Salmon and Trout Species of New York (Upstate)

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About Salmonid Fish

Salmon and Trout body parts

Salmonids are highly popular sport fishes in the state of NY. Proper identification of Salmon species is important to ensure proper abiding of fishing regulations. Salmon share similar sizes and body shape, but vary greatly in color. Whitefish (including the Lake herring) are technically members of the Salmonid family, and are distinguished from other Salmon and Trout by their smaller mouths and teeth as well as a more distinctly forked tail.

What to look for: Streamlined shape; soft-rayed fins; adipose fin present; dorsal fin located mid-way along the back; tail is softly forked or squared; large mouth (except whitefish).

The details presented below generally represent adult specimens, not juveniles.

Click here for New York State sportfishing regulations

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New York State Salmon & Trout Identification Guide

Atlantic SalmonAtlantic Salmon (spawning morph)
Atlantic Salmon
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Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar)

AKA: Landlocked salmon, Sebago salmon, Quananiche

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid body-shape with visible lateral line and fatty adipose fin. Olive-brown to silvery color, with dark brown spots on the sides, predominantly above the lateral line, and never on the caudal fin. Edges of fins lined with black. The body color of males will turn more red or green, and the bottom jaw will become more “hooked” during spawning season. Specimens living in large bodies of water (like Lake Ontario) will have a more silvery color.

Size: From 16 to 18 inches in length and weighing from 5 to 35 pounds.

New York State record: 24 lbs 15 oz. (4/5/1997)

Habitat: Near lake shores and river outlets in spring. In summer, they move to deeper portions of lakes, often pursuing cooler waters. For the fall breeding season, they will return to shore in search of their home breeding (or stocking) stream. Not all find an appropriate stream.

General range: Atlantic Ocean, Lake Ontario, Champlain, Seneca, Cayuga, lakes and rivers of the Adirondacks (Lake George, Schroon and Piseco Lakes), and more…

Food: Other fish (especially Rainbow Smelt), alewives and herring, insects, insect larvae, and zooplankton. Juveniles feed exclusively on insect larvae.

Recommended baiting: rainbow smelt lures and streamer flies in spring. Downriggers and lead-core line needed for deeper waters in summer. Atlantic Salmon are rare—and thus much harder to catch in open water and in tributaries. Using spoons and small spinners in streams can be an effective way to trigger a strike.

Predators: Other salmonids, larger predatory fish, humans, birds of prey, minks, otters, raccoons.

Stocked? Yes, population is dependent on state stocking programs.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs in October/November. Males tend to become richer in color and develop a more pronounced hook to the lower jaw. Spawning lasts a week or two, until the females are exhausted. Some die afterwards, most will only spawn twice in their lifetime. Breeding takes place once per year.

Nesting: Adult females will build “redds” or depressions under fast moving portions of streams by moving away gravel. The female may bury the eggs in gravel after depositing them.

Other Info.: Once an abundant native species, habitat loss and overfishing eliminated Atlantic Salmon from NY State freshwater by the early 1900s. Landlocked Salmon do not follow the typical inland migration patterns that sea-salmon do- they spend their entire life cycle in fresh water. Ocean run Atlantic Salmon are extirpated from much of the Northeast, with only smaller landlocked varieties present.

Brook TroutBrook Trout
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Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

AKA: Speckled trout

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid body-shape with visible lateral line and fatty adipose fin. Dark green color, more olive along the back with lighter spots that become less dense as they reach the belly. The undersides are generally lighter, usually yellow or orange/red (during spawning). A white and black stripe runs down the ventral side (including the edges of the ventral fins). The tail is slightly forked. The body color of males will become more pronounced, and the bottom jaw will become more “hooked” during spawning season. Specimens living in large bodies of water (like Lake Ontario) will have a more silvery color.

Size: From 15 to 20 inches in length and weighing from 2 to 13 pounds, though in NY State they rarely get above 2 pounds.

New York State record: 4 lbs 15 oz (5/25/2006)

Habitat: Cool, clear and well-oxygenated streams and ponds. Also found in the cold waters of lakes, especially in the Adirondacks.

General range: Cold, clear streams across the state, especially in the Adirondack region. Stocking locations.

Food: Insects (aquatic and terrestrial), crustaceans, smaller fish.

Recommended baiting: small flies such as nymphs and scuds, worms, salted minnows, and small spinners such as panther martins and roostertails.

Predators: Other salmonids (especially smallmouth bass), humans, larger predatory fishbirds of prey, minksottersraccoons.

Stocked? Wild breeding. Also stocked.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs from mid-September through November. Brook trout (especially the males) tend to become richer in color. Brook trout will usually migrate to shallow headwater streams, with abundant riffles and sandy or loose gravel substrate. Breeding takes place once per year, and individuals will breed multiple times in their lifetime.

Nesting: adult females will build “redds” or depressions under fast moving portions of streams by moving away gravel. The female will bury the eggs in gravel after depositing them.

Other Info.: The brook trout was once a common native fish in NY State. Habitat destruction, predation and pollution have whittled the numbers of wild population, but stocking programs keep them common in our waters. Despite their small size, the pristine environments they are found in maintain them as one of the more popular game fishes. The brook trout is the state fish.

Brook TroutBrook Trout
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Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)

AKA: Speckled trout

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid body-shape with visible lateral line and fatty adipose fin. Dark green color, more olive along the back with lighter spots that become less dense as they reach the belly. The undersides are generally lighter, usually yellow or orange/red (during spawning). A white and black stripe runs down the ventral side (including the edges of the ventral fins). The tail is slightly forked. The body color of males will become more pronounced, and the bottom jaw will become more “hooked” during spawning season. Specimens living in large bodies of water (like Lake Ontario) will have a more silvery color.

Size: From 15 to 20 inches in length and weighing from 2 to 13 pounds, though in NY State they rarely get above 2 pounds.
New York State record: 4 lbs 15 oz (5/25/2006)

Habitat: Cool, clear and well-oxygenated streams and ponds. Also found in the cold waters of lakes, especially in the Adirondacks.

General range: Cold, clear streams across the state, especially in the Adirondack region. Stocking locations.

Food: Insects (aquatic and terrestrial), crustaceans, smaller fish.

Recommended baiting: small flies such as nymphs and scuds, worms, salted minnows, and small spinners such as panther martins and roostertails.

Predators: Other salmonids (especially smallmouth bass), humans, larger predatory fishbirds of prey, minksottersraccoons.

Stocked? Wild breeding. Also stocked.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs from mid-September through November. Brook trout (especially the males) tend to become richer in color. Brook trout will usually migrate to shallow headwater streams, with abundant riffles and sandy or loose gravel substrate. Breeding takes place once per year, and individuals will breed multiple times in their lifetime.

Nesting: adult females will build “redds” or depressions under fast moving portions of streams by moving away gravel. The female will bury the eggs in gravel after depositing them.

Other Info.:  The Brown trout is native to Eurasia and was introduced here most likely from Germany in 1883. It shares its habitat with the native Brook trout and is partly responsible for the Brook trout’s decline in numbers. Sportsmen prefer going after this elusive fish because of the challenge and size it provides over the Brook trout. During the spawning season, the large brown trout from Lake Ontario will leave the lake to breed in small streams, giving anglers a unique opportunity to catch 15 lb brown trout in streams no wider than a road.

Chinook Salmon (male spawning)Chinook Salmon (open water)Find more images of this species on Bing

Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)

AKA: King salmon, Spring salmon, Black salmon

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid body-shape with visible lateral line and fatty adipose fin. Dark blue-green back, silvery sides and white belly. Irregular spotting along the back, top half of the sides and throughout the tail. Both males and females will develop reddish hues on their sides during the mating season. Males have a slightly ridged back and hooked nose.

Size: Averaging about 20-35 inches in size and 20-30 pounds in weight.

New York State record: 47 lb. 13 oz. (9/7/1991)

Habitat: Large bodies of deep, slow moving, open water. Then spend much of their time suspended in the water column. They will return to their natal streams to spawn.

General range: Lake Ontario and Erie and their major tributaries (Eighteen Mile Creek, Oak Orchard Creek, Genesee River, Oswego River, Salmon River).

Food: Juveniles feed on plankton, insects, and crustaceans. Adults feed on smaller fish, such as alewife (for which they were used as a control measure).

Recommended baiting: For open water, troll spoons, fly and flasher combos or bait fish lures at the appropriate depth, especially in early spring and late summer. During the pre-spawning stage, fish closer to the outlets of major tributaries. When fishing streams, use flies such as estaz eggs and fly sucking leeches. Use Berkley pink worm power baits or salmon egg sacks when using spinning gear.

Predators: Larger predatory fish, humans, sea lampreysbirds of prey, minksottersraccoons.

Stocked? Wild breeding, but population levels are dependent on state stocking programs.

Reproduction: Just before spawning adults congregate at the mouths of tributaries. The spawning run is made in the fall, when Chinooks head up their natal stream. Chinooks will die soon after spawning, slowly decaying in the stream they have entered.

Nesting: The female will dig a depression in loose gravel or sand (often called a redd), and deposit her eggs. The male deposits his sperm and they guard the nest for the next 25 days or so until they die.

Other Info.: The Chinook is the largest of the Pacific Salmon. Like the Rainbow trout, the Chinook was introduced to the NY State in the 1870s from Pacific waters. In the Pacific, Chinook would migrate inland from the ocean to breed. In New York State, the great lakes act as their ocean. Chinook were heavily stocked 20 years ago in order to support sport fishing and help control the Alewife population.

Coho SalmonCoho Salmon
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Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)

AKA: Silver salmon

Identifying characteristics: Typical deep-bodied salmonid shape with visible lateral line and fatty adipose fin. Dark metallic-blue back, silvery sides and white belly. Irregular spotting along the back and top half of the tail. The lateral line curves upwards towards the head. The backs and bellies of both males and females will darken, and the male’s will develop a hooked jaw and red lateral stripe.

Size: Typically a maximum of 28 inches or 36 lbs, but averaging 10 pounds in NY State.

New York State record: 33 lb. 7 oz. (8/13/1998)

Habitat: Large bodies of deep, slow moving, open water. They will return to their natal streams to spawn.

General range: Lake Ontario and its major tributaries (Eighteen Mile Creek, Oak Orchard Creek, Genesee River, Oswego River, Salmon River).

Food: Juveniles feed on plankton, insects, and crustaceans. Adults feed on smaller fish, such as alewife and smelt.

Recommended baiting: For open water, troll spoons, fly and flasher combos or bait fish lures at the appropriate depth, especially in early spring and late summer. When fishing in tributaries, use the same type of baiting tactics as you would when targeting Chinook Salmon.

Predators: Larger predatory fish, humans, sea lampreysbirds of prey, minksottersraccoons.

Stocked? Wild breeding is rare. Cohos are heavily stocked.

Reproduction: Just before spawning adults congregate just offshore. The spawning run is made in the fall, later than the Chinooks. Cohos will migrate up their natal stream to spawn.

Nesting: The female will dig a depression in loose gravel or sand (often called a redd), and deposit her eggs. The male deposits his sperm and they guard the nest for the next 25 days or so until they die. The young will live in the natal stream for up to a year before moving to open waters.

Other Info.: The Coho is a Pacific Ocean fish, where they live as adults in the ocean waters and migrate inland through freshwater streams to spawn. In NY state Lake Ontario is their ocean.

Kokanee SalmonKokanee SalmonFind more images of this species on Bing

Kokanee Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)

AKA: Sockeye salmon, Red salmon, Blueback salmon.

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid shape with visible lateral line and fatty adipose fin. The body is a deep red with a green head and tail. Males will develop a deeper red color, hooked jaw, and hunchback during mating season. Boney gill rakers just behind the gills (for sifting plankton).

Size: One of the smaller salmons; rarely reaching over 15 inches or 1 pound, but some specimens exceeding 3 pounds have been caught in NY State.

New York State record: 3 lb. 6 oz. (6/14/2002)

Habitat: Cool, highly-productive ponds and streams with plenty of plankton.

General range: Found in only a few spots in NY: Green Lake, Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, some streams and ponds in the Adirondack region.

Food: Almost exclusively on plankton, but also small fish and invertebrates.

Recommended baiting: Worm quarters or halves work best. Small spinners can be used as attractants.

Predators: Larger predatory fish, humans, sea lampreysbirds of prey, minksottersraccoons.

Stocked? No. Wild breeding does occur in some locations in New York State.

Reproduction: Konankee will migrate up tributaries or closer to the shores of larger bodies of water for spawning. Males will grow a stronger red and develop a hooked jaw. Females also develop stronger colors, but not as striking as the male’s.

Nesting: The female will dig depressions in loose gravel or sand (often called a redd), and deposit her eggs. Parents die within 2 weeks of spawning. The young will live in the natal stream for up to 2 years before moving to open waters.

Other Info.: The Kokanee is a Pacific Ocean fish, where they live as adults in the ocean waters and migrate inland through freshwater streams to spawn. The Pacific variety is commonly called the Sockeye salmon. Once stocked aggressively in NY, their numbers have since dwindled and populations are dependent on small pockets of wild breeding. their deep red colors, and some say their excellent taste, is due to their plankton diet.

Lake TroutLake TroutFind more images of this species on Bing

Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush)

AKA: Mackinaw, Lake char, Touladi, Gray trout

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid body-shape with fatty adipose fin and visible lateral line. Overall grayish-brown with some olive tones. The color lightens to silvery-white towards the undersides. Light-colored, irregular spots all over the body (including fins). Forked tail. During spawning season, males will develop a dark lateral stripe.

Size: From 15 to 30 inches in length and weighing from 2 to 42 pounds (in NY) depending on how they feed. In large lakes with abundant sources of smaller fish, they tend to be largest. Some specimens reaching 100 pounds have been caught out of state. In NY expect an average of 15 pounds.

New York State record: 41 lb. 8 oz. (8/9/2003)

Habitat: Native to New York State. Live in deep, cold lakes. they have a preference for 50 degree temperatures). The depth at which they forage depends on the water temperature. In winter they are scattered throughout the lake. In spring they move to shallower waters. In summer they migrate to the deepest portions.

General range: Great Lakes, Finger Lakes, large Adirondack lakes (5 acres or more) stocking locations.

Food: Smaller fish (alewives, smelt, chubs). Will also feed on juvenile rainbow trout. In deeper waters, or lakes with no smaller fish or prey fish present, they supplement their diet with zooplankton, crustaceans and insects.

Recommended baiting: Deep trolling with wire line in summer. Lake trout will hug the bottom all summer long and can be enticed with small spoons or fly and flasher combinations. Lures and flies in shallow water in spring and fall. Ice fishing or jigging with moon-eye minnows is an excellent way to catch Lake Trout as well.

Predators: Larger predatory fish, sea lampreys, humans, birds of prey.

Stocked? Wild breeding. Also stocked.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs in the fall. They do not generally migrate upstream, but instead spawn in shallow rocky areas of their home lake. They will return to the same area to spawn year after year. Some populations in Seneca Lake (and possibly Ontario and Cayuga) breed in deep water.

Nesting: Females do not dig depressions like other other salmonids. Instead eggs are scattered over rocks.

Other Info.: The native Lake trout was once so abundant in the Great Lakes that a huge commercial fishing industry thrived on them for over a hundred years. In the mid-1900s pressures from over-fishing and predation from the invasive sea lamprey almost eliminated the lake trout from those waters. Today, stocking efforts as well as lamprey control help maintain healthy populations.

Pink SalmonPink SalmonFind more images of this species on Bing

Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)

AKA: Humpback salmon, Humpies, Pinkies

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid body-shape with visible lateral line and fatty adipose fin. The body-color is a silvery-gray with a dark brown back and a slight hint of yellow to the belly. There are black spots along the back and tail. The tail is forked. During spawning there will be brown colors on the fins and back, and the sides will turn pink. Males will have deeper colors and develop humped backs.

Size: Less than 4 pounds in NY State.

New York State record: 4 lb. 15 oz. (9/16/1985)

Habitat: Deep, cold lakes with access to tributaries for spawning.

General range: Lake Ontario and Erie.

Food: Juveniles feed on plankton, insects, and smaller fish. Adults primarily feed on smaller fish.

Recommended baiting: Their small numbers make finding them a challenge. Fish in cold water with small, artificial lures. Pursue shallower waters and the mouths of streams in early fall.

Predators: Larger predatory fish, humans, sea lampreysbirds of prey, minksottersraccoons.

Stocked? Once stocked, but not anymore. These are now rare fish.

Reproduction: The spawning run is made in early fall, when Pinks head up their natal stream. Pink Salmon spawn when two years old.

Nesting: The female will dig a depression in loose gravel or sand (often called a redd), and deposit her eggs. One to two males will deposit their sperm and the female will guard the nest until she dies.

Other Info.: Pink Salmon are among the various Pacific Salmon that are not native to this region. They were first stocked in Lake Superior and made their way to Ontario. Today it is very rare to find them in Lake Ontario, with Erie being the better bet. Due to their small size and rarity, they are not a popular game fish.

Rainbow TroutRainbow TroutFind more images of this species on Bing

Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

AKA: Steelhead, Redband Trout

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid body-shape with fatty adipose fin and visible lateral line. Rainbows are easily recognized by their reddish lateral stripe. The back and sides vary from silvery-gray to dark green or blue and the belly tends to be a lighter color. Black spots are scattered throughout the body, sometimes diminishing more towards the belly. The spots on the square tail fin line up with the rays. Rainbows of the large lakes, tend to be more silvery and have a less defined stripe than those of smaller bodies of water. The silvery variety are commonly referred to as Steelheads, and also have different spawning behaviors. Spawning season yields brighter colors and a more striking red strip in males.

Size: From 10 to 40 inches in length and weighing from 1 to 35 pounds. Streams yield 1-2 pounders, while Lake Ontario is where the state record was caught.

New York State record: 31 lb. 3 oz. (8/14/2004)

Habitat: Non-native, but naturalized. Fast waters in clean streams, small creeks, and lakes. Prefer water temperatures of 55 degrees, but can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. They are considered ‘steelhead’ if they live in large lakes and travel up tributaries to spawn. Rainbows live in smaller bodies of water year-round.

General range: Steelheads inhabit the Great Lakes, Finger Lakes, Lake Champlain and their tributaries. Rainbow trout inhabit other lakes and streams throughout the state. Stocking locations.

Food: Smaller fish, insects (and larvae). Rainbows tend to consume more fish than do Steelheads.

Recommended baiting: Stocked fish can be enticed to hit nearly anything. Wild Rainbows are wary and can be targeted with properly presented live bait and fly patterns. Small spinner and spoons such as ‘phoebes’ can be an excellent choice to trigger a strike. Steelhead are present in rivers and streams in the winter to spring time period. Using egg sacks and egg patterns is an excellent way to target them.

Predators: Larger predatory fish, humans, sea lampreysbirds of prey, minksottersraccoons.

Stocked? Wild breeding. Also stocked.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs in the spring. The Steelheads of the larger lakes will migrate up the tributaries they were born in. Rainbows will generally move toward the headwaters of their stream. Males will compete fiercely to fertilize a clutch of eggs. Rainbows survive to spawn again. Eggs hatch in 4-7 weeks.

Nesting: Females dig depressions in the gravel or sand. Preference is for good water flow.

Other Info.: Rainbow trout is native to the west coast where true Steelheads head inland from the Pacific to breed. They were introduced to the NY State in the 1870s. Steelheads and Rainbows are the same species, but based on their life history, and more importantly, the size of the water they dwell in, their physical characteristics change. They are known for their fight; often leaping from the water when hooked.

Note

Some fish images originally prepared by Ellen Edmonson and Hugh Chrisp as part of the 1927-1940 New York Biological Survey. Permission for use granted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Others were acquired from the public domain. Some are used as part of a Creative Commons license.

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