CT Broodstock 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 fish.

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.