Posted on March 29th, 2015 No comments
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.
Posted on March 29th, 2015 No comments
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!
Posted on March 18th, 2015 No comments
“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.
Posted on March 18th, 2015 No comments
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.
Posted on March 12th, 2015 No comments
Although western Lake Ontario is well known for king salmon fishing in the spring, don’t overlook the port of Oswego if you’re thinking about booking a charter for early season salmon, especially after a long, cold, snowy winter like this one. Not every year, but some, Oswego anglers enjoy great fishing for spring kings.
Traditionally, each season, in early April, brown trout, cohos, rainbow trout, lake trout, and occasional Atlantic salmon, aggressively feeding on baitfish in the warm water plume of the Oswego River make for some exciting light tackle trolling. King salmon in the shallows are normally a rare April catch, not showing up until early May, and even then, in deeper water offshore.
Not so in April, 2012, when king salmon fishing out of Oswego was exceptional. April 13, 2012…, Tim and his son Garrett along with Jeff and his daughter Emily climbed aboard the Fish Doctor at Oswego Marina. They knew it was prime time for Lake Ontario brown trout, expecting some dandy browns on their 6-hour morning trip. I expected the same, but was hoping, based on reports I had heard, that they might be in store for an unexpected bonus
As we pulled out of Oswego Marina into the upper harbor, gulls working bait inside the breakwalls, told us we wouldn’t have to go far to catch fish. With only three lines in the water, one of the rigger rods snapped upright, and Garrett was into the first brown trout of the trip. On our second troll past the Oswego lighthouse, a rigger rod didn’t spring upright when the fish jerked the line free of the release. Instead, the ultralight 6-footer doubled over, drag on the 5500LC ABU Garcia hissing as an unseen monster with a #44 Sutton in it’s mouth peeled off two hundred feet of 10 lb. test line.
No question…, a nice king! After a give and take battle, the chromer came to the net, later pulling a digital scale to 17.8 lbs. In the next five hours we boated around 30 trout and salmon, four of them silvery spring kings. Three of them were caught just inside the entrance to the harbor, the fourth just outside. The rest of April and May we boated king salmon on almost every charter trip with some impressive limit catches, minutes from the dock.
The spring of 2013 was a dmore typical start to the Oswego charter fishing season, excellent brown trout and lake trout fishing, but not a single king boated in April. It wasn’t until May 3rd when the first charter of the year put a king salmon aboard the Fish Doctor. Although we caught kings throughout May, salmon fishing never really revved up in 2013 until June.
Fast Forward to 2014. From late April on through May until midJune, king salmon fishing was gangbusters just outside Oswego Harbor, sometimes only a long cast from the lighthouse and never more than a 5 minute boat ride. Early spring salmon fishing conditions were ideal.
The main lake was frigid after a long cold winter with near record ice cover on the Great Lakes, and flow in the Oswego River was high with melting runoff, a magnet to baitfish and predators. Meanwhile on the west end of the lake, salmon fisherman were on ice, almos literally, well into May. Ice cover on Lake Erie stayed much later than normal with the Niagara River running at 33 degrees and the west end of the lake not much warmer. The spring salmon season on the west lake never really happened.
On April 25, 2014, Chelsea from Maine boated the first king of the season, a little later start than 2012. After that, it was kings, kings, kings in close from then through midJune, with occasional salmon coming as shallow as 10’ along shore, some on stickbaits trolled just below the surface from the boards on ultralight noodle rods. In midJune, the kings moved offshore.
Fast forward again to 2015. What’s in store for this season? Well, with winter weather conditions almost a clone of 2014 and even more snow in central New York’s Oswego River drainage basin than last winter, everyone is hoping for a repeat of the 2014 spring king fishing. With only 1/4th of the eastern end of Lake Ontario frozen on May 9, 2015, and a warming trend underway, we should be looking at an early April Lake Ontario ice-out. We definitely will be looking at another late ice-out on Lake Erie, and a frigid western Lake Ontario, probably well into May. Oswego River flow is now 3000 cfs, 7000 cfs lower than average because the river system is ice-locked.
Sooo…, with a later and higher than normal runoff a sure thing at this point, and a frigid main lake well into May, everything points to another early spring king salmon season in Oswego. If it happens, praise the fish gods, and book a salmon trip with an Oswego charter. If it doesn’t, anglers will still cash in on Oswego’s legendary early season brown trout fishing, none better lakewide.
Posted on March 5th, 2015 No comments
An hour into their afternoon trip, Mike Ducross and his buddies from Cornwall, Canada, were not quite as optimistic as they had been after watching my morning charter carry heavy coolers of 20–30 lb. LakeOntario kings off the dock. They had heard the war stories about how we had them dialed in all morning with whole alewives and big flashers, and knew we were returning to the very same “X” on my chart plotter. As we closed in on the spot, my 12” Garmin fish finder showed the kings were still there. An hour later, it was clear they were turning their noses up at our 2-rigger spread of 13” Slashers and whole alewives down 120 and 130 feet.
With unwavering confidence in the big silver and gold prism taped golden retriever flashers in bright midday light for staged kings, I had opted for changes in leader length and bait head color, to no avail, before deciding on one last change before doing something drastic.
Still firm in my belief that when a big king bellies up to the sushi bar he’s looking for one thing, alewives, I reached into my bait cooler for a freshly salted alewife strip and replaced the whole bait with a baited fly. Minutes after dropping the rigger back to the same depth of 120’ with the same 15’ setback, the rod fired. Immediately I reset it the second time, and it fired again. Meanwhile, the whole bait, 10’ deeper at 130’and 25’ back was just a slug. While one of Mike’s buddies was fighting the king, Mike pulled the deep rigger, while I baited another Mirage fly. We quickly reset the rigger exactly as before, replacing the whole bait behind the golden retriever flasher with a baited fly, 130’ down and 25’ back. Before we could untangle the first king from the net, the deep rigger fired.
Four hours later, as the sun angled toward the horizon and light intensity at the riggers dropped, you guessed it, the program changed and the kings decided they absolutely loved whole alewives in a glow green bait head 60” behind a glow green spatterback HotChip 11.
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. 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 LakeOntario 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 .
Today, my favorite flashers with baited flies include, 8” ProChips, 11” ProChips and HotChips, 13” Kingston Tackle Slashers, and Great Lakes Tackle’s 13” Whip Flash flashers in a variety of colors and finishes. 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.
From 18 years of experience fishing what have now become known on my charter boat as sushi flies, I’ve found that elongated diamond shaped bait strips about 3” in length and ½” to 1” wide, tapered to 3/8” at the head and ½” at the tail are about right. The later in the season, the larger the bait strip, including strips with tails as wide as ¾”. Bait strips are filleted from both sides of an alewife and trimmed to shape. The better the quality of a bait strip, the better it catches fish.
Availability of alewives to use as whole bait or bait strips has always limited the use of alewives for Great Lakes trout and salmon. The Familiar Bite Co., which harvests, brines, and vacuum packs fresh alewives in 8-packs, has now solved this problem. To properly prep quality bait strips, filet alewives when fresh or immediately after removing partially thawed bait from a vacuum pack, trim them to shape, and place them in a ziplock bag of noniodized salt. They will keep indefinitely refrigerated. I carry ziplocks of preshaped bait strips in a small bait cooler along with a brine jar of whole alewives and an ice pack.
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.
Posted on March 3rd, 2015 No comments
If you want to book a Lake Ontario charter for the best chance to catch the biggest king salmon of the season, the last half of August or first week in September are tough to beat, PERIOD! Year in and year out more kings larger than 30 lbs. are caught during this time than at any other.
The reason…, king salmon feed voraciously on alewives all their lives, and as they turn three years old. The larger fish of this year class grow from about 20 lbs. in late winter to around 30 lbs. by the end of August, when they stop feeding actively, and start “thinking” about spawning. That’s the time when literally tens of thousands of prespawn kings move to Mexico Bay in the southeast corner of Lake Ontario, as they ready to run the Big Salmon River to spawn. The Big Salmon is stocked with 300,000 kings each year, more than any other tributary in Lake Ontario. It also produces more wild, naturally spawned kings than any other trib.
Mexico Bay, in recent years, has produced numerous king salmon over 40 lbs., some winning the prestigious now $25,000 grand prize in Lake Ontario’s Fall LOC Derby, held each year the last 18 days before Labor Day.
Once king salmon stop feeding in late summer, the males actually start to harden up and lose weight as they transform into slab-sided, hook-jawed spawning machines, ready to do battle on the spawning redds. What were once small, but sharp teeth, adequate for capturing alewives, now grow into grotesque “fangs”, some of which I’ve as long as a half inch long, and as sharp as honed nail points. Big, raunchy male king salmon, use their toothy maws to protect their spawning areas. I’ve videoed this unbelievable action in the shallows of tributaries in midOctober, as male king salmon attack other males, shaking them like a dog shakes a bone.
If you plan to book a Lake Ontario charter trip for big kings in late August, you must plan ahead, because most charters book up August early. If you haven’t booked an August trip well ahead, don’t be deterred. All charter captains have cancellation for various reasons, with unexpected openings, including on weekends, and most of us know other captains to whom we’ll refer you for possible openings.
After 36 years of charter fishing in August, I have found king salmon action is just as good in the afternoon as the morning, especially in the last half of August. Ditto the first half of Sept. Morning trips seem to be more popular with anglers, who believe in the old adage “the early bird gets the worm”. That’s not necessarily true this time of the season. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen more monster kings over 30 pounds come aboard my charter boat in the afternoon than in the morning, including a 38 lb. 14 oz. king that won the $20,000 grand prize in the 2006 Fall LOC Derby, and was boated at 3:30 PM. Don’t be hesitant to book an afternoon charter in August.
Speaking of big dollar kings, the Fall LOC Derby is held the last 18 days in August and September before Labor Day. With an entry fee of only $15/day, the big attraction is the $25,000 grand prize, but there are also cash prizes of $2500 for each of the salmon, brown trout, lake trout, and rainbow/steelhead divisions, with cash payouts down to 16th place in each division, plus a $100 prize for the largest fish entered each day in each species division. It’s even more exciting to hook a fish when you never know if a big dollar check might “be attached to it’s tail”!
Posted on February 26th, 2015 No comments
Steelhead, once you locate them, are the easiest salmonid in Lake Ontario to catch. Locating them, however, may not be so easy unless conditions are right. When surface temps are cool and steelhead are shallow, lfinding offshore temperature breaks where bait and steelhead concentrate are the key to a great steelhead charter fishing trip.
Steelies are generally, highly active, aggressive feeders. Unlike fussy, fickle brown trout, they are not very selective. On or near the surface, any lure works most of the time as long as it is fluorescent red or orange, or at least trimmed with red or orange. Why? It’s because the pigments in a steelheads eyes change with light conditions. Near the surface in bright light, a steelhead’s eyes have mainly those pigments that are receptive to red and orange. In deeper water, these pigments change, and blues and greens become most visible.
Location is the key to catching steelhead. Although they generally prefer water temperatures in the forties and fifties, it’s not unusual to see them feeding on the surface in midsummer, and I’ve seen them caught on the surface on my charter boat in water temps up to 72 degrees. In the Oswego area of Lake Ontario where I operate my charter business, they are usually right on the surface from iceout to early July. In the summer, they follow preferred temperatures into the depths and concentrate near schools of alewives in and around the thermocline, usually in midlake.
If you’re interested in booking a light tackle charter trip for steelhead, May and June are prime time. Most steelhead at that time are caught in the top 20 feet of water with many caught inches below the surface. Aerial acrobatics of steelhead hooked on light tackle are legendary and rival landlocked and Atlantic salmon.
However, spring fishing conditions are weather dependent. Steelhead fishing is probably most consistent in midsummer as these fish concentrate down deep. Most charter captains can locate steelhead this time of year, but usually have to fish well offshore to do it, sometimes as far as 12 to 15 miles offshore.
Steelhead are nomads and they love it best on the high seas, way out in the center of the lake. Radio telemetry studies conducted by the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation(DEC) show that steelhead spend the summer out in the center of 200-mile long, 50-mile wide LakeOntario. When they drop down out of spawning rivers in the spring, they move out into the lake and cruise the offshore waters, not returning to shallow water until fall, where they stage off river mouths until they run the rivers again to spawn.
If you’re used to trolling lake trout at 1.5 -2.0 mph, get ready to hang on when you’re out with me on my charter boat trolling for steelies on the surface. You will hardly ever see the speedometer drop below 3 mph and much of the time it’s reading 4.0-4.5 mph. If you’re used to trolling streamers for landlocked salmon, you’ll feel right at home fishing for “ironheads” in Lake Ontario.
Normally, the further west you fish in Lake Ontario, the better the steelhead fishing. The DEC creel census substantiates this, the data showing higher catch rates in the western half of the lake most seasons. However, steelhead fishing the past three years off Oswego has proven to be an exception to that rule. Because of ideal conditions in May and especially in the last half of June, 2014, steelhead fishing has been excellent off my home port.
Growing to over 20 lbs. in as little as 6 years, Mr. Steelhead is a truly magnificent trophy gamefish. If you have never hooked a steelhead on light tackle, rest assured that hooking one and landing it are two different matters!
Posted on February 26th, 2015 No comments
With 40 years of experience since 1974 charter fishing on the St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, The Finger Lakes, and Lake George, and Lake Ontario since 1982, a question I’m commonly asked is how to book a charter for browns, lakers, steelhead, salmon, and muskies to assure the best chance of success.
The answer is to do your homework to find a skilled captain, plan ahead to book your trip at prime time for whatever you want to catch, and have realistic expectations. You’re also going to need a little luck, both with weather and with fish that can be very moody at times.
As for lake trout charters, I believe some of the best lake trout fishing on the North American continent today, except for a few waters in Canada, is in Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan. These waters produce more lakers from 5-20 lbs. in a single day than many waters in the northern U.S. and New England produce in an entire season.
Lake trout are a Lake Ontario success story. Abundant until the early 2000s, the population crashed after multiple stocking problems. After an intensified management program involving the stocking of multiple strains of lake trout, lakers are back
As with other species of Lake Ontario trout and salmon, the key to good fishing for lake trout is timing and location. If you’re looking for a spring trip for lakers, charter captains fishing out of ports all along Lake Ontario’s New York coastline from Henderson Harbor at the northeast end of the lake west to Wilson near the mouth of the Niagara River can hook you up with spring lakers.
In the east end of the lake, especially off Oswego Harbor where I moor my charter boat, lakers in April and early May are generally heavily concentrated flat on bottom in depths of 150 to 200 feet of water. When you find them there, you cannot keep your rods in the water.
For reasons known only to Mr. Lake Trout, in 2014, lakers that normally remain on bottom in deep water early in the season, moved in shallow just outside Oswego Harbor from midApril to midMay providing unusual good inshore light tackle lake trout fishing. A few lakers are always taken in shallow water near shore in April and May while trolling for browns, but nothing like the nonstop action in 2014. Later, in 2014, when lakers moved offshore, rather than going deep like they usually do, they stayed near the surface in midlake through the month of June until surface waters warmed. After that, unlike typical years, lakers in the Oswego area pretty much disappeared.
Further northeast , in July and August lake trout were wall to wall in the near Henderson Harbor, and that would have been the area to fish for them. Henderson Harbor is a legendary port for Lake Ontario lake trout.
If you decide to book a lake trout trip in western Lake Ontario, be aware that many of the captains there focus on salmon and steelhead and rarely fish lakers. If you want to fish lakers, try to select a captain who specializes in them.
Although most of the lakers you’ll catch will be less than 20 lbs., there is a good chance of catching a monster. My Fish Doctor anglers have boated lakers up to 25 lbs., and many larger than that have been landed, including the 39 lb. 8 oz. fish that once held the New York State record. A few years ago a 38+ lb. laker was boated in the Henderson area.
Posted on February 19th, 2015 No comments
Swedish angler, Patrik Svenson was all eyes as we headed out of Oswego Harbor on my charter boat, the Fish Doctor, on May 11, 2011. Even though he had years of experience fishing for trophy trout and landlocked salmon in large lakes like LakeVattern and LakeVanern in his Swedish homeland, he had never wet a line in any of the Great Lakes.
In the next two days, fishing ultralight tackle along the shoreline, east of Oswego, he saw the very best brown trout fishing LakeOntario has to offer. Although we didn’t boat any of the 20 to 30 lb. browns LakeOntario is famous for, action for 4 to 16 lb. browns was nonstop, as we boated and released more than 50 browns, plus a few rainbows in two mornings.
Patrik’s trip, was not unusual. Year after year, anglers catch Ontario browns averaging 4-12 lbs. with fish from 15 – 20 lbs. barely raising and eyebrow. Despite the publicity this fantastic fishery generates, it isn’t heavily fished. With lots of spring browns near shore close to protected ports like Oswego Harbor, it’s a perfect set up for do-it-yourself anglers who trailer their own boat.
In April and May, most of the best brown trout fishing is within a few hundred yards of shore. Along with browns anglers catch rainbows, cohos, steelhead, and lake trout.. You don’t need a big boat. Fishing out of Oswego, on rough days, you can troll inside the harbor breakwalls. Small seaworthy boats, properly equipped with required safty gear are perfect for inshore brown trout fishing.
Although downriggers and planer boards are your ace in the hole when trolling shallow water for hawky browns in Lake Ontario’s gin clear water, anglers will catch plenty of fish just flatlining right from the boat, if they’re rigged properly and fishing the right locations at the right time.
A key to catching spring browns especially in mid to late spring…, be on the water from the crack of daylight until the sun hits the water. On overcast days when the water is turbid from recent winds or rains, the shallow water brown trout bite lasts longer, sometimes all day. Find warm water pockets in early spring when the main lake is frigid, and you’ll find browns and the baitfish they feed on. When it comes to spring brown trout, though, the early bird gets the worm.
One thing you’ll notice when fishing LakeOntario is that the water is generally crystal clear with visibility as much as 35 feet at times. For this reason, you’ll catch more browns using light line no heavier than 10 lb.test. In gin clear water less than 30 feet deep, troll at least some lures 100 feet behind the boat.,
Spring browns in frigid water are not speed demons. Trolling speeds of 1.7 to 2.5 mph are ideal. Fine tune your trolling speed by watching spoon action boatside. If a spoon spins, you’re trolling too fast. If a spoon barely wobbles, you’re trolling too slowly. You’re looking for a quick wobble that makes the spoon dart around, but not spin,
Spring browns are very selective. The right lure can be the difference between success and failure. In clear water, fish lures with natural finishes. Spoons like the nickel/blue Alpena Diamond, hammered silver/blue Flutterdeveles, and hammered black/silver Michigan Stingers are excellent. Stickbaits like Rapalas, Thunersticks, and Smithwicks in 3” and 4 ½” sizes in black/silver, gray scale, silver/blue, and shad finishes are also effective. Use 4-8 lb. leader and attach it to the lure with a tiny crosslock snap.
Brown trout fishing the past few years has been good, and should continue to be in 2015. If you’re interested in fishing Lake Ontario in your own boat for big browns, this might just be the year to give Oswego Harbor a try.