• Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Derby Winning Kings

    Posted on August 5th, 2016 admin No comments


    A 38 lb. 14 oz. LOC grand prize winner.

    “Wow, that’s a big one, isn’t it, Ernie?”, Jim Huftangel asked in a strained voice as a king salmon with a head as big as a bucket surfaced just off the stern.  I knew too much excitement can be disastrous when landing a big money king, so I simply responded, “It’s O.K.”  Later, on a certified scale at Larry’s Salmon Shop, an official Lake Ontario Counties Derby(LOC) weigh station, the big king pulled the needle to 38 lbs. 14 oz., and won the $20,000 grand prize. 

     Ten months later, on May 10, 2007, I watched as another king salmon pulled the same certified scale to 24 lbs. 2 oz.   The heavy bellied fish won the 2007 Spring LOC Derby $10,000 grand prize for Fish Doctor angler, Jim Unkel. 

     When it comes to winning big fish tournaments and derbies, all importantly, you must be in it, to win it.  Had Jim Huftanel and Jim Unkel not been entered in the derby, they would have walked away with nothing in their pocket, like so many anglers you hear about who land derby winning kings during a derby, but are not entered.

     Once in a lifetime wins in big fish derbies like the LOC Derby  may be luck.  Consistent wins or top ten placements in these derbies, with up to 6,350 entrants for 18 days of head to head competition  are definitely not left to chance.  Fishing aboard his boat, “Liquid Plumber”, Dell Casterline missed winning the 2007 Fall LOC Derby Grand Prize by two ounces, with a 31 lb. 14 oz. king, and his partner Dan Gaylewski placed first in the 2007 Summer LOC Derby, neither win depending just on good fortune.  He and other consistent big fish derby winners owe their success to an effective big fish strategy,  commitment, and hard work. 

     Any angler who consistently wins big fish derbies does so before ever putting lines in the water.  Long before a derby starts, preparation, homework, and laying out an effective strategy are vital.  Once  lines are rigged and ready, commitment, confidence, planning for changing conditions, and plain old instinct take over. 

     An effective strategy is all about experience and personal expertise.  Keeping it simple but effective is key, as evidenced by the long record of small boat derby wins where only two anglers had minimal lines in the water.  A winning strategy includes use of the right gear presented properly in the right place at the right time.

     If you’re spending  money to enter a derby and taking the time to fish it, remember that preparation is oh, so important.  Leave nothing to chance, be it your vehicle, your boat and motor, your electronics or your fishing equipment.  When you’re on your way to a weigh station with a winning king in the box,  it’s no time for a problem with a boat engine.   Even worse, when you’ve finally hooked up a big dollar king, it’s no place for rotten line, a shoddy drag, or a dull hook.  It takes preparation and attention to every detail to consistently catch derby winners.

     Homework is crucial.  I have either a mental or written 30-year record of almost every spring king I’ve ever caught over 25 lbs. and every summer king I’ve caught over 30 lbs., where and  how it was caught, and what it was caught on.  Check your own records or start keeping them.  Tournament and derby records are extremely helpful, with weigh station winners showing where and on what big kings are caught.  Derby winners must often take a polygraph exam,  so leader board information is usually accurate.  Importantly, derby winning kings consistently come from the same area. 

     Monster kings are normally 4-year old males, one year bigger and older than the rest.  Big boys don’t hang with little boys!  They behave differently than 3-year old kings and smaller males.  They appear to be loners.   In late summer, big male kings also tend to select different terminal gear than females. 

     Location is crucial to catching big kings, and not just  geographic location.  I believe big male chinooks avoid areas of heavy fishing pressure.  I have never caught a monster king salmon over 35 lbs. in a fleet of boats.  Even if it means avoiding what I consider proven big fish areas, I’ll leave them for quieter water if boating pressure is too great.  If you hear someone bragging they’re catching hundreds of kings during a derby, but no prize money winners, count them out.  First, you cannot catch a “big boy” if you already have a” little boy” on your line.  If you start crushing small fish, move away from them.  Either fish the outside edges of the hot spot, or leave it entirely.

     Fish monster king gear to consistently win big fish derbies.  My first choice…, 8″ Pro-Troll flashers trailed by Howie Flies.  Three of the last 6 LOC Derbies were won using ProChip or HotChip flashers. Three of the last four grand prize derby winners were caught on Howie Flies.   Leader length, nose of the fly to the end of the leader, is critical.  On 8″ flashers, I fish a 23″-30″ leader.  

     A big fish presentation may not fill the box, but it might just fill your wallet!  Whether spring or late summer, fish slower and deeper than normal, between 2.1 mph and 2.5 mph.  Big male chinooks spend much of their lives in 40-43 degree water.  They love the deep freeze, so don’t be afraid to go down after them, even if you’re seeing more “marks” on your fish finder at shallower depths.  Ignore large bait concentrations that attract smaller kings.  Big boys can’t compete with faster, quicker little boys for food. 

     Copper line fished from a planer board or down the chute, consistently catches most of my biggest kings every month of the year, and produced Jim Huftanel’s 38 lb. 14 oz. grand prize winner on the first afternoon of the Fall 2006 LOC Derby.  No matter how many anglers I have on board during a derby, I fish only two riggers, two Dipsys, two copper lines from planer boards, and either a thumper rod or copper rod down the chute.  Fewer lines mean more big fish!  On the riggers long setbacks from 30′ to 120′ catch bigger fish.

     Once a strategy is laid out and big fish lines are in the water  winning derbies is all about commitment to fish hard ever minute of every day of a derby and the confidence to persist.  Remember, you’re fishing for only one fish, a grand prize winner!

     When you finally catch that big money king, handle it with tender loving care.  Use a quality digital scale to weigh it accurately.  Know exactly what size fish are on the leader board.  Be careful not to cause bleeding from the gills, which reduces weight.  Keep the fish moist.   If there is any question, head for the weigh station. When you get there, do not remove the fish from the cooler until the station master is ready to officially weigh it.

     If you don’t think properly handling derby contenders is vital, ask Jim Unkel, whose 24.2 lb. king won the $10,000 grand prize in the Spring 2007 LOC Derby  by a mere 2 ounces, rather than the $1,000 first place in the Salmon Division!


  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Familiar Bite Alewives

    Posted on August 1st, 2016 admin No comments


    This Atlantic salmon hit a Sushi Fly behind a Whip Flash flasher

    As I stood at the rigging table in the stern of my charter boat wiring a Familiar Bite alewife strip in a Sushi Fly, my thoughts drifted back 50 years.  It was about then, sitting in an old wooden rowboat on a remote Adirondack pond that my Dad had showed me how to bait a single hook lake trout spoon with a fresh strip of minnow.  I remember him saying, “It’s the bait that makes the difference”.

     Some things never change, and for Great Lakes trollers, quality  bait can still be the difference between a long day on the water or a cooler full of trout and salmon, , especially when fish are a bit negative, spurning standard, unbaited spoons and flies.  In Lake Ontario, the bait of choice, of course, is the alewife, the fresher the better.

     A few Lake Ontario trollers now collect, cure, and freeze their own alewives, jigging them with sabiki rigs, a series of tiny jigs on a leader designed to catch species like mackerel, Pacific herring and alewives.  For those who do not catch their own bait, whole alelwives, cut bait, some of it from Pacific or Atlantic herring, and Sushi Strips are now available in sport, shops.

     But, and this is a huge “but”, there is a drastic difference in quality of this bait.  When it comes to whole alewives, the best available is from Familiar Bite, fresh, perfectly cured, frozen and vacuum packed alewives with silvery scales, bright eyes, and firm flesh that look  like they just came out of the water(and they did).   The worst alewives I have seen are from Dream Weaver,  discolored, shrunken eyes, soft mushy flesh.

     Confidence is everything, when it comes to the evolution of an effective trolling spread.   Thirty years of trolling bait on Lake Ontario has done that for me.  Trial and error, success and failure, it has all gone into the equation of a salmon spread I now use routinely combining whole bait, Sushi Flies, and artificials.   But when it comes to bait, the secret is the quality.