New York State's salmon are some of the largest and most eagerly sought gamefish found in northeastern freshwaters. Images of silvery leaping fish and singing reels quickly yielding line often come to mind when anglers recall, or anticipate, encounters with these fish. A diverse group of fish, salmon are found in a variety of settings ranging from the vastness of Lake Ontario to the quiet solitude found in ponds in the Adirondack Mountains.
Considered by scientists to be fairly primitive fish, salmon are characterized by small scales, soft-rayed fins, and a lobe-shaped fin on the back called the adipose fin. They have slender and streamlined body shape that enable them to hold their positions in tumbling rivers, and to make swift movements when capturing prey. Salmon are quite variable in color, ranging from the subtle shading of spots and irregular markings of young fish to the silvery metallic sheen of fish freshly taken from lake waters, and the bright, bold coloration associated with spawning season.
Salmon are adaptable fish that can thrive in both freshwater and sea water. Adult sea run (or anadromous) salmon, such as those found in Canada's Atlantic maritime provinces and in Alaska and Washington, will move into freshwater rivers and lakes to spawn. The juvenile fish will then live in these freshwater areas for a while before moving out to the sea to do most of their feeding and growing. In New York State, however, few if any salmon go to the sea and return to freshwater again. Instead, they complete their life cycle exclusively in freshwater. Large food-rich lakes, such as Ontario, Erie, Champlain, and Cayuga, serve as substitutes for the sea.
New York State's salmon can be separated into two groups: the native Atlantic salmon and the introduced Pacific salmon. While the two groups are difficult to tell apart, a look at the bottom rear fin can help. Atlantic salmon have 12 or less fin rays in their bottom rear fin, whereas the Pacific salmon have 13 or more. The shape of the bottom rear fin also distinguishes Atlantic salmon from Pacific salmon. In New York State, there is only one species of Atlantic salmon (Atlantic), but four species of Pacific salmon (chinook, coho, pink and kokanee).
More information can be found at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website.