter.

Here, they have a slower metabolism, and their primary food source is left-over salmon eggs, minnows, and aquatic insects.

Many local river guides believe that patience is a major key to success when fishing in winter, and I recommend combining that with being on the water at the right time, knowing where to fish for them, and knowing which baits or flies to use.

I have had clients land 72 steelhead in two days in the middle of February using winter steelhead fishing tactics.

These large numbers of winter steelhead are due to understanding steelhead behavior and how water temperatures affect where they feed, when they feed, and what they feed on. I discuss all of this on my page Winter Steelhead Fishing: Tips And Tactics Of Expert Guides

In Spring

Winter-run steelheads are abundant in the spring, and these winter-run steelhead combined with spring-run steelhead can provide great steelhead fishing on the Salmon River.

Steelhead fishing can be excellent from early March after snow melts and spring rains raise water levels and get the fish active. It can continue to be good until late April.

Steelhead fishing can even be good in early May, but as the water gets warmer in Late April and May, the steelhead tend to make their way back into the lake for feeding and recovering.

I discuss all stages of steelhead and how to catch more during the spring on my page Spring Steelhead Fishing: Tips And Tactics From The Guides

Fishing Regulations On The Salmon River

The Salmon River adheres to Lake Ontario tributary laws detailed in the New York Freshwater Fishing Regulations Guide and you will be required to have a valid fishing license.

Some current (2021) rules may apply, but you should always double-check the laws before you go.

You can get more information on the current fishing regulations in the Salmon River through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Gearing Up for Steelhead Fishing on the Salmon River

Since most steelhead fishing on the Salmon River occurs during the cooler months, it is vital to dress for success. Adding more layers of clothing is the best way to ensure you are warm and dry when fishing in fall and winter. For all the fishing gear you need, check out my page, River Fishing Gear: Everything You Need To Succeed In 2021

As it becomes colder, add a wool base layer, a warm enough mid-layer, and a down jacket for your upper body.

It is advisable to carry an extra jacket to prepare for the unpredictable weather changes during these seasons. Adequate preparation is the best way to maximize your time in the Salmon River. 

For winter fishing or very cold fishing, I have tested many different ways to stay warm and dry, and even I follow the advice of other river guides. After all, we are sometimes standing waist deep in ice water for many days. To learn how guides stay warm and dry, check out my article Fishing In The Winter – Stay Warm With These 10 Tips

Etiquette When Fishing for Steelhead on the Salmon River

Proper etiquette is vital for maintaining landowner relations while fishing on the Salmon River. It also gives anglers a good reputation and image, making the experience more enjoyable for all anglers. Here are some etiquette points to consider while fishing: 

  • Park in an approved area on arrival, ensuring that your vehicle is off the road. Avoid blocking anyone’s driveway or the road or packing on a landowner’s lawn.
  • Maintain silence if you are fishing around a residential area.
  • Seek permission if you intend to fish on private property. This is often the case since most fishing hotspots are located on private property. You can maintain good rapport with the landowner by cleaning up the area after you are done or offering them a fillet in return for permission to fish on their property. 
  • Be accommodative of other anglers, both experienced and inexperienced. Consider rotating out of a spot with many catches to give other anglers a chance. Watching where you cast helps to keep injuries and tangles at bay. 
  • Ensure to pick up all your items and garbage before you leave. It demonstrates respect for the river, private property, and fishing culture. 
  • Avoid “relieving yourself” in sight of any home or person. 
  • Avoid taking home more fish than you realistically need. If you think you have caught enough fish, put the rest back. 
  • Cleaning your catch in or around the streams is prohibited by the Fish Commission. It is also considered discourteous to other anglers and residents. 

Best Fishing Methods for Steelhead Fishing at Salmon River

Below are some of the most effective methods of steelhead fishing on the Salmon River.  For more detailed information, check out my page Steelhead Fishing – Most Effective Methods For Steelhead

Float fishing

Float fishing using Centerpin reels or spinning reels is one of the most effective and common ways of catching steelhead in the Salmon River. Float fishing means suspending and presenting a bait below a float.

When float fishing for steelhead on the Salmon River, you can use baits like beads, spawn bags, worms, and flies to increase your catch. 

Fly fishing

This method involves casting a lightweight fly into the water that is suspended under an indicator or swung on a tight line using either a single-hand fly rod or a Spey rod.

Fly fishing is very effective since steelhead find flies to be a good source of food. It’s likely the reason why most salmon river steelhead guides only offer fly fishing.

Some popular fly fishing methods include Spey fishing, Nymph fishing, Euro nymph fishing, and streamer fishing. 

To increase your chances of success with fly fishing, consider presenting the flies as naturally as possible. You can achieve this by using an indicator with proper mending or Euro nymphing methods and by using stonefly nymphs, colored egg patterns, pheasant nymphs, and worm patterns. 

For more on the best flies and the best fly fishing methods, check out my page, Fly Fishing For Steelhead: Great Lakes Style

Spin fishing

Spin fishing involves casting lures using a reel with a smooth drag. It works well in the fall because steelheads are more aggressive at this time. The smooth drag used in spin fishing allows anglers to handle fast and aggressive fish easily. 

Spin fishing is also known for effective methods like Drift Fishing and Bottom Bouncing

The Best Baits, Lures, and Flies for Fishing on the Salmon River

Some of the best baits used for Salmon River steelhead include; 


Beads imitate salmon and trout eggs perfectly, and the shiny colors on beads attract steelheads. Controlling the beads’ movement to mimic natural movement in water increases your chances of making a catch.

If you have never fished with beads, you are missing out. Beads are sometimes my most productive bait. Find out more at Fishing With Beads: 5 Guide Tips For More Fish


As mentioned earlier, flies are one of the steelheads’ favorite meals, which is why they serve as good bait for steelhead. Flies can be fished with a fly rod, or under a float, or with bottom bouncing methods.

Effective Salmon River steelhead flies come in a range of varieties, including; Prince Nymph, Stonefly Nymph, Wooly Bugger, San Juan Worm, and the yarn egg. 

Roe / Spawn

Roe is the most popular form of bait with Salmon River steelhead anglers, and it is effective for catching steelhead in the Salmon River at any time of the year. In addition, roe’s natural flavor and scent are likely to attract steelhead faster than other forms of artificial bait. 

The steelheads also tend to hold on to roe longer because their teeth get stuck on the mesh with which it is wrapped. This gives even new anglers a better chance of hooking it up. 

Despite its popularity, roe isn’t always the most effective bait for catching steelhead on Salmon River. If they are not eating roe, switch to other forms of bait and lures. 


Like flies, worms are a delicious meal that steelheads love. Therefore, they make a good bait for catching steelhead, and there are many days when worms are my most effective bait. Not all worms are good for steelhead and I have found the most effective ones through trial and error.

I use a lot of different baits, and I show you which ones, how and when I use them, and my leader setups on my page, Best Steelhead Baits

Increasing Your Steelhead Catch On The Salmon River

February, March, and April are great months to catch spring steelhead. The fish tend to mate and reproduce during this period, and thousands of them are likely to enter and spread out over the entire Salmon River.

In spring, you can increase your catch by releasing female steelhead back into the river. More males tend to hang around areas where females are present for mating, so target them. Catching the female will cause male steelheads to swim away from the area to find another mate.

Tight Lines,


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One Comment

  1. WOW! So much informative information! Thank you! This has really perked my interest to fish the NY Salmon River. I’ve fished the Salmon River in Idaho but this is so much closer. Thanks again for all the info!!!