Atlantic salmon might only be the third-largest of the salmon species, but they can still grow to be up to a meter long. These fish are often fished using fly fishing methods, and Atlantic salmon fly fishing is popular for everything from sports to vacations.
What Is an Atlantic Salmon?
The Atlantic salmon is a species of ray-finned fish, which belongs to the family Salmonidae. It’s the third-largest salmon species after the Siberian Taimen and Pacific Chinook salmon, and it’s found in a wide range of places. It’s a fish that is generally fairly abundant, although the species is in a more vulnerable position in Europe. In the United States and Canada, some populations are in decline, and there is legislation in place to protect them in some locations.
The largest in its genus Salmo, they average a length of 28 to 30 inches at two years old and weigh about 8 to 12 pounds. They can grow to be much larger as they get older and can get up to a meter in length. As young fish, they have blue and red spots and dark vertical bars when living in freshwater and their main body color is brown or bronze. They become silvery-blue when they reach maturity and move into saltwater. They have black spots above the lateral line, which provides an easy way to identify them. Males become slightly green or red when breeding.
Landlocked Atlantic salmon tend to be smaller, with an average size of 16 to 18 inches. They weigh only about 1 to 1.5 pounds, although they can often get up to 3 to 5 pounds too. The adults are silvery, with X-shaped markings on their backs and upper sides, while juveniles and dark red spots. They’re an acrobatic fish and have earned the name “leaping landlocked” thanks to their propensity for leaping out of the water.
Where to Fish for Atlantic Salmon
As anadromous fish, they are found in both saltwater and freshwater. They spawn in freshwater, before moving into saltwater as they mature. They darken from their silver color to a bronze color before they spawn. After spawning, adults can get darker and may be called “black salmon”.
They are divided into three geographical groups: North American, European, and Baltic. They are found around the waters of the North American Atlantic, and the North American population can sometimes mix with the European population. They have historically been present from Quebec to Long Island Sound. While they were once found in almost all coastal rivers in the northeastern United States, the last wild populations in the US are now all in rivers in Maine. In Canada, populations are also declining.
Atlantic salmon is protected in the US, and commercial and recreational fishing for wild sea run Atlantic salmon is prohibited. Therefore, all Atlantic salmon available for fishing in the US is commercially grown. If you accidentally catch an Atlantic salmon while fishing in Maine, you have to release it back into the water. However, fishing for landlocked Atlantic salmon, which can’t find their way into saltwater, is allowed. You can find landlocked Atlantic salmon in the Great Lakes, as well as Lake Champlain (in New York, Vermont, and Quebec).
Maine is not only the location of many wild Atlantic salmon but also has one of the largest sport fisheries for landlocked salmon. These wild landlocked salmon are much more sustainable to fish and can be found in lakes, rivers, and streams throughout the state. Instead of migrating into saltwater, they start off in streams before they migrate to lakes. They’re best found in lakes with great water quality, where there aren’t large populations of competing fish.
- The two main types of Atlantic salmon are fairly different in size and have slightly differing habitats and behaviors, although they are both known by the scientific name Salmo salar. The landlocked Atlantic salmon might also be called the Sebago Salmon or Ouananiche, while wild Atlantic salmon are also called sea run salmon, kelts, or black salmon.
- The size of Atlantic salmon depends if they are wild sea salmon or landlocked salmon. An Atlantic salmon that has been at sea for two years (and in freshwater for two years before that) is known as a two sea winter fish when returning to US waters. They are around 28 to 30 inches long and 8 to 12 pounds. A landlocked Atlantic salmon is about 16 to 18 inches on average. The heaviest recorded wild Atlantic salmon was caught in Scotland in 1960 and weighed a huge 109 pounds. The longest on record was caught in Norway and over 63 inches long.
- The oldest landlocked Atlantic salmon recorded in Maine was 13 years old. In freshwater, Atlantic salmon will live 1 to 7 years, while they live between 1 and 7 years on average in the marine environment. Male and female salmon are usually difficult to distinguish, but the males develop a protuberance from the tip of their lower jaw before spawning, called a kype, which makes them easier to spot.
- In freshwater, young Atlantic salmon eat insects and sometimes small amphibians and fish. In the ocean, they eat fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, and other prey. They stop eating just before beginning their spawning migration.
- It’s not clear how salmon navigate, but they might use the stars and receptors that are sensitive to the Earth’s magnetic field. Ocean currents and chemical memory are also factors that help them to navigate. Salmon almost always return to the same place to spawn, although some might find somewhere new.
Top Atlantic Salmon Fishing Lures & Tips
If you want to go fishing with the aim of catching (and especially keeping) Atlantic salmon, you need to look for landlocked salmon in the US. As for the best ways to fish them, there are several techniques and setups that you can use for success.
The best time to fish landlocked Atlantic salmon is in the spring when they are feeding. They’re very aggressive and willing to snap at a fly or lure, plus they’re better for eating during this time too. Swinging flies is often the technique chosen to fish for salmon, allowing your fly to rise up and move with the current. Some of the flies that are preferred for fishing for landlocked salmon include streamers such as the grey ghost and the Magog smelt. Aim to imitate smelt, minnows, and fries to get the attention of your salmon.
A number of trout lures can work well for fishing salmon too. Spinners and flashy spoons are good options, as are lures that are designed to imitate minnows. You should look for landlocked salmon where the current is moving at about the speed of a swift walk. Another good place to try is the ends of slow pools upstream of faster water, where the salmon will wait to catch their prey as it goes upstream.
Live bait is often best to use when you’re fishing for Atlantic salmon. It can be more tempting to the fish and behave more like their real prey in the water. Artificial lures can be effective too, but live bait can help you to find more success on your trips.
Can You Eat Atlantic Salmon?
As most people are no doubt aware, salmon is a pretty tasty fish. It’s a fatty fish that has plenty of flavor and is used around the world for everything from sushi to barbecue. While you can’t catch wild Atlantic salmon to cook up, you can fish for landlocked Atlantic salmon and turn it into a delicious meal. They’re not as fatty or rich as the anadromous Atlantic salmon, but they’re still tasty. One thing to keep in mind is that salmon stop eating before they spawn, which means they’ll be a lot slimmer. That’s why it makes more sense to fish for them in the spring, especially because that’s when they will be feeding and eager for a bite.
For an easy way to cook your landlocked Atlantic salmon, put them on the grill. Fillet your salmon, remove the skin, and put a layer of aluminum foil between your grill and the fish to prevent it from sticking. Cooking whole is also a great way to deal with your salmon. You can poach, bake or smoke it, and it will easily flake off the bones. Landlocked salmon may be smaller than true Atlantic salmon but you can still expect to make a good meal out of them.
Salmon is incredibly versatile, and you probably have a number of favorite salmon recipes already. You can do just about anything with it, whether you just want to add some simple seasoning and grill it or you want to try some Asian flavors.
Landlocked Atlantic salmon provide an opportunity to fish for Atlantic salmon in North America. If you want to fish for wild Atlantic salmon, you might have to consider going elsewhere, such as Russia or Norway.