Posted on July 5th, 2015 No comments
Thirty years of trolling bait on Lake Ontario has given me a ton of confidence in trolling meat for trout and salmon. Trial and error, success and failure, it has all gone into the equation of a trolling spread I now routinely use. It combines whole bait, Sushi Flies, and artificials. The bait of choice for me and Lake Ontario trout and salmon is the alewife. The best and only fresh frozen, vacuum packed alewives are the Familiar Bite brand available from Great Lakes Tackle Supplies.
One of the questions I’m asked is how to prepare bait strips for Sushi Flies. First, though the Sushi Fly…, deadly for negative kings and a consistent producer of big kings on my charter boat. I rig all my Sushi Flies on 50# fluorocarbon leaders with a tournament tie, a 5/0 beak hook and a trailing #2 chrome treble. It’s the same tie used on unbaited flies, but I extend the leader length between the beak and treble hooks about 1 ½” so the treble trails an inch or so behind the mylar on the fly, approximately even with tail of the bait. Although, the alewife bait strip can be hooked on the leading beak hook, even a properly prepped alewife bait strip softens quickly in fresh water and seldom will stay on a hook very long.
The secret to keeping an alewife bait strip secured inside the fly is to wrap it on the beak hook just behind the hook eye using soft .020” diam. brass wire. Although the brass wire can be attached to the beak hook on a Tournament Tie, I like to attach the wire before I snell the hook, by simply placing a 3” length of wire midway through the eye of the hook, pulling the brass wire down along the shank of the hook, and tying the snell over the wire, leaving about 1 ½ inches of each end of the wire extending to each side of the hook.
The strip of bait for a Sushi fly is filleted from a fresh or fresh frozen alewife, then trimmed to a an extended diamond shaped strip from 3 to 4 inches in length, about one inch wide at the widest point, 3/8” wide at the leadng end, and a half inch wide at the tail end. I usually split the tail end about one inch back into the strip to give it some flutter.
The head end of a correctly shaped bait strip, tapered to about 3/8”, is then laid skin down against the shank of the beak hook, and the brass wire is wrapped from opposite directions around the bait with enough tension to slightly bury the wire into the meat on the bait strip. It is not necessary to twist the ends of the wire together to hold the strip. The wired bait will remain in the fly as long as you fish it.
I prefer lightly dressed flies for use with bait strips. Fresh, high quality bait is the key.
Posted on June 30th, 2015 No comments
On June 29, 2015, two days before the first of July, I really could not believe I was setting up in 10 feet of water with a surface temperature of 58 degrees to troll for brown trout with the ultralight gear I use in April and early May for fishing stickbaits and flutterspoons. Talk about unusual conditions for early summer.
That’s what fishing so far this season has been. Changeable fishing conditions caused by cool, erratic weather, and wind direction changes, sometimes 360 degrees the same day, have made fishing challenging at times. Going with the flow,i.e., tuning into these changes and fishing accordingly is the key to consistent success catching trout and salmon.
Wind drives everything in Lake Ontario and is the major immediate controlling factor when it comes to lake limnology and resulting fishing conditions. Consistent westerly winds produce consistent fishing conditions. Strong winds switching daily from west to north to east to south make fishing tough.
As they say, “Wind from the west, fish bite best. South winds, if not too strong, are OK in midsummer when fish are deep and offshore, but south or southeast blows create havoc with inshore fishing in the spring, blowing warm shoreline water north and scattering browns, rainbows, and lakers.
In late May, 2015, Mother Nature gave us a break for several days with some nice weather and westerly winds. Lake surface temperature warmed, alewives started moving inshore, and king salmon followed them. On May 29, the last Saturday in May, George and Kevin Robinson and their two fishing buddies had a banner day, boating 10 adult kings and losing several. The following day was a blowoff with strong northeasterly winds that lasted 48 hours. By the end of the day, surface temperature in 100 feet of water due north of Oswego Harbor had dropped 12 degrees from the low 50s to 40 degrees. The schools of alewives holding king salmon in the area disappeared and very few kings have been caught since.
Whens this happens Lake Ontario’s unbelievable diversity of trout and salmon saves the day. Can’t find kings? OK, then locate and fish for lake trout, steelhead, browns, domestic rainbows, and Atlantic salmon.
When lake conditions change drastically like this, 38 years of fishing experience on Lake Ontario, plus 22 years of experience as a NYSDEC fishery biologist and manager conducting biological/limnological surveys of hundreds of lakes and ponds helps understand Lake Ontario’s limnology, a key to locating trout and salmon.
It worked Monday, June 29, when my fishing crew for the day and I located browns, domestic rainbows, and a 12.5 lb. Atlantic salmon in 10 feet of water along shore east of Oswego Harbor, where water temperature is usually in the low to mid70s by the first of July, far too warm for any self respecting trout or salmon. Instead conditions inshore were optimum, and we found fish. Browns were hitting unweighted black and silver stickbaits and domestic rainbows could not resist silver/red and silver/black spoons.
With the Oswego River flowing at 17,000 cfs and pumping a huge volume of 68 degree water into the lake, don’t expect shallow water fishing to last for long. All it will take is one day of west wind to warm the shallows into the mid 60s all the way to Nine Mile Point. Time to go looking again.
Posted on June 23rd, 2015 No comments
As I stood at the rigging table in the stern of my charter boat wiring an alewife strip in a Sushi Fly, my thoughts drifted back 50 years. It was about then, sitting in an old wooden rowboat on a remote Adirondack pond that my Dad had showed me how to bait a single hook lake trout spoon with a strip of minnow. I remember him saying, “It’s the bait that makes the difference”.
Some things never change, and for Great Lakes trollers, especially charter captains, bait can still be the difference between a long day on the water or a cooler full trout and salmon, , especially when fish are a bit negative, spurning standard, unbaited spoons and flies.
Confidence is everything, when it comes to the evolution of an effective trolling spread. Thirty years of trolling bait on LakeOntario has done that for me. Trial and error, success and failure, it has all gone into the equation of a salmon spread I now use routinely combining whole bait, Sushi Flies, and artificials.
Why a king salmon, with a brain the size of a pea, would select a baited fly over a whole alewife one time and do the reverse the next, I cannot imagine. What I can say is it’s not the first time I’ve seen it happen, and I’ll be ready when it happens again.
Baited flies and, before that, baited hoochies or squids, in combination with flashers have been a go-to rig for me aboard my charter boat, ever since my first trip to Alaska in 1990.
I never forgot that lesson, and returned to Lake Ontario with a new perspective on fishing bait for kings and a conviction to do my utmost to become as versatile as possible in fishing for them .
Rather than the single hook used by commercial trollers, I prefer a tournament tie with a 5/0 beak hook and a #2 bronze treble. The same tournament tie used with clean flies can be used with bait, but I prefer to extend the leader length between the beak and treble hooks about 1 ½” so the treble trails at the tail of the bait. Although, the alewife bait strip can be hooked on the leading beak hook, even a properly prepped alewife bait strip softens quickly in fresh water and seldom will stay on a hook very long.
The secret to keeping an alewife bait strip secured inside the fly is to wrap it on the beak hook just behind the hook eye using soft .020” diam. brass wire. Although the brass wire can be attached to the beak hook on a pretied Tournament Tie, I like to attach it before I snell the hook, by simply placing a 3” length of wire midway through the eye of the hook, pulling the brass wire down along the shank of the hook, and tying the snell, leaving about 1 ½ inches of each end of the wire extending to each side of the hook.
The head end of a correctly shaped bait strip, tapered to about 3/8”, is then laid skin down against the hook shank, and the brass wire is wrapped from opposite directions around the bait with enough tension to slightly bury the wire into the meat on the bait strip. It is not necessary to twist the ends of the wire together to hold the strip. The wired bait will remain in the fly as long as you fish it. I prefer lightly dressed flies for use with bait strips.
Walk in front of a ladies clothing store and you never notice the large cardboard box sitting in the store window. Walk by the same window and IÕll bet you your hottest salmon spoon that youÕll notice the female mannikin modeling the skimpy bikini, even though you know it isnÕt real. ItÕs all about stimulus and response. Not enough stimulus, generates no response. Too much stimulus, like the white plastic bag on the rigger cable, and fish turn off. Produce just the right stimulus and…, fish on!
Posted on June 21st, 2015 No comments
The Oswego area of Lake Ontario is famous for it’s trout and salmon fishing, but there isn’t a Lake Ontario port anywhere on this 200 miles long and 50 miles wide inland ocean that produces better brown trout fishing, especially for trophy browns.
One of the reasons…, the Oswego River, Lake Ontario’s second largest tributary, draining 5,340 square miles of central New York, enters the lake at Oswego Harbor. With recent rains, flow of the Oswego River has really been cranking. T he river is raging at 20,000 cfs compared to an 81 year median flow of just over 3,000 cfs. Temperature of the high, muddy water has been in the high 60s and low 70s for more than a week, perfect conditions for hordes of spawning alewives. With a west to east lake shore current, the colored plume of the Oswego River stretches six miles eastward, all the way past 9-Mile Point.
When aldewives concentrate inshore to spawn, so do inshore predators like brown trout, that prey on them. Inshore surface temperature right now out to 60 to 100 feet is in the low to mid 60s, a bit too warm for brown trout, pushing them deep into cooler water. Today, June 21, 2015, itemperature was in the high 50s down 20 to 25 feet over 40 to 60 feet of water.
Browns were there and biting all the way from Four Mile Point to the “Red Building” at Nine Mile Point. As surface temperatures warm, browns will concentrate more and more as they are forced into the depths. If you’re looking for a tasty meal of Lake Ontario browns you could not pick a better time to fish, and if you’re looking for a wall hanger, the month of June produces more monster browns than any other month of the season.
Just ask Melissa, who fished with a crew of Adirondackers today, she boated a magnificent, hooked jawed male aboard the Fish Doctor that pulled my Epson Salter digital scale to 19.1 lbs.
Posted on June 12th, 2015 No comments
The fishing conditions today, June 11, 2015, were what charter captains targeting shallow water, spring brown trout dream about…, overcast and calm with few other boats on the water. The only problem where I was fishing was the gin clear water with a perfect view of the stony bottom in the 10 feet of water below us.
In sunny conditions, shallow water browns in, ultraclear water can be almost impossible. But, under overcast skies spring browns with overstuffed, bulging bellies can be caught in numbers using finesse techniques. Brown trout action aboard the Fish Doctor today for a New Hampshire couple and their 8 and 10 year olds was steady all morning. When we returned to Oswego Marina, most of the other charter boats there could not say the same.
Three things made the difference between steady action and only an occasional fish;
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, like today, in gin clear water, 6#. My favorite leader material is Maxima Ultragreen with fluorocarbon a close second. 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 10# Maxima Fibre Glo I fish on my charter boat doesn’t spook clear water browns when fished from planer boards. I use 10# Berkley Big game on downriggers.
3. Lure selectiaon – When I saw that gulls were not working bait along the shoreline this morning, I knew there were no big numbers of alewives spawning in the area I was fishing. Lacking their favorite forage, experience told me they were feeding on either gobies, minnows, or sticklebacks, or a combination of the three. A quick stomach content check of the first two browns we boated confirmed it…, sticklebacks and gobies. That pointed me in the right direction…, small stickbaits and spoons, black/silver and blue/silver, some fished just off bottom where gobies hang out.
The result, a great charter trip for browns and some very happy kids who needed steady action all morning to keep them from getting bored.
Posted on June 8th, 2015 No comments
Flashers and bait are definitely hot for midsummer king salmon in Eastern Lake Ontario. This commercial salmon trolling technique, imported two decades ago from the Pacific Coast, not only catches salmon, but it excels when they are in a negative mood. It also catches big, slow moving kings that aren’t particularly interested in chasing a fast trolled artificial. Cursed by some, loved by others, a flasher trailed by a whole alewife is a proven king salmon rig in Lake Ontario. The same technique works in any lake using natural bait including smelt.
Beware, though, If you dont like getting your hands fishy, if you don’t want to mess with a rig that can be tricky to tune, or if you want to speed troll at 3.0 – 5.0 MPH or more. However, if would like to master a deadly technique which is a menace to monster kings, you better give flashers and bait a try.
The better the quality and freshness of any bait, the better it works. The only source of quality whole alewifes I’m aware of, if you don’t catch your own, is Great Lakes Tackle Supplies <www.gltsupplies.com. > Fresh frozen, vacuum packed 8-paks of “Familiar Bite” alewives are available online. “Red Label” alewives are 5-6 inches and “Green Label” alewives are 6-7 inches. This bait is pre-salt brined and is ready to fish right out of the package.
To keep alewives as fresh as possible and avoid stinky spills onboard, I keep whole bait and prebaited heads in a small “Tupper Wear” container with an ice pack in a lunch size cooler. Prebaited heads and neatly coiled leaders are stored in individual ziplock bags. The night before I use it, I thaw and rig enough bait and rig it in bait heads to get me started the morning.
Familiar Bite plastic bait heads, specifically designed to fish alewives, are available in clear, green, blue, and chartreuse, rigged with a leader, a 5/0 beak hook and a free swinging #2 treble. Each bait head includes toothpicks you’ll need, one to fasten the alewife in the bait head, and the second to adjust the leader length between the bait head and the bait. I usually doctor them up with stick on eyes and tape
Proper tuning of an alewife trolled at a precise speed is the most important step in effectively fishing flashers and cut bait. This means 1-2 revolutions per second of the bait in a snappy rolling motion, more of a corkscrew than a spin. The better a bait is tuned, the more speed tolerant it will be. A trolling speed of 1.7 – 2.3 mph is generally the target, but whole bait can be tuned to run as fast as 3.5 mph. Everything else, including flasher and bait head color combo, may be perfect, but if a bait head is not tuned properly and trolled at the right speed, you might better be bottom fishing for horned pout.
To tune a bait head, you must insert the whole alewife all the way to the foreward end of the head and firmly secure the bait with a toothpick. If you leave an air space or the bait is loose in the head, the bait head will not fish right. The second toothpick is inserted into the blister of the bait head, wedging it against the leader , holding the leader in place firmly, but allowing just enough movement to adjust the proper bend in the bait.
To make the bait head corkscrew thru the water, hook the beak hook through the lateral line of the bait so the trailing treble hangs freely at the tail of the bait, with at least a half inch between the eye of the beak hook and the rear of the bait head. Then, slowly pull the leader forward through the bait head to put a permanent bend in the bait. The slower the trolling speed, the more bend it generally takes to rotate the bait. The faster the trolling speed, the less bend it takes.
Leaders and their length play a critical role in the effectiveness of flashers and whole bait. Leader lengths from 48-72 inches are most common. The standard rule governing leader length is the more aggressive the fish, the shorter the leader. The lazier the fish, the longer the leader. Monster kings often prefer the lazier action of a bait fished 72 inches or more behind a flasher.
Fishing flashers and whole bait is all about trolling speed control, tuning, color combinations of flashers and bait heads, ;and leader lengths based on the activity level of salmon. Pro-Troll’s 8-inch and 11-inchProChip Flashers make trolling whole bait simple. Standard colors in white, green, and chartreuse are my personal favorites. Most of the time, on my downriggers, I only have two in the water at a time. I also use them on wire Dipsys and copper.
Flashers and bait are tough to beat for catching king salmon. Commercial trollers on the Pacific Coast fish them for their living. In Lake Ontario, the technique has proven itself for two decades. The extra flash of large attractors seem to turn kings on in deep water, and the slow, rolling action and smell of real meat consistently catches kings.
Posted on June 3rd, 2015 No comments
Fifteen minutes after setting our lines on the morning of May 29, 2015, George Robinson and his fishing buddies came quickly to attention as the drag on an ABU Garcia 7000i Syncro LC level wind reel gave rude, screeching notice that a feisty spring king salmon had inhaled a 55 Pirate spoon trailing a Slide Diver. The rigger rod doubled over hard as George strained to slide the EVA foam rod butt from the rod holder. The silk smooth drag did it’s job as the king stripped almost 100 yds of wire from the reel. Minutes later the silvery king came to the net. , The 16 lb. salmon thrashing in the net on the deck was a beauty.
George’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 Syncro LC.
Each season on LakeOntario 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. Over the past four seasons one piece of equipment has stood out, Abu Garcia’s 7000i Syncro, one of the slickest levelwind line counter reels you will ever fish.
The 7000i, holds 250 yards of 20 lb. test monofilament line or 1000 feet of 30# test twisted stainless wire plus 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 1960’s, then leadcore line, Dipsy Divers, planer boards, and downriggers, I’ve fished most brands of levelwind reels on the market, but none has performed as well as the 7000 Synchro I fished for the first time during the 2011 Lake Ontario season.
After fishing it almost 650 trips since first using this reel, including two months of the 2015 season, on rigger rods, wire divers, thumper rods, and slide divers with braided line, 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.
I really appreciate the Synchro feature of the 7000 LC reel and everything else about it. 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 or constantly loosen then readjust a star drag. 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.
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. To 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. Reel forward to maintain just enough tension to keep a bend in a wire Dipsy rod, walk away and the Dipsy will drop back slowly.
Performing flawlessly four more than four seasons, all I can say is…, What a reel!!! . My Fish Doctor anglers 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!
Posted on May 31st, 2015 No comments
Ask Kevin and George Robinson and their two fishing buddies, and they will tell you the king salmon fishing out of Oswego is really heating up. You could not pick a better time in the next two weeks to fill your cooler with silvery, good eating spring kings!
On a 5/30/15 charter fishing trip aboard the Fish Doctor the Robinson crew never expected they would be fishing for kings. Instead, they had booked the trip to fish for browns which generally provide plenty of action in late May. After listening to me explain that 2-year old browns were smaller than normal with most still only 15-18 inches because of slow growth during the long, cold winter, then telling them how good the king salmon fishing had been in since early May, they quickly decided to target salmon.
Good decision. Our lines had not been in the water more than 15 minutes when the first king smashed a 55 Pirate on a slide diver. A rousing way to wake up my crew as Dunkin Donuts coffee cups went flying and the first man at bat grabbed the bucking rod with the screeching reel.
That fish was followed by another and another and another with steady king salmon action the entire trip, plus some steelhead and lake trout excitement. Before trip’s end, they boated 10 adult kings and tangled with others that won the battle and swam away.
Bottom line is the kings have arrived with the alewives which are moving onshore to spawn. With peak spawn generally around midJune, the kings will stage just outside the spawning masses of alewives for two to three weeks until these baitfish finish spawning and begin to move offshore.
Until then, you could not pick a better time to charter a fishing trip for spring kings out of Oswego.
Posted on May 25th, 2015 No comments
One of the most common questions I hear is, “What time of the season is the best fishing?” Well, it would take a book to answer that one, but in a nutshell;
1. It all depends on what you want to fish and what type of tackle you enjoy. If you want to fish for brown trout in shallow water, you generally must fish in April, May, and early June. If you like ultralight gear the answer is the same when we’re trolling on or near the surface with noodle rods and 8 to 10 lb. test line. If you want the biggest kings and cohos of the season, you should fish in late August and early September.
2. Good fishing any time of the year depends on conditions. If weather patterns and especially winds are consistent, with no major changes, fishing is consistent. Get a big blow and it changes everything. Fishing can be the best all season, but one major weather change, especially high winds, can change everything. If you’re fishing when a major cold front comes thru. Don’t expect a good bite.
That said, especially over the past 5 years, I think the best fishing of the season, especially because of the beautiful weather, calm seas, and multispecies catches, occurs in June.
On June 7, 2014, I had a plan based on what I had been seeing and catching the past few trips. I talked Karl Schmidt and his crew into leaving the dock at 4:30 AM instead of 5:00 AM to take advantage of what I thought would be an early morning king salmon bite. By 6:30 AM when the sun was well up over the eastern horizon they had boated 8 kings and 1 laker, finishing their 8-hr trip with a limit of 15 kings.
That kind of salmon fishing continued through midJune when the kings started to scatter. As we followed them offshore and continued to check the satellite surface temp maps, I zeroed in on a major surface temperature break in about 400 feet of water where the temperature dropped quickly from the mid 50’s to the mid 40’s. It was a honey hole, and we boated 20 to 30 steelhead, lakers, and occasional kings a trip there for the next two weeks.
Does trout and salmon fishing get any better than that?
Posted on May 25th, 2015 No comments
Timing is everything when you book a Lake Ontario charter fishing trip for trout and salmon. Conditions change so much from one year to the next because of weather conditions, the type of winter we’ve had and lots of other variables, even when folks book the same date each fishing season, fishing isn’t necessarily going to be the same.
When it happens, though, and conditions are right, fishing can be fantastic. That is exactly what is going on “as we speak”. On May 23, 2015, a major change occurred just outside Oswego Harbor. Alewives started showing up and the king salmon showed up with them, on the end of our lines and on the fish finder.
Fish Doctor anglers actually began catching the first kings of the season on April 18 this year, and they have been boating 1-6 kings on most trips since then, except for a few days in very early May. But on the morning of Saturday, 5/23, Bob Heimbecker, his 10 – year old son Grant and their fishing buddies Don, David, and Glen enjoyed some of the best king salmon fishing of the season so far, boating a cooler full of kings from 10 to 18 lbs. All the kings were stuffed with bait. My 12” Garmin fish finder showed alewives and kings off and on all morning, a huge change in what we had been seeing on the fish finder.
With this inshore movement of bait and kings just outside Oswego Harbor Fish Doctor anglers will see some of the best king salmon fishing of the spring over the next few weeks. Let the salmon season begin!!!