• 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.

     

     

     

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, 2017 NYSDEC Creel Census Results

    Posted on March 10th, 2018 admin No comments

     

    One of the largest king salmon ever boated on the Fish Doctor

    Whether it’s the Atlantic or a small New England pond, fishing is much the same everywhere.  Ask one angler how they were biting and you might here, “Never had a nibble all day!”  Ask another fishing the same water the same day, and you might  see a limit of beautiful brook trout in their creel.  So it is on Lake Ontario where success on any given day or during any given season may vary from boat to boat or location to location.

    Fortunately, to paint an accurate picture of the Lake Ontario fishery, each season the NYSDEC conducts a lake wide creel census, interviewing hundreds of anglers and sampling thousands of trout, salmon, and other species. 

    The 2017 lake fising census estimates are for April 15 to Sept. 30.  Although there are many variables involved and some of the census results, i.e., angler use, are estimates, much of the data, i.e., average size of each species harvested and success rate of charter boat anglers, is hard data. 

     Several  important factors dramatically affected fishing in 2017 for trout and salmon.  1) record high spring water levels, with only one public boat launch at Wright’s Landing in Oswego open for boat launching and many private marinas were struggling to operate with some permanent docks submerged. 2) excessive floating debris, i.e., large trees, docks, etc. which caused concern about boating safety. 3) Record high king salmon catch rates resulting in less fishing pressure for other salmonid species, particularly brown trout and lake trout.  

    Here are a few creel census highlights from the 2017 season;

    • Angler effort for trout and salmon declined to an estimated 35,856 boat trips, a reduction of  21% compared to the previous 6-year average
    • Trout and salmon fishing success rate was high.  Combined catch rate for all salmonids increased 45% from 2016 and 16% compared to 2003-2016 highs.
    • King salmon catch rate reached a record high of 0.14/hr., a 54% increase in the 2003-2016 average catch rate
    • Coho salmon catch rate was among the highest in 33 years surveyed
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    • Estimated total trout and salmon catch was 162, 341, including 96,226 kings, 10,630 cohos, 22,556 rainbow/steelhead, 17,092 brown trout, 15,44 lake trout, and very few Atlantic salmon
    • Brown trout and lake trout catch catch declined from previous year as anglers targeted king salmon(this does not reflect the excellent April and May brown trout fishing in the Oswego area)
    • Catch of rainbow/steelhead, commonly boated while fishing offshore in mid-summer for king,  was one of the highest on record
  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Fishing Shoreline Currents for Early Spring Browns

    Posted on December 28th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    A triple on browns boated in the Oswego River plume on 4/21/17.

    As I sat on the bluff overlooking the New York shoreline of Lake Ontario in Mexico Bay one sunny afternoon in the spring of  1990, I noticed a huge log to the west drifting toward me.  In just minutes, it passed in front of me, just offshore, riding the current to the east. “Wow, that current is cooking!” I thought to myself.  The next morning as I eased my charter boat from the dock, I could still picture that log drifting by, a reminder of the vital part current plays in catching early spring browns. 

     Having fished the lake in the spring since  1978, I was well aware of what limnologists call the cyclonic or counterclockwise spring and summer flow of Lake Ontario that has such a huge effect on fishing.  In spring in the shallows, the lake is more like a river than a typical lake.  Speed of this current is affected by wind speed and direction.  The heavier the wind from the west, the faster the current.  When the wind switches to the east and blows hard, it actually reverses shoreline flow to clockwise.

     This, of course has a major influence on the outflow or plume of tributaries like the Oswego River which empty warm, nutrient filled water into icy Lake Ontario in early spring.  This warm inflow is like a magnet to bait, trout, and salmon.  With tributary flow more turbid or colored than the lake water it is obvious how lake currents affect the plumes of these rivers and streams when they enter the lake.

     In the case of the Oswego River, when winter snow pack is deep, spring runoff high, and winds westerly, the warm colored river plume is stretches up to 5 miles east of Oswego Harbor.  Yet, when the wind switches, it reverses shoreline current and pushes the river plume to the northwest.

     Limnological studies of Lake Ontario report shoreline currents up to .62 miles per hour, and I believe currents are even stronger after heavy  blows.  With a westery flow like this, when you troll to the east along shore with the current, it seems like you’re flying.  Troll to the west, into the current,  and you seem to be standing still.  This is where a trolling speedometer which measures speed thru the water is critical in maintaining desired trolling speed. Comparing water speed with GPS speed, which measures speed over land, clearly shows how much current you’re dealing with.

     With a river of current flowing along the shoreline, it’s easy to understand how points jutting sharply out into the lake, affect bait and brown trout distribution.  Each point deflects current out into the lakeincreasing current speed pff the end of the point and an eddy of still water on the leeward side of the point.  When shoreline current is strong, especially in very early spring when the main lake is icy cold, bait and browns tend to concentrate in the calmer, warmer water in the lee of these points.

     For early spring brown trout trollers, fishing warmer shoreline waters, especially river plumes where bait and browns concentrate is key to good catches.  Ditto for maintaining proper trolling speed. A working knowledge of early spring shoreline currents will definitely put more browns in your boat.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Custom Painted Lures

    Posted on December 16th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    Custom painted stick baits can make your day when browns are finicky

    As I looked at the3-inch Smithwick Rogue hooked solidly in the brown trout’s jaw, I thought, “Thank the Lord for custom lure painters!”  The deadly metallic  perch stickbait bait pattern that had lured  the 6 lb. brown into striking was once available from Smithwick in a special Walleye  Series, but  no longer made.  The one I was fishing was was not an original, but a custom painted replica of  one of the deadliest stickbait patterns on my charter boat for spring browns.

    Earlier in the morning  the brown trout bite had been steady under a solid cloud cover and flat calm seas.  Black and silver spoons and stickbaits were firing on the riggers and planer boards.  At about 9:00 AM conditions changed as the sun peeked through the clouds,  the sky turned to clear blue, and a warm southerly  breeze rippled the water.

    It was like throwing a switch.  Action went from feast to famine…, lock jaw!    Knowing we were on fish, it was time for a lure change.  With browns in 5 to 10 feet of water feeding near the surface on 2 to 4-inch alewives under sunny skies, there was no question in my mind that we should be fishing a shallow running stickbait on our planer  board lines, and that bait, which is no longer made,  but tops the list of deadly spring brown trout lures, should be a custom painted 3” metallic perch. Just minutes after it went in the water, the brown trout switch tuned back to “ON”!

     Many anglers are in the same boat.  You have a favorite lure for trout and salmon or whatever you fish for.  It is a fish catcher.  The problem, it is no longer made.  Either the company has gone out of business or  your favorite pattern was discontinued.  You are down to the last one in your tackle box.  You are holding back, hoping you can catch them on something else.  You’re desperate for a fish.  “Old Reliable” that has seldom failed you goes in the water, and the next thing you know it is gone, either in the jaws of a fish or hung up on bottom.  Grrr…. 

    If you’re like me, you’ve tried to-it-yourself paint jobs to try to duplicate a lure pattern, but at least in my case, the end product was a dismal failure.  Then, through fishing buddies, one in Wisconsin and one in New York, I learned about two fantastic custom lure painters whose custom painted lures are works of art.  Jay Hunter from Hunter Boys Outdoors in Indiana is a master painter.  Jay produces the finest replicas on the planet, PERIOD!  You can contact him through his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Hunter-Boys-Outdoors-754122868010025/  He can copy your favorite stick bait or crank bait patterns or create new patterns for you.  The many color photos of Jay’s work on his Facebook page are nothing less than amazing.  For the best results mail Jay the lure you want replicated, but he can also work from photos.

    When it come to spoons, Crazy Ivan Lures www.crazyivanlures.com/  in Vermont gets my nod for custom painted spoon patterns.  Pat Church  another fantastic artist with an air brush, duplicates color tones and patterns  exactly.  Many of my favorite Chinook salmon and brown trout spoons on my charter boat were painted by Pat.   Pat strips the finish from the spoons sent to  him to be replicated, paints them, and then clear coats them.  The finish is indestructible.  

    If you have a favorite spoon or stickbait in your tackle box that is no longer available, and don’t have the artistic ability to reproduce it your self, contact a custom lure painter.  These folks are unbelievably talented artists.  They can reproduce color tones exactly and copy color patterns precisely.  On my charter boat, often save the day.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Fishing Multiple Copper Lines

    Posted on December 15th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    Penn Reels's Fathom 60LW spooled with 300' of .037" twisted copper

    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!”  As we addressed the “getting out” problem, the plane roaring toward a wall of spruces near the narrow neck of the pond, pontoons still skimming  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 3  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 copper lines on the megaboards, and one down the chute.  It’s a lot of work, especially fishing solo without a mate, but multiple copper lines catch fish.  Done properly, it’s no problem.  Mess up, and it’s a copper calamity!

    Thinking back, 2008,  was one of those only-if-I-have-to Lake Ontario salmon seasons.  The 7-copper spread has saved the day for Fish Doctor anglers  that season and many times since when  salmon and steelhead are scattered far and wide, espeically in nasty seas. 

    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.  The time an effort saved not having to haul an inline board back to the surface after a big king has submarined it is a blessing.   

    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 in 2001 with Tim Dawidiuk  and Chesapeake Bay in 2004 with Capt. Bill Williams paved the way for the multiple copper line spread I use today aboard the Fish Doctor. 

    Fishing multiple copper lines from megaboards is as basic as fishing multiple flat lines from a  standard size planer board.  My  oversized triple boards  are built with 3’ x 10” boards with Styrofoam flotation to keep them from diving in rought seas.  They are rigged on  200 feet of 300# test mono tether line on Great Lakes Planer System  masts and rod holders.  The heavy mono is stron, and  because of it’s stretch, has built in shock absorption, important when fishing in heavy seas.

    Scotty Power Grip Plus 1170 releases  save time and missed fish.  To prevent chafing the tether line, a spring loaded  ¼” diam. carabiner is substituted for the stock crosslock snap.  Release tension is perfect with 35-50 lb. Cortland Spectron braided backing. 

    Reels for fishing copper are a matter of choice.  I prefer Penns, the 330GTI  0r Fathom 40 for 200’ sections with 35” Spectron backing, the 340GTI or Fathom 60 for 300’ sections with 50# Spectron, and the 345GTI for 400, 500, and 600’ sections with 50 braided backing.  Six hundred foot sections are coded with shrink tubing and reserved for fishing down the chute.

    Up to six 7’ copper  rods on the boards are stacked in the rod holders and a 9’ copper rod is used   down the chute All the copper rods  are custom built from E-glass blanks with oversized aluminum oxide guides and  tip tops. 

    Fifty feet of 30# Berkley Big Game leader on the copper is attached directly to flashers. An 8’, 20# leader added for spoons. 

    A typical midsummer, 7-copper spread aboard the “Fish Doctor” when steelhead and kings are suspended from 80 to 110 feet looks like this.  3 to 4 riggers with tuned 12 lb. salmon tracker weights are set at 41- 62 degrees, normally with a combination of spoons mixed with flashers or dodgers and flies. An X-4 Fish Hawk probe on the shallowest rigger monitors temp and speed, usually 2.5-3.0 mph.  Two to four wire dipsy rods fish the same temps.  Six copper lines, 400’, 450’, and 500’,  are set out 200’, 150’, and 100’ from the boat on each  tether line, with spoons on the outside four rods and 8” flashers on the shorter lines on the inside.  A 9’ Chute Rod with coded copper and a dodger/fly finish the spread.   Later in the season,  J-Plugs or Orcas are substituted for spoons.

    Yes, there are definitely a lot of lines in the water at once and every once in a while when you contact a feeding cluster of kings all hell can break loose with multiple hookups.  Up to 10 on at once, is the record aboard the Fish Doctor.  And, yes, tangles can occur.  But, if you’re concerned about that, all I can say is NGNG(no guts no glory)!!!

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Pro-Troll’s New Pro-Flash Flasher

    Posted on December 9th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    Another king salmon that fell for a Proflash flasher and fly

    In early August when the package arrived with the new ProFlash flashers from Pro-Troll, I was anxious to check them out.  Hmm, a water activated blinking light in the time tested and deadly ProChip8 and ProChip 11 flashers, a gimmick or a fish catcher?

    The colors of the flashers were right, white, green, and chartreuse, all proven to catch trout and salmon.  But the water activated light???   The next morning when I climbed aboard the Fish Doctor before daylight the first thing I did after carefully stowing that all important travel mug of strong, black coffee was to fill a bucket with a few inches of water and place an 8” ProFlash flasher in it.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!

    The water activated light kicked in the instant the flasher hit the water blinking red, white, and green and lighting up the white bucket beyond my wildest expectations!  No question about it…, we’re talking some serious light here.

    The next step was to get the new Proflash attractor in the water and see what the kings we had been catching every trip thought of it.  The white on white flasher/fly combo that went in the water before daylight did not produce and had me wondering???  Just before the early morning sun edged above the horizon, the green 11” Proflash flasher with a glow/green Sushi Fly baited with a strip of fresh alewife answered my questions when a mature king nailed it!  Yesss!!!

    Later in August either green or chartreuse 8 or 11-inch Proflash flasher and Sushi Flies produced king salmon, cohos, brown trout, and even a nice Atlantic, more than proving themselves.  This text message from a charter captain friend of mine on 8/29/17 when the demand for Proflash flashers sky rocketed and they were in short supply in local shops. 

    “Would you happen to have any of the 11” green lighted protrolls?  None of the shops have  them in stock, if you have some lying around, name your  price.”

    Name your price???  My answer…, “If I had an extra one, I would give it to you.”  He later found the hot item and ordered it online.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, King Salmon Satellite Tagging Study

    Posted on December 5th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    graphs of taged king salmon "Super Dives" and night time foraging

    In 2018, Cornell fisheries researchers, fished aboard the Fish Doctor in July and August to collect king salmon for marking with satellite tags.  These so “called “pop-off” tags are programmed to physically pop off a salmon at a predetermined time, floating to the surface to be tracked by satellite.  Recovered tags provide a wealth of information.

    Not only do recovered tags show location relative to the tagging site, they also record every second depth, water temperature, acceleration rate.

    Although most of the tagging results have yet to  be released, one of the first tags placed on a king collected on the Fish Doctor off Oswego showed up at the mouth of Coburg Ck. in Canada four months after tagging, yielding both expected and unexpected information.

    Yes, this particular king salmon, as expected, inhabited cool water, generally in the high 40 to low 50 degrees F., whichput it around 60 to 80 feet deep most of the time.  However, it made some surprising instantaneous dives to as deepas 300 feet for no apparent reason, and also made routine forays to the surface at night where temps were often +/- 70 degrees F., presumably in search of alewife forage.

    There is much more to come on the results of this forage, so stay tuned!  Check out this link to a video taken onboard while collecting and tagging kings aboard the Fish Doctor <http://www.greatlakesboating.com/2017/11/hightech-salmon-in-lake-ontario>

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Location, Location, Location

    Posted on October 26th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    The first of a limit catch of kings in 600+ feet of water on 7/20/17.

    More years ago than I care to think, in the fall of 1980,  when fur prices had climbed to an all time high, I was checking mink traps on a crisp October morning in the high peaks of the Adirondacks.  Walking the shore of the small, shallow  pond after a crisp, calm night, the early morning sun relflected off a mirror gin clear first ice, I was focused on trapping, not fishing. 

    With the first rays of the day, just barely clearing a shoreline of dense white spruce, I stopped in my tracks.   Across the pond, in a small bay a column of steam, highlighted by the sun, rose straight up in the stillness.  Hmmm…? 

    As I walked closer, checking traps, the source of that column of steam was clear.  About 40 yards from shore there was a circular,  ice free opening in the frozen surface of the 12 acre pond. Aha, a spring hole!

    Knowing the shallow, trailless pond,  three miles from the nearest road,  was stocked with brook trout and lightly fished, my mind turned from trapping to fishing.   With visions of fresh caught brookies sizzling in a cast iron frying pan of hot  bacon grease, I made a mental note to return there the  next summer with my fly rod. 

    9 months later, my lightweight Grumman canoe on my shoulders, I could see the surface of the pond reflecting through the spruces as I eased my way down a ridge to  the shoreline.  My sinking fly line and tandem light cahill wet flies worked close to bottom in that spring hole confirmed what I already knew.  That spring hole in the warm, shallow pond supported brook trout through the hot months of summer.  Releasing all but four 10 – 12 inch brookies, the pleasure of  a memorable fishing trip making the hike out an easy one. 

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               Ninety percent of the fish are in ten percent of the water.

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    As I bush whacked my way back out to the truck, I kept thinking…, location, location, location.  As an old timer once told me, “Ninety percent of the fish are in ten percent of the water!”

    Thirty-six years later, in early August, 2017, I was sitting at the helm of my charter boat planning northwest out of Oswego Harbor.  The depths of  Lake Ontario below us looked like the Black Hole.  My  12” Garmin fish finder had been blank for 10 miles.  Not deterred, I continued, heading for the offshore honey hole where salmon and steelhead fishing had been consistent for weeks. 

    Fishing one or two trips a day, I had searched for and followed the bait, trout, and salmon from 120 feet of water east of port as they gradually moved offshore.  Every day the fish and bait had moved northwest further and further until they were 10 to 12 miles out, suspended over more than 600 feet of water.

    The pattern, an early morning bite, had been the same for weeks.  Find them, get the right stuff down to them, and action would be nonstop. 

    When the Garmin fish finder lit up, Karl and his wife Colleen, both veteran Lake Ontario anglers,  could not believe it…, we had found them!  The motherlode of king salmon and steelhead were below us.

    Because we had searched for miles to locate fish, the first downrigger rod in the water fired in minutes, followed by strike after savage strike from aggressively feeding kings and  steelhead.  Our high speed spread of spoons and flasher/flies flies was exactly what they wanted.

    The old timer wasn’t far off when he said ninety percent of the fish are in 10  percent of the water, and it doesn’t make any difference if that water is 200 mile long Lake Ontario or a 12 acre brook trout pond. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Record 2016 Alewife Year Class

    Posted on October 26th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    Hatched in 2016, record numbers of yearling alewives showed up in 2017

    When I launched the Fish Doctor in early April, 2017,  and started fishing charters for brown trout and lake trout, the great fishing was what I expected, but the big surprise was the abundance of  2-4 inch yearling alewives they were feeding on.  As spring progressed into May, these alewives were even more abundant.

    In shallow water where we were trolling in 5 to 15 feet of water, the browns were chowing down on them.  Ditto for lake trout on bottom in 120 to 150 feet of water.  At the end of a trip the bottom of the fish cooler was dotted with small alewives.  Never since 1977 have I ever seen such an abundance of young alewives. 

    Later in the season bottom trawling by US Geological Survey fisheries researchers confirmed what anglers suspected.  The abundant 2-4 inch yearling alewives anglers observed in 2017 were an all time record 2016 year class.  Just what Lake Ontario salmonids needed to maintain to the lake’s legendary world class fishery. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, 2018 Brown Trout Prospects

    Posted on September 8th, 2017 admin No comments

     

    A hefty 13" yearling brown boated in July, 2017,

    September is here and the lake fishing season is winding down, time to think about the 2018 season.  And, what a season it should be, especially for spring and summer brown trout fishing.

    Anyone who fished spring browns in April, May, and June out of Oswego will tell you that 2-year old browns, some of them up to over 6 lbs. by late May were super abundant.  They were gorging on one of the largest ever year classes of 2-4 inch yearling alewives…, perfect forage.

    Oswego anglers will also tell you that because of the excellent salmon fishing from midJune thru September, summer fishing pressure on brown trout was almost nonexistent.  Harvest of all browns, including the abundant 2-year olds, was way down.

    Now comes the best news…, survival and growth of yearling browns stocked in May, 2017, looks excellent based on the unusually high number of yearling browns boated aboard the Fish Doctor, all caught, incidentally, while fishing for salmon.  These browns are in tremendous condition, some with tails of yearling alewives sticking out of their mouths.

    All of this adds up to what should be an outstanding 2018 spring and summer brown trout fishery out of Oswego.