Brooks fly fishing on the salmon river. He is standing in knee high water and is about to cast his line out

Full Swing on the Salmon River

Article Written by Brooks Robinson. Learn More About the author below / Article Read Time: 5 Minutes

Every year the anticipation for salmon season is high and as we inch closer to the “big run” we always wonder how good of a year its going to be? In early June I took a charter out of Oswego, NY with our good friend Captain Kevin Keller of Fish Chopper Charters. We had nonstop action from the moment we put the first rod in the water until we called off the trip by late morning with sore arms. Typically, when you have great numbers of salmon that early and throughout July and August it tends to lead to an above average return year in the river. Since then the lake reports from charter captains around the eastern basin of Lake Ontario have been incredible, with large numbers of fish and larger than average fish size. Although there are many tributaries to find salmon throughout September and October we consider our home water to be the world famous Salmon River in Pulaski, NY.

A man standing on a boat and holding onto his fly fishing rod. There is another fly rod that is behind held in a holder

Each year the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation stocks both King and Coho salmon, which will return to spawn 3-4 years later. The wild card on how many fish will return to the river can also depend on the natural spawning that occurs each fall. In my opinion this is one of those years where we had a high rate of successful natural reproduction from 3-4 years ago. There are many factors that lead to great natural spawning years and high returns, many of which are hard to pin point. Typically, higher than average water flows during the spawning timeframe leads to less angling pressure. When you combine less angling pressure and higher than average water flows when the smolt swim back to the lake you have a recipe for success. Predation from other fish and birds play a large factor in this equation, but when everything works out in favor of salmon spawning and smolt survival you have big numbers of returning fish!

An angler has his back to the camera and his fly line is in the water

Many people associate salmon fishing with crowded, shoulder to shoulder rivers using barbaric tactics to fight these fish. However, over the last couple decades I’ve seen a great transformation in the way anglers respect the space of each other in addition to their angling methods. There are always a few bad apples in the bunch that ruin the experience for some but you can say that about most anything in life. Having fished the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY for over 30 years I can honestly still say I look forward to the return of these fish in the river and everything that goes along with fishing for them. My advice to you if you are inexperienced or have never done this is to take a walk away from the crowds and carve out your own little piece of salmon fishing paradise. Personally, I would rather fight or land a few fish or nothing at all than be crowded amongst hundreds of other anglers. If you are experienced or a veteran of this fishery take a couple minutes out of each trip to educate and help others be successful.

Brooks fly fishing on the salmon river. He is standing in knee high water and is about to cast his line out

Salmon Fly Fishing Gear

Having the right gear to land one of these mean, hard fighting salmon is key to being successful.  Here is my general fly fishing gear guide for targeting salmon on the Salmon River and other Great Lakes Tributaries:

Rods & Reels:

  • 9 or 10 ft, 8wt – 10wt Single hand fly rods.
  • 11-12 ft, 7-8 wt two hand switch Rods.
  • 8wt – 10wt Fly reel. Make sure you invest in a solid reel, it is not worth breaking a cheap one and cutting your day short. 

Fly Lines, Leaders, and Tippet:

A set of hands are preparing their fly reel with line

As of today there has already been more salmon in the river than I can ever remember for this time of year. It's always a great sign that a big return of fish is on the horizon when late August and early September has had really good angler success. Although we’ve yet to see that “huge” run of salmon its only a matter of a few days until that happens. The recent high water leaves me to question how many fish have already come through the lower end of the river and made their way well upstream. There have been many positive reports over the last few weeks during those high water events, and considering fishing pressure was very light I’m confident there were quite a few fish that made it through to the top end of the river. My point is that if you plan to come up do not rule out exploring the entire river, where on a typical year the vast majority of salmon would be in the lower portion. 

A man and a teenage boy are kneeling in water, and the boy is holding onto a salmon. The man is holding onto a fishing net

If you plan on salmon fishing this season make sure you enjoy everything this fishery has to offer. As I mentioned before, if you are a seasoned vet of this fishery take some time to help make others successful. Always support the local businesses when you can and just remember, the steelhead will be here before you know it!

Products Mentioned in this Article
Cortland Specialty Series Salmon Steelhead
Cortland Two-Handed Compact Switch
Cortland Salmon Steelhead Tapered Leaders
Cortland XTR Fluorocarbon Leader Material
About the author

Brooks Robinson was born in Cortland, NY and grew up on a small lake just 10 minutes north of the Cortland Line Office. He started working at Cortland Line 10 years ago in fly line production. Currently he is part of the product development team and an inside sales rep covering Maine to Maryland for both conventional and fly fishing products. In his free time you can find him fishing the Upper Delaware for trout or fishing saltwater for tuna and striped bass. Brooks currently resides in Syracuse, NY with his wife Rianne and two girls who love to fish and spend time outdoors. 


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