Taming the King

A Great Lakes Chinook Salmon Story

King Salmon Grip and Grin
Courtesy of @clinchycreative

For years I’ve heard stories about people catching Salmon in the northeastern United States. I knew that Atlantic salmon were native to that area, but I had some confusion over why I was seeing photos of Steelhead, Cohos, and the mighty King Salmon. After a bit of research, I found that the Great Lakes hold a variety of trout and salmon species that run up the tributaries of the lakes during different times of the year— allowing anglers the opportunity to target massive lake fish in small water situations.

King Salmon release
Courtesy of Zach Clinchy

After getting my bearings straight, I planned to travel to the Douglaston Salmon Run in Oswego County, New York. If I timed it right, I would be fishing during the peak of the King Salmon run, and I would have an opportunity to fight (and hopefully land) the biggest freshwater fish I’ve ever caught on the fly!

Aerial shot of foliage
Courtesy of Eric Braker

Arriving in Pulaski, New York, I knew that I had to be timing it right. Everywhere I looked I saw trucks zooming around with fly fishing decals, store signs displaying messages like “Welcome Anglers!” and the air of the town was filled with opportunity.

Getting down to the river, you soon realize that this is not the average river fishing experience most people are used to. Depending on the area you are fishing in, people are standing shoulder to shoulder as they swing their flies over the promising-looking pools. While this may not be the serene/wild experience you’re searching for, these crowds are part of the experience. The conversations, the banter, the net assists, and all the weird occurrences that happen in between create a level of comradery amongst anglers huddled around this common resource.

Aerial shot of the Salmon River
Courtesy of Eric Braker

As the fish make their way up the river they rest in select pools for a short period of time before continuing on their journey upstream. These pools offer up the best opportunity to drift a flashy fly in front of a fish and trigger an aggressive response.

Even though fish are seen everywhere, getting them to eat the fly is another story. Since they are in the process of swimming upstream to spawn, they aren’t really concerned with eating. Most of the hookups happen when the fish aggressively swipes at the fly out of annoyance. As you can imagine, this situation can lead to a lot of foul hooking and disgruntled anglers. But, when the opportunity arises and the fish eats your fly, strap yourself in because you’re about to go for a ride!

Angler fighting a King salmon
Courtesy of Zach Clinchy

When you first hook into a King Salmon, you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen. Each one fights a little differently depending on the size and how long it’s been swimming up the river. Sometimes the fish will shoot off in a sporadic sprint up and down the river, sometimes you’ll have a fish that gets acrobatic, and other times it will just sit there like you just hooked a cinder block. Any way you cut it, this fish will require every bit of your 8wt’s strength, your forearm’s ability to flex for an absurd amount of time, and the mental fortitude to fight this fish strategically to the net.

Guide netting a King Salmon
Courtesy of Zach Clinchy

When the fish finally makes it to the net you have a moment to rest before engaging those biceps and holding up the biggest freshwater fish of your life. The sheer size of this beast along with its kyped toothy grin is enough to remind you of why this fish was on your bucket list in the first place.

Angler holding a King Salmon
Courtesy of Zach Clinchy

If you’re looking to plan your own trip, check out Tailwater Lodge or Douglaston Salmon Run (DSR) for more info!

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