Atlantic Salmon Fishing: A Unique Recreational Experience

Exploring Atlantic Salmon Management Areas

The regulations governing Atlantic Salmon Management Areas are multifaceted, with specific gear restrictions, catch and release seasons, and harvest limits that vary based on the date. To stay informed about the latest updates, it’s essential to consult the Fishing Guide regularly. For detailed information about Atlantic salmon fishing regulations, refer to the Commissioner’s Declaration linked here.

Since 1991, Connecticut has been stocking the Naugatuck River and Shetucket River with large Atlantic salmon “broodstock” that are soon to be retired. This initiative has sparked significant interest among anglers, making it a popular fishery. In support of this unique recreational fishing opportunity, the Fisheries Division continues to raise Atlantic salmon. These fish, with an average weight of 2-5 pounds, are stocked in designated “Atlantic Salmon Management Areas” river sections, as well as Mount Tom Pond and Crystal Lake in Ellington.

First Salmon Catch

Every year, the Fisheries Division produces approximately 1,000 to 1,200 2- to 3-year-old Atlantic salmon weighing between 2 and 5 pounds. These fish are stocked before they start producing eggs. Additionally, around 200 to 250 large broodstock Atlantic salmon weighing an average of 10-15 pounds are stocked for recreational fishing after spawning.

During autumn, adult Atlantic salmon are stocked into three river sections known as “Atlantic Salmon Management Areas” and select lakes. To find out the specific river stretches and the number of days since the last stocking, you can search for “broodstock salmon areas” on the DEEP interactive trout stocking map. The designated areas include:

  • Naugatuck River

    • Upper Section: From RT 118 (Harwinton-Litchfield) downstream to the Thomaston Dam
    • Lower Section: From Prospect Street (Naugatuck) downstream to Pines Bridge Road (Beacon Falls)
  • Shetucket River

    • From the Scotland Dam (Scotland) downstream to the Occum Dam (Norwich)
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First Returning Atlantic Salmon

Mount Tom Pond in Litchfield and Crystal Lake in Ellington are also stocked each fall, starting in September. The fishing seasons and methods for Atlantic salmon in lakes are the same as those for trout, with the exception that the daily creel limit for salmon is one per day.

A Glimpse into the Past

Long ago, the rivers of Connecticut and the New England coast thrived with the presence of Atlantic salmon. However, pollution, unregulated overfishing, and the construction of dams during the Industrial Revolution led to the disappearance of these magnificent fish from Connecticut waters. Recognizing the need for action, the Connecticut State Legislature established the Fisheries Commission in 1866, which eventually evolved into the present-day Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The Fisheries Commission’s initial mission encompassed the restoration of Atlantic salmon runs, the management of American shad, and the restocking of game fish in inland waters. To delve deeper into the early history and management of Atlantic salmon, I recommend reading this article in Connecticut Wildlife Magazine.

In 1967, a century after the first restoration efforts began, a second restoration program was launched. This collaborative initiative involved Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and the federal government, resulting in the annual stocking of tens of millions of fry and smolts into streams across all four states.

The Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission (CRASC), established by Congress in 1983 and reauthorized through the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Compact, plays a vital role in evaluating methods and providing guidance for restoring migratory fish species in the Connecticut River and its tributaries. Over the years, the return rates of adult salmon have fluctuated, with some years witnessing hundreds of returns and others only a few dozen. However, after 1993, the number of adult Atlantic salmon returning steadily declined.

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In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene caused severe flooding in Vermont, resulting in extensive damage to the federal salmon hatchery in Bethel. Budget cuts, the multimillion-dollar repair cost for the hatchery, and diminishing returns of adult salmon compelled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw from the program.

Even though the federal effort has ceased, the Connecticut DEEP Fisheries Division maintains a “Legacy Program” aimed at preserving the genetic integrity of the Connecticut River strain. This program relies on a hatchery-supported population of Atlantic salmon at the Kensington State Fish Hatchery. As part of this initiative, the Fisheries Division continues to stock fry and adult Atlantic salmon, albeit in reduced numbers, into tributary streams of the Farmington River and Salmon River watersheds. Furthermore, Atlantic salmon eggs are utilized to support the Connecticut River Salmon Association’s Salmon-In-Schools program, which promotes education about Atlantic salmon and aquatic resources.

Recently, the Rainbow Dam Fishway discontinued capturing returning Atlantic salmon. Consequently, any returning adults now have unrestricted access to the fishway and the Farmington River watershed. The first year after free passage was granted, redds (spawning nests) were observed in critical spawning habitat. Although this is an encouraging sign of nature’s resilience, such a level of spawning cannot single-handedly restore and sustain a population. For a concise summary of Connecticut DEEP’s Atlantic salmon expert Steve Gephard’s insights, refer to the relevant article in Connecticut Wildlife Magazine.

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For more information and inquiries, please reach out to the Fisheries Division:

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Content last updated: January 2023

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