While it may be known for its epic Salmon Runs and Steelhead fishing in the second half of the year, the Salmon River in Oswego County, New York is home to some of the craziest smallmouth fishing we have ever experienced. Each fish was bigger and healthier than the last, and the swift current of the Salmon River made the fights insane! Every year these fish pile into the river to spawn and feed during the warmer months before they head back out to Lake Ontario. We had the opportunity to head up north with Oswego County Tourism to try our hand at landing a few of these trophy Bronzebacks and wanted to share what got us tight!
#1 – Identify Ambush Points
Smallmouth by nature, tend to be lazy fish when they are in a river, and prefer to use as little energy as possible when they are on the hunt. Similar to trout, they like to sit in places where they will be out of the current, but have the ability to shoot out and feed quickly and aggressively. Drop-offs and transition water will almost always hold big fish, above you can see us working a seam where the water goes from light to dark as it swirls in a big Salmon River pool. Smallies use the dark water to both hide from predators and as a means of hiding out until an unsuspecting piece of prey washes downstream into their hungry jaws.
#2 – Don’t Overlook the Pocket Water
As we were walking along the River on the Douglaston Salmon Run, we initially walked by spots which held the biggest fish of our days on the water. Smallmouth can hold in very shallow and fast water, behind rocks and in current seams. This fish was hiding behind a big boulder right at the top of a fast riffle and shot out to inhale the fly as it swung past. With the river full of post-spawn smallies, each fish will fight to hold its feeding position and defend it aggressively, so don’t be afraid to throw some bigger patterns to get a big reaction strike from a pissed off green football!
#3 – Bring a Sinking Line
When we fished, the water levels were up a little high, but that didn’t seem to bother the smallies at all. We could see them rolling deep in the fast current. Even with weighted flies, the current was a bit too quick but the Scientific Anglers Sonar Cold Sink 25 was just what we needed to get our flies down to them. Casting our streamers upstream of where we saw the fish, we allowed the flies to sink and then started our strip-strip-pause retrieve and waited for the telltale thump and head shakes of a smallie eat.
#4 – Fish with Friends
When the Smallie bite is on, doubling up on fat bass is pretty much the norm, once we found a hungry school of fish, it was nothing but “Fish on!” answered quickly by “Me too!” Because these fish are aggressive and not at all shy, they are the perfect way to get your fly-curious friend to pick up the old 6-weight and start chucking big flies out into the current to catch their first fish on the fly. Just don’t forget to remind them to strip set!
#5 – Bring a Diverse Fly Selection
While Smallmouth bass aren’t always the pickiest of eaters, having a good mix of flies can be key. We fished a variety of Shultz’s Red-Eyed Leeches, Clousers, Crayfish, and wooly buggers. In different sections, each different fly seemed to elicit different responses from the fish. In the deep pools, they wanted the crayfish and leeches bounced off the bottom, but in the riffles, we dead-drifted streamers around rocks to find our fish. Having a box with a few flies of various flies is also important depending on the river bottom. Unweighted flies produced fish when swung through the riffles and then as we entered the deeper runs and pools we switched up our presentation to heavier flies to get down to the fish.
If you’ve got Smallies on the mind, consider shooting up to the Salmon River, New York, we promise you won’t be disappointed and your bass thumb won’t wear off for weeks to come!
Presented by Oswego County Tourism.