• Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Spring Brown Trout

    Posted on February 29th, 2016 admin No comments


    A buster brown boated caught shallow in warm water.

    When it comes to understanding behavior of spring brown trout, experience goes a long way, but you can’t beat adding to your education with any other available information.  In the case of Lake Onario brown trout behavior, one very valuable source of info is a radio tagging study conducted back in the 1980s by Dave Nettles, entitled “Ecology of Lake Ontario Brown Trout”.  You can access it online, <Ecology of Lake Ontario Brown Trout – Digital Commons …>

    In it you will find a wealth of.  In his master’s thesis Nettle explained, “The purpose of my study was to examine seasonal movements, behavior,and habitat preferences of brown trout (Salmo trutta) in Lake Ontario.


    “During fall 1980 and spring and fall 1981, the activities of 36 radiotagged brown trout were monitored near the southern shore of Lake Ontario between Port Bay and Point Breeze (Fig. 1). Underwater radio telemetry techniques were utilized to evaluate inshore and offshore

    periods of occupancy, range of movements, attraction to outflow areas, depth and temperature preferences, spawning success, and homing to original stocking sites.”  22 browns were radio tagged in the spring of 1981.

    Nettles and his team of researchers used radio  tags implanted surgically and attached.  These tags relayed back not only an individual frequency that identified specific fish, they also relayed back water temperature.  The radio tags could be detected to a maximum depth of 30 feet, after which the browns “disappeared”.

    It is the following findings of the spring radio telemetry tracking that are so helpful to spring trollers;

    1.   “Spring brown trout seemed particularly interested in stream and power plant outflows, often interrupting movements to remain in those areas for extended periods.  In spring, natural outflows are typically warmer than lake waters, as are power plant outflows.  Streams and power plant outflows were observed to attract brown trout as well as large numbers of smelt and alewives in spring.”

    2. “Spring radio-tagged brown trout engaged in more wide ranging   movements  than fall fish and in a predominantly eastward direction.  The profound lack of westward movement is subject to considerable speculation and probably results from 2 factors: 1) the current in this region of Lake Ontario is predominantly eastward; 2) eastward drift of lethargic fish as they recovered from surgical tagging.

    3.  “Elevated nearshore  turbidity levels seemed to reduce brown trout tracking success in spring 1981.  It was repeatedly noticed during fall brown trout radio-tracking operations that tracking success was often low during and after periods of heavy rainfall and increased shoreline wave activity that resulted in elevated nearshore turbidity levels.”

    4.  “Inshore brown trout movement appears to occur as soon as nearshore waters warm above 4 c.” (39 F)

    5. Offshore movement to deeper waters occurred as  nearshore water temperatures approached and exceeded 18 C(65 F)

    6.  “Although brown trout tracking success appears to peak at nearshore water temperatures less than

    8 c, brown trout transmitter-related temperatures indicate that an 8-18°C(46 – 65 F) range was preferred.   A total of 186 individual c transmitted daily ambient water temperatures ranging from 4.6-19.9°C(40 – 68 F) were recorded for active spring brown trout in Lake Ontario. Of that total, 83% were in the 8-18 C(46 – 65 F) range.  fish were rarely recorded in waters cooler than 8°C or warmer than 18°C when the 8-18°C(46 – 65 F) range was available for selection.”

    In my experience, having fished spring browns on Lake Ontario since 1978, and operating a charter fishing business since 198, 2my findings coincide fairly closely with the Nettles radio telemetry study with a few exceptions;

    1. Turbidity Related Movement – if conditions are right, browns will hang inshore in some very tubid water.  This probably depends on the type of tubidity, i.e., fine turbidity caused by clay in suspension off a creek mouth, versus turbidity from heavy shoreline wave wash that might contain coarser particles in suspension.

    2 . Don’t ignore inshore water warmer than 65 F.  I have limited out in 68 F water and   caught browns in surface temperatures up to 71 F on rare occasions.  Also, we’ve all seen browns feeding on the surface in 70+ F degrees in the summer, when cooler temperatures are only 50 feet(seconds) or so, below.

    3.  Never say never.  I remember one spring, maybe 15 years ago when there were NO browns inshore in April.  Browns finally showed up offshore over deep water north of Fairhaven.  A couple weeks later they moved inshore as usual.

    4. If alewives are staged on bottom in April just offshore, say in 100 – 150 fow, browns will be there, especially big browns.  Back in 2002, after limiting out on browns inshore with a charter group, we moved offshore to fish for lakers.  The first fish we caught on bottom in 154 fow was a 10 lb. brown, the largest of the trip!

    In spring the Fish Doctor inshore brown trout formula for dealing with water temperature is;

    Temps less than 47 degrees F – You’ll find browns in the warmest water you         can even if it’s in the low to mid 30 degrees F.  Fish reportedly can sense a half a       degree change in temperature, so even 1 or 2 degrees in temp can be critical.

    - Temps between 47 and 65 degrees F –  Look for browns concentrated around bait and/or structure, or in areas of colored water, especially if it is sunny

    - Temps above 65 F but not higher than 70(or so) F – Browns may still be inshore, near heavy bait concentrations, especially if the water is slightly colored and/or it is overcast.  Browns “hate” to leave shore in the spring!

    I rarely go offshore to target browns, but commonly catch an occasional one, some larger than average, at any depth.  The bottom line is the Dave Nettles “Book on Browns”, is pretty close, but he never claimed it was the bible.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Fish Doctor Shortsticks

    Posted on February 18th, 2016 admin No comments


    Hauling In A September King on a Fish Doctor Shortstick

    With 41 years of experience charter fishing part time or full time(since ’88) with no mate one thing I’ve found for sure…, energy conservation onboard is a must!  If there is any way I can make life easier(MLE) on my charter boat it is a huge plus.   Savings of time and energy go a long way toward more fish on the lines and in the cooler, two trips a day, day after day.   

     Operating solo on my charter boat without a mate, I’ve discovered many MLEs over the years, but one of the best ever for both me and Fish Doctor anglers is the Fish Doctor Shortstick.  These are custom crafted rods that evolved since 1970 when I built my first custom rods from Phillipson fiberglass blanks.  Over the years I designed and built rods to my personal specifications to fish as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

     After a lot of trial and error, with input from both of my USCG captain sons Jeff and Randy and renowned captains Dan Keating and Chip Porter I developed a line of Great Lakes trolling rods I call Shortsticks, and  I consider them the ultimate trolling rods for big water trout and salmon.  I use them on my charter boat and have sold literally hundreds of them to Great Lakes anglers and charter captains.

     The first thing I did when designing these rods is take an axe(not literally) to the 8 – 9 foot downrigger rods and 9-10 foot Dipsy rods everyone was using and shorten them to 6-7 foot.  Then, except for specialized uses, I selected 1-piece e-glass blanks over graphite blanks for durability.  I wanted my rods to last forever, plus I did not want to pay more for rods than necessary.

      If you’re a fly fisherman or spin fisherman, you’ll understand the need for responsive, sensitive graphite rod blanks.  If you’re trolling a highly resistant diving planer on wire line or fishing riggers with your rod in a rod holder much of the time with literally hundreds of customers and heavy weight fish beating rods up during the season you’ll appreciate indestructible and surprisingly lightweight e-glass blanks.  1-piece e-glass blanks are the foundation for Fish Doctor Shortsticks.

    Fuji Hardloy guides and tip tops or lightweight AFTCO roller guides and tip tops or Twili Tips are used on all Fish Doctor rods.  Grips are EVA foam or hypalon with an 8” butt and 5 – 6” foregrip .  Reel seats are all Fuji, with heavy weight seats used on all wire and copper rods. 

    The Fish Doctor Shortstick lineup…,  rods built from the following blanks;

    Rigger Rods –

    • 6, 6 ½, and 7’ 1-piece ultralight, mod. action,  2-10 lb. test line,  for spring browns
    • #42, 6 – 10 lb., mod. action, for spring for brown trout, nice for  planer boards
    • #43, 8 – 15 lb., mod action,  light enough for spring browns, perfect for midsummer browns, nice king salmon spoon rod
    • #44 – 10 – 17 lb., mod. action,  summer brown trout, all around king salmon rod

    Wire Dipsy Rods – 7’, medium action,  lightweight AFTCO roller guides with roller tip top(or Twili Tip), oversize foregrips

     Magnum Wire Dipsy Rods – 7’, medium heavy action, ltwt AFTCO rollers, oversized foregrips,  enough backbone to fish mag Dipsys

     Copper rods – 6’ or 7’ rods with oversized Fuji guides and tip top, oversized foregrips


     Fish Doctor Charters is not south this winter at our dog training headquarters in South Carolina.  Instead, we’re wintering in Mexico, NY, with a little extra time on our hands, especially in the recent subzero, then rainy, nasty weather.  Making the most of being indoors, I’ve been replenishing my personal supply of Fish Doctor Shortsticks, and I’m now in rod building mode for the rest of February.  It’s the time of year for custom rod building,and we’re turning out Fish Doctor ShortSticks, 7’ roller dipsy rods, copper rods, and others.  If you need a rod of any type or would like more info, including prices,  shoot me an email at info@fishdoctorharters.com or call me at 315-963-8403. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Cheating for Trout and Salmon

    Posted on February 11th, 2016 admin No comments


    This 19.5 lb. brown hit a mini-Streak on a cheater near bottom in 40 feet of water.

    Amy Mullen watched the downrigger rod intently.  Hardly beyond her teens at the time, she already knew firsthand the thrill of angling for chinook salmon on Lake Ontario.  Amy, her dad, Gary, and I had been searching Mexico Bay since dawn for our first king, enjoying the tranquility of calm seas and the glow of a Great Lakes sunrise.

    Before her eyes, the tip of the starboard rod, frozen in an arc, was yanked viciously toward the water by an unknown force below.  In a chain reaction, the port rod did the same.

    With skills learned from many encounters with big kings , the father/daughter team brought each of the big fish to the net.  Both kings had taken Flutterchucks fished on cheaters, ten feet above the rigger weights.  Without those bonus rigs, we might still have been searching for our first strike as the sun cleared the horizon.  

     Cheaters are one of the many variations of bonus rigs used to improve a Lake Ontario troller’s chances of catching king salmon and other salmonids.  There isn’t a top trout and salmon angler on big water who doesn’t use them.

    Cheaters, sometimes called fixed sliders, are effective anywhere downriggers are used.  This rigging technique involves a four to ten foot long leader that is piggy-backed to a monofilament main line hooked to a downrigger release in the standard fashion.  The key to the successful use of a cheater is the way it’s fished.  Leader length and position of the cheater lure in relation to the terminal lure are critical.  

    After  25 years of experience fishing these specialized rigs on Lake Ontario, I prefer to attach cheaters to the main line with an ingenious device called a Liberator, manufactured by Roemer.  It’s small, attaches firmly to the main line, doesn’t damage abrasion resistant line, and can be easily adjusted to fish any distance above the weight.  Correctly attached to the main line, it doesn’t immediately slide on a strike like a free slider,  increasing the chances of a solid hookup.  Importantly, when a fish is hooked on the lure at the terminal end of the line, the Liberator automatically releases when the device contacts the rod tip.  If the cheater leader isn’t twisted around the main line, the Liberator simply slides down the line and out of the way.

    When using Liberators, fish a main line of at least 15 lb. test, and rig your cheater leaders with the same line.  When I fish brown trout with spoons in the thermocline in July, I use  fishing 15 – 30 lb. main line(depending on abundance of water fleas)  and 15 – 20  lb. cheater leaders.  When I cheat spoons over dodgers or flasher and flies or bait, I fish 30 lb. mono main line and a 20 lb. cheater. 

    To rig a cheater leader, select the leader length and lb. test you want.  Tie a large snap swivel on one end of the leader and a standard snap swivel on the other.  Attach the large snap to the Liberator and the other to your spoon.

     Rubber bands are also commonly used in combination with snap swivels to attach cheater leaders to the main line.  However, they often interfere with landing a fish as the line is reeled in.

     The basic principle behind use of a cheater is that it not only allows an angler to use two different lures on one line, but also allows two different types of lure presentation.  For instance, for kings I commonly fish a plug or spoon up to 70 feet behind the release and cheat a spoon two to ten feet above the release, fishing them separately.  Fishing just one rod, two lures can be presented differently, tight to the weight, and way back.  The fish will tell you which presentation they like best on a given day.

    One of my favorite cheater rigs involves fishing dodgers or flashers six to ten feet behind the weight with a spoon cheated leader right above them.  This is an absolutely deadly rig for lakers, landlocks, brown trout, steelhead, and Pacific salmon that are suckered in by the attractor and hammer the spoon above instead.

     If you believe cheaters are useful only for fishing deep water, you should reconsider.  They also work well shallow.  For example, on a practice day before a professional tournament, the team I fished with had rigged cheaters on each rigger five feet above the weights.  Raising the port rigger to a depth of only seven feet, we could see every flicker of the Eppinger Flutterdevle only two feet below the surface on a five foot leader.  The six pound coho that smacked the spoon put on a spectacular aerial show before we landed and released it.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, The Scoop on Brown Trout

    Posted on February 7th, 2016 admin No comments

    I could see the big brown flashing off the stern of the Fish Doctor 10’ below the surface in the gin- clear water that April morning.   As Jeannette eased the silvery “football”  closer and closer to the net the 9’ ultralight noodle rod was straining the 6 lb. test leader to the limit.  The moment of truth was approaching as the big brown surfaced and we saw the jet black spots on its side.  One scoop of the net, and the 15-pounder was Jeannette’s.

     In the excitement, I could hear the same questions Fish Doctor anglers always ask about Lake Ontario’s fantastic browns.  How old is a fish this size? How fast do they grow? How long do they live?.  Does the state stock these browns? Can you catch them all season?  If you’ve wondered the same thing, here’s the scoop on Lake Ontario brown trout.

     First of all, were it not for the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s (NYSDEC) stocking program.  there would be no brown trout fishery in Lake Ontario at all.  Each year the NYSDEC raises and stocks close  to 400,000 yearling browns averaging about 8.5 inches  from Henderson Harbor on the northeast corner of the lake to near the mouth of the Niagara River on the west end.  The province of Ontario, Canada, stocks about half that number.   With no documented natural reproduction since the brown trout stocking program began in 1971, consistent annual stocking  of good-sized, healthy fish is absolutely essential to this superb fishery. 


                   Each year the NYSDEC raises and stocks

                         close to 400, 000 yearling browns.            ______________________________________________

     Lamprey control is the next essential ingredient in NYSDEC’s fabulous Lake Ontario’s brown trout management recipe.  Early experience in the late 1960s and early 1970s showed that lampreys were so abundant they were devastating stocks of chinook and coho salmon before they could reach adult size.  An effective lamprey control program was implemented  shortly thereafter and continues today, not eradicating, but controlling the blood sucking lamprey.  Lake trout and brown trout, because of their tendency to orient to the bottom and remain in nearshore waters, are particularly vulnerable to lampreys.

     Cormorants were another scourge the Lake Ontario brown trout fishery had to deal with.  Before the introduction of gobies, cormorants ate brown trout(and  everything else), especially when the 8.5”  fish were first stocked.  The NYSDEC battled do-gooder groups for years in an attempt to control exploding cormorant populations and made gains, including approval to oil eggs and limit reproduction.  To improve survival of freshly shore stocking has been replaced by scatter planting over deep water using barges carrying hatchery trucks.  Today, NYSDEC studies show 96% of the stomach contents of cormorants are gobies, and cormorant predation on stocked browns is negligible.

     An excellent forage base is another key to Lake Ontario’s brown trout fishery.  Feeding on an abundance of rich, oily alewives  browns and other salmonids grow at a rate unheard of in most inland New York and New England waters.  Yearling browns stocked at 8.5” in May will generally reach 3-4 lbs. by the following may and grow  up to 7 lbs. by September.    By the fall of their third year in the lake, a few 3-year old fish will weigh up to 16-18 lbs. 

     New York State’s present record brown trout was caught in Lake Ontario and weighed just over 33 lbs.  The biggest brown ever landed on my charter boat weighed  25 lbs. 4 oz., but many over 15 lbs. have been boated by Fish Doctor anglers.  Good info on the age of these monsters is lacking, but several years ago, a fin-clipped, known age 7-year old Canadian stocked brown trout just over 30 lbs.  held the state record for a time.    Although the present state record has not been challenged for years, it’s only a matter of time before  the current state record will be broken by a brown approaching 40 lbs.

     Because of it’s huge volume of water, the surface of 200 mile long, 862’ deep Lake Ontario rarely  freezes solid, and never has ice safe enough for ice fishing. However, browns are usually catchable all winter from shore in certain areas like Oswego Harbor, especially during an open winter like 2015-16.  As spring arrives, normally in late March or early April, you’ll find boats on the water trolling the shallows for browns out of ports along New York’s Lake Ontario coastline.  

    Nearshore brown trout fishing usually lasts until midJune, when the water warms and finally pushes fish deep in search of cool water and alewives.  Midummer brown trout fishing is excellent and lasts until late August, when prespawn browns quitfeeding.   The coloration of browns  changes from silver with black spots in the spring to a golden bronze late in late summer,  as they don their spawning colors and hook jawed males prepare for battle.

     One thing we know for sure about Lake Ontario.  There are few places in the world where you can catch bigger browns, PERIOD!