• Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Cheating for Trout and Salmon

    Posted on February 11th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    This 19.5 lb. brown hit a mini-Streak on a cheater near bottom in 40 feet of water.

    Amy Mullen watched the downrigger rod intently.  Hardly beyond her teens at the time, she already knew firsthand the thrill of angling for chinook salmon on Lake Ontario.  Amy, her dad, Gary, and I had been searching Mexico Bay since dawn for our first king, enjoying the tranquility of calm seas and the glow of a Great Lakes sunrise.

    Before her eyes, the tip of the starboard rod, frozen in an arc, was yanked viciously toward the water by an unknown force below.  In a chain reaction, the port rod did the same.

    With skills learned from many encounters with big kings , the father/daughter team brought each of the big fish to the net.  Both kings had taken Flutterchucks fished on cheaters, ten feet above the rigger weights.  Without those bonus rigs, we might still have been searching for our first strike as the sun cleared the horizon.  

     Cheaters are one of the many variations of bonus rigs used to improve a Lake Ontario troller’s chances of catching king salmon and other salmonids.  There isn’t a top trout and salmon angler on big water who doesn’t use them.

    Cheaters, sometimes called fixed sliders, are effective anywhere downriggers are used.  This rigging technique involves a four to ten foot long leader that is piggy-backed to a monofilament main line hooked to a downrigger release in the standard fashion.  The key to the successful use of a cheater is the way it’s fished.  Leader length and position of the cheater lure in relation to the terminal lure are critical.  

    After  25 years of experience fishing these specialized rigs on Lake Ontario, I prefer to attach cheaters to the main line with an ingenious device called a Liberator, manufactured by Roemer.  It’s small, attaches firmly to the main line, doesn’t damage abrasion resistant line, and can be easily adjusted to fish any distance above the weight.  Correctly attached to the main line, it doesn’t immediately slide on a strike like a free slider,  increasing the chances of a solid hookup.  Importantly, when a fish is hooked on the lure at the terminal end of the line, the Liberator automatically releases when the device contacts the rod tip.  If the cheater leader isn’t twisted around the main line, the Liberator simply slides down the line and out of the way.

    When using Liberators, fish a main line of at least 15 lb. test, and rig your cheater leaders with the same line.  When I fish brown trout with spoons in the thermocline in July, I use  fishing 15 – 30 lb. main line(depending on abundance of water fleas)  and 15 – 20  lb. cheater leaders.  When I cheat spoons over dodgers or flasher and flies or bait, I fish 30 lb. mono main line and a 20 lb. cheater. 

    To rig a cheater leader, select the leader length and lb. test you want.  Tie a large snap swivel on one end of the leader and a standard snap swivel on the other.  Attach the large snap to the Liberator and the other to your spoon.

     Rubber bands are also commonly used in combination with snap swivels to attach cheater leaders to the main line.  However, they often interfere with landing a fish as the line is reeled in.

     The basic principle behind use of a cheater is that it not only allows an angler to use two different lures on one line, but also allows two different types of lure presentation.  For instance, for kings I commonly fish a plug or spoon up to 70 feet behind the release and cheat a spoon two to ten feet above the release, fishing them separately.  Fishing just one rod, two lures can be presented differently, tight to the weight, and way back.  The fish will tell you which presentation they like best on a given day.

    One of my favorite cheater rigs involves fishing dodgers or flashers six to ten feet behind the weight with a spoon cheated leader right above them.  This is an absolutely deadly rig for lakers, landlocks, brown trout, steelhead, and Pacific salmon that are suckered in by the attractor and hammer the spoon above instead.

     If you believe cheaters are useful only for fishing deep water, you should reconsider.  They also work well shallow.  For example, on a practice day before a professional tournament, the team I fished with had rigged cheaters on each rigger five feet above the weights.  Raising the port rigger to a depth of only seven feet, we could see every flicker of the Eppinger Flutterdevle only two feet below the surface on a five foot leader.  The six pound coho that smacked the spoon put on a spectacular aerial show before we landed and released it.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, The Scoop on Brown Trout

    Posted on February 7th, 2016 admin No comments

    I could see the big brown flashing off the stern of the Fish Doctor 10’ below the surface in the gin- clear water that April morning.   As Jeannette eased the silvery “football”  closer and closer to the net the 9’ ultralight noodle rod was straining the 6 lb. test leader to the limit.  The moment of truth was approaching as the big brown surfaced and we saw the jet black spots on its side.  One scoop of the net, and the 15-pounder was Jeannette’s.

     In the excitement, I could hear the same questions Fish Doctor anglers always ask about Lake Ontario’s fantastic browns.  How old is a fish this size? How fast do they grow? How long do they live?.  Does the state stock these browns? Can you catch them all season?  If you’ve wondered the same thing, here’s the scoop on Lake Ontario brown trout.

     First of all, were it not for the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s (NYSDEC) stocking program.  there would be no brown trout fishery in Lake Ontario at all.  Each year the NYSDEC raises and stocks close  to 400,000 yearling browns averaging about 8.5 inches  from Henderson Harbor on the northeast corner of the lake to near the mouth of the Niagara River on the west end.  The province of Ontario, Canada, stocks about half that number.   With no documented natural reproduction since the brown trout stocking program began in 1971, consistent annual stocking  of good-sized, healthy fish is absolutely essential to this superb fishery. 

                _________________________________________

                   Each year the NYSDEC raises and stocks

                         close to 400, 000 yearling browns.            ______________________________________________

     Lamprey control is the next essential ingredient in NYSDEC’s fabulous Lake Ontario’s brown trout management recipe.  Early experience in the late 1960s and early 1970s showed that lampreys were so abundant they were devastating stocks of chinook and coho salmon before they could reach adult size.  An effective lamprey control program was implemented  shortly thereafter and continues today, not eradicating, but controlling the blood sucking lamprey.  Lake trout and brown trout, because of their tendency to orient to the bottom and remain in nearshore waters, are particularly vulnerable to lampreys.

     Cormorants were another scourge the Lake Ontario brown trout fishery had to deal with.  Before the introduction of gobies, cormorants ate brown trout(and  everything else), especially when the 8.5”  fish were first stocked.  The NYSDEC battled do-gooder groups for years in an attempt to control exploding cormorant populations and made gains, including approval to oil eggs and limit reproduction.  To improve survival of freshly shore stocking has been replaced by scatter planting over deep water using barges carrying hatchery trucks.  Today, NYSDEC studies show 96% of the stomach contents of cormorants are gobies, and cormorant predation on stocked browns is negligible.

     An excellent forage base is another key to Lake Ontario’s brown trout fishery.  Feeding on an abundance of rich, oily alewives  browns and other salmonids grow at a rate unheard of in most inland New York and New England waters.  Yearling browns stocked at 8.5” in May will generally reach 3-4 lbs. by the following may and grow  up to 7 lbs. by September.    By the fall of their third year in the lake, a few 3-year old fish will weigh up to 16-18 lbs. 

     New York State’s present record brown trout was caught in Lake Ontario and weighed just over 33 lbs.  The biggest brown ever landed on my charter boat weighed  25 lbs. 4 oz., but many over 15 lbs. have been boated by Fish Doctor anglers.  Good info on the age of these monsters is lacking, but several years ago, a fin-clipped, known age 7-year old Canadian stocked brown trout just over 30 lbs.  held the state record for a time.    Although the present state record has not been challenged for years, it’s only a matter of time before  the current state record will be broken by a brown approaching 40 lbs.

     Because of it’s huge volume of water, the surface of 200 mile long, 862’ deep Lake Ontario rarely  freezes solid, and never has ice safe enough for ice fishing. However, browns are usually catchable all winter from shore in certain areas like Oswego Harbor, especially during an open winter like 2015-16.  As spring arrives, normally in late March or early April, you’ll find boats on the water trolling the shallows for browns out of ports along New York’s Lake Ontario coastline.  

    Nearshore brown trout fishing usually lasts until midJune, when the water warms and finally pushes fish deep in search of cool water and alewives.  Midummer brown trout fishing is excellent and lasts until late August, when prespawn browns quitfeeding.   The coloration of browns  changes from silver with black spots in the spring to a golden bronze late in late summer,  as they don their spawning colors and hook jawed males prepare for battle.

     One thing we know for sure about Lake Ontario.  There are few places in the world where you can catch bigger browns, PERIOD!

  • Oswego Trout and Salmon…, Easy Spring Kings

    Posted on January 28th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    May 5, 2004..., Jackson and his crew with part of a limit of early spring kings.

    As we backed my charter boat into the narrow slip at Oswego Marina, my buddy Bob, standing on the dock, asked 12-year old “Jackson” Davis, “How”d they bite, young man?”  Jackson couldn’t wait to spit the words out, “We limited out!”  “Aha, said Bob, the browns are a lot of fun this time of year, aren’t they?”  “We didn’t catch any browns”, Jackson blurted out, we caught king salmon”.  Jackson flipped open the big cooler, heaping with 8 to 19 pound mint-silver kings. 

    The date was May 2, 2005, and we could not have had a better day of  fishing.   I had located the fish the day before, figured out a pattern, and “Jackson”, his Dad, and Bob Jones had cashed in.  The seas were calm and the skies sunny, but the best part…, we were the only boat on eastern Lake Ontario fishing kings that morning.

    Since 2004, spring fishing for king salmon, just 5 minutes outside Oswego Harbor, has been fantastic.  In 2004, 2005 and 2006, just in the monthof  May, anglers aboard my charter boat boated more than 400 king salmon and 150 cohos, this in an area much better known for spring brown trout fishing.  Fishing for king salmon continues on through June and July as these sleek predators stay just offshore while hordes of alewives move shallow to spawn.

    Experience has shown that high spring flow in the Oswego River is a major attraction for baitfish and spring kings and cohos.  Since 2001, another great year for spring kings, the pattern seems clear, high flows produce hot spring salmon fishing. 

    Some springs, as snow melts and runoff peaks flow in the Oswego River reaches up to  25,000 cfs.  Laden with nutrients from thousands of acres of rich farmland in the 5,000 square mile watershed, the huge greenish colored plume of water off Oswego Harbor is like an oasis in the Sahara to fish in eastern Lake Ontario.  With such a mild winter so far in 2015-16, and so little snow pack in central New York, flow in the Oswego River might be lower than normal, but a lot can happen between now and spring. 

    If you’re thinking about sampling the super spring king fishing at Oswego, on a typical sunny day the early bird definitely gets the worm.  Leaving the dock at Oswego Marina at 5:00 AM, it’s only a short 5-minute ride to the fishing grounds in 90 to 100 feet of water.  Most mornings my rods are in the water just before daybreak.  At that time, almost no fish or bait can be seen on my Garmin fish finder below 30 feet.  Some calm mornings, salmon can be seen porpoising right on the surface…, exciting.  All the early morning action is in the top 30 feet of water, and I mean action. 

    Triples and quads are not unusual.  One morning, my crew of three  ranging from 79 to 85 years old, including one “young” lady angler, hooked and landed six kings at once from 13 – 19 lbs.  Whew!  Even though the surface water temperature in early May is 39-40 degrees, on  sunny days, kings start to move deep by 7:00 – 9:00 AM and are often flat on bottom in 120 feet of water by late morning.

     ProChip Flashers and dodgers trailed by Howie Flies are standard fare for spring kings.  Spoons like Maulers, Northern Kings, and Michigan Stingers are also excellent spring king medicine.  Downriggers, Dipsey Divers, and copper line fished from planer boards get lures down to kings.  My personal favorite in May is a white ProChip 8 trailed by a Little Boy Blue Howie Fly.  Mauler spoons in either Black Venom or Blue Dolphin patterns are also deadly fished clean on a downrigger.

     If you’re waiting until August to fish for king salmon in eastern Lake Ontario, you might want to rethink your plan, especially this year.  Oh, and the other thing…, there is no better eating fish in fresh water than a spring king salmon dripping with oil after chowing down on alewives all winter…, yum, yum!

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon…, Less is More

    Posted on January 24th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    A midmorning trio of kings caught with only the center rigger in the water.

    I sent the center rigger down the 5th time to 135 feet  Conditions had not changed in several days and I new the troll, due north at a surface speed of 2.7 mph.  Wham!!  Dr. Kerry Brown, Capt. Tim Hummel, and their first mates, Tom and John watched the 7’ Shortstick double to the water as I tightened the line to the release.  The tally was 5 kings in a row on the double pearl dodger and “king salmon” Howie Fly behind the decoy rigger weight down the center, before we could put another line in the water. 

    Kerry, and his crew had traveled from the Port of Oak Orchard in western Lake Ontario to Oswego Harbor in eastern Lake Ontario on July 20, 2005, to do an  on-water Howie Fly class with me.   Tom’s  comment after a half hour on the water and five consecutive kings with only one  rigger in the water, “I’ve seen enough, we can go back!”

    What Dave had not seen, was what was comng next.  Instead of dropping the center rigger back down to 135’, I rigged the two corner riggers with dodgers and flies and dropped them to 130’ and 120’.  No takers!  I immediately dropped our hot item on the center rigger back down to 135’.  We watched intently.  We were still on the same hot troll…, identical speed, identical direction,  doing everything to “repeat-a-fish”.  The sonar was still showing  bait and kings from 100’ to 140’.  Nothing.  After setting copper lines, wire Dipsys, and a thumper rod, we started catching fish again, but not on the riggers.

    One week later, the scenario was similar.  As my crew approached the end of an 8-hour charter, we had boated some nice kings, but not a single one of them had come on a rigger rod.  Running three to four riggers at a time, the flashers and Howie Flies, had not  produced a nibble.  Because our copper rods, wire Dipsys, and thumper rods were all firing I had not changed the rigger spread.  As we got ready to haul lines, I purposely pulled both  boom riggers and spread the corner riggers, one down 100’,  one down 140’.  Before I could get the second boom rigger weight out of the water, we doubled on the two green ProChips trailing  green krinkle flies.  Reducing the number of riggers in the water and spreading them out was all it took.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m a firm believer in the addage that, “less is often more”when it comes to fishing riggers.  And, when I say less, think about not just dropping down to two riggers, but sometimes only one!  One fish on one rod every 10 minutes equals 6 fish/hour, equals…  You  know!

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Spring Cohos on Dodgers and Flies

    Posted on January 19th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    A nice coho that hit a green fly behind a red dodger

    We watched my 16” flat screen in amazement as not one, but four cohos darted around behind the red #00 dodger and little green hummer Fish Doctor fly trailing 5’ behind my underwater camera on the center rigger set 15’ below the surface.  As all four fish swirled around in full view of the camera, one of the  silvery torpedos shot forward and nailed the fly, pulling the line from the release.  The 7’ Shortstick sprang upward and a quick hand snatched the ultralight rod from the rod holder.  Before the excited angler could say, “Fish on!”, the mint silver coho was already airborne.

    Coho salmon are an early spring bonus in inshore waters of  Lake Ontario, and are often in the  same water around Oswego Harbor as brown trout.   Nothing compares to their wild and wooly antics when hooked close to the boat.  Absolutely fearless of boats, and very surface oriented, I’ve seen them hit lures many times that were in full view, less than 6’ behind a down rigger weight and not more than one foot below the surface.  The wilder and noisier the action of a lure and the gaudier the color, the more cohos like it.  As they say, cohos like any colored lure as long as it has fluorescent red or orange in it.  When you find a “wolf pack” of marauding spring cohos, prepare for action, because it’s not unusual for  every single rod you have in the water to double over with a fish on it.

     Cohos are hyper fish.  Everything they do is fast including the rate at which they grow.  The cohos that make up Lake Ontario’s spring fishery are 2-year old fish that weigh 3-5 lbs.  By late August of the same year, when they stage before returning to the hatchery in the headwaters of the Big Salmon river in northern Oswego Co., they will weigh 6-12 lbs. and more.   After spawning, adult cohos will die like all Pacific salmon. 

     Unlike Chinook salmon that migrate back to the lake from spawning streams as 3-5 month old spring fingerlings, young cohos remain in spawning streams in rearing areas for more than a year.  To mimic this behavior, the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation stocks 3”-4” chinook salmon at the spring fingerling stage and 5”-7” cohos at the yearling stage.

     One of the favorite rigs for spring cohos is a fluorescent red #00 dodger trailed 12” – 14” back by a small 1” – 2 ½” green mylar coho fly, which I tie myself.  The smaller dodgers are effective trolled shallow on downriggers and Dipsy divers.  The icing on the cake for any spring coho spread is a set of #00 dodgers and coho flies behind inline planer boards like the Church TX-12 Mini Planer(www.churchtackle.com) off each side of the boat.  . 

     To rig dodgers and flies for trolling behind inline planers, use 6’ of 20# test leader ahead of the dodger.  Between the leader and the main line snap in a 5/8 to 7/8 ounce bead chain keel sinker.  This weighted keel sinker helps keep the dodger from planing to the surface.  Set the dodger/fly back 25 to70 feet behind the inline planer board, and let the planer board out to the side of the boat the desired distance.  Multiple inline planers can be used off each side of the boat.  High action jointed plugs like the J-9 orange and gold Rapala are favorites, along with standard size Michigan Stingers in hot colors, especially in a combination of fluorescent red and silver or brass.

     Riggers are normally set in the top 10 feet of water when surface temperatures are cold in late March, and April, then set deeper as temperatures warm and cohos move offshore.  Much like landlocked salmon, cohos are attracted to the boat, and downrigger setbacks of  6 to 20 feet are common.  My side riggers are set 3 to 5 feet down and 10 to 12 feet back with the dodger fly clearly visible from the boat as it wobbles back and forth.  Diving planers are set on 15 to 25 feet of line.  A trolling speed of 2.0 to 3.0 mph is about right depending on water temperature.  When a coho hits close to the boat, you usually see the fish in the air before you see the rod go!

     Interestingly, the one salmonid species that likes dodgers and flies almost as much as a coho is the landlocked salmon. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, The ABU Garcia 7000 Synchro

    Posted on January 16th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    The ABU Garcia 7000 Synchro

    Fifteen minutes earlier, 100 feet below us, a big king salmon had inhaled a whole alewife rigged behind an 11” ProChip flasher.  The rigger rod doubled over, drag screaming on the levelwind reel in John’s hands.   The 25 lb. king thrashing in the net on the deck was a beauty.  John’s comment surprised me.  He didn’t say “Wow, what a beautiful fish!” or “Man what a heck of a fight!”, but, “Holy smokes!  That’s the smoothest reel I’ve ever used!”  My sentiments exactly about Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro.

     Each season on Lake Ontario I fish about 150 charter trips, and put my equipment to the test.  When I find gear that really performs day after day,  I like to share that information with fellow anglers.  This past season, one piece of equipment stood out, Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro, one of the slickest levelwind line counter reels you will ever fish.

     The 7000i Synchro,  holds 250 yards of  20  lb. test monofilament line or 1000 feet of 30# test twisted stainless wire plus mono backing.  I have fished the 7000i line counter four charter fishing seasons, roughly 150 charter trips per season,  for salmon and trout without only minor issues including eventual wear of the level wind and slight loosening of the reel handle.  Most anglers would not put this many hours on a reel in their entire lifetime.

     Since I started trolling for trout and salmon with wire line back in the a1960’s, then leadcore line, Dipsy Divers, planer boards, and downriggers I use today, I’ve fished most  brands of levelwind reels on the market, but none has performed better than the Abu Garcia 7000 Synchro I fished for the first time during the 2011 Lake Ontario season.

     After fishing it almost 650 trips since then, including two months of the 2015 season, the one word that comes to mind is…, NICE!  The 7000 has always been a great reel, popular with Great Lakes charter captains especially.  But, now Abu Garcia has  taken this classic trout and salmon reel several  steps further.  The Carbon Matrix drag is silk smooth.  Three ball bearings give it a Teflon feel.  The rubber textured reel handle knob is super comfortable, but the handiest feature on a busy charter boat is the Synchro drag system.

     Every angler who trolls big water, whether for trout, salmon, walleyes or muskies will appreciate the  Synchro drag system, especially if you fish deep with downriggers or Dipsy Divers.

     No more flipping the free spool lever and thumbing a reel or changing the setting on the star or lever drag as you lower your downrigger into the depths.  No more wearing the skin off your thumb as you drop a Dipsy back on wire. With the 7000i Synchro, if  you want to drop a rigger or let out a Dipsy, you never have to take your hand off the reel handle or change the drag setting.  All you do is crank the reel handle backward a ¼ turn and the drag automatically loosens up slightly, maintaining enough tension to keep a bend in a downrigger rod as a rigger weight drops or allow a Dipsy to drop back slowly.  

     With 150 charter trips under my belt per season, I really appreciate  the Synchro feature of  the 7000 LC reel and everything else about it for Lake Ontario trolling.  What a time saver this drag system is!  Now, when I’m dropping a rigger to 140 feet for lakers, which takes a while, I no longer have to “stand at attention” with a reel in free spool and thumb the spool until the rigger reaches the right depth.  All I do is crank the 7000i’s handle back a ¼ of a turn, walk away, listen for the beep on my Penn rigger signaling the rigger has stopped 140’ down, return to the rigger and crank the Synchro handle forward ¼ of a turn to the original drag setting and I’m good to go.  Meanwhile, I can be netting fish, setting another rod or taking a quick sip of coffee.

     Performing flawlessly four more than four seasons, all I can say is…, What a reel!!! .  My Fish Doctor anglers really enjoy using it, and land  more fish with it because of the silk smooth drag and comfortable rubber tension reel handle knob that isn’t as tiring as a slipper plastic knob.  Very nice reel!

    Fifteen minutes earlier, 100 feet below us, a big king salmon had inhaled a whole alewife rigged behind an 11” ProChip flasher.  The rigger rod doubled over, drag screaming on the levelwind reel in John’s hands.   The 25 lb. king thrashing in the net on the deck was a beauty.  John’s comment surprised me.  He didn’t say “Wow, what a beautiful fish!” or “Man what a heck of a fight!”, but, “Holy smokes!  That’s the smoothest reel I’ve ever used!”  My sentiments exactly about Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro.

     Each season on Lake Ontario I fish about 150 charter trips, and put my equipment to the test.  When I find gear that really performs day after day,  I like to share that information with fellow anglers.  This past season, one piece of equipment stood out, Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro, one of the slickest levelwind line counter reels you will ever fish.

     The 7000i Synchro,  holds 250 yards of  20  lb. test monofilament line or 1000 feet of 30# test twisted stainless wire plus mono backing.  I have fished the 7000i line counter four charter fishing seasons, roughly 150 charter trips per season,  for salmon and trout without only minor issues including eventual wear of the level wind and slight loosening of the reel handle.  Most anglers would not put this many hours on a reel in their entire lifetime.

     Since I started trolling for trout and salmon with wire line back in the a1960’s, then the leadcore line, Dipsy Divers, planer boards, and downriggers I use today, I’ve fished most  brands of levelwind reels on the market, but none has performed as well  than the Abu Garcia 7000 Synchro I fished for the first time during the 2011 Lake Ontario season.

     After fishing it almost 650 trips since then, including two months of the 2015 season, the one word that comes to mind is…, NICE!  The 7000 has always been a great reel, popular with Great Lakes charter captains especially.  But, now Abu Garcia has  taken this classic trout and salmon reel several  steps further.  The Carbon Matrix drag is silk smooth.  Three ball bearings give it a Teflon feel.  The rubber textured reel handle knob is super comfortable, but the handiest feature on a busy charter boat is the Synchro drag system.

     Every angler who trolls big water, whether for trout, salmon, walleyes or muskies will appreciate the  Synchro drag system, especially if you fish deep with downriggers or Dipsy Divers.

     No more flipping the free spool lever and thumbing a reel or changing the setting on the star or lever drag as you lower your downrigger into the depths.  No more wearing the skin off your thumb as you drop a Dipsy back on wire. With the 7000i Synchro, if  you want to drop a rigger or let out a Dipsy, you never have to take your hand off the reel handle or change the drag setting.  All you do is crank the reel handle backward a ¼ turn and the drag automatically loosens up slightly, maintaining enough tension to keep a bend in a downrigger rod as a rigger weight drops or allow a Dipsy to drop back slowly.  

     With 150 charter trips under my belt per season, I really appreciate  the Synchro feature of  the 7000 LC reel and everything else about it for Lake Ontario trolling.  What a time saver this drag system is!  Now, when I’m dropping a rigger to 140 feet for lakers, which takes a while, I no longer have to “stand at attention” with a reel in free spool and thumb the spool until the rigger reaches the right depth.  All I do is crank the 7000i’s handle back a ¼ of a turn, walk away, listen for the beep on my Penn rigger signaling the rigger has stopped 140’ down, return to the rigger and crank the Synchro handle forward ¼ of a turn to the original drag setting and I’m good to go.  Meanwhile, I can be netting fish, setting another rod or taking a quick sip of coffee.

     Performing flawlessly four more than four seasons, all I can say is…, What a reel!!! .  My Fish Doctor anglers really enjoy using it, and land  more fish with it because of the silk smooth drag and comfortable rubber tension reel handle knob that isn’t as tiring as a slipper plastic knob.  Very nice reel!

    Fifteen minutes earlier, 100 feet below us, a big king salmon had inhaled a whole alewife rigged behind an 11” ProChip flasher.  The rigger rod doubled over, drag screaming on the levelwind reel in John’s hands.   The 25 lb. king thrashing in the net on the deck was a beauty.  John’s comment surprised me.  He didn’t say “Wow, what a beautiful fish!” or “Man what a heck of a fight!”, but, “Holy smokes!  That’s the smoothest reel I’ve ever used!”  My sentiments exactly about Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro.

     Each season on Lake Ontario I fish about 150 charter trips, and put my equipment to the test.  When I find gear that really performs day after day,  I like to share that information with fellow anglers.  This past season, one piece of equipment stood out, Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro, one of the slickest levelwind line counter reels you will ever fish.

     The 7000i Synchro,  holds 250 yards of  20  lb. test monofilament line or 1000 feet of 30# test twisted stainless wire plus mono backing.  I have fished the 7000i line counter four charter fishing seasons, roughly 150 charter trips per season,  for salmon and trout without only minor issues including eventual wear of the level wind and slight loosening of the reel handle.  Most anglers would not put this many hours on a reel in their entire lifetime.

     Since I started trolling for trout and salmon with wire line back in the a1960’s, then the leadcore line, Dipsy Divers, planer boards, and downriggers I use today, I’ve fished most  brands of levelwind reels on the market, but none has performed as well  than the Abu Garcia 7000 Synchro I fished for the first time during the 2011 Lake Ontario season.

     After fishing it almost 650 trips since then, including two months of the 2015 season, the one word that comes to mind is…, NICE!  The 7000 has always been a great reel, popular with Great Lakes charter captains especially.  But, now Abu Garcia has  taken this classic trout and salmon reel several  steps further.  The Carbon Matrix drag is silk smooth.  Three ball bearings give it a Teflon feel.  The rubber textured reel handle knob is super comfortable, but the handiest feature on a busy charter boat is the Synchro drag system.

    Every angler who trolls big water, whether for trout, salmon, walleyes or muskies will appreciate the  Synchro drag system, especially if you fish deep with downriggers or Dipsy Divers.

     No more flipping the free spool lever and thumbing a reel or changing the setting on the star or lever drag as you lower your downrigger into the depths.  No more wearing the skin off your thumb as you drop a Dipsy back on wire. With the 7000i Synchro, if  you want to drop a rigger or let out a Dipsy, you never have to take your hand off the reel handle or change the drag setting.  All you do is crank the reel handle backward a ¼ turn and the drag automatically loosens up slightly, maintaining enough tension to keep a bend in a downrigger rod as a rigger weight drops or allow a Dipsy to drop back slowly.  

     

     With 150 charter trips under my belt per season, I really appreciate  the Synchro feature of  the 7000 LC reel and everything else about it for Lake Ontario trolling.  What a time saver this drag system is!  Now, when I’m dropping a rigger to 140 feet for lakers, which takes a while, I no longer have to “stand at attention” with a reel in free spool and thumb the spool until the rigger reaches the right depth.  All I do is crank the 7000i’s handle back a ¼ of a turn, walk away, listen for the beep on my Penn rigger signaling the rigger has stopped 140’ down, return to the rigger and crank the Synchro handle forward ¼ of a turn to the original drag setting and I’m good to go.  Meanwhile, I can be netting fish, setting another rod or taking a quick sip of coffee.

     Performing flawlessly four more than four seasons, all I can say is…, What a reel!!! .  My Fish Doctor anglers really enjoy using it, and land  more fish with it because of the silk smooth drag and comfortable rubber tension reel handle knob that isn’t as tiring as a slipper plastic knob.  Very nice reel!

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Timing is Everything

    Posted on January 11th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    Mike, Dave, and Nate Inginger with a king salmon triple they boated in early morning on 5/28/15.

    Whether it’s precisely casting a dry fly to a rising brown trout in a crystal clear stream or centering a rocketing grouse in a pattern of 6’s as it thunders away thru a jungle of aspens, timing is everything.   So too, is timing the secret to a successful king salmon fishing trip on Lake Ontario.

     

    Misconceptions about the best time to fish for kings in eastern Lake Ontario plague anglers and result in disappointing trips.  Many years ago, back in the late 70’s when I first started fishing eastern Lake Ontario, king salmon were few in number and only available to boat fishermen when adult spawners moved into the southeast corner of Lake Ontario in August and September to stage in Mexico Bay off the mouth of the Salmon River where the first king salmon stockings were made in 1971.  Ever  since, the notion persists that the best king salmon fishing is still in August and September.   Each year I even receive calls from anglers asking to book lake salmon fishing charters in October, long after adult kings have entered spawning streams. 

     

    The fact is, in the Oswego area of Lake Ontario king salmon are available through most of the lake charter fishing season from early May to mid to late September, depending on conditions.  Some of the best, most consistent king salmon fishing occurs long before August in some of the nicest weather of the lake fishing season, when mint silver kings are aggressively feeding, and much better eating than when they start coloring up in late August. 

     

     A few years ago, in the month of May, in 31 charter fishing trips, Fish Doctor anglers boated 201 adult kings in 31 trips.  Last season, 2015, the hottest salmon fishing of the season was from late April thru May and again from July 10 to to August 8.  When George and Kevin Robinson and their two buds fished aboard the Fish Doctor on May 30, they boated 10 adult kings, our best catch in May, with no other boats nearby.  Later on July, our best trip that month, Joe Winot and his family boated 15 kings on a beautiful, calm, sunny day.   Compared to later in August and September, there is lots of elbow room on the water in May and July.

     

    In May, if river flows are high, the warm, nutrient laden water of the Oswego River, is like a magnet to baitfish and the trout and salmon which feed on them.  King and coho salmon stack up in the plume of the Oswego River where it extends out into the lake in 70 to 120 feet of water, providing fast spring salmon fishing.

     

    The peak alewife spawn, when the bulk of the adult Lake Ontario alewives are inshore spawning in shallow water occurs each year around midJune.  As these baitfish begin to move back offshore in early July after spawning in the warm shallows, adult kings, steelhead, and brown trout along with an occasional Atlantic salmon are waiting for them in the deeper, colder water .  When that happens these actively feeding salmonids are an easy target for anglers along the outside edge of the baitfish concentrations.  Alewives slowly move back out into deeper water after spawning, and the king salmon follow them, providing fast fishing action in July and early August.

     

    Importantly, weather conditions tend to be much more stable in spring and midsummer than late August and September, when the big blows across the length of the 200 mile long lake keep many anglers off the water. 

     

    After midAugust, the quality of king salmon fishing in the lake depends mostly on the weather.  If it’s windy and rough, you cannot safely and/or comfortably fish the lake.  If it’s rainy with lots of runoff, flow in  rivers like the Salmon and Oswego rises, attracting spawning kings.  I’ve seen major king salmon runs in the Salmon River as early as August 24.  When that happened, it was tough to catch a salmon within 6 miles of the mouth of the Salmon River for the next three days. 

     

    Another factor to consider is boat fishing pressure in late August and September when kings stage in small areas off the mouth of the Salmon River and in and around Oswego Harbor, concentrating fishing boats.  Yes, there are lots of kings in that situation, but lots of boats also, definitely not a place for the weak of heart! 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Weather

    Posted on January 10th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    Bruce with an early season king he boated on 4/30/15 in choppy, but fishable seas.

    As I finished brushing the fish cleaning table on the stern of my charter boat late one Sunday morning, I noticed two couples walking toward me down the dock.  Despite their long faces, they greeted me with a pleasant, “Hi, how did they bite this morning?” “Well, my party boated 4 nice browns in 4 hours in the shelter of the harbor, not great, but not too bad considering a nasty northwest wind kept us from fishing the main lake.”, I replied. 

    As we chatted, I learned the two couples had traveled from New England to Oswego, NY, to fish with one of the charter captains in the marina.  They had booked a trip on Sunday afternoon, and another the following Monday morning.  Because of the high winds that Sunday afternoon and the forecast of more to come on Monday morning, their captain had cancelled both of their trips.   No wonder the long faces. 

    Safety when seas are rough is a primary concern when fishing Lake Ontario.  It is up to your captain to judge the weather and make conservative decisions assuring your health and welfare.  It is also up to your captain to make every effort to get you out on the water, if the weather permits.  The decision to fish or not in rough seas is a delicate balance that always puts safety first.

    An hour later, when my charter for the next day stopped at the boat to check in, we talked about the  weather.  Safety was first and foremost on my mind, but I also realized that,   1) they had traveled a long distance to fish,  and,  2) weather forecasts are correct only 50% of the time at best.  With all this in mind, we decided to meet at the dock at 5:00 AM, check the wind and seas, and make a decision to fish or not. 

    At 4:00 the following Monday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find the wind had subsided.  The VHF radio on my boat relayed the updated marine weather forecast, 10 knot winds until midmorning, then increasing to 10-20 knots with gusts to 30 knots as a front moved in.  It was the break we had hoped for.

     As we planed past the Oswego Harbor light house minutes after 5:00 AM and entered the open lake, we were greeted by gentle 1-foot rollers and an overcast sky, perfect conditions for catching spring king salmon.  By 9:00 AM, when we felt the westerly wind freshening, Henry, Frank, and Bill had boated 4 kings and a coho.   We pulled the lines and 5 minutes later were back in the shelter of the harbor where we finished the trip fishing brown trout and watching the seas outside the harbor build.  The three football browns they boated in the harbor were the icing on the cake.

     Weather is one of the primary concerns for folks fishing Lake Ontario, and an important reason, if you are booking a charter, to schedule more than a 1-day trip, if possible.  May, June and July are normally three of the calmest months of the season on the lake.   By midAugust, even though it’s a popular time to fish for salmon, the weather usually starts to get snotty,  with an increased chance for a blowoff.

     If you are traveling to Lake Ontario to fish for brown trout in the spring or king salmon in September, fishing out of a port like Oswego Harbor increases your odds of beating the weather because there is often plenty of good fishing that time  of year inside the harbor in the shelter of the breakwalls or in the lee of the east breakwall on westerly winds..  If you schedule more than one day of fishing, there is a good bet that you’ll get to fish.

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Reaction Strikes

    Posted on December 29th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    This midmorning king couln't resist a fast trolled spoon on May 25, 2015

    The early morning king salmon bite was a good one.  Joe and Eileen, their son Bill and  two grandsons Jim and Jess had three kings from 15 to 20 lbs. in the box.  They were hoping for a nice catch of kings to can.   We had located a large school of alewives in 150 feet of water on the morning of July  18, 2015, north of Oswego Harbor at daybreak and the kings were there chowing down.  Flashers and flies trolled on  riggers at 2.5 mph were the hot ticket.  Shortly after sunrise, though, action halted.  With plenty of bait and salmon still showing on my  fish finder, what to do?

     Overstuffed kings with bellies full of alewives can be tough to catch.  The early morning bite we had cashed in on is not unusual.  A  typical midsummer feeding scenario for kings is an aggressive early morning bite, a midmorning lull, another feeding spree from 11:00 AM to  1:00 PM, a midafternoon lull, and  a late day bite from  5:00 AM until dusk. 

     If we continued our slow troll with flashers, I guessed the action would be slow until midday.   That’s when I mentioned changing our presentation to see if we could produce some reaction strikes.  “A reaction strike?”  What’s that?  My answer, “Hopefully you’ll see.”

     I explained to my crew that what we would  be trying to rev up negative kings  enough  to  hit  when they aren’t actively feeding.  We want them to react and strike a lure without “thinking” about it.  When kings are negative a slow trolled lure or bait they can follow lazily behind and eyeball closely often just won’t do it.  When you zip a spoon by them they can’t dilly-dally.  It’s now or never, a reaction strike. 

     Predators like king salmon  capable  of swimming  up to 14mph can react to just about anything  that pushes their “ button”.  When they are in a negative mood, it just takes a little more “push” or stimulus to  flick their  “switch” and generate a response,  the basis for reaction strike trolling. 

                                Predators like king salmon  capable  of swimming  up to 14 mph

                                  can react to just about anything  that pushes their “ button”. 

     The same principle using a  high speed and/or erratic lure presentation to  trigger strikes from negative fish works well all  trout and salmon species.    I have seen Ontario brown  trout hit tuned stickbaits fished from planer boards at trolling speeds up to 4.9 mph.   On L.  Champlain, while trolling  for landlocks I watched a super charged lake trout, normally considered a fresh water slow poke, hit a tuned Mooselook Wobbler while  my Pelican trolling speedometer read 6.0 mph.   High speed trolling with streamers is legendary for landlocked salmon.  The question before us…, would a similar lure presentation mixing fast trolling  speed and erratic lure action put a few more kings in the box for Joe and Eileen and their family.

     As we changed our trolling spread to reaction strike mode,  I rigged  our downrigger, Dipsy, and copper line spread with speed tolerant spoons that work well from slow to fast speeds.  Then, I  increased  our trolling speed  to 3.5 to 4.5 mph.  Next,  I  handled  the boat to produce lure action as erratic as possible.  With three copper lines fishing from each oversized  planer board set 100 feet from the boat, the slightest  turn slowed trolling speed of the lines on the inside of the turn and increased the speed on the outside .  Ditto for spoons on the wire Dipsy rods.  Lazy “S” turns and erratic action with speed changes were just what the kings wanted. 

     Six hours later,  as I got ready to filet and package their  catch on the way back to the dock , there was no problem opening the cooler, because the  cover wouldn’t close. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Family Charters

    Posted on October 21st, 2015 admin No comments

     

    Three generations of Winots "smoked" the kings on July 18, 2015.

    At the end of every charter fishing season there are highlights that stand out above all others.  Some years it’s a monster king salmon, steelhead, or brown trout that my anglers boated.  Other years it’s a great catch of salmon or trout, even though conditions were tough.  This season, though, what really stands out in my mind, is the  many outstanding family trips aboard my charter boat, some with adults,  some with parents and some great outdoor kids.

     Getting families on the water to spend time together outdoors is one of the things I enjoy most about charter fishing.  Never before have I fished so many trips with so many great families,  parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and kids.  Great memories, many caught on film to look back on years later.

     Fortunately, fishing was really good on most of these trips and the kids, especially, had a blast hauling  in, sometimes with a little help,  everything from drag screeching king salmon to lunker browns, and, yes, even a few puny 10” smallmouth bass.  When  kids are fishing, it’s more about tussling with anything with fins that will stretch a line and bend a rod rather than boating a wall hanger.

     One of the reasons our family charters were so successful this past 2015 season was proper timing.  Another reason was preparation before the trip.  A third was planning trips specifically for kids when they would be onboard. 

     The best time for families with young children to fish is when the fish are almost jumping in the boat.  Most kids need plenty of action to keep them interested.  A good trout or salmon bite can happen any time during the season when conditions are right, but the chance of plenty of hookups  is better at certain times than others.  Fishing in April, May, and early June on Lake Ontario out of  Oswego is usually gangbusters for browns, domestic rainbows, lake trout, occasional Atlantic salmon and sometimes king salmon.  July also produces some hot brown trout action when they concentrate near bottom just offshore.  Either time is ideal for family trips.

    Families who fish with kids should  also consider arranging charters accordingly.  One consideration is the length of the trip.  Some kids do fine on the water fishing 8 hours.  For others, though, a shorter 6 or 7-hour trip works better.  Another consideration is time of the season in relation to where we’ll  be fishing, nearshore or offshore.  The concern is sea sickness.  The closer to shore, the less chance of getting queasy on the water.  This is the beauty of inshore trips for brown trout and other species in April, May and June. With nearby shoreline to focus on, the chance of sea sickness is far less.

     Lastly, preparation for a charter trip is important, actually crucial if kids are onboard.  If kids are up late into the night and must get up early in the morning to leave the dock at 5:00 AM, chances are they will do more napping onboard than fishing.  Also, a big, greasy breakfast that could upset a young, or old  for that matter, person’s stomach, is not the way to go.  Importantly, if anyone, young or old, tends to have motion sickness, Dramamine is the solution, but it has to be taken according to label  directions, well before leaving the dock.  Even though many charter boats have enclosed heated cabins, everyone, especially kids, need to wear proper clothing and footwear, especially in early spring.  The other thing to look for when planning a trip, some  charters offer discounts for families.

     With proper planning and preparation, family charter fishing trips, including those with young children, can be a lot of fun.