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
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
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.