The Douglaston Salmon Run: An Unsolicited Review
Until recently, I found distasteful the notion of paying a fee to fish. I'm not entirely sure why, but I did.
Perhaps it's my blue collar roots. I grew up in a household where my parents worked alternating shifts - often double shifts - and only rarely had more than a few dollars to show for their efforts. Paying to fish seems a waste when so much water - excellent water in fact - may be accessed for free.
Perhaps it's that uniquely American ideal that juxtaposes our love of free and open spaces with the honored tradition of the ownership and cultivation of private property. Certainly, these concepts are sometimes at odds.
Perhaps it is because this is the United States and not the United Kingdom. Our European bug-chucking brothers and sisters have for centuries been paying tuition and fees to fish. We yanks have never been comfortable with the idea.
Perhaps there is some small part of me that resents the opportunities of folks who have the financial means to enjoy the kind of fishing about which I'll only ever dream. I'll likely never climb the hills and mountains of New Zealand, or wade the flats off the coast of Belize. I'll never watch golden dorado herd bait through currents of a Bolivian river, and Costa Rican roosterfish will never chase my poorly tied flies. My jealousy is ugly and baseless, but I'd be something less-than-honest if I didn't admit to it just the same.
All this brings us to the Douglaston Salmon Run. For two reasons - at least to my way of thinking - the DSR has been a source of some controversy here in New York. Foremost, the resort limits access to its nearly two river miles of river frontage on what is arguably one of the best salmon and steelhead fisheries in the entire Great Lakes region, the Salmon River. The resort was also at the heart of a landmark legal case here in New York that - for all practical purposes - grants land owners rights of ownership (and therefore the ability to post and limit access) to the river that flows through their property. In other states, one can access rivers from any public access point (i.e. a bridge) and walk the bank along private land up to the river's normal high-water mark.
The Douglaston decision made possible the posting of land through which my home rivers flow, and as a consequence of my anger at having been refused access to water at home, I refused to pay to fish the DSR's private water when I visited the Salmon River. For all the aforementioned reasons, I was bitter about the DSR's posting of a piece of water that benefits from the public's tax dollars - in the form of a very successful hatchery program that stocks the river with both salmon and trout. For years, I abstained from some of the best and most interesting fishing on the river because I didn't want to pay for something that I thought should be free, and I was vocal in my opposition.
I don't know if I was necessarily right or wrong in any of my attitudes, but I can tell you that some of my preconceptions about the Douglaston were fundamentally flawed. Having spent the past three seasons wading with some frequency the DSR's water, I've come to realize a few things about the resort, its staff, clients, and its fishing.
First, the fishing on the DSR's property is arguably some of the best on the Salmon River. There are excellent angling opportunities throughout the fishery (my favorite runs are all on public water), but the DSR does have something that much of the rest of the river lacks.
Situated at the head of the Salmon River's estuary, the DSR's property is the first bit of river that many of Lake Ontario's salmon and trout will run as they make their way upstream to spawn. As a result, the fish in the low end of the watershed are often bright silver and energized to the point of being electrified. This is true for the river's king salmon as much as it is its steelhead. I find that fresh, silver fish simply fight harder than their river-darkened brothers and sisters, and bringing a bright fish to hand is just a little bit more gratifying than catching a fish that has seen the fishery's entire length.
We should note that the DSR is in many ways a microcosm of the larger river system. The Douglaston's property contains any type of water one might hope to fish: classic runs and glides, green-black pools, heavy riffles and pocket water. Whether one nymphs or swings, there is a place on the DSR to do whatever it is one likes to do, and the quality of the fishing hints at what could be possible throughout the entire system if similar, enlightened regulations were adopted river wide.