• 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!!!

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, the “Cone of Disturbance”

    Posted on March 29th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    This Atlantic salmon hit a Michigan Stinger 6' behind the boat!

    It had to be frustrating.  The two anglers trolling near us in the 16-footer just outside eastern LakeOntario’s OswegoHarbor hadn’t moved a rod.  In a flat calm sea I watched the smaller boat’s every move and repeatedly dodged their planer boards that had to be more than 100 feet off their beam with one line on each set no closer than 100 feet from the boat.

    Four of our 6 planer board lines were stone dead, but finicky April browns were hammering the tuned black and silver F-11 Rapalas on the other two lines, set just 15’ out from the boat and 70’ back.  “It’s all about the cone of disturbance”, I thought to myself.

    A few years earlier, trolling for staged king salmon in 12 feet of crystal clear water off the mouth of the Salmon River, my son Randy hollered to me from the cockpit, “Dad, come look at this!”  As I peered over the gunnel in the direction he was pointing, I could clearly see the sandy bottom under the boat.  Then I saw what he had, a huge school of  kings that we were trolling through, moving about 25 feet away from the boat as we passed through them, almost as if we had an invisible plow attached to our hull.  Every time we trolled through the school, the fish moved away from the boat exactly the same distance.  Again, I thought, “It’s all about the cone of disturbance.”

    Cone of disturbance or COD for short, is a concept you don’t hear much about from Great Lakes trollers.  A few savvy anglers, though,  use it to consistently boat more trout and salmon.  It’s the area of disturbance around a boat that pushes surface oriented fish away vertically, and horizontally a certain distance to what I like to call the “sweet spot”.   Reverse this concept, and the same factors can actually attract fish from a distance to the outer edge of the COD around a boat.    Things like boat visibility, engine and outdrive noise, prop disturbance and flash, hull vibration, and electrical charge all repel fish a certain distance from a boat.  That distance depends on other factors like species behavior, water clarity, light conditions, and lake surface conditions.  From experience, I’m convinced that even subtle things like engine lifter noise, affects COD.

    For some species like the crazy, fearless coho, with a definite attraction to motion and noise, outer limits of the COD may be within arm’s reach.  But other more sensitive or wary species like chinooks and browns behave differently, and are seldom caught as close to the boat.   For each individual boat, each species has it’s own sweet spot. 

    The bottom line for anglers is about taking advantage of fish concentrations when presenting baits and lures.  As a boat “plows” through the water and pushes fish out to the edge of the COD, fish tend to concentrate a certain distance from the boat.  Theoretically, if that distance was 25’ off the beam, and steelhead were equally distributed just under the surface,   the  concentration of fish in the sweet spot would be 150% or 1 1/2 times greater than the average distribution on the lake surface.  Not a bad spot to target, eh?

    Effective rigger, Dipsy, sinking line, and planer board setbacks are as much a part of COD as are the perpendicular distances vertically and horizontally from from the hull of the boat.  As a boat moves past fish, of course, they may eventually move at whatever distance back behind the boat.   Fish a Dipsy Diver with 6 – 10 feet of leader on 15 feet of line to the rod tip for spring browns in clear water and you’ll likely draw a blank.  Fish a Slide Diver, one of my favorites, on 15’ of line but with a 20 feet or longer setback to a lure, and you’ll  likely hook up. 

    The other important factor here is fish activity level.  We all know fish are not active 24-7.  I saw a good example of this at a major sporting goods retail store recently where I was doing a seminar and talking with anglers near the store’s huge aquaria for several hours.  While there, I noticed a landlocked salmon, constantly swimming around the aquaria for a couple of hours.  Then, for no apparent reason, it suspended motionless, hardly gilling, in a corner of the aquaria, and stayed there for several hours.  It reminded me of a scene in an instructional video by master fly fisherman Jim Teeny where he unsuccessfully cast flies to several inactive steelhead lying almost motionless in a shallow run, then chucked a rock at them to break the dormant “spell”, moving them to another location, and then hooked up on his first cast, all filmed from atop a ledge, 50 feet above. Anyone who has spent much time fishing Great Lakes steelhead offshore has seen these fish, lying motionless, just barely below the surface, seemingly dormant.  That changes when a boat passes close to them and “kicks them in the butt”.  You’ll often find more active fish at the sweet spot along the edge of the COD.

    The COD varies from boat to boat.  My 28’ twin engine Baha, with oversized mufflers on V-8 engines, catches fish much closer to the boat than a 26’ 4-Wynns I/O I operated years ago.   BZ(before zebra mussels) when water visibility was 3-5 feet in Lake Ontario, my son Jeff tipped me off to one of the hottest COD recipes I’ve ever used for surface oriented steelhead, a green size #1 Dipsy Diver on the #3 setting with no ring, on 20 lb. test mono, 25 feet from the rod tip.  It not only took more steelhead than any other rod on the boat, the fish caught on it averaged larger.  The same recipe was deadly on inshore browns.  Thinking more in vertical terms rather than horizontal, one of the deadliest recipes I ever used BZ for staged kings off the mouth of the Salmon River was a tuned #88 Sutton 15 feet behind the weight and 18 feet down over 20 feet of water. 

    Today, AZ(after zebra mussels), with water visibility greater than 30 feet at times, those recipes have changed, and are more variable, especially as water turbidity varies.  Fishing in early spring in the turbid plume of the OswegoRiver in 20-30 feet of water, I still catch browns on Dipsy Divers 25 feet from the rod tip, but in clearer water 40 feet of line to the rod tip is a better recipe.  Short rigger setbacks in 20 feet of  crystal clear water no longer work for me for staged kings.

    I’ve always said that all it takes is one blistering hot rod to make a fishing trip successful, and on many trips on my charter boat, that rod is fishing the sweet spot on the edge of the COD.  If your way out rods that are often deadly don’t seem to be working, tuck things in a bit, because chances are, revved up trout and salmon may be eyeballing you boatside as you troll by. 

  • Lake Ontario Brown Trout Fishing…, Look Inshore for Early Spring Browns

    Posted on March 29th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    Oswego brown trout concentrate along shore in early spring.

    Back in the days of our frontiersmen, if a young fella asked an old timer to point him in the right direction, he might have heard, “Go west young man, go west!”   Well in these more modern times, when an angler new to fishing Lake Ontario asks me where  to locate big spring  browns, I tell him, “Go inshore, young fella, go inshore!”

    Each spring, the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation stocks 400, 000 eight inch yearling brown trout on theNew York side ofLakeOntario.  By the next spring, after just one year of growth in the lake, these browns reach 3-5 pounds.  After two more years in the lake, some of


    them reach 15-20 lbs.

     Biologists estimate  the population of  2-year old and older brown trout in 200 mile long by 50 mile wideLakeOntario  probably exceeds 300,000 fish.  Sounds like a lot of fish doesn’t it?  Spread 300,000 browns out randomly across the length and breadth of the entire lake, though, and you’re looking at a density of only about 30 brown trout per square mile!  Pretty darned slim pickings, if that was the case.

    Fortunately for spring brown trout anglers,  browns do not  scatter randomly throughout the lake.  Radio telemetry studies show most browns in the spring, before water temperatures climb past 60 degrees, occupy a 0.6 mile wide strip of coastline.  Concentrate 300,000 browns in this relatively narrow 200 mile by half mile strip of water, and you’re now looking at a density of  3,000 browns per square mile, much better odds for the angler, especially right after iceout.

    Lake Ontario  has not frozen over completely since 1934 and most winters  only freezes  a few miles out from shore. Our recent bitter cold winter resulted in 88% of the lake ice covered.  Most years in late March or early April , the surface water temperature is 34 degrees, EXCEPT inshore.  With snow cover almost always gone by very early April and some years late March, the effect of the sun is major, warming smaller tributaries and very gradually increasing the water temperature along the shoreline, attracting bait fish and the big browns that feed on them.

    It was April 2nd and Rich O’Neil and his fishing buddy, Sal were onboard my charter boat, the Fish Doctor for my first lake charter of the season.  It was chilly as we headed out of port and into the lake.  My surface temperature gauge read exactly 34.0 degrees.  Experience told us we needed to find some warmer water temp and the best place to look was off the mouth of a nearby tributary that flowed through a wide, shallow, sun-warmed marsh before emptying into a, sheltered bay.

    As we approached the bay, all eyes were glued on the surface temperature gauge…., 34.0.., 34.3…, 34. 9…, 35.2.  We had found it, the classic honey hole for spring browns.   The “Book” says most fish can detect a change in temperature as small as a half degree Farenheit.  Lake Ontario browns are no exception.  We hoped the book was still right.

    My 28-foot charter boat was in only 5 feet of water, right along the beach as we started setting out the ultralight noodle rods with 10 lb. line and 6 lb. test leaders.  We had only three rods in the water when the first brown hit…, a 3 lb. spring “bulgie” that looked like a little silvery football.  In the next few hours Rich and Sal boated more than 20 browns. in a small inshore temperature pocket that topped out at only 37 degrees.

    Not quite bath water, but plenty warm enough for early springOntariobrown trout!

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Ultralight Kings

    Posted on March 18th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    Rev. James with a king he boated on a 6' rod and 12 lb. test line, 5/28/14.

    “There he is again!”, Rev. James said as the same light 6’ rod we were fishing down 65 feet on my center rigger fired for the third time in a row, tip doubling toward the water and the Penn 365 International drag buzzing.  Drag screeching runs are a trademark of Lake Ontario’s feisty early spring king salmon, the beast  Rev. James was tangling with on 10 lb. mono on May 28, 2014. 

    The other two rigger rods with 15 lb. test line, trailing the same spoon, a Venom Mauler, had been silent the first two hours of our morning charter.  Twenty minutes later, Rev. James eased the 15 lb. chromer to the net.  Later, the last of a 6-fish limit of kings went in the cooler, 4 of them caught on the light rod.   Coincidence?   I doublt it.  Fussy spring kings in gin clear water often favor  a light tackle presentation.

    Sixteen oz. lead balls, 600 feet of copper, wire, and big flashers fished on 30 lb. mono, are all part of a versatile king salmon troller’s arsenal.   But in this day of heavin’ and haulin’ as many salmon as possible in the boat as fast as a human can crank, on my charter boat  there is a place for light tackle salmon gear. 

     Catching kings on any tackle, no matter how heavy, is a blast, no doubt about it.  Much of the time, though, after the hookup on heavy gear, you could go out to lunch, and the  king would still be there when you came back.  On the other hand, hooking a big, brawny king salmon on light tackle is just the beginning of a challenging battle between man  and  silvery beast.  Handle a big king salmon properly on light gear, and you will eventually get the fish to the boat with a little luck.  Make one mistake, though, or be there a flaw anywhere in the chain between you and the fish, and Mr. Salmon will be gone in a hear beat with just a limp section of mono hanging from your rod tip, a grim reminder of busted tackle and a battle lost.

                            …hooking a big, brawny king salmon on light tackle is just

                the beginning of a challenging battle between man  and  silvery beast. 

    Although it’s tough to convince some  heavy haulers, that light salmon gear has a place on any Great Lakes charter boat,  there are times when a light tackle, deep water  downrigger presentation using mono as light a 10 lb. test will out fish heavier gear.  On certain days and in certain conditions, especially in gin clear water under a midday sun,  light rigs fished with the right spoon are deadly. 

     Rig ultralight gear properly, and, with a little luck, you will land any king salmon that swims the waters of the Great Lakes.  Rig your gear wrong, and there will be plenty of long faces aboard after you losing a bunch of gear and some nice fish.  Sure, it takes a lot more finesse and a lot longer to land a big, brawling king on light tackle than on heavy gear, but that’s the fun of it.    It’s also a lot more challenging.

     Quality gear and attention to detail are the keys to boating big kings on light tackle.  Onboard my charter boat, you’ll find custom  built 6-7 foot light action rigger rods, spooled with 10-12 lb. Berkley Big Game monofilament on Penn 365 and 375 International  reels.  A properly designed light action rod,  quality reel  with a silk smooth drag, and the highest quality line and terminal snaps are a must.  With light line, forget about  trying  to stop a king on it’s first run.  You just can’t.  Let it burn itself out.  Then it’s your turn!

    If kings are sulking and refusing your heavy gear, or you’re tired of heaving and hauling, try  light tackle.  It will catch you kings, but  might just leave you with your jaw hanging and the air blue if you don’t play your cards right.

  • Lake Ontario Fishing Charters…, Iceout, 2015

    Posted on March 18th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    A double(on one rod!) comes aboard the Fish Doctor in Oswego Harbor on April 11, 2012.

    When I checked my email on the morning of March 17, 2015, I saw Nate’s message.  He had several questions about a May charter fishing trip, the first, “When do you think the ice is gonna be out…?”

    Having just spent one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record in Maine, he was shocked when I emailed  the 3/9/15 aerial photo of Lake Ontario showing only the eastern  1/4th of the lake  ice covered.  He also could not believe my April 1 – 5 iceout prediction for the Oswego area of Lake Ontario.

     If you live in a northern  state that has been pounded by snow and cold all winter, and you’re thinking about booking an early season fishing charter on Lake Ontario, keep the faith.  We’re not talking about the  lakes you’re  ice fishing until late April.   Most  years charter captains are fishing some areas of Lake Ontario, including in and around Oswego Harbor, in very early April and even late March. 

     The timing of iceout in the Oswego area depends on  several things including winter ice cover on the lake, late winter air temperature,  wind direction, snow pack in the 5,070 sq.  mile Oswego River watershed, rate of spring snow melt, and resultant runoff in the Oswego River.

     There is no question that the winter of 2014-15 was long and cold.  Ice cover on the Great Lakes reached 88% as did Lake Ontario, almost equalling  the lake’s 92% ice  cover in 2013-14.  This amount of ice cover definitely delays ice  out.

     Yet,  a 3/9/15 NOAA aerial photo showed that after a slight warming trend and westerly winds, only about 1/4th of the eastern end of Lake Ontario was ice covered and there was open water off the Sodus Bay Lighthouse.  Wind has a huge effect on the lake’s ice cover as warming air temperature and the sun weakens the ice , moving the ice cover and creating  a shoreline ice pack reaching 30’ high.

     This same warming trend, even though slight, and the snow melt it causes  has a 2-pronged impact on the Oswego River.  Flow in the river increased from around 3,000 cfs on March 10 to  9000 cfs.  7On March 17.  Water temperature flatlined in recent months at 32 degrees, warmed up from barely over 32 degrees on  3/10 to 35 degrees on March 17.  This will help flush ice from Oswego Harbor. 

      2014 – 2015 snow fall in Syracuse, NY, which lies in the heart of the Oswego River drainage basin is 116” to date, creating a  major snow pack after record winter cold and minimal thawing.  When snow pack in the Oswego River basin is light and spring temperature higher than normal, runoff is minimal and Oswego River flow  has little impact on iceout and fishing in the Oswego area.  This spring, however, flow in the Oswego River will be higher than normal over an extended period, flushing ice from the Oswego area early, and creating ideal charter fishing conditions throughout April and into May.

     The latest ice-out  I ever remember was April 10, and that was a situation following  a colder than normal winter,  when ice extending several miles out from shore, blew ashore after a heavy norwester, clogging the mouth of the  Little Salmon River where I moored my boat at the time.  Eleven miles to the west , the lake around Oswego Harbbor  was ice free,  and charter boats were on the water.  The earliest I’ve ever fished was February  14, 1998, during the last major El Nino, a situation that produced fantastic late winter and early spring fishing for browns and domestic rainbows.

    The winter of 2013 – 2014 was almost as cold as this winter, and total snowfall in the Oswego drainage basin was slightly more(128”) than this winter.  Ice went out in the Oswego area in very early April, flow  in the river remained high through May and fishing was excellent.  On my first few April  trips, Fish Doctor anglers boated 30 – 40 fish, mostly browns, along with lakers, rainbows, and cohos.  By late April king salmon had moved inshore and we were catching them just outside the harbor.

     If anything, conditions look even better for fishing charters in the spring of 2015.