Atlantic Salmon History
by Bob Gregorski
“Look at the size of those
salmon”. “What brutes.” “They are too
beautiful to put into the river.” Those were a few of the
exclamations made by Trout Unlimited members who helped with the
first stocking of broodstock Atlantic salmon into the Naugatuck
River in the fall of 1992. EH, then the DEP Inland Fisheries Director,
bestowed me with Ernie Beckwith honor of stocking the first salmon
into the river. It was a wonderful and fulfilling time. Scores
of people and the press were there to capture the moment. Several
long-time Trout Unlimited members and I had been working to restore
the river since the late 1970’s. The Naugy was one of the
two rivers chosen to receive the no longer needed Atlantic salmon
broodstock. The river and its riparian habitat had made a significant
comeback from earlier times when it was one of the most polluted
rivers in the country. One reward from the DEP was to create a
broodstock Atlantic salmon fishery for Naugatuck River. The Shetucket
River was selected in the eastern half of the state. The DEP made
it clear this program was a trial one and would be evaluated annually.
If old, breeder salmon were available and anglers benefited from
having the fisheries, then it would continue. It was evaluated
closely and extensively. The surveys and evaluation reports concluded
that the program was a great success.
Well it has continued without interruption since the fall of 1992.
And the beat goes on. Those early years were learning experiences
for most anglers. On most fall weekends, anglers from New York,
Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont fished the Naugatuck and
Shetucket rivers for the large salmon; some weighed as much as
25 pounds. Note: This season and last, salmon weighing 25 pounds
were stocked. Crowded waters and few salmon made hooking one unlikely.
Releasing a few hundred salmon into the Naugatuck River, which
is 39 miles, long, made catching one difficult. Those that were
caught and harvested, and eventually most were, left fewer fish
for other anglers.
Going back to those early days, I was fortunate to have played
a role in developing some of the current regulations. I worked
with Jim Moulton who was the director of Inland Fisheries at the
time to develop the delayed harvest (Catch & Release October
1 through November 30). It made good sense to have several anglers
catch the same fish, since there were so few. And to extend the
season through March 31 gave anglers a chance to catch a holdover
in early spring.
Years later, I had input about new regulations as a member of
the DEP Fisheries Advisory Council of the Bureau of Natural Resources
chaired by Bureau Chief Ed Parker. Lures were to be approved to
catch salmon. No additional weight could be added to spin line
or fly tippet and, all lures must have one free-swinging hook.
My experiences fishing for coho and king salmon and steelhead
trout while fishing the Salmon River in Pulaski, New York and
its neighboring towns in lead me to pursue those regulations vigorously.
It was a deplorable experience watching poachers snagging, snatching
and lifting salmon and steelhead. Fishing with a free-swing single
hook with no additional weight makes it difficult to snag or lift
In recent years on the Naugatuck River, I have seen anglers catch
salmon using bait, herding fish and antagonizing them to hit,
taking salmon during the Catch & Release season and ?harvesting
more than one per day, not releasing a foul-hook fish when harvesting
was allowed. All are illegal activities. Crowding other anglers
on the water is unsportsmanlike behavior. I must say that most
anglers abide the laws and are good sportsman. I can understand
the temptation to fish I’m not sure what drives poachers
to fish illegally. The price of Atlantic salmon in the markets
is reasonable. Fishing for Atlantic salmon legally and hooking
one is a rewarding experience. If you hooked a monster, most of
the time it got away. Over the years, I have released more than
100 salmon in the Naugatuck River. Roughly, my hook-up to land
ratio has been three to one. I have fished the river from October
through March and have caught them on at least a score of different
fly pattern and sizes including a dry fly. I have never used a
net or tailer to land a salmon. Fishing for these broodstock is
quite different than fishing for wild Atlantic salmon. The wild
fish fight many times harder than these hatchery-raised fish.
Two weeks ago, the first of its annual stockings of surplus broodstock
Atlantic salmon for 2008-2009 was completed. A total of 500 salmon
were stocked into the Naugatuck and Shetucket rivers, Marshapaug
Lake (Union), Crystal Lake (Ellington) and Beach Pond (Voluntown).
It was the first of several stockings, DEP’s Inland Fisheries
Division will be completing. Last week 75 more were stocked into
the Naugatuck. The next stocking may come just before Thanksgiving.
The stocking of several lakes with broodstock salmon is a departure
from previous practice necessitated by the recent drought. Since
DEP began stocking surplus Atlantic salmon in 1992, all fish have
been stocked into the Naugatuck and Shetucket Rivers, where very
popular fisheries have developed. However, the dry weather that
began in August 2007 caused stream flows in both rivers to decline
to levels unsuitable for stocking the large salmon. Rains had
significantly increased flows in the Naugatuck River, but flows
in the Shetucket River have not improved enough to permit salmon
stocking at this time.
“The first batch of broodstock Atlantic salmon needs to
be stocked immediately as holding them longer will interfere with
and endanger salmon spawning operations that are currently underway,”
said Edward Parker, Chief of the DEP Bureau of Natural Resources.
“Under normal conditions we would be releasing these fish
into the Shetucket and Naugatuck Rivers. We only have a limited
number of salmon available each year, and our data indicate that
river fishing attracts the most fishing trips and provides the
highest catch rates,” explained Parker. The DEP does plan
to take advantage of this year’s lake stockings to collect
information on the resulting fisheries, which may be used to inform
future stocking decisions. “At this point our hope is that
flow conditions in eastern Connecticut will recover soon and that
we’ll be able to stock the Shetucket and Naugatuck Rivers
with the additional salmon that will be ready for release in November
following spawning,” said Parker.
This year’s stocking of three lakes continues to be experimental.
The DEP intends to collected data to determine the success of
salmon fishing during the 2008-2009 season. Last year, 500 salmon
were stocked into the Naugatuck River and 293 into the Shetucket
River. No salmon were stocked in December. In previous years,
salmon from a federal hatchery were stocked in December.