• Oswego Brown Trout Fishing…, Key on Gobies to Catch Oswego Browns

    Posted on March 21st, 2017 admin No comments

     

    Browns gobble gobies as large as 8 inches

    Each season I launch my boat in early April when no other Oswego charter boats are on the water  to take advantage of the early spring brown trout fishing around Oswego Harbor.  And, each spring, I see the same thing…, almost 100% of brown trout stomach contents are gobies.

    Early spring browns gorge on gobies and anything else available around Oswego Harbor until spawning alewives move inshore, some years as late as June.  Occasionally I see gizzard shad, spottail shiners, and even a few alewives in April browns, but usually they are feeding heavily on gobies.

    So what does that mean to brown trout trollers?  Well, to answer that question, you have to take look closely at a goby and consider it’s behavior.  The description in “Biokids” is excellent;

    Round gobies are small fish with large, frog-like heads, raised eyes, soft bodies, and spineless dorsal fins. Males are generally larger than females. They have a distinctive black spot on their front dorsal fin. Mature round gobies are covered by black and brown splotches that lighten when they are alarmed” Gobies reach 7 – 8 inches in length in the Great Lakes and have fused pelvic fins called a suctorial disc with which it attaches to the lake bottom in current.

    Important to brown trout trollers, gobies, 1) prefer a rocky bottom, 2) rest or literally crawl around on rocky bottom substrate using their oversized pectoral fins, 3) only leave bottom when alarmed, and then only momentarily rise up off the bottom, 4)reach a length of 8 inches or so, and, 5)according to what I’ve been told, move offshore in the winter and then back inshore when shoreline water temperature warms.

    Think bottom!  When actively feeding on gobies,  early spring browns are bottom oriented nd muching bait up to 7 – 8 inches long.  Surprisingly, many early season brown trout trollers ignore this, and fish small lures well up in the water column with no regard to rocky bottom substrate. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, About Gobies

    Posted on March 20th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    Just the tail of a goby protrudes from the mouth of an early spring Oswego brown trout.

    Lake Ontarie fishermen know that the round goby is now abundant after being introduced through ballast water from ocean going ships.  Some things you might not know, as reported by the U.S. Geological Survey are interesting, including the fact that larger gobies feed on zebra mussels.  Check out these excerpts from the USGS report.

     “The diet of larger round gobies consists mainly of zebra mussels, which no other fish species of the Great Lakes consumes so heavily, allowing round gobies to uniquely exploit a resource that could fuel a population explosion . Walleye anglers in Detroit report that at times, all they can catch are gobies, which eagerly attack bait (Marsden and Jude 1995).”

    If you have fished with worms for Lake Ontario for smallmouths you’ll agree that gobies are wall to wall in some areas of rocky bottom and real gluttons for worms.

    “The invasion of round gobies into Lake Erie has had very real environmental and economic impacts. The State of Ohio has shut down the smallmouth bass fishery in Lake Erie during the months of May and June. The reason is that high predation rates on nests are affecting smallmouth recruitment. Under normal circumstances male smallmouth bass guard nests and are effective in keeping round gobies away. When males are removed, round gobies immediately invade and have been shown to eat up to 4,000 eggs within 15 minutes. The months of May and June normally account for 50 percent of the total smallmouth catch in Lake Erie so there will be a considerable loss in funds generated by recreational fishers.”

    I have never observed gobies preying on unprotected smallmouth bass nests, but have observed while scuba diving clusters of yellow perch with their noses down and tails pointed upward gobbling eggs from smallmouth nests.

    “Goby introductions may also be a vector for the spread of avian botulism. The change in behavior of infected gobies make them preferred prey items to piscivorous(fish eating) birds. At Lake Erie, botulism infected birds had been feeding more on round goby compared to uninfected birds (Corkum et al. 2004).”

    “Not all impacts of the introduced round goby are negative. Round gobies comprise the majority of the diet for Lake Erie water snakes  and the abundance of gobies has been credited for the increase in population size, increased growth rates, and larger body size of the snakes (King et al. 2006). Due to their increase in abundance, the Lake Erie water snake was removed from the federal Endangered Species List in 2011.”

    Endangered Lake Erie water snakes!  What next?

    “In addition, round gobies provide an abundant food source for several sportfishes including walleye, yellow perch, and largemouth/smallmouth.”

    Add to that, brown trout, especially in early spring when browns we catch in the shallows are gorging on gobies.  Once the alewives move inshore, however, you rarely find a goby in a brown.  I have also seen gobies in lake trout, and even king salmon, and have heard of them in cohos in late August in Mexico Bay.

    “Increased abundance of round goby in the diet of double-crested cormorant may reduce chick growth and reproductive success, due to a lower energy density compared to other native fish, and thus could provide some control over cormorant.”

    Recent studies show gobies in eastern comprise up to 96% of the stomach contents of cormorants in eastern L. Ontario

  • Oswego Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Snow, Baby, Snow!

    Posted on March 17th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    After Stella in Syracuse, NY, centered in the 5,122 sq. mile Oswego watershed.

    What started as a topsy turvy winter in northern New York with temperature swings into the 60s and very little snow accumulation by early March, is ending in an old fashioned winter.  When winter storm Stella plowed thru the northeast, it left an average of 20 inches of fresh powder on the morning of March 16 in the 5,122 sq. mile Oswego River watershed.  On top of that, 8 to 12 inches of lake effect is predicted for March 17.

     That may be bad news for residents of the area, but for spring brown trout trollers fishing out of Oswego Harbor, the news could not be better.  The Iroquois transaltion for the Oswego River they named is, “small water flowing into larger water”.  Not quite so small, the Oswego is Lake Ontario’s second largest tributary.  What happens in the way of winter precipitation in it’s watershed has a huge effect on spring fishing out of Oswego.  The more flow,  the higher and more turbid the warming, nutrient laden river water,  the greater the attraction to baitfish and predators, and the better the early spring fishing for browns, kings, lakers, Atlantics, and coho salmon.   

     Yes, folks in Central New York are having some tough late March weather  and are sure to be tired of shoveling and plowing snow.  We’re hearing lots of groaning, but we’re also hearing, “Snow, baby, snow!”, not only by skiers and snowmobilers, but by Oswego trout and salmon anglers.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, The Science of Trolling

    Posted on March 15th, 2017 admin No comments

    Fishing a current line for salmon.

    The two anglers in the small but well-equipped fishing boat were frustrated.  Six hours of trolling in Lake Ontario had produced only two hits and no fish in the box.  Yet, as they returned to Oswego Marina they watched as other fishermen unloaded heavy coolers.

     It was a trying experience for them.  They had purchased a good fishing boat, rigged it properly and put in their time.  Their first comment to me was, “We trolled out there for six solid hours and caught nothing.”

     They didn’t realize it, but they were learning an important principle.  There is a huge difference between blindly dragging a selection of lures from a boat for what is perceived to be randomly scatterred fish, and using that same trolling boat to locate and very systematically present lures to targeted gamefish.

     The two anglers were also learning that eastern Lake Ontario holds some of the greatest  angling treasures on the North American continent for those who respect this 200 mile long lake and learn to safely reap its rewards.  This great water body has a dynamic aquatic ecosystm which changes continually due to the effects of the sun, moon, wind, and season along with changes in the aquatic community itself.  For the angler, these changes create a multitude of variables affecting fish distribution and behavior throughout the lake over the course of the entire year.   However, the successful angler deals with these variables no differently in Lake Ontario than in a small farm pond.  The principles are exactly the same.

     An experienced bass angler would not think of going out on his favorite largemouth lake or river and begin haphazardly casting a lure without keying in on light conditions, weather, weed beds and other fish-attracting features like submerged structure.  Neither would the seasoned Lake Ontario angler who seeks out offshore thermal bars favored by steelhead or deep water structure holding midsummer browns.

     The approach by both is similar.  The likelihood of catching one’s quarry increases by spending the maximum time possible properly presenting a bait or lure to it.  The big difference between the bass angler on a small pond and the angler trolling Lake Ontario is the visibility of the fish-attracting features and the factors affecting lure presentation.  A half submerged tree top along shore is no less important to the bass angler than a current line 15 miles offshore is to the steelhead troller.  The action of a salmon spoon trolled out of sight at a depth of 100 feet just off bottom is as critical as the action of a clearly visible surface plug  precisely manuvered along the edge of a weedbed for largemouths.

     Trolling is a favorite angling techinque especially useful for catching widely dispersed fish over a large expanse of water.  Yet, even though gamefish may be scattered, they are usually more concentrated in one area than another.  Locating and properly fishing these areas is the key to consistent trolling success.

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, COD for Spring Browns

    Posted on March 6th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    Depite what the book says, shallow water browns can be caught close to the boat!

    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 spring browns and other surface oriented salmonid species.  It’s the area of disturbance around a boat that pushes 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, silhouetted, 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 factors like species behavior, activity level, 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 browns, kings and steelhead behave differently, and are seldom caught as close to the boat as cohos.   The COD varies from boat to boat, and fortunately, .  my 28’ twin engine Baha, with V-8 engines and oversized mufflers, catches browns  almost as close to the boat as cohos.

     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?

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Penn’s Fathom 25LW for Leadcore Sections

    Posted on March 5th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    A Penn Fathom 25LW spooled with a leadcore section.

     

    In a recent blog, “Search and Destory” I mentioned that my favorite reel for fishing leadcore sections from planer boards, inlines, and down the chute is Penn’s Fathom 25LW.

    Since publishing that blog, I’ve had several inquiries about the 25LW from Great Lakes trollers who were looking for a better leadcore reel.  Writing from my winter SC headquarters, I don’t have any of the specs handy for the leader/leadcore/backing line capacity of these reels,  but can say a few thing about them.

    First, the 25LW is a fantastic reel, typical of Penn’s recently manufactured models with influence from ABU Garcia, one of 16(?) tackle companies, along with Penn that Pure Fishing owns.  There is nothing I do not like about the 25LW…, silk smooth operation, nice retrieve rate, purrrrfect drag, ample line capacity, nice handle, and last but not least, a loud clicker(for old ears!).

    I own a bunch of 25LWs spooled with 50’ of 20# leader, 2 to 7 colors of leadcore, plus at least 200 yds.(I’m guessing) of 65# test Berkley braided backing, enough for handling kings.

    I fish the 25LW on 7’ custom made Fish Doctor Shortsticks and spread out the leadcore sections up to 300’ on megaboards when I’m not near other boats.   Works for me!

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Sushi Flies for Spring Kings

    Posted on March 4th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    Brining whole alewives before fileting Sushi Strips

    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.   Fortunate to  be invited aboard several commercial salmon trolling boats,  the first thing I noticed on deck was  buckets of 11” plastic flashers, mostly white, green, chartreuse, and red.   Hanging on the rear of the cabins were rows and rows of  3 ½” hoochies(squids) in a myriad of colors, some for kings, some for cohos.  Closer inspection of the hoochies showed a piece of light brass wire, inside each hoochie, attached to the eye of a 6/0 single hook.

     The wire on these hooks was for attaching 3”- 4” herring strips inside the hoochie, which rarely go in the water for Alaskan kings without bait.

     The  trollers also showed me how they rigged whole herring, herring filets, and cut plugs, all of which they carry onboard, along with spoons and plugs, during an king salmon opening. To a man, they were adamant about how fussy king salmon were and how important it was to master a variety of techniques to consistently catch fish in all conditions. 

     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 .  I’ve found over the years the baited flies I now call Sushi Flies work well behind all types of flashers all season, including early spring.  I use 36”- 48” leaders on 11”- 13” flashers and 19”- 30” leaders on 8” flashers.  Flasher/fly color combos are the same as for clean flies.

     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. 

     Years of experience and millions of Great Lakes king salmon have proven clean flies catch fish.  When it comes to inactive kings, though, especially staged fish or big, lazy fish, I’ve found that sushi flies are just what the doctor ordered. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Same Old, Same Old

    Posted on February 23rd, 2017 admin No comments

     

    This summer brown hit something new, a Joe's Pirate spoon.

    If you always do what you always did, you will always catch what you always caught.  I remember that statement made by Chip Porter, one of the best fishermen on the Upper Great Lakes, when  we were touring the states of Michigan and Wisconsin a few years back giving fishing seminars for his Salmon Institute.

    The point he was making was although an angler may catch fish  using the same technique that  has produced for many years, it still pays to be versatile and experiment with new techniques and fishing gear.  Conditions might change in the waters you fish, or the fishing there may fizzle altogether, and you might have to seek out new waters where your old technique doesn’t work.  Also, if you learn new techniques, you might be even more successful in your favorite waters, catching even more and bigger fish.

    Back in the 1960s on 28 mile long Lake George in northeastern, NY, a top fishing guide named Doug Canaday specialized in hooking up his clients with bottom hugging lake trout.  His bottom trolling technique, jerk lining  7” Elmer Hinkley spoons on copper line was devastating for big lakers feeding on ciscoes up to 10 inches long.  But, the ciscoe population diminished and smelt showed up in the lake in 1976 changing the whole predator/prey scenario.  Doug consistently caught plenty of lakers  in the ‘60s and early 70s trolling the same 7” spoon the same way on copper line, but when conditions changed in the mid70s and smelt became the primary lake trout forage, he was sharp enough to quickly  change his lake trout trolling technique going to smaller,  smelt size spoons. 

    At the same time, 2 to 4 lb. rainbow trout were plentiful in Lake George, but Doug never fished for them, even though I consistently caught them fishing small Mooselook Wobblers on leadcore line at moderate trolling  speeds and at slower lake trout speeds on small chrome/copper cowbells trailed 18” back  by an F-4 fluorescent red Flatfish.  If Doug had changed his ways and added a single leadcore line for suspended rainbow trout his clients would have caught more rainbows. 

    In the early 1970s, downriggers first became available commercially and I was experimenting with them in Lake George for lake trout, rainbow trout, and in the mid1970s, landlocked salmon, after a successful restoration effort I worked on as a NYSDEC fishery biologist for 10 years.  There was a learning curve involved in the new technique, but it didn’t take long, with the help of another young, innovative guide on the lake, to figure out how to catch lakers on downriggers trolling medium sized Mooselook Wobblers at moderate speed near bottom.  The only problem was most of these lakers were smaller fish less than 5 lbs. 

    Although I could have fished the same way and continued to catch small lakers at a moderate trolling speed, I wasn’t satisfied and continued to experiment with different techniques.  It didn’t take long to figure out that Lake George’s big, lazy, slow moving  lakers could not resist an F-7 Flatfish trolled inches off bottom 3-4 feet behind an 8” chrome dodger attached to the tail of a  fish shaped downrigger weight at a slower trolling speed. 

    At the slow speed I was trolling with riggers for lakers, the same small 4-blade cowbell I used on leadcore line at slow speeds for rainbows  caught suspened ‘bows just as well on lighter tackle when the  attractor was attached directly to a downrigger weight and fished with  the same fluorescent red F-4 Flatfish trailing 18 inches behind the tail spinner on the cowbell at a water temperature of 61 degrees . 

    If that same old technique isn’t catching quite a many fish as the boats around you, it might be time to make a change.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Search and Destroy

    Posted on February 23rd, 2017 admin No comments

     

    This early May king hit a Michigan Stinger on 2 colors of leadcore.

     

    When aggressively feeding fish of any species  are concentrated and you find them, figure out what they want and present your trolling arsenal to them effectively, you can  put a lot of fish in the net without  many lines in the water.  But, many times the opposite is the case.  Weather conditions like heavy winds, forage fish behavior, and other factors can scatter trout and salmon.  This is especially true of pelagic species like steelhead and king salmon which roam the 200 mile length and 50 mile breadth of Lake Ontario like nomads.

    Onboard my charter boat, the Fish Doctor, when kings and steelhead  are scattered hither and yon and are tough to locate, I switch to one of my favorite techniques, “high, wide and handsome”,  and head for the open lake at maximum trolling speed, far from any other boats. 

    The key element of my “high, wide and handsome”  spread is an oversize planer board I call a megaboard.  Two of  these big, 36” triple boards go in  the water on 300# test mono spread 150 feet to port and starboard .  Each is rigged with up to three sections of leadcore line if fish are shallow in the top 30 feet of water.   Downriggers, wire Dipsys, and slide divers on braided line are added to the spread.

    Two, three, five and seven-color leadcore sections are rigged with 50 feet of leader and backed with fine diameter, 40# test  braided Berkley line spooled on Penn Fathom 25LW reels  fished on medium light 7’ rods.  At 2.7 mph the 18 lb. test  leadcore line I use fishes down about 4’ per color.  With 6 leadcore sections  spread 300 feet apart lures are fishing  8, 12, 20 and 28 feet below the surface with the shallowest lines furthest from the boat.  Combined with riggers and divers fished from the boat, this huge spread is deadly. 

     Even when you find fish, there is nothing automatic about getting them  to strike a lure.  Presentation may be spot on, with lures running precisely  as they should at preferred  water temperature  in the strike zone.  Speed may be perfect with optimum lure action.  But, as an old timer once told me, “If ya don’t have the right stuff down there, you might as well head for shore.”  Water color, light conditions, lake surface condions, and many other factors all play a part.   Finding the right lure fish can’t resist on any given day is the icing on the cake.

    Such was the case on May 12, 2016, when Jerry Argyle and his crew headed northwest out of Oswego Harbor with me in search of king salmon.  It took some time to locate them in the top 25 feet of water over  300 to 400 feet of water, but when we did, lines started snapping.  Under a clear, sunny sky with the lake mirror calm, the kings were fussy.  With the lake’s surface glassy, I knew light intensity at 30 feet was only about 6%, perfect conditions for UV spoons.  After a little experimenting we found the magic, a UV green alewife.  When their 8-hr trip was over  my crew of veteran anglers had boated 25 king salmon, releasing all but 11 delicious, mint silver fish from 5 to 18 lbs.

    We had caught fish on leadcore lines, riggers, and slide divers, but the leadcore sections on the boards were the rigs that made the day.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Atlantic Salmon, Resident or Migrant ?

    Posted on February 15th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    A sample from this Lake Ontario Atlantic salmon skin mount at the Royal Ontario Museum was used in the study

     

    Lake Ontario historically supported an Atlantic salmon population that was apparently sizeable.  Historic accounts include tales of early pioneers at river crossings pitch forking barrels full of spawning Atlantics into their horse drawn wagons. These native Atlantics reportedly reached sizes up to 47 lbs and were an important human food source.   

    A decline in spawning stream quality, probably due to pollution, i.e., saw mills, etc., plus dam construction limiting access to spawning areas, compounded with  overharvest resulted in  extinction of native  Atlantics.  The last record of an  Atlantic salmon from Lake Ontario was in 1898, reportedly caught by angling. 

    According to researcher Eric Guiry and his colleagues, since the 1860s there have  been efforts to determine if Lake Ontario’s original Atlantics migrated to the ocean and returned to the lake and its tributaries to spawn or if they stayed in the lake year round, as today’s Pacific salmon do.

    In an effort to determine this, researchers conducted stable isotope analyses of archaeological bones and specimens of Atlantics still available at the Royal Ontario Museum.  Isotope analysis reveals the type of food an animal eats and can distinguish between marine and fresh water forage.  This analysis showed  conclusively that the  Atlantics studied lived their lives completely in fresh water. 

    Lake Ontario Atlantic salmon remains were actually available from nine Iroquois Indian archaeological sites dating from 1300  to 1550 and from two European settlement sites dating from 1790 to 1900 AD along the northwest shore of Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River.

    Results of this study could be helpful to Province of Ontario, Canada fishery biologists in the effort to restore Atlantic salmon to Lake Ontario.