Salmon snagging is tradition at northern NM lakes
FARMINGTON — If you enjoy the patience and tact of fishing, salmon snagging probably isn’t for you.
Every year, millions of kokanee salmon are stocked in deep-water lakes around the state, including Navajo, Heron and Eagle Nest lakes.
The salmon are known for their long snouts, arched backs and pink or orange color. Officials with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish capture spawning fish and milk them for sperm and eggs to fertilize them and then later stock the lakes, according to its website.
Kokanee salmon, a cousin of the sockeye salmon, are a land-locked, freshwater salmon that congregates in schools in the hopes of mating during the fall. This effort is fruitless since the fish need specific conditions and a river to reproduce, but it provides for excellent snagging.
Salmon snagging has become a tradition at northern New Mexico lakes, with some anglers waiting on the shores for the opening of the season at midnight Oct. 1.
While many anglers have had luck snagging this season, a warmer-than-normal fall has hampered some efforts. Farmington residents Ivan and Arlena Marquez and their dog, Turbo, were out snagging on Saturday, but walked away empty-handed.
"It’s too warm," Ivan Marquez said about the day's temperatures, which reached in the 60s. "It needs to be colder for them to come out."
Finding a school of salmon often proves to be the biggest challenge for anglers. Otherwise, all that is needed is a treble hook — three hooks connected to and surrounding a heavy weight — as well as a sturdy line, a dependable pole and a bucket. Every angler with a fishing license is allowed to snag no more than 12 fish per day and have 24 in its possession.
In snagging, lines are cast into the water and immediately reeled in, often with sharp pulls of the pole. This is repeated over and over until the fish limit is reached, which can happen quickly if an angler happens upon a large school.
The kokanee salmon are the only fish that can be caught by snagging, a technique which intentionally aims for the body of the fish, rather than the mouth. Other fish caught using snagging should be returned to the water.
Since they cannot naturally reproduce, without the special snagging season, the fish would otherwise die.
The season ends Dec. 31, but the salmon usually turn "soft" before the end of the season. When the salmon are close to death, their flesh is usually so soft their bodies are torn into pieces by the large hooks used for snagging.
This year, like last year, the Pine Main boat ramp at Navajo Lake Park and the surrounding no-wake zone is closed to anglers during the snagging season. Last year, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish closed the ramp and a 150-foot area surrounding it to harvest salmon eggs and sperm.
In a statement the department issued in September 2015, cold-water fisheries supervisor Richard Hansen said "low water years have hindered our egg take from Heron Reservoir, requiring the use of Navajo Lake as an alternative source of salmon eggs ... ."
The boat ramp was only closed until Nov. 15 last year. But this year, the closure is slated for the entire season. A press release Oct. 16 from the state department cited the "safety of all visitors, and to maintain park and marina infrastructure" as the reason for the closure.
On Saturday, Kenbil Wescott, of Goodwell, Okla., and Jed Wilson, of Bloomfield, were along the same shoreline as Ivan and Arlena Marquez. They returned to the spot after witnessing a father and son pull salmon out the day before.
"They were just hammering them, pulling them out and pulling them out," Wilson said with a chuckle. "It’s either too warm today or maybe they just knew what they were doing."
Wilson and Wescott also walked away empty-handed, losing a few hooks to the shallow, rocky bottom of the lake. But they vowed to try another day.
Renee Lucero is a freelance writer for The Daily Times.