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The landlocked are both limited and widespread in habitat, as they have been planted in many lakes beyond their original home waters. But wherever they are found, they provide fast and exciting fly rod sport. My own first encounter with the species was at Kennebago, Maine. I was casting the Little Kennebago River and had a hit to my streamer fly, and then out came a bright, silvery colored number in a series of jumps so fast that I thought it must be a whole school of fish. I couldn't believe that a single salmon could jump up such a storm. Since that day, so many years ago, I have caught many landlocked in widely scattered waters, and all of them kick up the same turmoil.
They are now found in many Northern Hemisphere spots, from Maine and New York to Northern Ontario, Quebec,(where they are called ouananiche), Newfoundland and Labrador. They have been transplanted to New Zealand and Argentina, with great success. But most of these fish, wherever they are found, originated with stock from Sebago Lake in the Rangeley Lakes section of Maine, and the scientific name comes from this origin-Salmo salar sebago.
Many of the time-honored landlocked salmon flies also originated in the Rangeleys, Kennebago, Mooselookmeguntic and Moosehead Lake fishing camps. Smelt comprise the main food item on the landlocked salmon menu in Maine, and many of the flies simulate the smelt in one way or another. The supervisor is probably the outstanding example of this tie and will probably get more hits than any other artificial in the books. But the gray ghost, green ghost, dark tiger and many Atlantic salmon flies will also take them, and when they are hitting well they can be caught on almost any type of fly, from nymphs through the wet flies and dries, as well as on streamers and bucktails. Best dries are the gray Wulff, white Wulff, royal coachman Wulff, green drake, gray hackle with yellow body, and the black gnat, all in sizes 14 to 8.
The Grand Lake Stream area in Maine was at one time a choice landlocked salmon fly fishing spot. The lake itself was usually fished by trolling, but wide-awake fly casters watched for risers and cast both wets and dries with great success. And the stream below the lake, running into Big Lake, three miles below, furnished wonderful dry fly fishing. On one trip there I recall taking several landlocked salmon over four pounds apiece on a green drake, size 12. We fished dries for them much as we would for trout, working the pools carefully, and finding them in the same places as we would have found rainbows or browns. They responded, however, with typical salmon spontaneity, and busted skyward with the usual spectacular aerial activity of the family. And wherever he has been transplanted, the landlocked salmon has carried on the traditions of his forebear, the Atlantic salmon, earning his reputation as a ripsnorting game fish with plenty on the ball.
The most successful retrieve when fishing streamers for landlocks, in either lake or river, is a slow, foot-long pull back. Again, it will pay to cast a streamer or bucktail out, when fish ing a river, and let it float without motion, riding the current just a few inches under the surface. Many times such fly play pays off in a thumping strike. And sometimes, if such a float does not bring any response, the fish can be stirred up with a fast, foot-long strip just at the end of the float, making the streamer leap forward. Then the force of the current pulls the fly to the surface, or just under the surface, and the angler will see the fish as he takes, banging into it with authority.
Nothing beats trying, and working hard with different speeds, lengths of jerks, and different levels of retrieve. As long as the fish are hitting a certain bringback, that is the one to stick to, but when hits fall off, then other methods are called for.
Wet flies, nymphs and dries are all fished the same way for landlocked salmon as they are for trout. Nymphs may be allowed to float motionless, or be given action by allowing them to sink, then bringing them up in short jerks. A wet fly is allowed to swing on down without motion, then retrieved, or it may be given short jerks to make it look like a downed insect struggling along. Dries are fished up or up and across stream with the same care to avoid drag as if they were being fished for brownies.
When fishing a dry on lakes, however, the dry fly should always be given action. A dry fly cast out and left to sit there seldom brings a strike. In order to attract a nearby fish and create an urge for that fly, it must jump, shake, shiver and run across the top. Fishing a dry that way for landlocks can be lots of fun.
The landlocked salmon is indistinguishable in appearance from the Atlantic salmon, but does not grow as big. The top fish listed on world record charts is a 22-pound 8-ouncer caught in Sebago Lake, Maine, in 1907, by Edward Blakely. However, it is known that several larger ones have been taken in the Traful River in Argentina, where the landlocked salmon has taken on with tremendous success. Pictures and log books there list four fish over 24 pounds, none of which, however, was entered for world record.
The Traful River is probably the greatest landlocked salmon water in the world today. From Sebago Lake stock planted there in 1903, the species has now spread out over such a wide area that today they can be taken in many lakes and streams in both the Nahuel Huapi and Lanin National Parks.
In the Compomento Pool in the Traful, the salmon may be seen lying in plain view, sometimes with 25 feet of the wading fisherman. When I first went into that pool, I started at the top and used the drop system of casting which I had often used for Atlantic salmon. I would throw the fly out for about 15 feet, then lengthen the throw by a couple of feet each succeeding cast. Then, when I had finished that drop, I would walk downstream for 20 feet, and start all over again.
But my fishing companions, Jorge Donovan and Bebe Anchorena, soon advised me of the different procedure used in Argentinian waters.
"Down here they don't stay in the heads of the pools," Jorge said. "Start in the middle of the pool. They will be from there down to the end."
"We don't use that casting system, either," said Bebe. "We just cast across stream and let the fly swing down in the current. Then we move a few feet down with each cast."
When I reached the middle of the pool I saw some fish facing into the current and only 30 feet out from me. The water was so clear that I was afraid I would scare them but the first float over those babies brought one roaring up for the blue charm I had on, and he mouthed it.
He fought all the way, with runs, jumps, pulls, tugs and dashes. He did everything but give up-but I finally landed him.
That trip we fished the Traful from one end to the other and it was like something out of a dream. We took fish from every pool, fish that went from 3 to 12 pounds and averaged around 712 pounds. That was real fishing, even though some days the fish were choosy and we didn't do too well, and had to really work to get them to hit. But we kept at it and showed them a million flies, and found enough that they liked.
At that time, which was March, they would not hit dry flies, but probably would have done so earlier in the season when the water was lower and warmer. Dr. Cornelio Donovan of Buenos Aires, father of my friend Jorge, holds the record for landlocked salmon on a dry in the Traful, a 12-pounder.
On a stormy day at the end of our fishing trip, we fished the boca where the river pours out of Lake Traful. Dark clouds hung low over the lake and you could see the rain up there, but as happens so often in Argentina, the clouds stayed there and didn't come rushing down on us to spoil our fishing.
The salmon were lying out there facing the outlet from the lake, in a semicircle. I went out waist deep in the water and started casting. No strikes. I turned and cast to my right, but still no strikes. Then on the other side of the outlet, I noticed the current pouring past a rock wall that rose straight up. It looked like a perfect lie for salmon. I waded carefully over to within casting range. I put a size 8 honey fly on and threw it right up against that rock. It floated for a yard, then everything stopped. I raised the rod tip and felt the fish. He dashed up along that rock, then veered off towards the middle of the lake. He came my way and jumped almost in my face. He looked as long as a canoe paddle.
I dropped the rod tip fast, then pulled it up again as he fell back in and headed downstream, going at least 50 per.
He went through the fast water at the head of the pool, he steamed through the 200-foot length of it into the next pool. I started to wade ashore, holding the rod high, with one eye glued on the diminishing line on the reel. I kept a tight line, hit shore, and headed after the fish. He stopped then and I reeled fast as I walked down to him. He was in the middle of the pool, lying doggo. I got below him finally and pulled back and started him going again. He jumped three times in a row. He sprinted to the head of the pool, and went into the white water, but he was tiring now and I stopped him and turned him and reeled him back my way. He fought back there for five minutes more and then I skidded him ashore. He weighed 9 1/2 pounds, a wonderful fish, as sleek as a new shine.
Until the last day, that was the top fish of the whole trip. Then on the last day all of us tangled with great fish, and finally just as we were about to quit, Bebe got one that beat mine. I had finished my pool, and walked up to where he was. "What luck?" I asked.
He held up the fly he had been using. It was a 4-inch long platinum blonde, a big bucktail tied on a 1/0 hook, a fly we had used with great success on brown trout.
"It's driving them wild," he said. "They jump on it, hit it with their tails. They hit it like they hate it. So far I've landed four salmon from this one pool on this fly."
He waded out a bit farther then, and made a 50-foot cast. The fly had hardly landed before a long, silvery shape slashed up and hit. This fish was a runner, he ran 150 feet in 10 seconds, flung himself out of the water in an astounding leap, then ran right back our way. Bebe was reeling up a fit trying to gain back the slack line the sudden turn of the fish had caused, and he finally made it. Then the fish came right out, not 30 feet away. He looked very big.
He fought and fought. He jumped g times. He made several more runs, shorter, but with lots of zip. Bebe finally skidded him ashore. He weighed 12 pounds 8 ounces, the largest of the trip.
In any of the waters in which the landlocked salmon is found, the best fly rod is the 8 1/2-footer, with a GBF fly line. The leader should be tapered to a 2X tippet in most cases, but in low, clear water a 3X will bring more hits. On the other hand, in fairly heavy water, a 4-to 6-pound test tippet will be small enough in diameter to get strikes, and still strong enough to withstand the fight of the fish.
Many times, in a small stream, an 8-foot, 4-ounce rod would do an entirely satisfactory job, but as the streamer fly is the payoff one for most landlocked salmon, the bigger rod is the better one for all around fishing. And when moving into small water with the big rod, it is still possible to lighten the tackle by reducing the size of the tippet. And as the tippet is the weakest part of the fly man's equipment, the caster can go as fine as he likes in that department. One thing to remember, however, is that with a large rod and a very light tippet, the strike should be very gentle, a mere lifting of the tip, or the fly may be snapped off where it is tied to the leader.