Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Jam-packed Columbus Day Weekend! (10/8/09-10/14/09)

Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff has been extremely busy this week leading educational programs at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery. The spawning process is well underway and the hatchery staff is approaching their quota for chinook eggs. On Monday, she gave an educational program to a group of Boy Scouts from the Boonville area. With several young fishermen in the group, the hatchery proved to be an exciting destination to learn about some of the biggest and best fish in the area. Unfortunately, because of the holiday there was little action in the "Spawn House," the room at the hatchery where the egg take process takes place. However, the boys and their chaperons were excited to take a tour of the Salmon River Falls Unique Area. The falls are breathtaking at this time of year and Liz recommends the view to anyone who has never visited before.

Boy Scouts and chaperons climb the stairs at the Salmon River Falls Unique Area. Photo by Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff.
Tuesday brought a group of students from Huntington in the Syracuse City School District out to the hatchery for a program. These students were fortunate to see artificial spawning taking place right before their eyes. The group asked many thoughtful questions about spawning and other aspects of the river, as did the large group of about 100 students from Homer on Wednesday. Wednesday's group braved the cold temperatures to learn about fish identification as well. Liz says that she even learned some really cool facts from the fish ID presentation; for example, she didn't know that fish have a special sensory organ called a lateral line. The lateral line usually runs from the gills to the tail along both sides of the fish. When closely examined, you can see that the scales of the lateral line have small holes in them with hair-like protrusions that help the fish sense vibrations and movements. This special organ is what allows fish to swim in large schools without bumping into the fish next to them. The lateral line is also important in helping the fish feel sudden vibrations that might signal danger.

A brilliant Red Maple along the Salmon River - peak salmon season coincided with peak fall foliage this year. Photo by Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman.

The Salmon River itself was a very busy place this past weekend, as Columbus Day weekend typically represents the peak of salmon season. Fish and fishermen were found in abundance, with many anglers coming from out of town to take advantage of the three-day weekend.

The Salmon River is the fourth most heavily-fished fishery in New York State in terms of angler effort, coming in behind only the two Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. One reason the Salmon River is such a popular fishing destination is because of the abundance of public fishing access--an overwhelming majority of the thirteen miles of river below the first dam is accessible to the public for fishing. But this isn't because the banks of the Salmon River are publicly owned (i.e. owned by New York State)--rather, most of the fishing access on the river is possible because Public Fishing Rights (PFRs) have been acquired on otherwise private land.

Recent wet weather has made a variety of mushrooms a common sight in the forests along the Salmon River. Photo by River Steward Greg Chapman.

PFRs are easements that allows public access on private land for the purpose of fishing, and only fishing--all other activities, such as camping and building fires, are prohibited. For a detailed summary of what PFRs are, and what is and isn't allowed, see this NYS Department of Environmental Conservation webpage. Because PFRs are located on otherwise private land, the concerns of the land's owner must be respected.

Many fishermen who come to the Salmon River respect the resource by minimizing their impacts on the land, and by carrying out what they carry in. Unfortunately, when a fishery is as heavily used as the Salmon River is during peak salmon season, some trash does get left behind. In some areas, the amount of empty coffee cups, aluminum cans and especially used fishing line, is somewhat disconcerting.

Litter left behind along the Salmon River. Photo by River Steward Greg Chapman.

As Stewards, we do take the time to try and clean up some of the hardest-hit areas--the trash is unsightly on the otherwise-beautiful river, and the spent fishing line can be harmful to the area's wildlife. We also see other fishermen who spend time collecting not only their own trash, but trash left behind by others as well. Efforts to keep the river clean can go a long way in making PFRs more attractive to private landowners who may be thinking about opening their land for fishing access elsewhere. So, the next time you fill your fish limit, why not try and fill a trash bag as well?

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