Posted on November 20th, 2016 No comments
I was uneasy, sitting next to float plane pilot “Buss” Byrd, engine roaring, aluminum pontoons skimming the water as we attempted to take off from Terror Lake in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. My fishery biologist partner and I had just completed a fisheries survey of the remote 25 acre pond, and it was time to head back to civilization. Circling over the pond on our arrival, I had looked down at the hour-glass shaped pond with it’s narrow, boggy, spruce lined channel separating the pond’s two sections and naively asked “Buss”, “Can we get in there?”. Buss replied, “No problem getting in. It’s getting out that’s the problem!” A few days later, as we addressed the “getting out” problem, the plane roaring toward a wall of spruces near the narrow neck of the pond, pontoons still on the water, I blurted out, “Buss, can we make it through the narrows?” “Only if we have to”, “Buss” calmly replied, as the rickety old biplane jumped from the water, pontoons brushing the spruce tops.
The answer is the same when someone asks me about using multiple copper lines. I fish up to a 7-copper spread, but only when I have to, and only with megaboards, for suspended fish IN NO BOAT TRAFFIC! If the bite is hot using my standard spread of 2-5 riggers, 2-4 diving planers, a thumper rod and a couple of copper lines off the boards, there is neither the time nor the need for rigging multiple copper lines. If the bite is slow, and suspended fish are very scattered vertically and horizontally, a 7-copper spread goes in the water, 6 lines on the megaboards, and one down the chute. It’s a lot of work, especially fishing solo most of the time without a mate, but multiple copper lines catch fish. Done properly, it’s no problem. Mess up, and it’s a copper calamity!
On eastern L. Ontario, 2008, was one of those only-if-I-have-to salmon seasons. Much of the time, kings, steelhead and pitifully few cohos were scattered to hell and gone in nasty seas. Never before, aboard the “Fish Doctor” were multiple copper lines fished as much.
Far from shore and boats, on a July, 2008, afternoon, my son Jeff rigged in the cockpit as a charter crew of 5 waited for their first fish. Desperate times call for desperate only-if-I-have-to measures. With no action on riggers and Dipsys and almost nothing showing on the Sitex CVS210, Jeff looked satisfied with the 7-copper spread. It didn’t take long as I eased the 28’ Baha to port, letting the copper lines slow and settle. The center rod on the port megaboard snapped from the release, and a 10 lb. laker with a silver/chartreuse NK28 in it’s mouth came to the net, far from a red hot bite, but a more than welcome start for another trip when copper saved the day.
Without using megaboards, oversized triple planer boards, trolling up to 7 copper lines without eventual tangles is impossible. The triple megaboards I use with up to 500’copper sections run nearly straight out boatside and don’t drop back like inline boards. Inline boards replace megaboards only in very rough seas, when only two inlnes are used. Copper shines in rough seas
My multiple copper line trolling technique evolved over the past 41 years, influenced by some of North America’s most innovative anglers. In 1967, Adirondack guide, Doug Canaday taught me to fish .037” diameter twisted copper line on the bottom for Lake George lake trout. In 1978, on Lake Ontario I learned that tuned #38 brass/silver Sutton spoons on copper were deadly medicine for bottom hugging prestaged kings. Later trips to Lake Michigan with Tim Dawidiuk and Chesapeake Bay with Capt. Bill Williams paved the way for the multiple copper line spread I use today aboard the Fish Doctor.
Posted on November 20th, 2016 No comments
Since my last blog, “What’s Wrong with My Riggers”, was published I’ve had several emails asking about the value of the Black Box for controlling voltage output by your boat. My response is that if tests(multimeter) show your boat is producing positive 0.5 to 0.7 volts, you’re good. Mine produces 0.56 volts. If voltage output from your boat is not within that range, you should bond/ground everything(rudders, metal thru-hull intakes, shaft if inboard, etc.). If that doesn’t get your boat tuned electridcally, think about a Black Box.
Also, I’ve learned an awful lot about trolling for salmon from Alaska’s commercial trollers. Here’s what one of them commented about the Black Box.
by Salty » Wed Dec 26, 2012 11:49 am
I agree with both wild card and carojae. So here is a story. The second year I was power trolling I finally bought a black box for my old wooden troller that should have been fishing better in my mind. The next trip was my best ever, smoked my partners. One of my partners came by to visit and said,
“So, the black box really made a difference?”
I replied, “Must have, never caught like this before. I wonder how good I would have done if I had hooked it up.”
I have had the cheap black boxes, I have invested in the voltage guru VIP box, and had him go through the boat several times. I have added metal to the bottom of the boat as recommended. Here is what I think:
1. There is something to this whole voltage-magnetic field theory;
2. While complex, it boils down to this, you need your field in tune, .5-.8 tenths positive between your grounding system and your wires, but that is not the whole story. You also need to make sure you don’t have any voltage leaking into your field. Twice I have had transducers with speed indicators malfunction and start pumping noise into my system, undetected by the blackbox. We picked it up because it didn’t just reduce my fishing, it killed it. A friend suggested trying an alternate transducer. The next day I was number one in my group with 49 kings. During the slump my best day was 4.
3. I think there are three stages of this electronic-magnetic field business:
a) You have a problem or problems and you aren’t catching worth poop;
b) You are ok and are catching ok;
c) You have dialed in your boat and gear, to a magical level where you are smoking hot.
4. A bigger boat with more metal underwater, ideally a big steel or aluminum boat, that is in tune has a larger field than a smaller boat, will catch more, everything else being equal.
I have spent most of my career in b. I use a black box to tell me immediately if there is a short, and sometimes I follow instructions and fool with the voltage. There have been occasions when I got everything dialed in and was amazed at the difference in production.
On the other hand I have partners and know people who never fool with any of this voltage business, who have not diligently bonded their boats, never check the voltage of new leads, and catch just fine.
I had a problem last spring and spent hours trying to find it. Remounted my gurdies with plastic bolts, rewired all the wires going to the cockpit, and found some suspicious items but no silver bullet.
Once you experience the magic it haunts you forever trying to find it again.Fishing Techniques, Lake Ontario Brown Trout Fishing Tips, Lake Ontario Fishing Charters, Lake Ontario Salmon Fishing Charters, Lake Ontario salmon fishing tips, Lake Ontario Trout and Salmo Fishing Tips Lake Ontario Brown Trout Fishing Tips, Lake Ontario Fishing Charters, Lake Ontario Salmon Fishing, Lake Ontario salmon fishing tips
Posted on November 12th, 2016 No comments
Conditions hadn’t changed in several days and I knew the troll, due north at a surface speed of 2.7 mph. I sent the center rigger down the 5th time to 135’. Wham!! Dr. Kerry Brown, Capt. Tim Hummel, and their first mates, Tom and John watched the 7’ Shortstick double to the water, reel screeching. If we landed the king(and we did) the tally would be 5 kings in a row on the double pearl dodger and king salmon fly behind the decoy rigger down the center 135 feet and back 20 feet.. This, before we had put another line in the water!
Kerry, and his crew of charter captains had traveled from the Port of Oak Orchard in western Lake Ontario to Oswego Harbor in eastern Lake Ontario on July 20, 2005, to do an on-water Howie Fly class with me. After the 5th king was flopping on the deck, Tom commented, “ OK, Ernie, I’ve seen enough. We can go back!”
What Tom hadn’t 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 130Õ and 120Õ. 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. My 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 after the first two hours of the trip, 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 late in the trip hadn’t 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 pull lines and head back to Oswego Marina, 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’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… !!!!!Fishing Techniques, Lake Ontario Brown Trout Fishing Tips, Lake Ontario Fishing Charters, Lake Ontario Salmon Fishing Charters, Lake Ontario salmon fishing tips, Lake Ontario Trout and Salmo Fishing Tips, Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing Lake Ontario Brown Trout Fishing Tips, Lake Ontario Fishing Charters, Lake Ontario Salmon Fishing, Lake Ontario salmon fishing tips
Posted on November 12th, 2016 No comments
Do a quick search on the internet for “elecrical reception in fish”, and you’ll quickly learn that all organisms give off electrical pulses. The tiny voltage they generate results from the interaction of nerves and muscles, like that of a bait fish trying to escape from a predator. You’ll also learn that all fish have varying abilities to find prey by sensing that prey’s electrical discharge. Studies shown many species like sharks have special electro receptor pores in their head allowing them to locate prey at distances up to 30 feet, and reportedly sense as small a change in electrical current as 3 billionths of a volt. Research has shown that sharks, sturgeon and other species using electrical receptors can detect food like crabs buried in the sand on the ocean floor because of the electric pulse these food organisms discharge.
Studies show that the lateral line of a salmon not only can detect vibrations but also electric pulses. Fishery scientists theorize salmon find their way back to spawning streams by their sense of smell, and, perhaps, similar to sharks, by also sensing the electromagnetic forces of the earth. Because salmon are repelled by excessive negative electrical charges, biologists on the west coast have found if salmon have to pass through metal structures like culverts on their spawning run, these structures become barriers if they have a negative charge that is too high.
When it comes to catching Great Lakes trout and salmon, the electrical charge produced by your boat has a huge effect on your success.Fishing Gear, Lake Ontario Brown Trout Fishing Tips, Lake Ontario Fishing Charters, Lake Ontario Salmon Fishing Charters, Lake Ontario salmon fishing tips, Lake Ontario Trout and Salmo Fishing Tips, Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing Lake Ontario Brown Trout Fishing Tips, Lake Ontario Fishing Charters, Lake Ontario Salmon Fishing, Lake Ontario salmon fishing tips
Posted on November 1st, 2016 No comments
It was 5:00 AM on July, 4, 2015, and Myrna Littlewort and her family stepped aboard the Fish Doctor for their first time to fish an 8-hour morning charter in hopes of catching a king salmon. Myrna didn’t know it at the time, but she should have stopped on the way to Oswego Marina that morning to buy a lottery ticket!
The 4th dawned calm and clear, with no threat of rough seas which can ruin a family trip. As we left the dock at Oswego Marina, Myrna’s kids were still machine gunning questions…, “How are they biting? How big do the king salmon get? How far away are they?” when we passed the Oswego Lighthouse and I put the boat up on plane.
Minutes later, in 300 feet of water, the fish finder showed a concentration of alewives and salmon 90 to 120 feet below us. I marked in a waypoint, and slowed the boat to trolling speed, the sun just peeking above the Tug Hill to the east. In flat calm seas, four downrigger rods went in the water quickly, the Fish Hawk probe on the #4 rigger reading 60 degrees down 90 feet and 42 degrees at 120 feet. Two wire Dipsy rods were added to the spread, riggers and Dipsys fishing 90 to 120 feet down , all with spoons. I circled back toward our waypoint marking the bait we had found.
As I was giving my crew instructions on how to set the hook on downriggers, the #4 rigger rod doubled over and the drag started screaming. Myrna’s youngest son snatched the rod from the rod holder, just as I had showed him, set the hook hard, and was locked with our first king of the trip.
The riggers were hot for the next two hours and we had a good start on a cooler full of delicious, slivery kings. But then the rigger action slowed, a typical scenario after an early morning king salmon bite. This is when copper line fished from megaboards, 150 feet from the boat, start to prove their worth.
During the morning action, I had set out my two megaboards and stacked them with three copper lines each, fishing from 90 to 110 feet down using 400’ to 500’ sections of copper. The copper lines had not twitched during the downrigger bite, but I knew that would change, and it did.
T he first copper rod that fired was a 400 footer, but when it did, contrary to my instructions that you never set a hook with wire line that doesn’t have any stretch, one of my crew mistakenly did an adrenalin fired power set, and the backing broke right where it joined the copper, 400’ of copper and a spoon no doubt still attached to a big king salmon. Arrrggghhh!
One hour later, as we closed in once again on our hot waypoint, I noticed an odd movement of the rigger boom on our deepest downrigger, possibly a small lake trout? Hitting the up switch on the rigger, I pulled the 12 lb. rigger weight up to check it. When the weight surfaced, I was shocked. A copper line that looked a lot like mine was looped over the rigger cable. When I pulled it free of the cable, I could feel a fish on one end.
Carefully letting out the line, I slowly worked the free end of the copper line to the boat and quickly reattached it to the backing on the same rod on which we had originally hooked the fish. Five minutes later, Myrna boated our first 30 lb. king of the season. It had stayed in the same area at roughly the same depth at which we had hooked it, dragging the copper behind it until Lady Luck had stepped in.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good!
Posted on November 1st, 2016 No comments
All it takes is one hot rod to put all the fish you want in the boat, and when trout and salmon are in the top 30 to 40 feet of water, a slide diver rod is often the hottest.
I mix Slide Divers with riggers plus flatlines and short leadcore sections off the planer boards and let the fish decide which presentation they like best. Some days the riggers, lead core or flat lines work best, but day in and day out, Slide Divers catch a lot of fish.
Despite their effectiveness, slide divers are probably one of the most underutilized trolling techniques by trout and salmon fishermen in the Northeast. Most trollers use directional diving planers like the Dipsy Diver, which attach directly to monofilament, braided, or wire line. Water pressure against the angled surface of the diver takes the trailing lure target depth, and an adjustable rudder directs them to port or starboard.
When using standard diving planers, the length of leader from the planer to the lure trolled behind it is limited to a maximum of about eight feet or whatever length an angler can handle when the planer is reeled to the rod tip while landing a fish. This is where the Slide Diver parts company with all other available directional and nondirectional diving planers. A lure can be trolled any distance behind it, the reason it is part of the arsenal on my charter boat.
The fishing line, either braid or monofilament, actually passes through a Slide Diver and can be locked in place any distance ahead of the lure. This allows a lure to be fished any distance behind the Slide Diver, a huge advantage when trolling for boat shy trout or salmon just below the surface. In many cases, a trout or salmon in the top 30 feet or less of water won’t hit a lure fished on a 6’to 8’ leader behind a diving planer. Set that lure back 20’ or more and lock your line in place, though, and you’ll catch fish.
I fish Slide Divers on a 9’ medium heavy rod with standard guides, and an ABU Garcia Alphamar 20LC line counter reel spooled with 40 lb. test Berkley braided line. The braided line is threaded through an 8 mm. bead and attached to 6’ of 15# test fluorocarbon leader with a barrel swivel. The rudder on the Slide Diver is adjusted to the #3.5 setting taking the diver as far away from the boat as possible. Bait or artificials are normally fished 20 to 40 feet behind the Slide Diver.
When a fish hits the spoon, the trigger on the diver releases and the diver slides back to the bead and swivel, 6’ ahead of the spoon. The fact that the diver slides on the line is a huge advantage when a steelhead or landlocked salmon hits and goes aerial, leaping across the surface. instead of dragging a solidly attached diving planer along with it, increasing the chance for the hook to pull free, the inline Slide Diver slides freely on the line, never allowing the fish to pull directly against the diver.
Learn to use Slide Divers, and you WILL catch more early season trout and salmon.
Posted on August 5th, 2016 No comments
“Wow, that’s a big one, isn’t it, Ernie?”, Jim Huftangel asked in a strained voice as a king salmon with a head as big as a bucket surfaced just off the stern. I knew too much excitement can be disastrous when landing a big money king, so I simply responded, “It’s O.K.” Later, on a certified scale at Larry’s Salmon Shop, an official Lake Ontario Counties Derby(LOC) weigh station, the big king pulled the needle to 38 lbs. 14 oz., and won the $20,000 grand prize.
Ten months later, on May 10, 2007, I watched as another king salmon pulled the same certified scale to 24 lbs. 2 oz. The heavy bellied fish won the 2007 Spring LOC Derby $10,000 grand prize for Fish Doctor angler, Jim Unkel.
When it comes to winning big fish tournaments and derbies, all importantly, you must be in it, to win it. Had Jim Huftanel and Jim Unkel not been entered in the derby, they would have walked away with nothing in their pocket, like so many anglers you hear about who land derby winning kings during a derby, but are not entered.
Once in a lifetime wins in big fish derbies like the LOC Derby may be luck. Consistent wins or top ten placements in these derbies, with up to 6,350 entrants for 18 days of head to head competition are definitely not left to chance. Fishing aboard his boat, “Liquid Plumber”, Dell Casterline missed winning the 2007 Fall LOC Derby Grand Prize by two ounces, with a 31 lb. 14 oz. king, and his partner Dan Gaylewski placed first in the 2007 Summer LOC Derby, neither win depending just on good fortune. He and other consistent big fish derby winners owe their success to an effective big fish strategy, commitment, and hard work.
Any angler who consistently wins big fish derbies does so before ever putting lines in the water. Long before a derby starts, preparation, homework, and laying out an effective strategy are vital. Once lines are rigged and ready, commitment, confidence, planning for changing conditions, and plain old instinct take over.
An effective strategy is all about experience and personal expertise. Keeping it simple but effective is key, as evidenced by the long record of small boat derby wins where only two anglers had minimal lines in the water. A winning strategy includes use of the right gear presented properly in the right place at the right time.
If you’re spending money to enter a derby and taking the time to fish it, remember that preparation is oh, so important. Leave nothing to chance, be it your vehicle, your boat and motor, your electronics or your fishing equipment. When you’re on your way to a weigh station with a winning king in the box, it’s no time for a problem with a boat engine. Even worse, when you’ve finally hooked up a big dollar king, it’s no place for rotten line, a shoddy drag, or a dull hook. It takes preparation and attention to every detail to consistently catch derby winners.
Homework is crucial. I have either a mental or written 30-year record of almost every spring king I’ve ever caught over 25 lbs. and every summer king I’ve caught over 30 lbs., where and how it was caught, and what it was caught on. Check your own records or start keeping them. Tournament and derby records are extremely helpful, with weigh station winners showing where and on what big kings are caught. Derby winners must often take a polygraph exam, so leader board information is usually accurate. Importantly, derby winning kings consistently come from the same area.
Monster kings are normally 4-year old males, one year bigger and older than the rest. Big boys don’t hang with little boys! They behave differently than 3-year old kings and smaller males. They appear to be loners. In late summer, big male kings also tend to select different terminal gear than females.
Location is crucial to catching big kings, and not just geographic location. I believe big male chinooks avoid areas of heavy fishing pressure. I have never caught a monster king salmon over 35 lbs. in a fleet of boats. Even if it means avoiding what I consider proven big fish areas, I’ll leave them for quieter water if boating pressure is too great. If you hear someone bragging they’re catching hundreds of kings during a derby, but no prize money winners, count them out. First, you cannot catch a “big boy” if you already have a” little boy” on your line. If you start crushing small fish, move away from them. Either fish the outside edges of the hot spot, or leave it entirely.
Fish monster king gear to consistently win big fish derbies. My first choice…, 8″ Pro-Troll flashers trailed by Howie Flies. Three of the last 6 LOC Derbies were won using ProChip or HotChip flashers. Three of the last four grand prize derby winners were caught on Howie Flies. Leader length, nose of the fly to the end of the leader, is critical. On 8″ flashers, I fish a 23″-30″ leader.
A big fish presentation may not fill the box, but it might just fill your wallet! Whether spring or late summer, fish slower and deeper than normal, between 2.1 mph and 2.5 mph. Big male chinooks spend much of their lives in 40-43 degree water. They love the deep freeze, so don’t be afraid to go down after them, even if you’re seeing more “marks” on your fish finder at shallower depths. Ignore large bait concentrations that attract smaller kings. Big boys can’t compete with faster, quicker little boys for food.
Copper line fished from a planer board or down the chute, consistently catches most of my biggest kings every month of the year, and produced Jim Huftanel’s 38 lb. 14 oz. grand prize winner on the first afternoon of the Fall 2006 LOC Derby. No matter how many anglers I have on board during a derby, I fish only two riggers, two Dipsys, two copper lines from planer boards, and either a thumper rod or copper rod down the chute. Fewer lines mean more big fish! On the riggers long setbacks from 30′ to 120′ catch bigger fish.
Once a strategy is laid out and big fish lines are in the water winning derbies is all about commitment to fish hard ever minute of every day of a derby and the confidence to persist. Remember, you’re fishing for only one fish, a grand prize winner!
When you finally catch that big money king, handle it with tender loving care. Use a quality digital scale to weigh it accurately. Know exactly what size fish are on the leader board. Be careful not to cause bleeding from the gills, which reduces weight. Keep the fish moist. If there is any question, head for the weigh station. When you get there, do not remove the fish from the cooler until the station master is ready to officially weigh it.
If you don’t think properly handling derby contenders is vital, ask Jim Unkel, whose 24.2 lb. king won the $10,000 grand prize in the Spring 2007 LOC Derby by a mere 2 ounces, rather than the $1,000 first place in the Salmon Division!
Posted on August 1st, 2016 No comments
As I stood at the rigging table in the stern of my charter boat wiring a Familiar Bite alewife strip in a Sushi Fly, my thoughts drifted back 50 years. It was about then, sitting in an old wooden rowboat on a remote Adirondack pond that my Dad had showed me how to bait a single hook lake trout spoon with a fresh strip of minnow. I remember him saying, “It’s the bait that makes the difference”.
Some things never change, and for Great Lakes trollers, quality bait can still be the difference between a long day on the water or a cooler full of trout and salmon, , especially when fish are a bit negative, spurning standard, unbaited spoons and flies. In Lake Ontario, the bait of choice, of course, is the alewife, the fresher the better.
A few Lake Ontario trollers now collect, cure, and freeze their own alewives, jigging them with sabiki rigs, a series of tiny jigs on a leader designed to catch species like mackerel, Pacific herring and alewives. For those who do not catch their own bait, whole alelwives, cut bait, some of it from Pacific or Atlantic herring, and Sushi Strips are now available in sport, shops.
But, and this is a huge “but”, there is a drastic difference in quality of this bait. When it comes to whole alewives, the best available is from Familiar Bite, fresh, perfectly cured, frozen and vacuum packed alewives with silvery scales, bright eyes, and firm flesh that look like they just came out of the water(and they did). The worst alewives I have seen are from Dream Weaver, discolored, shrunken eyes, soft mushy flesh.
Confidence is everything, when it comes to the evolution of an effective trolling spread. Thirty years of trolling bait on Lake Ontario has done that for me. Trial and error, success and failure, it has all gone into the equation of a salmon spread I now use routinely combining whole bait, Sushi Flies, and artificials. But when it comes to bait, the secret is the quality.
Posted on July 17th, 2016 No comments
Veteran Lake Ontario anglers have always said, “When the monarch butterflies start to migrate across Lake Ontario, the monster king salmon start heading.
Home is the southeast corner of Lake Ontario where hundreds of thousands of fingerling king salmon are stocked each year and literally millions are hatched naturally in the Salmon River. Every late summer, mature king salmon, some upwards of 30 lbs. begin to feel the urge to return to their natal streams where they were stocked or hatched. They steadily concentrate in larger and larger numbers in late August and early Septemb er. These silvery torpedoes have cruised the 200 mile length and 50 mile breadth of Lake Ontario all their life gorging on alewives, but the urge to spawn brings them home to the Mexico Bay.
In August, 2015, I watched dozens of monarch butterflies flutter their way across Lake Ontario as they migrated south. The old saying held true, as I watched Fish Doctor anglers boat kings up to 40” and 30 lbs. 4 oz. On an Augusts past, anglers like Henry Tharau and his fishing buddy Gordy both brought giant kings caught the same morning to Maggie Rathje at Fish Wish Taxidermy in Port Ontario, New York to be mounted, preserving lifelong memories of monster kings. Later, that same day in the afternoon, a California angler, Larry Peltz boated another monster king close to 30 lbs., the biggest fresh water fish he had ever seen.
As I watched the action, I thought, “Yup, no doubt about it. It is August and the big boys are definitely on their way home!”
Posted on July 17th, 2016 No comments
As I slid the net under the struggling, hook jawed brown trout, I knew that it was well over 30 inches long. The battle on 8 lb. test line was a test of the ultralight gear we were trolling with just east of Oswego Harbor in late April. With the big brown in the net but still in the icy water, I turned to Jim and asked, “What do you think? Should we release him or do you want to put him in the box?” Jim answered, “I don’t know. That’s the biggest brown I’ve ever seen. What do you think?”
“Well”, I said, He’s a big boy, but he’s not very heavy because he spawned last fall and probably spent most of the winter in the Oswego River where food is scarce. One thing for sure, he won’t be very good eating in that condition, especially compared to the heavy bellied 2 to 4 lb. 2-year old browns we’ve been catching.” “That’s all I need to hear”, Jim replied. “Let’s get a quick photo of him and send him on his way.” As I released the brown, I knew that in only 6 months, after gorging on alewives all spring and summer, this same male brown trout would easily reach 16 lbs.
To release or not to release, that is the question many anglers ask. My answer…, it all depends on what you’re catching, which water you’re fishing, and what your personal outlook is. It also depends, of course, on size and creel limits for each trout and salmon species in the water you are fishing.
On Lake Ontario, every season, anglers who fish with me release many browns, a very few sublegals, along with some trophy brown trout. Since we are trolling mostly with artificials, most browns are lightly hooked on spoons, stickbaits, or flies. Because many browns are caught in the shallows in April and May when water temperature is cold, they are easy to release unharmed as long as they are not out of the water for long. It is not uncommon to boat 20 to 30 or more browns in a 6 or 8-hour charter trip in the spring, so it’s a perfect time for catch and release fishing. If a brown inhales a lure, is bleeding from the gills or has a hook in an eye, that fish is a candidate for the cooler. If it is lightly hooked, it’s released.
In contrast to immature, sublegal landlocked salmon which tend to shed scales in a net, the scales of brown trout are much more durable. It is common to catch browns with evidence of hook scars around their mouth, evidence of a previous release or close encounter.
In the summer, when browns are deeper, it is still possible to release them unharmed. Unlike lake trout, or other bottom fish like cod, the air bladders of browns do not balloon as they are pulled from the depths. As long as browns don’t remain in the warmer surface water too long and are out of the water only briefly, most can be released unharmed.
Lake Ontario brown trout, stocked in May as 8” yearlings, depending on winter conditions, usually grow to 2-4 lbs. by the following April when the fish are 2 years old. By fall, many of these 2-year olds are 4 to 6 lbs. and run Ontario tributaries to spawn around the first of November. Immature 2-year old browns with bright orange flesh that haven’t yet spawned are a better choice on the table than older dropback spawners, one of the reasons many anglers release larger browns.
With a creel limit of 3 browns per person, an annual lakewide stocking of around 600,000 browns, and the fact that Lake Ontario browns don’t reproduce, there is no biological reason for releasing legal brown trout. That decision is more a matter of personal preference.