• Lake Ontario Salmon Fishing – May Kings

    Posted on February 20th, 2010 admin No comments

    Since 2004, spring fishing for king salmon, just 5 minutes outside Oswego Harbor, has been fantastic most years.  Just in the month of May anglers aboard my charter boat have boated up to 201 kings and 156 cohos, in the best of Mays.  The kings in varying abundance are always around in May, but the crazy cohos are more hit and miss.  In 2004, my anglers did not boat a single coho in May, but boated 150+ in May the very next year…, go figure!    This, in an area much better known for spring brown trout fishing.  When I first located these May kings in 2004, just outside Oswego Harbor, not one other boat was fishing for them.  The spring type fishery for these sleek, early season chromers continues on thru June, until the kings disperse. 



    Experience has taught me that high spring flow in the Oswego River is a major attraction for baitfish and spring kings and cohos.  Since 2001, another great year for spring kings, the pattern seems clear, high flows produce hot spring salmon fishing.  Soo…, huge dumps of lake effect snow in central New York and the Finger Lakes are a kind of a love-hate thing.  You hate to move it during the winter, but you love it when high runoff in the Oswego River sucks in May kings.



    Some springs, the Oswego River flows at close to 25,000 cfs, almost twice the normal flow for this time of year.   Laden with nutrients from thousands of acres of rich farmland in the Finger Lakes watershed, the huge greenish colored plume of water off Oswego Harbor is like an oasis in the Sahara to fish in eastern Lake Ontario.  It’s a magnet for both baitfish and predators like browns, cohos, and rainbows, but especially aggressively feeding spring kings.  Some years, the spring king fishing extends out from the Oswego area east into Mexico Bay, but most years the bullseye for eastern Lake Ontario king anglers is the 2-4 mile zone, just east of Oswego Harbor.



    When it comes to cashing in on this super spring king fishing on a typical sunny May day, you should remember the number one rule of May salmon fishing…,  the early bird definitely gets the worm.  Leaving the dock at Oswego Marina at 5:00 AM, it’s only a short 5-minute boat ride for me to the fishing grounds in give or take 90 to 100 feet of water.  Most mornings I try to have my rods in the water just before daybreak.  At that time, almost no fish or bait can be seen on my 10” color Sitex video fish finder deeper than 30 feet.  This is one of the main reasons the May king salmon fishery was overlooked by anglers.


    Some calm mornings at first light, salmon can be seen porpoising right on the surface…, exciting.  All the early morning action is in the top 30 feet of water, and I mean action.  Triples and quads are not unusual.  One morning, my crew of three,   ranging from 79 to 85 years old, including one lady angler, hooked and landed six kings at once from 13 – 19 lbs.  Whew!


      Even though the surface water temperature in early May is 39-40 degrees, on  sunny days, kings start to move deep by 7:00 -9:00 AM and are often flat on bottom in 120 feet of water by late morning, another reason the May king salmon fishery was overlooked.



    ProChip Flashers and dodgers trailed by flies are my standard fare for spring kings.  Northern Kings and Michigan Stingers are also excellent spring king medicine.  Although, a standard spread of downriggers, Dipsey Divers, and copper line fished from planer boards get lures down to kings, I’m sure that stickbaits off the boards would catch fish right at the crack of daylight, if you wanted to run them.  The only problem is, once it starts to get light, the kings drop deeper quickly.  My personal favorite in May is a white ProChip 8 trailed by a blue pearl/glow fly, whenever I’m dealing with low to moderate light levels.  The Diehard NK28,  black alewife Stinger, blue dolphin Silver Streak, and other standard spoons are some of my favorites.   Copper off the boards is a killer!

    Four king salmon at once in early May just out of Oswego Harbor!

    Four king salmon at once in early May just out of Oswego Harbor!


    One thing for sure…, you don’t need long rigger setbacks to catch May kings in early morning.  My anglers have boated hundreds that were caught on riggers, 25-30 feet down and only 12’ back.  As light levels rise, though, longer setbacks often fish better.  The same is true for wire Dipseys which on my boat are fishing on 40’ of wire, #3 setting, just as it starts to crack daylight.  One of my hottest early morning rigs is a thumper rod with a 10 oz. ball on 80’ of wire with a dodger/fly.   I start the morning with two copper lines fishing from each megaboard, the outer one with 100’ of copper and a spoon, and the inner one with 200’ of copper and a ProChip/fly. 


    Although it is the green water plume of the Oswego River and the bait it holds that sucks in May kings to the Oswego area, the kings aren’t always located in the plume, especially early in May, when kings first move into the Oswego area from the main lake and the surface water temp is around 39-41 degrees.  You’ll often find them at this time just outside the plume in the gin clear water.  If you don’t find them there, move in shallower.  One year, 2008, we caught over half our early May kings right in the plume, just outside the harbor in 50-75 fow.  Why?  Only the kings can tell you that. 


    One thing that I can tell you…, speed is critical, and the frigid 40 degree water of early May is no time for speed trolling, another reason why anglers overlooked May kings.  Many of the early May kings caught aboard my boat have been taken at trolling speeds less than 2.0 mph.


    Oh, yeah, and there is a secret for precisely pin pointing the exact location of early spring kings, but I’ll leave that for a later blog.


    See you on the water. 

  • Lake Ontario Salmon Fishing Tips – Spring Cohos

    Posted on February 9th, 2010 admin No comments
    Lake Ontario salmon fishing..., a spring coho.Coho salmon are an early spring bonus in inshore waters of  Lake Ontario, and are often found around Oswego Harbor in the same water as brown trout.   Nothing compares to their wild and wooly antics when hooked close to the boat.  Absolutely fearless of boats, and very surface oriented, I’ve seen them hit lures many times that were in full view, less than 6’ behind a down rigger weight and not more than one foot below the surface.  The wilder and noisier the action of a lure and the gaudier the color, the more cohos like it.  As they say, cohos like any colored lure as long as it has fluorescent red or orange in it.  When you find a “wolf pack” of marauding spring cohos, prepare for action, because it’s not unusual for  every single rod you have in the water to double over with a fish on it.



    Cohos are hyper fish.  Everything they do is fast including the rate at which they grow.  The cohos that make up Lake Ontario’s spring fishery are 2-year old fish that weigh 3-5 lbs.  By late August of the same year, when they stage before returning to the hatchery in the headwaters of the Big Salmon river in northern Oswego Co., they will weigh 6-12 lbs. and more.   After spawning, adult cohos will die like all Pacific salmon. 


    Unlike Chinook salmon that migrate back to the lake from spawning streams as 3-5 month old spring fingerlings, young cohos remain in spawning streams in rearing areas for more than a year.  To mimic this behavior, the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation stocks 3”-4” chinook salmon at the spring fingerling stage and 5”-7” cohos at the yearling stage.


    One of the favorite rigs for spring cohos is a fluorescent red #00 dodger trailed 12” – 14” back by a small 1” – 2 ½” green mylar fly.  Companies like Howie’s Tackle(www.howiestackle.com) manufacture these smaller coho flies.  The smaller dodgers are effective trolled shallow on downriggers and Dipsy divers.  The icing on the cake for any spring coho spread is a set of #00 dodgers and coho flies behind inline planer boards like the Church TX-12 Mini Planer(www.churchtackle.com) off each side of the boat.  . 


    To rig dodgers and flies for trolling behind inline planers, use 6’ of 20# test leader ahead of the dodger.  Between the leader and the main line snap in a 5/8 to 7/8 ounce bead chain keel sinker.  This weighted keel sinker helps keep the dodger from planing to the surface.  Set the dodger/fly back 25 to70 feet behind the inline planer board, and let the planer board out to the side of the boat the desired distance.  Multiple inline planers can be used off each side of the boat.  High action jointed plugs like the J-9 orange and gold Rapala are favorites, along with standard size Michigan Stingers in hot colors, especially in a combination of fluorescent red and silver or brass.


    Riggers are normally set in the top 10 feet of water when surface temperatures are cold in late March, and April, then set deeper as temperatures warm and cohos move offshore.  Much like landlocked salmon, cohos are attracted to the boat, and downrigger setbacks of  6 to 20 feet are common.  My side riggers are set 3 to 5 feet down and 10 to 12 feet back with the dodger fly clearly visible from the boat as it wobbles back and forth.  Diving planers are set on 15 to 25 feet of line.  A trolling speed of 2.0 to 3.0 mph is about right depending on water temperature.  When a coho hits close to the boat, you usually see the fish in the air before you see the rod go!


    Interestingly, the one salmonid species that likes dodgers and flies almost as much as a coho is the landlocked salmon. 


    Capt. Ernie Lantiegne has operated a charter fishing business on Lake Ontario for trout and salmon for 27 years.  He also worked as a fishery biologist/manager for the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation for 22 years.