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Salmon fishing comeback on Lake George

By Gordon Woodworth, Chronicle News Editor

“Salmon fishing on Lake George is definitely on the upswing,” says Joe Greco, owner of Justy-Joe Charters.

Brian Gaugler of Scotia caught this 24-inch, 5-pound landlocked salmon on Lake George on Aug. 1, fishing with Joe Greco’s Justy-Joe Sportfishing Charters.Brian Gaugler of Scotia caught this 24-inch, 5-pound landlocked salmon on Lake George on Aug. 1, fishing with Joe Greco’s Justy-Joe Sportfishing Charters.

“Last year was an exceptionally good year for numbers and size, and this year is even better. I started fishing on the lake in 1991 and in the mid- to late-1990s, we were catching 400 salmon a year.

“We’re not catching those numbers this year, but it seems like we’re catching bigger fish, healthier fish, and the ratio of keepers to total fish is higher.”

Justin Mahoney of Highliner Charter Fishing, a captain here for 17 years, says, “Salmon fishing is coming back. It collapsed for a while, but now they are stocking a new strain, and the fish seem to be healthier and fatter, and hardier.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation transitioned to the NY Segabo strain “between 2013 and 2016. Now it is all Sebago strain,” DEC spokesman David Winchell said, answering our query.

“DEC Fisheries has a sense that the salmon fishery has improved recently…We have received an increase in reports from anglers catching better quality fish. The switch to the Sebago strain most likely had the greatest impact due to better genetics.

“DEC also started stocking the salmon via boats to better disperse them around the lake and placing them directly in the deeper waters the fish prefer.”

Up to 30,000 stocked each spring

Mr. Winchell said DEC stocks between 28,000 and 30,000 spring yearling salmon every year in the late spring,

In addition, “the Warren County Hatchery holds 3,000 more salmon until early fall and then stocks half of these ‘super yearlings’ in each basin of the lake.”

Mr. Greco, who runs three charter boats on the lake, said August “is usually a great time for salmon fishing,” and the photos he’s posting on social media show it. Earlier this month, Brian Gaugler of Scotia caught a 24-inch, five-pound salmon. Mr. Greco says charters that take the time to target the tasty fish are seeing results.

“The northern basin is the place to be,” he said, “but my son Joe is crushing them in the southern basin. The other day he had nine on, and boated four, and the day before that he boated three nice ones.”

Mr. Greco said a lot of charter boat captains don’t target salmon, partly because they can be more hit-and-miss than lake trout, which he calls “easy targets.”

“If people devote the time to targeting salmon, I’m convinced they will catch more,” he said.

He said the NY Sebago strain “is absolutely making a big difference. And these fish seem to do well in other lakes, too.

“There are so many unknown factors. We don’t get them everyday. We’ll go three or four days with none, but we’re usually only fishing an hour out of a five-hour charter because my clients generally want fish in the boat and the lake trout fishing is so good.

“I’d like to see more salmon numbers, and more consistency, but I’m seeing a tremendous difference compared to eight or 10 years ago.”

They eat smelt & grow fast

Jeff Johnson of Rod Bender Charters, with more than 20 years of experience on the lake, said he hasn’t spent much time fishing for salmon this year “with the lake trout fishing so good, I prefer to go for the sure thing. We’ve had a couple larger ones on that jumped and threw the hook, and caught some smaller ones.”

He said, “We had a few years of poor survival of the stocked fish. They really need smelt fry to grow quickly. The good thing is they are cyclical and since they grow quickly, much faster than lake trout, a rebound doesn’t take long to happen and we are seeing signs that it is starting.

“I’ve been noticing bait schools that I think are smelt fry on my fishfinder and that is what happened before our last good salmon period a few years back.”

Jason Carden of Hooker Charters has 17 years of experience on the lake, and said in the last five years, “We’ve seen more and more salmon, a couple per trip. Years ago we’d go a month without seeing one. And we’re catching some nice fish, 23-24 inches and in the 4-6 pound range.”

But he notes that his boat is “specifically designed for bass fishing,” which he says has been solid for size if not numbers.

“The size has been pretty good,” he said. “A client caught one the other day that was 19-1/2 inches and 4-1/2 pounds. The numbers are way down, though.”

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