Lake Ontario's native Atlantic salmon went extinct in the 1800's, for much the same reasons salmon all over the East Coast were suffering: dams, pollution, and overfishing. As seems to be human nature given just about any and all similar cases turn out the same, those in charge of such things immediately started trying to replace those Atlantics with something different. These attempts included the first stockings of Pacific salmon in Lake Ontario. These early attempts to establish cohos and chinooks failed, but hope was never truly lost, and when the extirpation of lake trout in the middle of the 20th century resulted in a huge boom and overpopulation of alewives the stockings again commenced. By 1974 a run had been established in New York's Salmon River.
The early years of this fishery were, to put it politely, an absolute shit-show. People didn't believe the fish would voluntarily take a lure or bait, so they deliberately snagged them. Though already illegal and widely considered unfair chase on most waters, it remained common practice on Lake Ontario tributaries where salmon runs occurred until 1995. Fear of economic impacts to the now wildly popular fisheries was surpassed by the overwhelmingly obvious problems with such an unethical practice. Illegal activity, fist fights, harvesting salmon eggs for profit, and other such behavior were rampant. The snagging ban inevitably did cause a decrease in fishing effort but over time, as people discovered that the fish could indeed be caught on flies and bait if targeted the right way, it once again boomed. It is estimated that $201,000,000 is spent by anglers fishing the Salmon River annually. And though things have gotten more civilized, there is still a lot of buffoonery. My friend Rick invited me and fellow fish head Charlie to join him on a trip during the peak of the salmon run. We'd spend one day fishing the public water and two on the private Douglaston Salmon Run, giving us the chance to see both the chaotic and the more civilized side of this fishery.
|Lifelist fish #178: Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha. Rank Species|
|Rick with a big hen chinook that took an egg.|