• Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, The Brown Trout Whisperer

    Posted on May 18th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    A Fish Doctor angler with a dandy midsummer brown.

    Brown trout talk to you, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes aloud.  They tell you what mood they’re in and whether they’re turned on or off.  How they react to any given spread fished from a Great Lakes trolling boat conveys a message to the troller with a keen ear.  “Listen” closely, react accordingly,  and your spread will catch more  and bigger browns.

     It was, 1993, a year like none other for big numbers of Lake Ontario brown trout   By early Sept., zipper-lipped prespawn browns were normally tough to come by, but fishing one of my favorite spreads on Sept. 4, Rick and Andy Morford, and their fishing buddy Phil Perry, had a cooler full of beautiful browns along with some adult kings fishing tight to bottom in 65 feet of water, well inside the fleet. With that day’s catch, the tally in my daily log kept since April 3 was 1004 browns.  The basic spread I used that day and that season for summer browns once the thermocline set up is the one I use today.

     Bottom oriented browns are seldom rigger shy like kings, and the spread I use for them, includes up to five riggers, four of them with cheaters, 2 to 6 wire diver rods, and either a thumper rod or copper rod down the chute.  If I’m fishing deep, and I’ve caught browns on bottom in 230 feet of water after a northwest blow, I scale down to three riggers.  The riggers carry a full set of spoons unless Mr. Brown Trout is cranky, and then an attractor/fly is added on the shortest setback.  When the brown trout bite is hot there is no way you can keep 12  lines in the water, but when it’s not, this spread puts fish in the cooler.

     Riggers are fished with unpainted 12 lb. salmon trackers weights set “bottom up”, that is, the weights are dropped into the depths, allowed to blow back until cable angle stabilizes, then dropped to bottom, before  adjusting them  to fish precisely at desired depths off bottom.  Riggers are set according to water temperature and depth, with the two corner rigger weights 1 and 2 feet off bottom at no colder than 47 degrees, the deepest with a setback of 15 feet, the other back 20 feet. 

     The center rigger, which carries a Fish Hawk X-4 speed/temp probe is set at 62 to 65 degrees and fished as a tail gunner, back 70 to 100 feet. 

     The depth of the boom riggers above the corner riggers depends on the width of the thermocline and what the fish finder tells me.  To start, the highest boom rigger is no warmer than 60 degrees.  If the width of the thermocline allows it,  one boom rigger is fished 5 feet above the nearest and deepest corner rigger, the other 10 feet above the nearest and highest corner rigger.  If  browns are hugging  bottom, both boom riggers are fished 5’ above the nearest corner riggers. Boom rigger setback varies, but normally ranges from 35 to 50 feet. 

     Fixed cheaters with 15 to 20 lb. test fluorocarbon leaders are fished on each rigger rod except the center one, and are rigged with  Roemer Liberators.  Length of the cheaters on the corner riggers is 8 feet and the boom riggers10 feet.  Spacing of cheaters above the main line release varies from 2 to 5 feet depending on how bottom oriented browns are.

     Custom built six to seven foot medium action rigger rods with spiral guides are my choice for browns.  When water fleas aren’t too bad and it’s possible to troll with light line, you’ll see brown trout rods on my boat fitted with Penn International 975 reels spooled with 20 lb. test.  When fleas are bad, larger capacity Penn 875LC digital line counters with 30 lb. test Penn mono work for me.  Each main line fishing a spoon is rigged with 8 feet of 8 to12 lb. test leader, depending on the type of spoon being fished.     

     Two to 6 wire divers, depending on the bite, are added to the spread.  They are fished on  7 to 9 foot wire diver rods and Daiwa 47SG-LCA reels with power handles spooled with 30# Mason wire.  Diver rods are set in horizontal rod holders.  Divers are rigged with Wolverine clear snubbers, Maxima fluorocarbon leader, 15 to 20 lb. test with spoons, and 20 to 30 lb. test with attractor flies, depending on the number of adult kings in the area.  Leader length ranges from 8 feet with attactor/flies to 10 feet with spoons.   For browns, spoons are my first choice, but I also fish up to two attractor/flies on divers, one on each side of the boat.  Target temperatures ranges from the deepest, just off bottom in 47 degree water to the shallowest as high as 65 degrees 

     Typical diver spreads include either, two divers with spoons, one on each side of the boat; four divers, one deep with an attractor/fly and one shallower with a spoon, on each side of the boat,  and occasionally, when browns want multiple divers with spoons, 6 divers with spoons, three on each side of the boat.  Luhr Jensen’s Size 0 Dipsy Divers with rings are my choice green or metallic purple, unless fish are shallow enough to reach without the ring.   Depth of the deepest diver is fine tuned by letting it contact bottom.

     Down the chute, you’ll find either a thumper rod or coded copper rod.  On the thumper, I’ll fish a dodger/fly with a 6-foot leader, with a 1 lb. ball on an 18” dropper so the dodger/fly won’t hang up or snag zebra mussels if the weight contacts bottom.  The copper fishes either a spoon, dodger/fly or ProChip-8 and fly.  I use either Sushi Flies or tie my own flies in sparse patterns. 

     No  fish in the Great Lakes is pickier about lure selection than a brown trout.  My go-to summer brown trout spoons include some that have fallen to the bottom of many tackle boxes.  Importantly, if they are not true silver plate, with only a rare exception, the only place you will find them on my boat is in the trash can.  Evil Eyes in 3F and 5F sizes in either silver/black, ham. silver/green, and ham. brass/green are in the water most of the time.  Another personal favorite, especially on cheaters and Dipsys is the Eppinger hammered silver lemon/lime 3200 Flutterdevle.  If I could use only one spoon for summer browns, it would be a hammered silver/brass Sutton in Sizes #44, #31, #71, and #38, either plain or doctored with a thin fluorescent orange paint stripe.  Michigan stingers in the standard or Scorpion sizes are high on the list, and definitely the most popular brown trout spoons in Eastern Lake Ontario, with the black alewife, Tuxedo, NBK, Dirty White Boy, Green Wiggle and others popular. 

     Trolling speed is critical.  Using my 840 Fish Hawk with the fantastic X-4 probe, I’m usually trolling from 2.0 to 2.5 mph for browns.  If you want to select for really big browns, don’t be afraid to troll even slower. 

     Because Great Lakes brown trout tend to found in “The Zone”, where they orient to bottom along the thermocline intersect, especially around structure keeping riggers tight to bottom is a must.   Because sharp turns are necessary to follow bottom contours, and because copper on a board on the inside of a turn  sinks like a stone, copper on boards is usually not a part of my summer brown trout spread.

     There is no question it takes a lot more hustle to fish a summer brown trout spread tight to bottom along a twisting contour than to cruise open water for suspended steelhead and salmon, but when you consider the size of most chinooks, pales in comparison to a monster Great Lakes brown trout, the effort might just be worth it.

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Multiple Copper on Megaboards

    Posted on May 18th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    Capt. Ernie has fished copper line aboard the Fish Doctor in Lake Ontario since 1978.

    I was uneasy, sitting next to float plane pilot “Buss” Byrd, engine roaring, aluminum pontoons skimming the water as we attempted to take off from Terror Lake in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.  My fishery biologist partner and I had just completed a fisheries survey of the remote 25 acre pond, and it was time to head back to civilization.  Circling over the pond on our arrival, I had looked down at the hour-glass shaped pond with it’s narrow, boggy, spruce lined channel separating the pond’s two sections and naively asked “Buss”, “Can we get in there?”.  Buss replied, “No problem getting in.  It’s getting out that’s the problem!”  As we addressed the “getting out” problem, the plane roaring toward a wall of spruces near the narrow neck of the pond, pontoons still on the water, I blurted out, “Buss, can we make it through the narrows?” “Only if we have to”, “Buss” calmly replied, as the rickety old biplane jumped from the water, pontoons brushing the spruce tops.

     The answer is the same when someone asks me about using multiple copper lines.  I fish up to a 7-copper spread, but only when I have to, and only with  megaboards, for suspended fish IN NO BOAT TRAFFIC!  If the bite is hot using my standard spread of 2-5 riggers, 2-4 diving planers, a thumper rod and a couple of copper lines off the boards, there is neither the time nor the need for rigging multiple copper lines.    If the bite is slow, and suspended fish are very scattered vertically and horizontally,  a 7-copper spread goes in the water, 6 lines on the megaboards, and one down the chute.  It’s a lot of work, especially fishing solo most of the time without a mate, but multiple copper lines catch fish.  Done properly, it’s no problem.  Mess up, and it’s a copper calamity!

     On eastern  L. Ontario,  2008,  was one of those only-if-I-have-to salmon seasons. Much of the time, kings, steelhead and pitifully few cohos were scattered to hell and gone in nasty seas.  Never before, aboard the “Fish Doctor” were multiple copper lines fished as much. 

     Far from shore and boats, on a July, 2008,  afternoon, my son Jeff rigged in the cockpit as a charter crew of 5 waited for their first fish.  Desperate times call for desperate only-if-I-have-to measures.  With no action on riggers and Dipsys and almost nothing showing on the Sitex CVS210, Jeff looked satisfied with the 7-copper spread.  It didn’t take long as I eased the 28’ Baha to port, letting the copper lines slow and settle.  The center rod on the port megaboard  snapped from the release, and a 10 lb. laker with a silver/chartreuse NK28 in it’s mouth came to the net, far from a red hot bite, but a more than welcome start for another trip when copper saved the day. 

     Without using megaboards, oversized triple planer boards, trolling up to 7 copper lines without eventual tangles is impossible.  The triple megaboards I use with up to 500’copper sections run nearly straight out boatside and don’t drop back  like inline boards.  Inline boards replace megaboards only in very rough seas, when only two inlnes are used.    Copper shines in rough seas

     My multiple copper line trolling technique evolved over the past 41 years, influenced by some of North America’s most innovative anglers.  In 1967, Adirondack guide, Doug Canaday taught me to fish .037” diameter twisted copper line on the bottom for Lake George lake trout.  In 1978, on LakeOntario I learned that  tuned #38 brass/silver Sutton spoons on copper were deadly medicine for bottom hugging prestaged kings.  Later trips to Lake Michigan with Tim Dawidiuk  and Chesapeake Bay with Capt. Bill Williams paved the way for the multiple copper line spread I use today aboard the Fish Doctor. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Diversity, the Key to Lake Ontario’s Great Fishing

    Posted on May 8th, 2015 admin No comments

    A Lake Ontario king salmon caught aboard the Fish Doctor on April 29, 2015.

    As a charter fishing captain with 34 years on Lake Ontario, plus a New York State fishery biologist who spent 22 years managing lakes throughout New York, I have always been amazed at how good the trout and salmon fishing continues to be here year after year. What makes the fishery in this 200 mile long lake click? How can the fantastic fishing be so consistent?

    The answer is many things. One of the first is foresight by the fishery managers and scientists who recognized the potential of the Lake Ontario as a salmonid fishery, laid out the plan and sold it to license buyers and government bureaucrats. Following that initial step, an international management team involving New York State, the Province of Ontario, Canada, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was crucial to the program. Air and water pollution abatement by the US and Canada, sea lamprey control, the basic productivity of the lake itself, plus sound fishery management and consistent stocking, all contributed to today’s multimillion dollar salmonid fishery.

    One of the most important parts of the fishery management program and a primary reason for the consistent world class fishing, year after year, is the diversity of the stocking program. Each year six species of trout and salmon, totaling 3.5 million, are stocked by New York State. 1.7 million of those are king salmon. The province of Ontario, Canada stocks about half that. In addition, in recent years millions of wild fingerling king salmon have added to the fishery. New York’s stocking of close to a half million each of lake trout, steelhead, and brown trout, along with domestic rainbows, coho salmon and landlocked Atlantic salmon adds to the fishery. It is this combination of salmonids that is so important to, high quality fishing year after year

                               Each year six species of trout and salmon, totaling

                                   3.5 million, are stocked by New York State.

    Since fishery biologists first began to manipulate fish populations through management and stocking, these populations have fluctuated up and down for lots of reasons. In Lake Ontario back around 2000, the lake trout population was thriving. That ended abruptly

    when a variety of hatchery problems reduced stocking drastically for several years. The population crashed, but has now recovered after successful management efforts. If lake trout were the only species managed in Lake Ontario, the lake’s salmonid fishery would have completely collapsed. As it was, fishermen continued to enjoy great fishing in the lake, the slack taken up by healthy pupulations of king and coho salmon, steelhead, and brown trout.

    Since I first began fishing Lake Ontario in 1977, there have been fluctuations up and down in all of the populations of trout and salmon in the lake.

    Not every stocking is 100 percent successful every year. Size and health of stocked fish varies year to year. Forage conditions for stocked fish vary. For many years a burgeoning population of cormorants took a toll on brown trout and steelhead stockings. That has now changed after the introduction of gobies, a bottom dwelling exotic that studies show now comprises 96% of the cormorants’ diet. The improvement in brown trout and steelhead fishing has been obvious.

    Fortunately for anglers, with six different species of trout and salmon stocked in Lake Ontario, when one particular population decreases, experience has shown one or more others is usually doing the opposite or holding it’s own. The world class fishing that results is one of the reasons Lake Ontario is considered one of the finest, accessible trout and salmon fisheries in North America.

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Slide Divers for Trout and Salmon

    Posted on May 8th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    This Atlantic Salmon hit a Stinger fished behind a clear Slide Diver in April, 2015.

    If you troll for trout and salmon, and haven’t tried the Slide Diver or the Lite Bite Slide Diver you should.  It is a real fish catcher onboard my chart fishing boat, the Fish Doctor, and has really been smokin’ during the fantastic April-May king salmon fishing we’ve been enjoying  in the Oswego area of  LakeOntario this spring.

     

    Anglers who troll for trout and salmon are familiar with directional diving planers like the Dipsy Diver.  These planers attach directly to monofilament,  braided, or wire line and take your bait or lure down to target depths. The adjustable rudder on many of these  diving planers directs them to port or starboard of the boat.   These types of planers use water pressure against the angled surface of the diver to take the diver and the attached leader and lure to depth. 

     

    A drawback to standard diving planers…, the length of the leader training them is limited to a maximum of about eight feet or whatever length an angler can handle when the planer is reeled to the rod tip while landing a fish.  This is where the Slide Diver parts company with all other available directional and nondirectional diving planers.

     

    Slide Divers differ from all other diving planers and  are a major part of my trout and salmon arsenal aboard the Fish Doctor for one reason.  They are inline planers, that is the line passes through them and can be locked in place any distance ahead of the lure.  This allows a lure to be fished at any distance behind the Slide Diver, a huge advantage when trolling for boat shy trout or salmon just below the surface.  In many cases, a trout or salmon in the top 30 feet or less of water won’t hit a lure fished on a 6’to 8’ leader behind a diving planer.  Set that lure back 20’ or more and lock your line in place in a Slide Diver, though, and you’ll catch fish. 

     

    The Lite Bite Slide Diver is an improved version of the Slide Diver that has a different trigger mechanism, allowing even the smallest trout or salmon to release the trigger, avoiding dragging small fish behind the planer undetected.

     

    The setup I’ve used this spring on Lake Ontario to fish Lite Bite Slide Divers is a 9’ medium heavy rod with standard guides, and an ABU Garcia 7000 Synchro line counter reel spooled with 40” test Berkley braided line. The braided line is slipped through an 8 mm. bead and attached to 6’ of 15# to 20# test fluorocarbon leader with a barrel swivel.   The rudder on the Slide Diver is adjusted to the #3 setting taking the diver as far away from the boat as possible.  Spoons are normally fished 20 to 40 feet behind the Slide Diver.  When any size fish hits the spoon, the trigger on the diver releases and the diver slides back to the bead ahead of the swivel, 6’ ahead of the spoon.

     

    You will appreciate one of the greatest  advantages of the Slide Diver when a steelhead or landlocked salmon hits and goes aerial, leaping across the surface.  Instead of dragging a solidly attached diving planer along with it, increasing the chance for the hook to pull free, the inline Slide Diver  slides freely on the line, never allowing the fish to pull directly against the diver.

     

    Chris Dwy and Bill Purcell will attest to the effectiveness of Slide Divers after fishing them aboard the Fish Doctor on May 7, 2012, to boat a limit of king salmon and brown trout.  With the last king of their limit thrashing in the net, three more kings hit.   Chris and Bill had a triple on, two on Slide Divers.  All three kings were released unharmed to thrill another angler another day.

     

    There is a bit of a learning curve involved with using Slide Divers, but they are so effective for trout and salmon, the time it takes to learn to use them is well worth it.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, What’s Wrong with My Riggers?

    Posted on April 24th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    This king was boated on April 18, 2015, with three riggers 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 LakeOntario to OswegoHarbor in eastern LakeOntario 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 on one rigger, “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 out 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 to only one!  One fish on one rod every 10 minutes equals 6 fish/hour, equals…  You  know!

     

  • Oswego Brown Trout Fishing Charters…, April 24, 2015 Fish Doctor Charters Report

    Posted on April 24th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    A combination catch of browns and lakers boated aboard the Fish Doctor on 4/18/15.

    With an average of more than 20 trout and salmon coming aboard the Fish Doctor each charter fishing  trip since April 12, it’s hard to imagine better April fishing out of Oswego.

     Brown trout are abundant making up the bulk of the catch, but Fish Doctor anglers are also catching lake trout along with occasional coho salmon, Atlantic salmon, and king salmon.  2-year old browns from 15 to 18 inches are plentiful and despite their small size, put up a good battle on the ultralight gear we use in shallow water.    Good numbers of bigger browns up to 12-14 lbs. have also been boated.  Water temperatures in the turbid plume of the Oswego River have reached 48 degrees, with the main lake still a chilly 35 degrees and gin clear.

     Lake trout up to 12 pounds have been a welcome bonus and are being caught inshore right along with the browns.  Catching them on light tackle in shallow is a different story than hauling them up from the depths of 150 feet or more on heavier gear. 

     Spring cohos have been few and far between and they are running small.  With a 15 inch size limit, many are sublegal or just barely legal.  You can tell when you hook a coho because it spends almost as much time out of the water as in the water.  Surprisingly, feeding heavily on alewives, these cohos will grow to be 6-12 lbs. by early September.

     Fish Doctor anglers have already caught more legal Atlantic salmon than they boated on charter fishing trips all last season, catching and releasing  4 Atlantics from 25 ½  to 27 inches.  Not a lot of fish, but nice to see this once native Lake Ontario species showing up around Oswego Harbor.

     Only two king salmon, 12 and 15 lbs. have been boated on charter fishing trips so far, both on April 18, but hopefully we’ll see more moving into the Oswego area soon.  If 2015 is a repeat of the 2014 season, we should have some fantastic May and June chiarter fishing for kings not far from the Oswego lighthouse.

     See you on the water!

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Finessing Spring Browns

    Posted on April 16th, 2015 admin No comments

    Jack and Jon with a limit of browns they and their buddy boated aboard the Fish Doctor on April 15, 2015.

     

    Many anglers new  to brown trout trolling inLake Ontario travel here each year with great expectations.  Despite all the publicity and photos of monster “football” browns in brochures and travel guides, it’s not as easy as it might seem.   Here are a few tips from Capt. Ernie Lantiegne about leaders and main line that will help you catch spring browns on your first trip to Lake Ontario.

    First a little background…, It was only a few years ago when filter feeding zebra mussels invaded Lake Ontario and water clarity increased unbelievably.    In the old days, a chartreuse downrigger weight disappeared 3-5 feet below the surface.  Today, I’ve seen the same weight as deep as 36 feet.  Clear water has had a major impact on fishing inLakeOntario and the otherGreat Lakes, especially for shallow water browns.

     But, on theGreat Lakes, fishing conditions are changing constantly, especially in the shallows.  A day or two of heavy west or northwest wind will muddy shoreline waters reducing visibility to almost nothing.  Following heavy rains, areas of the lake off  the mouths of tributaries will change from clear to cloudy.

     Like many other successful eastern Lake Ontario charter captains who specialize in early spring brown trout, I’ve learned to cope with gin clear water to consistently produce good brown trout catches.   Finesse and attention to details are two of the keys.

     Here are a few leader and main line rigging tips that will help you boat more shallow water browns when you can  count every pebble on the bottom in 10 feet of water.  It’s the system, a combination of each of the parts, that’s important.  One without the other will only get you part way there.

    1.  Leaders – Using light leaders for browns in clear shallow water has put many hundreds of brown trout aboard my charter boat, the “Fish Doctor”.  The clearer the water, the more critical the leader.   Although fluorocarbon line wasn’t abrasive enough to suit my needs when it first came on the market, recent improvements are convincing.  Not only is light leader  less visible to brown trout, it doesn’t restrict the action of ultralight spoons and small stickbaits unnecessarily.   When I say “light”, I’m talking no heavier than 8# leader and sometimes in gin clear water, 6#.  My favorite leader material is Maxima Ultragreen with fluorocarbon a close second.

    2. Spool prerigged 8# leaders in 6 lb., and 8 lb. test on leader spools.   Rig 8# leaders with a chrome or black Size #1 Duolock crosslock snap on one end and a Size #7 barrel swivel on the other. “Chain” 8 or 10 leaders together on a spool by  snapping  crosslock snaps to the barrel swivel on the next leader.  Whenever a brown stresses a leader or knot, or abrades the monofilament, change the leader.

     2. Main Line -  Light, abrasion resistant monofilament is a must when trolling browns in clear water using downrigger and planer board releases.  Some of these releases are tougher on line than others, but they all cause abrasion.  No matter what your preference is in line, do your homework and select tough 10# test mono.   Surprisingly, high visibility mono like the Maxima Fibre Glo I fish on my charter boat doesn’t  spook clear water browns when fished from planer boards.


     

     

     

     

  • Oswego Fishing Charters…, April, 2015 Report

    Posted on April 16th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    Greger and Christiana from Sweden about to release a 2-year old brown trout

    Fisherfolks aboard the Fish Doctor trolling for trout and salmon this April will tell you the brown trout bite has been great, plus they are seeing occasional cohos,  Atlantics, and lake trout.  An average of about 20 browns per trip have been boated in my first four charter trips.  A big plus is the gorgeous weather we’ve had each day since my first charter on April 12, much enjoyed by Fish charter customers from New Jersey, New York, Sweden, and Texas.

     In the four charter trips fished so far from April 12 through 14 seas have been calm and skies sunny.  A heavy flow of turbid Oswego River water has the lake colored up all the way east to Four Mile Point, and just beyond as of 4/14/15.  Water temperature in the river plume reached 44 degrees on 4/14/15, but my surface temp gauge read 35 degrees on 4/15/15 further offshore over 200 feet of water.

     Fishing for brown trout has been very steady with browns up to 12 lbs. hitting both stickbaits and spoons.   We’re catching browns in both the turbid river plume and clear water of the main lake, with brightly colored spoons and plugs working in the turbid water and natural finish spoons best in the clear water.

     2-year old browns look good with fish running from about 15 – 20 inches in length.  Older browns from 4 – 12 lbs.  are stretching the lines.  Spring cohos usually run 2-3 lbs., but are smaller than that this spring.  Atlantic salmon up to about 6 lbs. are a welcome bonus, along with occasional shallow water lakers.

     From here on out, weather permitting, there is no question that with what appears to be an abundance of browns this spring, charter fishing should continue to be excellent. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Dialing in on Water Temp

    Posted on April 5th, 2015 admin No comments

    This 19.5 lb. domestic rainbow was caught in 61 degree water.

    Temperature, temperature, temperature…  If you  are a Great Lakes angler who fishes trout and salmon, you’ve heard it time and time again.  Water  temperature is the key  to locating various species of salmonids with a preference for a particular  temperature and a temperature range that may be very narrow in certain conditions.

    If you have read the book, “Great Lakes Salmon and Trout Fishing” by Captains Dan Keating and Chip Porter, you’ve seen statements like, “The peak feeding range for kings is a chilly 42-44 degrees.  In the chapter on steelhead behavior, these veteran Great Lakes captains agree that, “During the spring months 42-44 degree water is the hot zone.”  From my own experience fishing inland waters and Lake Ontario for over 30 years, I’ve found that the preferred water temperature for domestic rainbow trout is even narrower, precisely 61 degrees.

    If you believe, as I do, that finding the right water temperature is gospel for locating trout and salmon, you probably have one or more temperature sensing units installed on your boat.  I have four, monitoring temperature at the surface and/or at the downrigger weight.  

    Sooo…, it’s as simple as turning on your surface temperature gauge, Fish Hawk X-4, Canon Speed-N-Temp, or some other unit, locating a specific water temperature and homing in on the fish, right?  Well, maybe not. 

    Am I the only one on the Great Lakes who has noticed the temperature readings on the units on my boat have not always  agreed with each other?   I doubt it.  Years ago, when I first installed a fish finder with a built in surface temperature sensing unit in the transducer, I noticed that the reading was 2.5 degrees higher than the surface temperature reading on my Fish Hawk.  What?  To find out which one was correct, I took the water temperature with a hand held , calibrated Taylor thermometer I had used for years when I worked as a fishery biologist.  It turned out that neither temperature reading was correct.  The Fish Hawk surface temp was 1.5 degrees high, and the surface temp of my fish finder was 4 degrees high.  I have checked downrigger probes that were off even more.

    Just for the heck of it, I once walked around the marina where I moor my boat, and asked 5 different captains what the surface temperature reading was on whatever unit they were using to record it.  The readings they gave me varied 5.5 degrees, and none of them had ever accurately calibrated the units or compared them to an accurate reading on another calibrated unit or thermometer. 

    If the experts are correct, and preferred water temps for individual salmonid species are as narrow as 1 to 2 degrees, in certain conditions, then a unit which is 3-5 degrees off, can mislead you, and possibly cost you some fish. 

    The solution is to carefully calibrate your temperature sensing units, and here is the way to do it.  The first thing you need is a standard hand held thermometer like the stream thermometer  in Cabela’s Fly fishing catalog.  These, and most other hand held thermometers may not be accurate right out of the box, so you will have to calibrate it.  Just fill a glass with crushed ice, add water, and insert the thermometer.  After  a couple minutes, the thermometer should read 32 degrees.  If it does not, note the difference in temp of your thermometer, and you’ll have an accurate starting point with which to compare  your other temperature sensing units.  It’s as simple as that.

    Once you have an accurate starting point, adjust the temperature reading of your other units, if possible, or note how far off they are.  The temperature reading on my 12” Garmin fish finder can’t be adjusted, but my X-4 Fish Hawk can be calibrated with the adjustment screws on the back of the machine.  

    To calibrate my Fish Hawk downrigger probe, first I use my handheld thermometer to get an accurate surface temp reading, then adjust the surface reading on the Fish Hawk.  Now,  at whatever time of the season I know the surface temp is the same down at least 10 feet or so, I calibrate the down temp by lowering the X-4  Fish Hawk probe on my rigger just far enough below the surface, usually 2 or three feet, to get a constant down temp reading.  Then, I adjust the down temp reading so it matches the surface temp reading.  Voila!

    It’s worth a little effort to assure your temperature readings are accurate.  Don’t let incorrect water temperatures keep your cooler clean!

  • Lake Ontario Salmon Fishing Charters…, Spring Kings!

    Posted on April 4th, 2015 admin No comments

    May 2, 2004..., 12-yr old "Jackson" and crew with part of a limit of 12 spring kings.

    Many anglers booking eastern Lake Ontario fishing charters don’t realize that just outside Oswego Harbor there is some excellent spring fishing for  king salmon.  In 2014, king salmon fishing was super  here from late April thru midJune.  In April and early May the kings were not much more than a long cast from the Oswego lighthouse, and no other charter boats were fishing them there!   Some years spring kings are a little further offshore but never more than a 5 minute run from the harbor.

    Here’s an article I wrote 10 years ago that will give you the scoop on spring fishing charters for king salmon in Lake Ontario.  Nothing has changed since then, except spring salmon fishing has been even better some years.  You’ll find more info on spring salmon charters on “Captain Ernie’s Blog” on my web site www.fishdoctorcharters.com.

    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.  Bob’s jaw dropped, because not another charter boat in the marina was fishing for kings.  The date was May 2, 2004, and we couldn’t have had a better day of spring salmon 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 charter boat on eastern Lake Ontario fishing kings that morning. Since 2004, spring fishing for king salmon  just outside Oswego Harbor, has been fair to fantastic, but very good most years.  In recent years in 2012 and 2014 we were catching kings beginning in April and most years in early May.   Just in the month of May in 2004 and 2005,  anglers aboard my charter boat landed  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 the hottest spring salmon fishing, BUT, no matter what the flows, there are always kings outside Oswego Harbor beginning in early May.

    In the past few weeks, the Oswego River has been flowing at around 10,000 cfs,, not high, but still laden with nutrients from thousands of acres of rich farmland in the watershed, the greenish colored plume of water off Oswego Harbor is like an oasis in the Sahara to fish in eastern Lake Ontario. With snow and rain predicted every day for the next week, expect increasing flows in the Oswego River, a magnet for both baitfish and predators like browns, cohos, kings, and rainbows.
    If youユre thinking about booking a spring salmon fishing charter out Oswego, on a typical sunny day the early bird definitely gets the worm. Leaving the dock at Oswego Marina at 5:00 AM or earlier, it’s only a short 5-minute ride(less in 2012 and 2014) to the fishing grounds in 90 to 100 feet of water. Most mornings I try to have my rods in the water just before daybreak. At that time, almost no fish or bait can be seen on my 10” color Sitex video fish finder(now a 12” Garmin) 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 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 aboard the Fish Doctor. My favorite in low light is the Casper, a stock white ProChip 8 with a Little Boy Blue fly trailing behind it. Spoons like Maulers, Northern Kings, and Michigan Stingers are also excellent spring king medicine. My top spoons, depending on the light conditions, are the NK28 spook, “Venom” Mauler, black alewife and monkey puke Stingers, NK 28 Diehard, Plain Jane Mauler in brass/green, Orange Ruffe Mauler, and Blue Dolphin Silver Streak. Downriggers, Dipsey Divers, and copper line fished from planer boards get lures down to kings. The first 10 minutes after daylight, you can catch kings right on the surface with spoons and stickbaits. Flasher/flies and spoons on copper off the boards are solid producers for spring kings after the sun rises.

    One of the most consistent early morning rigs on my charter boat, the Fish Doctor, is a thumper rod down the chute with a 10 oz. weight, 80’ of 20# wire, and a chrome/glow dodger with a glow baby purple/silver fly. As the light conditions brighten, you’ll find a chrome/silver prism dodger with an aqua fly on the thumper rod.  Later, in brighter light, I opt for a trash can dodger with a green crinkle or Pretty Jane fly. The hottest bright light flasher/fly combo for me in May, especially when the kings have dropped down deep, my Fish Doctor “Late Riser”(char/double glow) ProChip 8 with a Pretty Jane(glitter/silver/green) Fly with chartreuse beads.
    If youユre waiting until August to book a charter  for king salmon in eastern Lake Ontario, you might want to rethink your plan. 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!!!