As the days begin to cool from the chilly nights, and the nicely mowed lawns begin to become littered from the anxious maple leaves, the patient salmon angler begins to get just a little excited. You begin opening your fly box and checking your inventory of flies. Perhaps you look through old pictures from years before, or even begin checking fishing holes way before there are any fish in them. This is the long waited salmon run. It is not just anglers in the East. Men and women from all over the world wait for the moment the ultimate cold-water fish makes their yearly pilgrimage. For some salmon, it is their only run, for others, such as the Atlantic Salmon, they may make the run even three times before their lives are claimed from the stress of the spawn.
In the Adirondack Park there are a few places where the landlocked salmon reside and can be expected to join together for their long waited run. Some of the most well known places are the Ausable River, Boquet River, and the Saranac. Last year, I had made arrangements with a friend of mine named Ken Kalil, who happens to be one the best guides on the Ausable River. Ken and I, as well as many of the anglers who fish the Adirondacks prize no fish more than the Landlocked Salmon. Ok, they may be second to a big brookie, but when the salmon are hitting, itís hard to get my bottom in a float tube.
Many people are always asking me about the gear that goes along with these fish as well as how to fish for them. The best thing to do to find out where they are or when the are running is to call someone. Either call my fly shop in Utica, NY or one of the fly shops in Lake Placid, such as Jones Outfitters, Hungry Trout Fly Shop or Blue Mt Outfitters in Lake Placid and Blue Mountain Lake. Once you get the OK that the fish are running get your stuff together and head for the Lake or Stream. There is nothing worse than missing the run, or being there too early.
I am never one to say that you need one special rod for one type of fishing. If all you have is a 5 weight than at least give it a try. I like rods from a 4 weight to a 7 weight, and in different lengths depending on the type of stream, or 9 feet for lakes. I like the 4 weights for the lakes when it is really calm. Sometimes the fish get really spooky and that is when you really need the suppleness of the 4 weights. 5 weight is normal, middle of the road, a little tough for windy days, but nice on the stream. I like a 6 weight best. This line weight seams to have enough strength to land the fish fairly easy, cast in the wind nicely, throw bigger flies, and is not too big to be tiresome. The 7 weights are used a lot on the lakes when the wind picks up. In the fall, it is common to get windy days more often than calm ones. An old friend and fishing partner of mine, Ron Janowsky, who might get more excited than me about landlocks, once drove over an hour at least 4 times in a row, only to find the lake too rough to launch. The moral of the story is being prepared. The nice part about the Champlain area is that there are streams and lakes so you have the beauty of both worlds depending on weather.
Some fishing situations need a really good reel; saltwater, carp, or big salmon fishing. For landlocks, I think you better prepare for leaping fish more than running fish. I have only had one landlocked salmon take me to my backing. It was out in deep water near an island. The fish took the fly, ran at me and then took off into the middle of the lake. It was better than running to shore where the big rocks were. This situation was a rare one, and even then, I did not need a great drag system. Just some luck, which is usually the case with this type of fishing.
Many times when I sell a fly rod, people do not see the benefit of purchasing a good fly line. I often have compared this to automobile tires. You do not put an all around tire on a fast sports car, and there is a difference between an entry level low speed rating tire and a "z" or "x" rated high-speed tire. The same holds true for fly lines and fly line tapers. Fly line tapers are like treed on a tire. An entry-level fly line does not cast like a high-end specialty line, and the right taper for the specific situation can mean all the difference. Case in point: When the landlocks are staged up at the mouth of the rivers, lying over sand or light colored bottom, they can become very spooky. A floating line ripping a streamer can spook the entire school; in fact a fly line cast over the school on a calm day can ruin everything. I most often will choose a mono clear fly line in a weight forward taper. I especially like the intermediate feature of this line. The line is very stealthy and often makes the difference between a spooked hole and a successful day.
In general I like a weight forward, mostly because I like to shoot line, and feel this taper is best. Sinking lines are common on lakes for trolling. Sink tip lines are used many times in streams for streamer fishing. The mono-clear line is best for shallow lake fishing, and the floating can be used all around, especially for dry fly fishing in lakes and streams.
Leaders and Tippet
Leaders are more important to me than tippet in most cases with landlocks. The key is to get your fly to lay out fairly straight. To most of you by now you must be thinking, "da, of course you want it straight." Well, not always. In trout fishing and pocket water fishing where presentation is key, you want a little slack to get a better drift. When casting to landlocked salmon, a loose line is a lost fish. Most of the time you are stripping streamers, so if the fish strikes as soon as the fly lands, which is often the case, you better have a solid hook set or the fish is lost. This often means having a leader that is a little oversize for the job. If you would use a 9 foot 5x leader for the fly you are using, try a 9 foot 4x or even 3x. You want the most efficient transfer of power as possible. Tippet usually is a minimum of 4x or 6lb. You can try to go light, but the fish will break it when they jump or get wrapped up. One out of 5 landlocks will pull some kind of unexpected stunt. Wrapping themselves in their own tippet is often an over used tactic for this species. You need a tippet test that can take the stress when you have to hall one in almost sideways when that is all there is left to do to get them in and release them.
I am the worst when it comes to flies. I have never been one to say, "You gotta have this fly." Here is a good example of some good ones for lakes and streams.
Lakes, in the shallows:
Hares ear nymph 14-16
Carey Special 12
Muddler minnow, traditional tye 6-8
Mickey Finn 6-10
Chartreuse Zonker 6-8
Solid White Bucktail 6-10
Olive soft hackle 14-16
Hot orange cone head, olive body wooly bugger 6-12
Lakes Deep trolling:
Tandem Governor Aiken
Tandem orange over white bucktail
Tandem Chartreuse over white streamer
Yellow cone head muddler 6-10
Scud 16-18 behind streamer
Hot orange cone head, olive body wooly bugger 8-12
Wooly worm 12
Royal coachman 12-14
Mickey finn 8-12
Bead head hares ear 12-14
Elk hair 10-12
Stimulator, orange body 12
Olive or Black Wooly bugger 8-12
Jordan Ross is the owner of the JP Ross Fly Rod Co. located in NY Mills, NY.
Front page photo by Steve Bechard, all photos © Steve Bechard. For a full selection of Steve's Photos you can contact him through email at Steve Bechard
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