• Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, The Copper Revolution

    Posted on December 14th, 2018 admin No comments

    Penn Fathom copper reels, the Fish Doctor favorite.


    As I walked along the south side of Oswego marina where I moor my charter boat, I thought, “My old buddy Doug Canaday would chuckle if he could see this lineup of copper rods.”  With a major Lake Ontario tournament going on in the middle of the charter fishing season, specialized rods and reels rigged with copper line were everywhere in rod holders.   

    Doug was a lake trout guide on 28 mile long Lake George in northeastern New York and introduced me to fishing with twisted copper line in, 1967.  A fantastic fisherman and innovative thinker, Doug was a detail guy who understood the water, quarry, and gear he fished, and left as little to chance as possible.  A few others, mostly lake trout fishermen in waters like New York’s Finger Lakes, were also close-mouthed copper line aficionados. In, 2004, before I wrote the first article for Great Lakes Angler about fishing copper in the Great Lakes, he wouldn’t have seen a single copper rig on a boat in Oswego Marina, and most likely, no other Great Lakes ports.  Before Great Lakes trollers started fishing copper, fast sinking trolling line was all about leadcore, be the quarry trout, salmon, or walleyes. Today copper line is king and used widely from Lake Ontario to Lake Superior.

     Why the change?  With today’s modern gear like down riggers and diving planers, how could any angling technique, especially one involving antiquated gear like wire line,  evolve from the absolute unknown to what has to be today’s “Great Lakes Copper Revolution”?  The answer…, trolling with twisted copper line is absolute deadly, catches fish when nothing else does, is relatively simple to use, and reaches fish in deeper water where leadcore line cannot.  The bottom line…, copper is the ultimate in a stealthy deep water presentation when salmonids get fussy.  As I tell my charter customers, “It ain’t ultralight,  but it puts fish in the boat when nothing else does.”  It also catches the biggest fish of the season on my boat, including a 38 lb. 10 oz. king a few years back that won the $20,000  grand prize in Lake Ontario’s Fall LOC Derby. 

    Copper vs. Leadcore

     Leadcore line ruled for many years on the Great Lakes, is considered more user friendly than copper by some, and still has a place in our trolling arsenal.  Copper line has some advantages over leadcore, though, the foremost being sink rate.  The difference is signifigant, with 300’ of leadcore reaching a depth of about 40 feet at a trolling speed of 2.7 mph, while .037 diam. copper puts a lure at a depth of 66’ on the same length of line.  Six hundred feet of copper spooled on a Penn 345GTI will reach depths around 130 feet, 50 feet deeper than 600 feet of leadcore.   Copper is also easily spliced given tangles or kinks.  Fished straight off the boat, copper line also conducts electric current, which can be a fish attractant.  Copper when handled properly is also extremely durable, and will last for years. 

    Copper Learning Curve

     Most Great Lakes anglers, use it.  Some now consider themselves experts with it, but many anglers in the Great Lakes and other waters have yet to fish it.  I started trolling with copper trolling line in, 1967, well before the Great Lakes “Copper Revolution”,  when there weren’t many other options for trolling deep.  Every year since then, I continue to improve my copper trolling technique.   

    Selecting the right copper is important.  I started fishing with .037 ga. twisted copper line and still fish it.  Ten years of experience fishing it in 28 mile long Lake George, where there was negligible subsurface current, taught me the copper I trolled at 2.7 mph with a spoon fished 22’ deep for every 100 feet of wire I had in the water.  Depth fished varies with trolling speed, and those of us who have fished it know it sinks like a stone on sharp turns. 

    When tackle companies first jumped on the copper band wagon, most had no clue.  There were claims of 30 lb. copper and 45 lb. copper, but to date, I’ve never seen  hard data on breaking strength.  Diameter of these lines was variable, and so were the depths they fished.  There was tightly twisted copper and very loosely twisted copper, with the amount of twist directly proportional to line density and sink rate.  I still use .037 diameter copper, which I purchased in 30,000 foot bulk spools. 

     How copper is rigged is critical to it’s effective use, with proper connections to braided backing and leader a must.  Although some prefer knots, I’ve found connections using a #3 Spro Heavy Swivels are the most dependable.  To attach braided backing to copper, I use an overhand loop knot that is looped through one end of the swivel.  A haywire twist in the opposite end of the swivel attaches the copper securely.  At the business end of the copper, another Spro swivel is attached to the copper with a haywire twist and the 20# leader is knotted to the swivel.  Where the braid connects to the copper, I tie an extended 18” loop of doubled line  to give planer board releases a better grip.

     Premeasured copper sections from 100’ or less to 500’ are generally used on my boat from planer boards.  When I rig a 600’ copper setup, it is primarily to fish down the chute, and is coded at 50 foot intervals to fish at controlled depths.  The easiest way to do that…, stretch out all 600’ of the copper line in an open area, measure out 50’ intervals with a tape, and mark the line with strips of adhesive from Johnson and Johnson Band-Aids, the only tape I’ve found that will stick securely to copper line.    Half inch strips code the line at 100’ intervals and ¼ inch strips at 50’ intervals.  Shrink tubing also works.  The beauty of coded copper down the chute is that with your lure trailing well behind the boat, you have plenty of time to adjust it’s depth when trout and salmon show up on your fish finder, , and I’ve taken many, many trout and salmon on the chute rod doing just that.

    Copper Rods and Reels

    A number of manufacturers including Shimano and Okuma make levelwind reels with enough line capacity to hold large diameter copper line.  I use Penn reels exclusively, for fishing lengths of copper from 100’ to 600’.  These reels include the 320LD, the 330, 340, and 345 GTI series, and the much improved Fathom series, including the 25, 40, and 60, LW.  Fully spooled, the 60LW retrieves over 36 inches of line with one crank of the handle.   

    I build my own 7’ and 9’ copper rods with heavy duty Fuji reel seats, oversized foregrips for ease of handling, and oversized guides and tip tops that pass swivels and knots without them hanging up.  The 7-footers are use on planer boards and the 9-footers are used down the chute.  The longer chute rods help avoid tangles when setting lines and landing fish.

    Copper “Recipes” –

     Sitting at the kitchen table with a shiny, new spool of copper line  and the reel you want to spool it on?  Never rigged copper on a reel before?   You know you need braided  backing and a section of leader, along with whatever length of copper you want to fish.  You know you want to fill the reel to the top of the spool to take maximum advantage of the retrieve ratio, but how much copper will the reel hold, and how much braided backing, and leader will it take to fill the spool?

     Over the years, while spooling copper, I’ve cooked up recipes for Penn reels I use with .037 ga. copper, either from premeasured spools or bulk spools, along with Berkley Big Game(BG), Zilla(ZL) or Cortland Spectron(CS) braid backing, along with Berkley Big Game 20 lb. test mono leader;       

                                                            Copper(.037 diam.)                              Braided Backing     Leader(100’ 20# BG)

                                                                    Levelwind                                             Levelwind                 Levelwind

             Reel                              Len.(ft)     Passes              Type   # test    Len(yd.)   Passes                       Passes

     Penn 320LD                             100            10x                  CS        35       —-           120x                        10x

    Penn 330 GTI                           200             20x                   CS        35       200          126x                         7x             

    Penn 340 GTI                           300              26x                   CS        50      250           82x                          8x

    Penn 345(GTI)                        300             16.5x                    ZL        50     330            92x                     5.5x

                                                     400              23x                     CS        50     250             75x                      5.5x

                                                      500              31x                     CS        35     250             70x                      5.5x

                                                       600              40x                     CS        35     200             65x                    5.5x


    Penn Fathom 25LW                100                                             BG       30      ___        ___

    Penn Fathom 40 LW               200                  11x                      BG       30      300        —-                    7x

    Penn Fathom 60 LW               300                   16x                      BG          65   300        —-                     7x



     Although I’ve caught fish on copper using leaders from 20 to 30 lb. test, in lengths from 6’ to 100’, I spool my copper reels with 100 feet of 20 lb. test Berkley Big Game mono.  Shorter leader lengths work, but, especially for spoons fishing spoons, I prefer longer leader lengths.


     Although many Great Lakes trollers use inline boards for fishing copper line, I prefer  larger, triple boards I call megaboards, each of the 3 staggered boards measuring 39” x 10”.  When trolling up to 3 copper lines on each, they stay well abeam, without dropping back astern on turns, unlike inline boards or smaller planer boards burdened by long lengths of copper.  

     Planer Board Releases

     I use Scotty Power Grip Plus 1170 releases on the boards. And attach them to carabiner clips to reduce wear on the 300 lb. test monofilament planer board line, which works well on megaboards because of the built in stretch in the line and the slick surface which allows releases to slide freely.

     Presentation –

     Few question that trolling with .037 diameter 7-strand, twisted copper trolling line tops the list of stealthy deep water presentations for trout and salmon.  Those who have used it know the depth it fishes is affected by currents and speed.  When copper sinks like a stone on the inside of a turn, it can cause hang-ups and lost gear when trolling near bottom.  However, that same characteristic can be used to advantage when trolling for suspended fish over deep water when fishing copper from boards trolling in an “S” pattern.  Turns drastically vary lure speed and depth fished, with lines on the inside of turns trolling slow and deep while outside lines are running higher and faster.

     Copper shines over leadcore because it fishes deeper, and this advantage is huge if you’re  fishing deep.  Where target depth is 80 feet, less than 400 feet of copper will get you there, versus 600 feet of leadcore to reach the same depth.  Imagine fishing using a 3-core, 900’ leadcore rig to reach 120’!  It takes just over 550 feet of copper to do that. Just lifting a reel with 900’ of leadcore would be a chore, not to mention reeling in more than 1/5th of a mile of line! 

    Interactive Copper Spreads

     Picture your spread, attractors, flies, bait, and spoons in continuous motion, all a part of a whole presentation, each and every one, along with every line, diving planer, rigger cable, and downrigger weight, not to mention your fishing vessel,  all part of your interactive spread.  Trout and salmon are so sensitive to sight and sound stimuli that each and every thing you have in the water affects each and all of the others.  Vary one setback, add a flasher/fly to your spread, change the type or color of attractor, or drop a rigger 5 feet deeper, and it may change the response of trout and salmon to everything else you’re fishing. 

     When it comes to copper spreads, you have a choice.  Keep it simple with one rod down the chute.  Live dangerously with two chute rods, fish one or more rods on inline planer boards, or really rev things up and add to your copper spread with  multiple copper rods on megaboards.

     If I’m out in the open lake far from other boats, where I much prefer to fish, you’ll see my megaboards in the water port and starboard.  If the rigger, and wire dive bite is hot or my chute rod is firing regularly, I may run one copper rod on each planer board, if I have time to rig it.  If the fish are negative and the riggers and divers are slow, it’s time to load up the megaboards.  First step is to add a second line on each board with either spoons or flasher/flies. Depending on the bite, a third rod may be added on each board. 

     Fish Doctor Copper Spreads

     Single Chute – When a single copper rod fished with a spoon, plug, whole bait, or attractor/fly is working, there is no need to go any further.  In early September, 2013, on sunny days in Mexico Bay of Lake Ontario off the mouth of the Salmon River, a Chaquita dodger and flitter green fly on 300’ of copper was all that was needed, destroying staged king salmon all day long.  When that was happening, the megaboards never got wet.   

     Double Chute Rods – If trout an salmon are a fussy, seas are too rough to run boards, and my crew feels lucky(copper tangles are the worst!), I run two 9’ chute rods with coded copper port and starboard, one with an attractor fly, and one back 25 feet further with a spoon, whole bait, or plug. 

     Multiple Spoons on the Boards – When target species are scattered vertically and horizontally, 1 -3 copper lines  on each board fishing spoons and/or attractor/flies catch fish.  Inside rods are set deepest and longest.  Fast, erratic trolling speeds from 3.5 to 4.5 mph with tuned Stingrays, Silver Streaks, NK28s cover a lot of water and are just the nuts for active kings and steelhead,

     2-rod, Attractor/Spoon Setup – One of my favorite copper spread on the boards is a 2-line setup on each board, one line with an attractor/fly and the other with a clean spoon.  The attractor/fly run on the inside rod, and the spoon run 25 feet further back on the outside rod.  I use the same length copper sections for this spread, with 25 additional feet of backing in the water on the line with the spoon, placing the spoon, behind,  slightly below, and outside(from the boat) the attractor. 

     Out of Temp High Rods – This one is sooo deadly for steelhead, suspended browns, and early morning kings, when fish swimming up out of temp for bait.   The outside copper rod is fished with a copper section that runs just above the thermocline.  An S-turn trolling pattern slows the planer board on the inside of the turn, dropping the spoon into the thermocline.  As the boat straightens and the board pulls forward, the lure is pulled back to it’s original depth above the thermocline.  Deadly!   It’s impossible to duplicate  the extent of this lure drop and change of depth with riggers and divers.  Change in speed, change in direction…, catches fish.

     When I run 3 copper rods on each board, I fish a vertical “V” spread,  the outer rods shallow and the inner rods deepest, with the furthest rod spread horizontally 200’ from the boat and the lines spaced 50 feet apart. 

     There’s a method to the madness when handling a 6-copper setup.  First, it helps maintain sanity to not to fish a chute rod, so you can move rods around while resetting lines.  If a fish hits an inner copper rod, say on the port board, it’s no problem. You just land the fish and reset the line on the port board.  If a fish hits a middle or outer copper line on the port board, after the fish is landed, the release(s) holding the one or two remaining lines are pulled back to the boat, and moved to the starboard board, keeping them separated enough so that none of the lines tangle.  That’s up to 5 lines now on the starboard board!  The outer line is then reset, attached to a release, and slid back to it’s outer position on the port board, followed by the middle and/or inner port lines. 

     Yes, things can get hectic with multiple hits, and that’s often exactly what happens when you encounter feeding kings.   When copper rods start popping everywhere throw ou the recipe book.  Just hang on, enjoy, and hope for the best!  

     If you’re wondering about tangles, all I can say is it’s surprising it doesn’t happen more often when you’re fishing multiple copper lines. In my experience, tangles are rare, seemingly because when fish are hooked, they tend to rise up toward the surface above the other lines, then eventually,  drift directly behind the boat.  When you’re battling multiple trout or salmon at the same time on copper lines, it’s actually easier  than handling them on mono or braided line, because the heavier diameter twisted copper tends not to tangle or break as much as thinner braided or mono lines.


  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, A Trolling System for Spring Browns

    Posted on December 8th, 2018 admin No comments

    Dan Barry with a good brown caught inside Oswego Harbor on a gold orange crush Mauler.

    Because of a number of requests for reprints of a spring brown trout trolling article I wrote for “Great Lakes Angler”(GLA) a number of years ago, I’ve posted it below.  GLA editor Dave Mull called it the best brown trout article ever written!  That’s debatable :)



    By: Capt. Ernie Lantiegne





    Before zebra mussels and crystal clear water, spring brown trout fishing in the Great Lakes was easy.  Drag anything chartreuse or orange around long enough at the right speed any time of day and you caught at least an occasional brown.   Now, increased water clarity has changed that.  There are still plenty of brown trout, including some monsters over 30 lbs., but to catch them, you have to find them and fine tune your technique.



     Locating spring brown trout isn’t rocket science. Most Great Lakes anglers know  that browns avoid frigid water given a choice.  So do most bait fish on which they forage.  A radio telemetry study conducted on Lake Ontario in the 80’s showed browns prefer a watery world ranging from 47-65 degrees Farenheit with no preferred temperature within that range.  They avoid extreme turbidity, no matter what the temperature. 

     In April and early May, when main lake temperature is  less than 47 degrees, look for browns in the warmest water available, usually in nearshore shallows, unless offshore winds blow pockets of warm water away from shore.  Fish cans sense as little as half a degree change in temperature, so even a one degree change may help you find fish..  Once nearshore surface temp is above 47 degrees, locate browns by targeting baitfish concentrations and structure. My Fish Hawk 840 Temptroll, which monitors surface water temperature,  earns it’skeep  on my charter boat pinpointing early spring brown trout concentrations. 

    In early spring, the mouth of every sun warmed Great Lakes tributary is a potential brown trout bonanza.    Inflow from the largest rivers to the tiniest trickles all add to warmer shoreline brown trout habitat.  Find a warm temperature pocket in a protected bay where browns are feeding on smelt, alewives, or minnows, and action can be fast and furious.  Warm water power plant discharges are legendary winter and early spring brown trout hot spots, some of which are off limits to trollers today.  Browns also bunch up along

    windward shorelines where heavy seas muddy a band of warmer shoreline water.  If water is extremely turbid, browns move to mudlines, the discolored edge between clear and murky water.  Along with brown trout, you’ll often find cohos, rainbows, lakers, and Atlantic salmon in the same areas.



     Spring browns may be the toughest salmonid species to consistently catch in today’s gin clear Great Lakes.  In early May a few years back, on a flat calm, overcast day that was definitely the case.  The early brown trout bite just after dawn was non existent.  After an hour of fruitless trolling, every other boat around us had left the shallows to fish lake trout in deeper water.  My crew of diehards wanted browns and we knew they were there, so we persisted.  We abandoned the crystal clear water we had been fishing west of Oswego Harbor headed for the most turbid water in the area, right inside the harbor.  Before we quit for the morning, fishing 44 Suttons, orange crush brass Maulers, and 3200 lemon/lime Flutterdevles, Dan Barry and his fishing buddy Dick caught and released 14 browns over 10 lbs. 

     After returning to the dock, Dan and Dick were greeted by a “How’d you do?” from a couple anglers whose morning of fishing had been slow.  They were amazed when Dan and Dick showed them the digital photos of the browns they had released and pointed out the hot spoons of the morning on our rods.

    Why? How?  What?  As Dan and Dick chatted with the anglers, I mulled over all the factors involved in catching those browns on a flat, calm, sunny day with no other boat in sight. I thought, “It’s not any one thing, it’s the system.”  It’s a combination of confidence, location, a fine tuned presentation, and lure selection, the basics of consistently catching any fish under any conditions.  Over the years, this spring ystem combined with a summer system with  the same basics has produced up to  1004 brown trout per season aboard my charter boat.   

    The spring brown trout system I still use today, has evolved over a period of 40 seasons, a continual process of homing in on spring browns and fine tuning trout trolling techniques. It wasn’t until zebra mussels and gin clear water in the mid 1990’s though,  that the real fine tuning began.  That’s when trolling finesse became brown trout magic, ultralight tackle with  light line and leaders the holy grail, and the old adage, “the early bird gets most of the worms” took on real meaning.



     Presentation has to be right and is absolutely essential to a successful spring brown trout trolling system.  Trolling speed and direction, plus stealth are crucial. Top this off with the right spread, and you won’t have any trouble catching browns if you’ve located them.. 



     Spring browns usually prefer lures trolled at speeds of 1.7 – 2.5 mph, but I’ve caught browns on tuned stickbaits zipping along at up to 4.2 mph.  Optimum trolling speed  depends a lot on light and water conditions, the lure being trolled, and the mood of the fish on any particular day.  Be aware of trolling speeds that catch fish.  If a rigger or planer board is firing consistently on the inside of a turn, browns may want a slower speed, and visa versa.  Aboard my charter boat, again, I monitor trolling speed with both my GPS and Fish Hawk 840 Temptroll.   After every fish is taken, I enter the speed in my mental diary, and note the location.  Straight-as-an-arrow trolling patterns and  a constant trolling speed are a trap for trollers.  Variable, erratic speeds catch more browns, especially in calm seas.  “S” turns rather than a straight troll, catch more fish, especially when trolling planer boards.




    Trolling direction is far more important for spring browns than many realize.  Troll a stickbait or flutter spoon into a current sweeping around a rubble point, and the effect is far different than trolling the same lures down current.  Shoreline currents are one of the least understood but most vital factors influencing lure presentation for spring browns in shallow water along shore..  Because of the rotation of the earth, each of the Great Lakes is affected by a force called the Coriolus Effect, creating a river of current flowing counter clockwise along shore.  This shoreline current, moving up to1 mph, creates rips and eddies as it flows past river mouths, points, shoals, and other shoreline features..  Learning to read this “river” in the area you fish and troll it effectively will improve your catch of spring browns.   

     On any given day, I may catch browns trolling either upcurrent or downcurrent.  If I’m fishing an area in the lee of a point or harbor breakwall, current may not make much of a difference, but the current lines I often find in these areas are brown trout hot spots.  When I’m trolling a current swept stretch of shoreline, especially when browns are feeding on bottom oriented gobies, my catch rate is much better on an upcurrent troll.  If I find fish in these areas,  I’ll commonly make a shallow troll upcurrent, then a deeper pass downcurrent..

     Looking at this from a brown trout’s perspective, if you’re trolling upcurrent and your Fish Hawk Temptroll is reading 2.0 mph on the surface but your GPS is reading 1.0 mph, you know you’re trolling into a 1.0 mph shoreline current.  If you’re a bottom oriented brown trout, picture the difference as a lure creeps by upcurrent at a land speed of 1.0 mph, versus that same lure when trolled downcurrent at a land speed of 3.0 mph.  The colder the water, the more important I think trolling direction is.

     When you’ve caught hundreds of brown trout along the same stretch of shoreline over more than 30 years, you know exactly where to position your boat along submerged rock piles, slight dropoffs, and other underwater features to repeat success..  It’s no different than the steelhead angler wading his favorite stretch of river knowing every lie where he’s apt to find a fish.

     The direction of your troll in relation to the sun, especially when it’s low on the horizon, is also an important and often overlooked factor, when trolling for spring browns.  Lures trolled just below the surface in shallow, crystal clear water with an early morning sun off your stern are more visible to fish than the same lures trolled toward the sun.  As a once avid scuba diver,  I can tell you that it’s difficult to see as you swim into the sun, but when  swimming away from the glaring light visibility is much better.  Fish have the same visual perspective. 

     If I’m fishing a certain location, I’ll generally troll both directions, and may catch fish trolling both ways.  But, if I have my a choice when I’m just setting up, I’ll always make my first troll with the sun off the stern. 



     The standard spread I use aboard the Fish Doctor for spring browns is as simple as I can make it and still catch fish.  Up to four weighted or unweighted monofilament lines are fished from each planer board and rigged with stickbaits or spoons with a setback ranging from 50 to 150 feet depending on wave height..  Two to five riggers are fished with monofilament lines, each rigged with either spoons, whole alewives, or stickbaits.  Usually one and occasionally up to four rigger rods are fished with a fixed 8’ cheater positioned 2’ to 5’ above the weight. Rigger setback varies from 8’ to 150’ depending on water clarity, surface conditions, wave height, and depth fished.  Two minidivers fished short, port and starboard finish thespread.

     Ultralight rods are standard with 9-footers used to fish planer boards and 6-7 footers used on riggers. Each rod is fitted with a Garcia 5500 LC reel spooled with 10 lb. test Berkley Big Game line.



    A stealthy presentation is generally considered critical in shallow, clear water for spring brown trout.   Browns generally move away from a boat, especially a noisy one with a loud lower unit, an engine that knocks or rattles, or anything else that sends unnecessary sound waves through the water spooking fish.   This is where planer boards and inline planers shine, allowing you to run multiple flat lines near the surface out away from the “cone of disturbance” created as your boat passes fish.  You’ll learn from experience that some boats fish spring brown trout better than others.  The reason…, probably the noise, or lack thereof the boat produces.

     When it comes to stealth and spring browns, though, never say never.  The reason I say this, is because brown trout apparently haven’t read “The Book” on stealth.  While most anglers are trolling brown trout lures far behind and away from their boat, I’m sometimes catching browns as close as 8’ off the stern and as shallow as 2 feet on cheaters off the rigger(s) or on minidivers fished on 25 feet of line.  When trolling for shallow water browns, I always fish one rigger, and sometimes as many as four, short and shallow.   This short and sweet spread for some reason is most effective when the surface of the lake is flat, and I believe it works better on boats like my 28’ twin inboard Baha, which I have made every effort to “quiet” as much as possible.



    If any species of fish on earth is more selective than a spring brown trout in shallow,  crystal clear Great Lakes water, I don’t know what it is.  Each spring brown trout season and many, many experiences over the past 40 years have reinforced this fact.



    One such experience occurred one morning off Four Mile Point in eastern Lake Ontario.  The first couple hours the early morning bite was hot and heavy.   Everything my charter I did was right, with brown after brown coming to the net until the rippled lake surface went flat calm.  Browns were actively feeding on the surface, but we couldn’t get a hit. 

    I tried a repertoire of favorite lures, lighter leaders, longer setbacks, erratic trolling speed, and did everything else in my brown trout book, but nothing.  Then, on my lure hanger snapped to the transom, I noticed a shiny, hammered silver Eppinger Flutterdevle, freshly doctored with a strip of blue sparkle laser tape.  It was worth a try.  With the spoon 100 feet back behind the boat, I started to attach the line to a planer board release and a 4 lb. brown ripped it from my hand.  The next try with the same spoon was an exact repeat except this brown weighed 10 pounds.  We couldn’t keep that spoon in the water, and the other nine lures we were trolling weren’t getting a touch.  That incident proved to me once and for all just how selective a Great Lakes brown can be.

     My go-to spring brown trout spoons include Suttons(especially the #44 ham. Brass/silver), Eppinger Flutterdevles, Michigan Stingers, Scorpions, #3 Needlefish, and Alpena Diamonds(glow green and nickel/blue).  My favorite stickbaits include floating #11 Rapalas, Megabaits(now discontinued Kiro Kin and Blueback), Smithwicks(now discontinued Tenessee Bleeding Shad and White Perch), Jr. Thundersticks(blue scale), and A.C. Shiners.  Natural finishes work best, except when the water is turbid.  The hammered silver/brass #44 Sutton is a miracle spoon in crystal clear water under bright sunny skies.

     Generally, spoons and stickbaits are attached to 6 – 8 lb. test monofilament leaders 8 feet in length with black #1 Duolock crosslock snaps, and fished on 10 lb. test monofilament main line.  All spoons except Michigan Stingers are fished with single Siwash hooks.  Both spoons and stickbaits are tuned to produce optimum action.  When the lake is rough I dampen spoon and stickbait action by switching from small crosslock snaps to small coastlock snap swivels.




    Select the right stickbait or spoon, troll it at the right speed,  and you’ll hook spring browns.  Tune that same lure perfectly to optimize it’s action at the speed you’re trolling and you’ll hook lots of browns.  Rig the lure with the correct, needle-sharp hooks, and you’ll boat most of the browns you hook, including the monsters.

    (I haveposted numerous blogs detailing exactly how to tune spoons and stickbaits.)



    -           Silver plated 3100 and 3200 Eppinger Flutterdevles work best, are no longer manufactured, but may be available online or elsewhere. 

    -           Sutton spoons are also no longer manufactured, but found online, but I’ve heard  that a single #44 Sutton sold on eBay for $21…, pretty pricey! 

    -          Tune Eppinger Flutterdevles with an “S” bend, rig them with a #1/0 hook, and attach them with a #1 Duolock snap swivel to an 8 foot long 6 or 8 lb. test leader. 

    -          Use single Siwash hooks in sizes #1, 1/0, and 2/0 to vary action of flutterspoons like  #3100 Flutterdevles and  #44 Suttons, allowing a wider range of trolling speeds from 1.5 to 3.0 mph

    -          For trolling speeds of 1.5 to 2.5 mph, use #1 Duolock crosslock snaps to attach flutterspoons to 8 lb. test leaders.  For higher speeds, substitute a small coastlock snap swivel for the crosslock snap.

    -          Use 8 feet long monofilament leaders of 6 to 8 lb. test when fishing spoons and stickbaits for spring browns

    -          Pretie 8’ leaders off the water to assure perfect knots, and “chain” them on labeled, color coded leader spools for neat storage onboard.

    -          For optimum action when trolling at less than 2.3 mph with Michigan Stingers replace the stock size #2 treble with a size #4 wide bend treble

    -          If you’re fishing trophy browns, reduce the number of lines in the water.

    -          You’ll geneally catch your biggest browns in 10’ or more of water along shorelines that dropoff quickly or on dropoffs along structure.

    -          Rig your spread to fish a variety of depths, until you find fish.  When trolling the shoreline, I’ll often rig the shoreside planer board to fish shallow and the lakeside board to fish deep.

    -          Browns like smallmouths tend to orient to structure along dropoffs, or edges between a soft, sandy bottom and a hard, rubble bottom.

    -          When browns are feeding on gobies, fish them as if they were lakers, tight to bottom.

    -          Key in to changes in wind direction that have a major effect on brown trout    

    location.  Offshore winds often mean offshore browns.

          Watch the birds!  Loons hanging around an area give away location of baitfish  

    schools in early spring.  Watch for even 2 or 3 sea gulls working wounded bait…,  

      it’s a dead giveaway that feeding browns are below them 


    -          The set up(artists sketch).  A standard setup aboard my charter boat includes 3 weighted or unweighted lines fished from each planer board and 2-5 lines fished from riggers at various depths of 2 feet or more


       C.  Flutterdevles – Yup, they are definitely flutterspoons.  I’m attaching a poor photo showing how to tune          F’Devles in an “S” bend.  Your paragraph on flutter spoons looks good.

        D.  Single hooks – I use Siwash hooks of different sizes on flutterspoons, replacing all trebles.  For years, I used Mustad Siwash hooks, but now I like Gamakatsu and VMC better. I’m including below a segment from another article I’ve written on tuning flutterspoons.  I would have like to include it in the BT article, but didn’t have enough words.


     Some things I wasn’t able to to include in the article;

     - I pretie all my leaders off the water so that I get perfect knots with the ultralight leaders I use.  Then store them “chained” together on a labeled, color coded plastic leader spool. 

     - You must tune f’devles in an “S” bend to make them work.

     - Use different size single hooks to alter the action of f’devles & Sutton 44′s at slow to fast(1.7-2.7 mph) trolling speeds

     - If you’re fishing trophy browns, cut down on the number of lines in the water.  The biggest fish we’ve boated, a 25 lb. 4 oz. lunker, was taken fishing only one line on each planer board and with only two riggers in the water. 

     -Your first troll in shallow water along an undisturbed section of shoreline, is your best shot at taking a monster.  Size almost always drops off after that. 

     - Avoid boat traffic if you’re targeting derby winning browns

     - You’ll generally catch your largest browns along shorelines which drop off quickly.  This, obviously, doesn’t hold true in areas like huge shallow bays and flats which are   pretty much the same depth, but it does hold true along a typical shoreline, especially in clear water.

     - I like to rig my spread so that I’m fishing a range of depths.   If I’m trolling a long stretch of shoreline in one direction, I’ll often rig the shoreside board with shallow running lures, and the lake side boards with deeper running stuff 

    -  Browns, like smallmouths orient to structure along drop offs, and “edges” between soft and hard bottom

     - wind direction makes a huge difference along our east-west New York shoreline.  North to west wind tucks warm water and browns in tight to shore.  Southerly winds scatters temp and browns further offshore.

     - Important:  When main lake temperature is  less than 47 degrees, you’ll find browns in the warmest water available…, even one degree makes a difference.  Fish can sense as little as half a degree difference in temperature.   When the temp is above 47 degrees, target locations with  baitfish and/or structure.

     - Watch the birds!  Loons hanging around an area give away the location of baitfish schools in early spring.  Watch for even just 2 or 3 sea gulls working wounded bait…, it’s a dead giveaway that feeding browns are below.


    Tuning Flutterspoons

     Another simple  method of modifying lure action is to vary the size of the hook.  The lighter or smaller the hook, the better the wobble at slow speeds.  The heavier the hook, the faster you can run the spoon without it spinning.  The same thing can be accomplished using crosslock snaps and swivels.  Increase spoon action with a light snap or swivel, dampen lure action by attaching a heavier swivel.  

     Over the years, aboard the Fish Doctor , Eppinger’s 3100 Flutterdevle(IN TRUE SILVER PLATE!)  has been the second deadliest flutter spoon of all time for spring browns.  Unless you know how to tune it, however, you will take very few fish on it.  When I took my first Flutterdevle from the box, straight from the factory, I looked at it and scratched my head.  It was almost perfectly flat.  The first time I put it in the water, I wasn’t impressed.  The spoon had almost no action except at very high speeds.  I fiddled around with Flutterdevles for almost two years with very little succes.  It wasnÕt until Karen Eppinger, the company’s owner,  sent me a properly tuned Flutterdevle with an “S” bend that I finally started catching browns, plus other trout and salmmmon on it.

    An “S” bend gives a Flutterdevle an excellent action over a wide range of speeds.  Increase the bend for slow speeds, and straighten it for higher speeds.  To fish the size 31 Jr. Flutterdevle  at speeds of 1.5 to 2.0 mph, use a #1 crosslock snap on light leader and a no. 1/0 Mustad Salmon Hook(single).  Tie in a Sampo ball bearing barrel swivel 6-8 feet above it to prevent line twist.  To fish the same spoon at trolling speeds from 2.0 to 2.7 mph mph switch to a size 1/0 single hook, and flatten the “S” bend slightly.

    3100 Flutterdevles fish best FOR ME from late March through midJune in the top 10 feet of water on an 8 lb. test leader rigged on  planer boards, downriggers, and flatlines.  Because of the light weight of this spoon, be sure to add some weight(1/8 to 1/2 oz.) when  flatlining it or fishing it from a planer board.  The hammerred silver finishes with paint stripes of lemon/lime, and red/orange, or prism stripes of blue and green, all stock Eppinger colors, are top producers.  In crystal clear water, if you’re not having any luck with the hammered silver model with the lemon/lime or red/orange finishes, reduce the width of the paint stripe to only about 1/16th of an inch.

    The size 3200 King Flutterdevle is tuned in the same manner, except snap  swivels up to size #3 and hooks up to size 4/0 are used for higher speed trolling.  The no. 3200 Flutterdevle is one of my favorite spoons for use either on cheaters or with diving divers when trout and salmon go deep in midsummer.  The hot color… hammered silver lemon/lime in bright conditions.  Don”t forget the “S” bend!   Watch the action of these spoons in the water, boatside, at your selected trolling speed and tune them accordingly to produce the desired action.

    Sutton also makes an excellent feather-weight flutter spoon with  silver,  brass, and copper finishes.  They are sold with treble hooks which in most cases should be replaced with single Mustad Salmon hooks.  Some of my favorites are the no. 44, no. 71, no. 88, no. 06, and no. 38.

      The no. 44 Sutton is a versatile spoon that has accounted for every species of trout and salmon in the Great Lakes.  With the factory bend and a single no. 1/0 Mustad Salmon hook, it will begin to spin at 2.0 mph with a #1 crosslock snap and light leader attached.  Small crosslock snaps improve the action of all flutter spoons at slow trolling speeds.  With a size #2/0 hook and a no. 1 coastlock snap swivel, a no. 44 Sutton spoon with a factory bend will wobble at up to 2.5 mph.   Flatten the spoon through the middle, bend back a 3/8  inch length of the head of the spoon, add a no. 2 coast lock snap swivel and the spoon will run properly up to 3.0 mph.

    If you’re fishing for browns, be sure to tune flutter spoons so that they do not spin.   If you’re fishing a no. 44 Sutton, don’t be afraid to doctor it up with some paint or prism tape.

     Today, on my charter boat, spring brown trout gear means custom built 9’ noodle rods fished from planer boards and 6 ½ foot downriggers rods, each rigged with Altum 12 Synchro digital line counter reels spooled with 10 pound test Berkley Big Game monofilament.  Eight foot long Maxima Ultragreen monofilament leaders are connected to the main line with a black, size #10 barrel swivel.

     It’s hard to understand why, but from many years of going toe to toe with Great Lakes browns, I’m convinced they are extremely line shy in gin clear water.   For that reason, I believe light leader, not necessarily main line, is a key to catching brown trout.  Fine diameter line is also critical because it allows optimal action of small stickbaits and flutter spoons.  When fishing unweighted flat lines and planer board lines, small diameter line also allows light stickbaits like floating  Rapalas to reach maximum diving depth when browns aren’t right on the surface.

     To handle browns up to 30+ lbs. on monofilament line/leaders as light as 6 lb. test, an ultralight, soft action rod, a reel with a silk smooth drag, and durable, high quality mono is an absolute must. 



  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon…, The Oswego Rules!

    Posted on May 11th, 2018 admin No comments

    One of many browns, plus rainbows and salmon boated in and around Oswego Harvbor on 5/11/18.

    There are a lot of ports along New York State’s Lake Ontario shoreline where trout and salmon are caught in the spring, but it’s tough to beat fishing out of the port of Oswego.

    Second largest tributary emptying into the lake, the Oswego River and it’s warm, rich plume that impacts several miles of the lake’s shoreline is a magnet to baitfish, alewives, and, following, them, predators…, trout and salmon.

    Last time the Fish Doctor was out deep in 150 fow, offshore surface temp was 38.5 degrees.  Inshore, surface temp in Oswego Harbor was in the mid50s.  Today, in 60 fow surface temp was 40 degrees and harbor temp was 60 degrees.  Browns and salmon we boated were stuffed with alewives.

    In a tough NE wind, it was too bumpy to fish the main lake, so every boat out of Oswego fished in and around the harbor, boating browns, rainbows, Atlantics and a few kings.

    Elsewhere on the south shore of the lake from the Niagara River to the Salmon River it was either impossible to troll or very, very lumpy.

    No wonder Fish Doctor anglers say, “The Oswego Rules”!

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Oswego Spring King Salmon Charters

    Posted on May 5th, 2018 admin No comments

    My "Fishin No Bitchin" charter with part of a limit catch of browns and kings on May 4.

    If you’re thinking about acharter  trip out of Oswego Harbor for king salmon, do not delay!  The spring king salmon fishing right now in shallow water is the best I’ve seen since 2012.  Wow, those kings are fun on light tackle down to 6′ custom built Fish Doctor Shortsticks and Altum 12 reels spooled with 10 lb. test Berkley/trilene line.

    It takes a silk smooth drag and plenty of 10# line capacity to tame a high octane spring king in 40 to 50 degree water, and the Altum 12s have proven them selves.  It also takes a light hand on the rod and my ”Fishin No Bitchin” fishing team had just that on May 3 and 4.

    I’m not a big fan of “meat” shots, but this crew deserved to show off their stuff!






  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, April, 2018 Oswego Brown Trout

    Posted on April 15th, 2018 admin No comments

    The Fish Doctor, moored at dock #21, Oswego Marina.

    If you’ve got a hankering to do some spring brown trout fishing, now is the time and Oswego is the place.

    Water temperature in Oswego Harbor was near 40 degrees the past few days and there are plenty of browns in the harbor and to the east of it.  There are also some lakers stacked up on bottom in 120 fow and deeper.  Along with the browns in shallow water near shore, occasional domestic rainbows are showing up.  Haven’t seen or heard of any spring cohos being caught, but there have to be a few around.

    Good numbers of 2-year olds are being reported, along with 3-year old and older fish.   Check out the attached pic of one of the browns boated on the Fish Doctor on April 13.

    The browns, even in early spring, can be a bit selective.  It didn’t take long a few days ago that the browns told us they wanted Stingers and 3″ stickbaits in black/silver/orange.  Fussy buggars!

    Weather has been an issue for sure, keeping us off the lake on April 14, 15, and, from the looks, well into the coming week.  When things finally settle down, spring fishing should be good.

    See you on the water!

  • Lake Ontario trout and Salmmon Fishing…, Targeting Shallow Water Lake Trout

    Posted on April 10th, 2018 admin No comments

    This jumbo laker was boated on April 9, 2018, in Sturgeon Bay(Lake Michigan) while trolling shallow water for browns.

    It’s that time of year when you’ll see many Lake Ontario anglers on the water trolling for brown trout in shallow water.  Along with the browns, they will catch occasional cohos, domestic rainbows, Atlantics, and lake trout.  Most of these other trout and salmon species are caught incidental to browns, without targeting them.  However, while fishing shallow, inshore water, anglers can target these other species, including lake trout.

    Lakers behave differently than browns and like a different trolling presentation.  When folks aboard my charter boat, the Fish Doctor, are interested in catching a few shallow water lakers along with browns, we target them with one or two lines.  To do this, I run at least one rigger tight to bottom with a larger spoon than I would typically fish for browns.  That spoon also has a bit more color in it, be it paint or tape, than a spoon I would select for brown trout.

    Ditto, for targeting lakers with planer board lines…, a larger, deeper diving plug will catch more lakers for you.  Storm’s Thin Fin is one of my favorites for what my Maine customers call togue.



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

    Posted on March 30th, 2018 admin No comments


    One of many browns that fell for a new spring trolling technique in 2017.

    “If you always do what you always did, you will always catch what you always caught.” That is a quote from Chip Porter,  one of the best fishermen on the upper Great Lakes.   I heard it many times when he and I were touring the states of Michigan and Wisconsin a few years back giving seminars for Chips’s Salmon Institute.

    The point Chip was making was don’t get in a rut when you’re fishing for many reasons.  Fishing conditions can change and a consistently successful angler needs to change with them.  You may be catching fish doing the same old, same old, but changing your tactics might just catch you more and bigger fish or help you cash in on another species you haven’t been targeting.   Being versatile and experimenting with new techniques pays off sooner or later.

    It did for me when I first started guiding back in the early 1970s.  When downriggers first became available commercially,  I started doing something I had never done.  I left my old reliable copper  and leadcore rigs at the dock and began experimenting with riggers in 28,00 acre Lake George in northeastern New York  for lake trout and  rainbows. 

    There was a learning curve involved in fishing this new fangled gear, but it didn’t take long to figure things out.  Trolling medium size Mooselooks at moderate speed near bottom was all it took to catch lakers.  The only problem was most of these lakers were 5 lbs. or less and I knew as a fishery  biologist working on the lake that much larger lakers were there.

    Although I could have fished the same old way with Mooselooks and continued to catch small lakers on spoons at a moderate trolling speed, I wasn’t satisfied and continued to experiment with different downrigger techniques.  Surprise, surprise!  Yes, there were bigger, lazier, slow moving lakers there, and they could not resist an F-7 Flatfish wobbling along slowly,  inches off bottom, 4 feet behind an 8-inch chrome dodger attached to the tail of a fish-shaped downrigger weight.

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

    More recently, during the 2017 season, avoiding the same old, same old paid off for me big time.  Every season I experiment with a new trolling technique that I’ve never heard of or read about to  to augment my arsenal of old reliables.  Some of the new trials work out and some don’t.  In 2017, the new technique I tested for  spring browns didn’t just work out, it turned out to be one of the deadliest, most efficient spring brown trout trolling techniques I’ve ever fished.  It pays to experiment, and I’ll be trying another new technique for kings this season.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Take an Ol’-timer Fishing

    Posted on March 27th, 2018 admin No comments


    Ol'-timer Bob Lorenzen, his nephew Dave, Dave's wife Jodi, and Fred with an early May quad on kings.

     I’ve always been a proponent of, “Take a kid fishing!”  Kids are the future of  fishing and any of us who love the sport should do whatever we can to encourage kids to participate.  On my charter boat, there is no charge for kids.  

    But what about the old-timers, the people who got us here,  the folks who took the time out of their lives to share a special experience with us when we were youngsters and teach us how to be successful anglers? Some of my most memorable charter trips have been with these elders, and I cherish the time I spend with them aboard the Fish Doctor, knowing the trip may be their last.

     So it was when old-timer  Bob Lorenzen slowly made his way with the help of a cane down the dock toward my charter boat one spring morning.  His nephew Dave, with a watchful eye, was close behind.  This was the 25th year Bob, now 81 years young,  had fished with me.  When Dave was in his early teens, Bob brought him along on a charter fishing trip with me.  On that trip, I watched  Dave land his first king salmon, knees shaking, full of excitement.  It was a fishing trip Dave never forgot, and later in his life, a favor he would never forget to repay.

     As Bob approached my charter boat, I welcomed him in the early morning darkness.  Never, ever late for the 5:00 AM dock departure, Bob was raring to go.  The only help he needed boarding was someone to hold his cane …, independent old cuss.  He seemed as excited on this trip as he was on his first.  I glanced behind Bob, and there was Dave, not too obvious, but close at hand, just in case.  Dave’s wife Jodi, and Bob’s fishing buddy, Fred rounded out the group.  Fred, a spry 77 years, is pretty much just a youngster in Bob’s eyes.

     It was early September, and the king salmon were bunched up right at the mouth of Oswego Harbor.  As usual, just off the Oswego lighthouse, when dawn broke over Lake Ontario’s east shore salmon action was wild, with almost every boat in the area hooked up to salmon after salmon.  This was what Bob lived for, and always the last in the group to take his turn on a rod, he waited patiently for the fourth salmon, his fish, to hit. There is a reason we call Bob “Hawk”, he never misses seeing a hit before anyone else, never taking his eyes off the rod tips.

    Sure enough, even though I wondered if Bob could safely navigate the slippery cockpit deck to get to the rod, when the next king hit, he was there, his cane forgotten.  With experience from many years on the water, and muscles not as young as they used to be, Bob fought the unseen king salmon in a give and take battle.  Minutes passed and we still hadn’t seen the big king. I started wondering if we might have accidentally foul hooked the fish.  Finally the monster surfaced in the wash of the inboard, and I could see the trebles of the glow green #5 J-plug buried deep in it’s mouth.  A quick swipe of my oversized landing net and the fish was Bob’s, a 36 lb. hen on my Sampson digital scale.  It was Bob’s biggest ever Lake Ontario king salmon, and a real thrill. 

     As my eyes met Dave’s, I could see the whole story…, a little payback for an old-timer who took the time to bring him along fishing years ago. Where are these ol’ timers  like Bob Lorenzen now?  In their later years they are often unable to handle their own boat, or maybe even unable to drive to a fishing spot? Take a look around my friends.   It’s great to think about taking a kid fishing, but just don’t forget the old- timers.

  • Oswego Brown Trout Fishing Charters…, Fussy Spring Brown Trout

    Posted on March 23rd, 2018 admin No comments


    Some butt kickin' Flutterdevles for spring browns, including the Blue Lazer, second from left.

    If any species of fish on earth is more selective than a spring brown trout in shallow,  crystal clear Great Lakes water, I don’t know what it is.  On every spring brown trout charter out of Oswego Harbor Mr. Brown Trout reinforces that.  No other Lake Ontario salmonid is fussier or more fickle. 

    One such experience occurred during a spring charter trip one morning off Four Mile Point east of Oswego Harbor.  The first couple hours the early morning bite was hot and heavy and my charter was having a ball.   Everything we did was right, with brown after brown coming to the net until the rippled lake surface went flat calm.  Browns were actively feeding on the surface, but we couldn’t get a hit.


    I tried a repertoire of favorite lures, lighter leaders, longer setbacks, erratic trolling speed, and did everything else in my spring brown trout book, but nothing.  Then, on my lure hanger snapped to the transom, I noticed a hammered silver Eppinger Flutterdevle, freshly doctored with a strip of blue sparkle laser tape a friend had sent me two weeks before.  It hadn’t been in the water since I taped it up.  With nothing else firing, and browns rolling on the surface all around us,  in desperation it was worth a try. 

     With the spoon 100 feet back behind the boat, I started to attach the line to a planer board release and a 4 lb. brown ripped it from my hand.  The next try with the same spoon was an exact repeat except this brown weighed 10 pounds.  We couldn’t keep that spoon in the water, and the other nine lures we were trolling weren’t getting a touch. 

     That incident proved to me  and some happy charter custommers just how selective a Great Lakes brown can be.





  • Oswego Brown Trout Charters…, Mild Weather Means Early Fishing

    Posted on February 28th, 2018 admin No comments


    Oswego Harbor at Wright's Landing on 4/3/15, some different than this year!

    The recent warm spell in the North Country is great news for Fish Doctor Charters anglers fishing in April.  On the morning of Feb. 28 would you please the air temp in Oswego, NY at 46 degrees was two degrees warmer than the 44 degrees we were looking at in Chesterfield, SC? 

    This and the recent spell of warm weather in northern New York has had a huge impact on water temp in Lake Ontario and the Oswego River.  Oswego Harvbor and most Lake Ontario been ice free for weeks.  There is no snow cover anywhere in central New York including the Finger Lakes, Oneida Lake, and the Syracuse area

    On Feb. 28, the water temp in the Oswego River had risen to near 38 degrees.  Compare that to the average winter when the temp of the Oswego on this same date is just above freezing and the harbor locked in with ice.  In 2015, my charter boat could not be launched until April 10 because Wright’s Landing and Oswego Marina were locked in with ice.

    Also on Feb. 28, surface water temp of  Lake Ontario at the Rochester weather buoy was 38 degrees, a two degree rise in the past two weeks.  Further east in mid-lake northwest of Oswego, satellite imagery showed 39 degrees, that compared to the winter of 2014-15 when the lake was 80% ice covered. 

    Yes, we can still get some hellacious winter weather between now and early April.  But, with water temperatures this high and no snow pack in the Oswego watershed, no matter what the weather the rest of the winter, Fish Doctor anglers will be on the water in early April enjoying what should be some fantastic early spring charter fishing.