‘Tis the season to catch salmon.
Salmon snagging season in New Mexico opened on Oct. 1 and will run through Dec. 31, depending on the area.
Rio Chama, Navajo Lake, Pine River, El Vado Lake and Eagle Nest Lake are currently open to snagging in the approved boundaries, and Heron Lake and Willow Creek will open on Nov. 11.
The main catch of the season is kokanee salmon. These land-locked sockeye salmon are not native to New Mexico, but large schools of the fish gather to spawn and die in the cold waters of northern New Mexico lakes and rivers.
“Salmon snagging is a popular opportunity for New Mexico anglers,” said Eric Frey, Sportfish program manager at the Department of Game and Fish. “Based on our angler satisfaction surveys, about 18% of our anglers indicate kokanee as one of their top three preferred coldwater species.”
Kokanee salmon thrive in the deep spots of these waters, and its in part due to the amount of plankton produced in the area, but Frey said successful reproduction of the species depends on the department.
“In New Mexico, kokanee are managed and occur in several lakes that do not provide the appropriate habitat for spawning,” he said.
Officials gather millions of kokanee eggs each year at Heron or Navajo lake, and fertilize and incubate them at the Los Ojos State Fish Hatchery for several months. Frey added the department also obtains eggs from other states in the region to help maintain the population in New Mexico.
The department then stocks the water, but there is a strategy to controlling the amount of fish every season.
“Because kokanee populations are completely dependent on our stocking efforts, we manage population numbers by increasing or decreasing stocking densities based upon habitat and water levels,” Frey said.
Frey explained that since the salmon are placed in man-made reservoirs, they are mostly used for recreational purposes without harming the ecosystem.
Snagging has become one of the most popular approaches to catching salmon in the state. The technique uses a sharp grappling hook at the end of a fishing line to pierce the body of nearby fish instead of the more traditional hook that relies on fish swallowing the bait.
Though a popular method, the kokanee is the only fish that can be legally snagged in New Mexico. According to the department’s website, the bag limit for the season is 12 kokanee salmon per day, 24 in possession.
Depending on the spot, anglers may have more luck snagging salmon in certain areas than others this season.
Frey said, “Our populations at Heron and El Vado are low this year due to extremely low water conditions. Based on our population surveys, the population at Navajo is in great shape. The population at Eagle Nest is moderate.”
Licensed anglers are required to stay within the set boundaries of each area while salmon snagging. At Rio Chama, the designated area is from El Vado Lake to the west boundary of Rio Chama Wildlife and Fishing Area, and at Navajo Lake, buoyed no-wake areas and the shoreline within the no-wake areas at the Pine River Boat Ramp and Simms Boat Ramp are excluded and closed throughout the season, according to the department’s website.
Happy snagging season.