That’s not a Brown Trout – A Swift River Surprise


By John Lefeber 


Image this scenario. You arrive at the  Swift River out in Ware, MA. You pull on your waders and walk in, scanning for trout as you have many times. You are looking forward to catching small native Brook Trout with amazing colors, maybe a couple of good-sized stocked Rainbows, and if you are really lucky a decent sized Brown Trout. This time when walking up to the famed Y-pool, you see what looks like really big Browns stacked up in easy casting range. Some of the biggest fish you have ever seen on the river even though you have fished it on a monthly basis for the past few years. 


You hastily jump in the river and throw the normal midge patterns, maybe a few nymphs – nothing. Not even a look. In an act of desperation, you throw a woolly bugger. Why not? You hear about anglers catching good fish on streamers sometimes, and these are big fish. There is no way they get their fill on size 30 midges. Your first cast you get a slow follow from a decent fish. It gives your streamer a soft hit and you over anxiously miss the hook-set. You angrily throw another cast, frustrated you missed one of the famed Swift River Browns. This time you get a follow from a big fish. A really big fish. Slowly it closes the gap to your fly. You see the white of its mouth slowly envelope your streamer until it disappears into the dark shadow of the body. A quick hook-set and you're off to the races. 


The fish darts across the river, doing whatever it wants with its weight. It makes your four-weight rod look like an old fiberglass, bent over like a U. The fish frantically head shakes, jumps like a rainbow and goes on unstoppable runs. This is not your average Brown. After a long fight the fish is brought in and netted, and you notice, that is no Brown Trout. It has a hooked jaw, forked tail, dark spots, and has a very slight silver hint to its tan color. You just landed the biggest fish in your life on the fly, a ten-pound Landlocked Salmon in the Swift River.


Author John Lefeber with a Swift River Landlocked Salmon


This may sound like some sort of Massachusetts fly fishing fairy tale, but this is no fiction. We had the third wettest fall here in the Bay State on record. So much so that the Quabbin Reservoir water levels were high enough that it consistently poured over to the spillway into the Swift River. With all that extra water came a good amount of Landlocked Salmon that reside in the reservoir. As the Salmon continued their normal Fall tributary migration instincts, they followed that current over the spillway and into the Swift. Locals say this is a “once in a decade event” which produces some of the rarest and most exciting fishing in the state. The last time Landlocked Salmon spilled into the Swift was claimed to be 2011. 


So how do you even go about nabbing one of these fish?


Gear: your normal trout gear will work for this. The Swift is easy wading with few rocks, so felt/spikes are not needed. Just note that this time of year air and water temperatures are starting to drop so dress accordingly. And be careful not to tread on Trout Redds (Egg sacks).


Flies: Streamers, egg flies, wet flies. Streamers seem to be the best bet for now. People have also gotten them on classic Salmon egg patterns. Orange or peach in color. Anglers have also had success on wet flies but that seems less consistent. These feeding patterns may change as the fish become more acclimated to the river. The expectation in that they will start feeding on insect life similar to the trout in the river. Think small midges, scuds, and other nymph patterns.


Rod/Reel: Rod size can be variable. I have seen fish caught on 4,5,6 weights and heard of people getting big fish on even as low as a 2wt. Be sure to match your rod weight with the size tippet (more info in below section). For example, don’t use 8x with a stiff 6 weight rod as you will snap your tipped with every fish.


Obviously, match your reel size to whatever rod you are using. Just make sure the reel you are using has a good drag system. Having a good drag is valuable with these fish when fighting their weight in current with light tippet. You need to be able to fine-tune your drag setting to be able to apply pressure to the fish but without breaking the line and then potentially locking down the drag when the fish is in close. 


Tippet: This is also variable based on what flies you are using. In classic Swift fashion, it is not recommended to use anything bigger than 7x with dry flies, any subsurface nymph or egg nothing bigger than 6x, and with streamers nothing bigger 3x. 


Fluorocarbon is always better. Trying to land a large Salmon on 7x may seem crazy but I have seen it done multiple times. The salmon in the image above with the gentleman in the red was caught using egg patterns on 7x. 


Final Note: It is hard to say what will happen to these Salmon as time goes on, as this is not their normal habitat and there is no way for them to get back into Quabbin Reservoir. Locals say they will either die when water temps rise over the summer or they will get flushed downstream and out of the river. State biologists question this notion, though. The Swift is one of the most consistent and cold rivers in the region with plenty of food. It’s in the realm of possibility for the salmon to survive in some of the deeper parts on the river, even though we don't find any in the Swift from the 2011 spillover. We will have to wait for the findings of the state's summer study.  For now, they are a good bit of fun. As usual, be respectful to the fish and practice proper catch and release techniques while it lasts.