Reader's Casts
September 21st, 1998
PROBLEMS WITH CONNECTICUT'S ATLANTIC SALMON

by Ron Whiteley


In 1988, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Fisheries Division, bowing to public pressure, stocked their excess Atlantic salmon brood stock into state waters. Prior to that the fish were killed and given away. The 1988 stocking consisted of about 400 fish that were stocked into the Shetucket River below the Greenville Dam in Norwich. These fish provided an excellent recreational fishery through the winter and early spring. Subsequent stockings were in the mainstream of the Connecticut River, where they would not be accessible to recreational anglers. Beginning in 1993, these excess brood stock fish were stocked into the Shetucket and Naugatuck Rivers to provide a recreational fishery for Atlantic salmon. Regulations for this fishery include the taking of 1 Atlantic Salmon per day by fly fishing.

The fishery has proven to be a huge success, with many anglers catching their first Atlantic salmon. However, a problem has been identified by this fishery. The problem is that many people are spin fishing for Atlantic Salmon and:
1. keeping fish,
2. using lures with multiple treble hooks, and
3. deliberately or inadvertently snagging or foul hooking Atlantic Salmon.
Additionally, some people are using a fly rod with lead weights and deliberately lifting, or foul hooking Atlantic salmon. Most of these fisherman learned how to fish for salmon in New York, where it was legal to snag pacific salmon and lifting was, and still is, a common practice.

These methods are particularly harmful to Atlantic salmon since the Atlantic Salmon do not die after spawning. They return to the sea to grow and return another year. These practices are particularly offensive to traditional Atlantic salmon fishermen, who respect the resource, travel far and spend a lot of money to enjoy the sport. Additionally, no other state or nation allows the use of spinning rods and treble hooks on Atlantic salmon rivers.

One of the goals that should be accomplished by the establishment of an Atlantic Salmon brood stock fishery should be to teach area anglers the most effective, and rewarding, traditional methods to catch them. When, and if, Connecticut ever gets a substantial return of sea return Atlantic Salmon that would allow opening a fishery, we can expect to see the same methods we are currently observing in the brood stock fishery. People will be wading up the center of rivers and streams with polarized glasses, not fishing, but looking for fish. When they spot one they cast to it and rapidly lift the rod tip in an attempt to foul hook the fish.

Catching an Atlantic salmon should be the pinnacle of fisherman's efforts. From catching your first bluegill and trout, through a 3 pound plus bass, catching your first Atlantic salmon is a moment to be cherished. The long road to that moment included a substantial education on fishing equipment, methods and lore. Those that have traveled that road have developed a great respect for the Atlantic salmon by the time they attempt to hook their first one.

What Connecticut is proposing is to allow someone with absolutely no fishing knowledge or experience to be able to spend $15.00 for a license and $20.00 at Wal-Mart for some tackle, and catch an Atlantic salmon using a lure containing 9 or more hook points. This approach is sacrilege to the experienced anglers that have traveled the road to being a successful Atlantic salmon angler. It is detrimental to the Atlantic salmon fishery because so many people pursuing them will not have developed they required respect for the resource. The Atlantic salmon is a rare creature, admired by those who understand its fantastic migratory feats as well as its acrobatic feats.

In the current brood stock fishery there are far more fishermen than there are fish. This ratio will be more exaggerated in a sea return fishery. There is a high ratio of angler success in the current fishery because many of the fishermen are practicing catch-and-release. Some of the novice anglers do not practice catch and release and some are out-right snagging fish. Practicing catch and release is the only way to facilitate a higher angler success ratio for Atlantic salmon anglers and give more anglers the opportunity to catch an Atlantic salmon.

The objective of specifying fly fishing only for Atlantic salmon is not to preclude people using other tackle from fishing for them, but to ensure that those that do fish for them have developed the appropriate respect for the resource. Having to buy quality fly fishing equipment, and learning to use it, requires more of an investment and commitment.

Connecticut is not ready for a large return of salmon to the Connecticut River system. Many Connecticut anglers do not have an appreciation or respect for the Atlantic salmon. The State does not have enough enforcement resources to protect returning salmon. Surely the theft of salmon from the Quinebaug hatchery was indicative of how far some people will go to get their hands on a salmon.

Excess brood stock could serve an educational role to promote a better understanding. The education of anglers takes place stream-side, not in a classroom or by reading a newspaper article. I personally have explained the salmon's life cycle and the importance of the restoration to many young anglers fishing the Shetucket for salmon. They then did not mind fishing with a single barbless hook. Whether or not any fish were caught, the educational experience occurred. It would not have otherwise occurred if the potential for catching an Atlantic salmon had not been there.

The DEP does not, and cannot, have a stream-side educational program effective enough to reach the anglers that need the training. If you were to spend some time talking with some of the "blue collar anglers" on opening day or below the Derby or Greenville Dams, you would soon realize that there are a great many "meat fishermen" on our rivers. Not that there is anything wrong with being a meat fisherman, but many don't know or worse, don't care, about the Atlantic salmon program. The only way to teach these anglers to respect the fishery is by stream-side education by experienced salmon anglers. If they know that the other fishermen on the river will turn them in for illegally taking salmon, there is a much better chance that they will respect the law.

A publicized domestic salmon fishery on non-restoration waters is the best way to educate the public on Atlantic salmon angling. Providing steam-side interaction between experienced and non-experienced Atlantic salmon anglers is the most effective (as well as cost effective) Atlantic salmon educational program. Test implementation of the proposed State Atlantic salmon regulations on a domestic fishery could provide information on their effectiveness.

We should learn from the lessons from the Great Lakes, where regulators were persuaded to allow the snagging of pacific salmon because "they were going to die any way". This resulted in an entire generation of fishermen that believe that the fish won't bite and snagging or foul hooking is the only way to catch them. States throughout the northeast are now paying the price for those regulations by having to contend with fishermen that are snagging and lifting trout in New England rivers.

Do we want Canadians or, Europeans and others to say, "here comes another Connecticut fisherman, we better keep an eye on them". This could well happen if we facilitate producing a generation of fishermen that believe that using treble hooked lures to catch Atlantic salmon is a socially accepted practice, when in fact, it is not. It is not only not socially accepted, it is illegal on almost all salmon rivers in the world. If someone wants to use spinning or casting equipment to fish for Atlantic salmon, they are free to do so in the salt water or tidal areas at the rivers mouth. We should anticipate that there will be a substantial intercept fishery in the salt water areas of Connecticut, if Atlantic salmon are ever declared "restored'.

To facilitate the restoration of Atlantic salmon many Canadian commercial fishermen and there families were put out of business. An adult Atlantic salmon, that has completed it's 4000 mile Odyssey and successfully returned to it's river of origin, is deserving of a better fate than being foul-hooked and killed. This is not why many Canadian commercial fishermen were put out of business. They were put out of business because it was overwhelmingly demonstrated that a salmon alive in the river is worth far more than a salmon dead in a net. Likewise a salmon swimming in the Shetucket or Naugatuck rivers is worth far more to the economy of the State than a dead salmon in someone=s truck. For far less than what they paid for the line on their reel, a fly fisherman can buy a tasty farm raised salmon at Stop &Shop. The bloodstock fish that are stocked are not raised for table fare and have bland white flesh that is not nearly as good as wild or farm raised fish. Additionally they are being taken home from areas with less than pristine water quality.

Can you see the expressions on a displaced Canadian commercial fisherman's face, or image the shock experienced by traditional Atlantic salmon anglers, if they were to watch Jimmy Houston catching Atlantic salmon in the Shetucket with a baitcasting rod and a "crankbait"? Picture him removing the treble hooks from the salmon with his pliers. The existing regulations permit this to happen. Perhaps we could even have a salmon tournament. A Scottish angler might exclaim, "the bloody yanks ave goon and doon it agin"!

Jimmy Houston would release his fish. An amateur urban angler that has never caught a fish over 15 inches (typical of many CT anglers) would probably not release a 10 pound salmon if no one was around to watch him.

Several safety problems have been brought out by the brood stock fishery. One is the potential for injury because there are spin fisherman that stand and fish behind fly fishermen. There are inexperienced spin fishermen that are not aware of the space required to fly fish. They will stand in the back cast arc and/or cast over your line. This not only detracts from having a quality fishing experience, but raises the chances that someone may get impaled by a salmon hook . Since the brood stock fishery begins in November and goes until the last day in February, it is primarily a cold water fishery. Many inexperienced people do not own a good pair of waders and try to fish from the bank, behind someone that is wading.

Another safety problem is that young children that spin fish the area are prone to getting wet in the winter. Additionally, the Shetucket fishery is subject to large and rapid water level changes from the Scotland hydroelectric dam. Making the area fly fishing only would remove some people that are more prone to accidents/injuries.~ Ron Whiteley

Next week Part 2, The Case for Special Regulations.


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