Concord, N.H. — Broodstock Atlantic salmon anglers may be rewarded with some bonus fish this fall. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department will stock the usual 800 two- to three-year-old Atlantic salmon into the Merrimack River watershed in Bristol and Franklin. Averaging 2 to 3 pounds each, these young fish are a nice catch. But this year, there’s more in store — fall broodstock anglers will also have a chance at some big fish that weigh up to 16 pounds each.
The additional stocking is possible because a record number of Atlantic salmon returned to the Merrimack River last spring. More than 400 returning adult salmon were captured at the Lawrence, Mass., Fishway in 2011 (the previous modern-day record was 332 returning salmon in 1991). This success meant that fisheries biologists at the federal fish hatchery in Nashua had more broodstock salmon than they needed to produce the one million salmon fry that will be released in New Hampshire next spring as part of the Anadromous Fish Restoration Program.
“These record returns have finally given us the opportunity to release adult salmon to spawn naturally in the river this fall,” said Matt Carpenter, who coordinates the Anadromous Program for N.H. Fish and Game. Although the exact number has not been determined, up to 500 large, adult salmon will be released near suitable spawning habitat upstream of the Ayers Island Dam in Bristol. Some of these fish will be monitored with radio tags in an attempt to document successful spawning. Anglers are being asked to not disturb the salmon while they are spawning.
“Please do not attempt to catch these fish on their spawning grounds in the upper basin,” said Carpenter. “However, once these fish drop below Ayers Island Dam, they will be fair game for broodstock anglers.”
If you catch a large 6- to 16-pound salmon with a green tag beneath the dorsal fin, call Carpenter at 603-271-2612. “We’ll be relying on angler reports to help us understand how many of these adult fish drop downstream of the Ayers Island Dam after they are stocked,” he said. The 800 two- to three-year old fish that comprise the usual fall stocking are marked with a yellow tag.
The extra salmon will be a nice reward for the hardy fall broodstock angler, who, in most years, accepts the challenge of diminishing temperatures and decreasing daylight in pursuit of smaller fish than those stocked in the spring.
To fish for brood stock salmon, anglers need a current New Hampshire fishing license and an $11 brood stock salmon permit; both are available at http://www.fishnh.com or from license agents statewide. The brood stock Atlantic salmon season runs year-round, but all salmon caught from October 1 through March 31 must be released immediately.
When will the fish go in? As of October 3, the flow on the Pemigewasset River was too high for stocking or fishing because of recent heavy rains up north. “We’ll begin stocking as soon as flows come down. Optimistically, this could be by the end of the week, but we may be forced to hold off until after Columbus Day weekend,” said Carpenter.
The brood stock salmon will be stocked this fall at two sites — below the Eastman Falls Dam in Franklin and the Ayers Island Dam in Bristol. The first good spots to try for the brood stock salmon are below the Ayers Island Dam in Bristol along the Coolidge Woods Road, the Profile Falls Recreation Area (the access site near the Smith River confluence), below the Eastman Falls Dam in Franklin and the public boat launch behind the Franklin High School on the Winnipesaukee River. Find more information and an access map at http://www.fishnh.com/Fishing/atlantic_salmon.htm.
Carpenter suggests that anglers use traditional salmon flies or trout streamers such as Grey Ghosts, Mickey Finns or any patterns that imitate small baitfish. Fishing with spinning gear is allowed in the section of the river below the Garvins Falls Dam in Bow. Anglers should review the special regulations for brood stock salmon at the Fish and Game website.
To watch a 3-minute video of NH fishing guide Jon Lockwood fishing for brood stock Atlantic salmon in the Merrimack, visit http://www.fishnh.com/Fishing/atlantic_salmon.htm.
All proceeds from salmon permit sales support the Merrimack River Anadromous Fish Restoration Program, created in 1993 by Fish and Game in cooperation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to help restore migratory fish populations to the Merrimack River watershed.
Fish and Game’s programs for restoring anadromous fish, managing and researching fisheries and teaching people about aquatic resources are made possible in part by the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program, funded through your purchases of fishing equipment and motorboat fuels. Visit Fish and Game at http://www.fishnh.com.