• 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.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, New 2018 Stinger Colors

    Posted on February 27th, 2018 admin No comments

    Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon patterns from Stinger..., new for 2018!

    Take a look at some of the new Stinger patterns for 2018.   All but one of them are UV.  Many are hot and destined to take steelhead and cohos in clear water or kings and browns in turbid or deep water.  A couple patterns are takeoffs of the Frost Byte, a deadly black/green UV pattern that has proven itself for browns and kings aboard the Fish Doctor.

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Trolling Speed for Spring Brown Trout

    Posted on February 19th, 2018 admin No comments

     

    An early April catch of trophy brown trout, plus a few lakers.

    One of the questions I’m often asked this time of year as ice out on Lake Ontario approaches is what trolling speed is best for spring brown trout. 

    A “ball park” answer would be 1.7 – 2.5 mph, with a qualifier…, “That depends.”  Why the “depends”?  Well, because conditions vary so much every spring, including surface water temperature of Lake Ontario.  And Where I fish out of Oswego Harbor, the water temperature of the Oswego River.  Although the surface temp of Lake Ontario tends to be 34 to 38  degrees each spring pm  early April 1st, not so for the temp of the  Oswego River. 

    I have seen seen drastic swings in Oswego River temp from around 34 degrees on April 10, 2015, when chunks of harbor ice were still floating in Oswego Harbor, to April 10, 2012,when the river water temp was 54 degrees.  Spring brown trout trolling speed is generally dependent on water temperature, the colder the water, the slower the trolling speed and vica versa.  It’s not uncommon aboard the Fish Doctor to see trolling speeds from 1.7 to 2.1 mph when fishing frigid early spring lake water,  but I’ve caught browns later on in early May in mid50 water temps on tuned stickbaits zipping along in short bursts of speed at up to 4.2 mph. 

    At any given water temp, ptimum trolling speed  depends a lot on light and water conditions(especially turbidity), the lure being trolled, and the mood of the fish on any particular day.  Trolling speeds that catch fish in clear water, may not be effective in muddy or cloudy water. 

    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, I monitor surface trolling speed with both my GPS and Fish Hawk.  

    After every fish is taken, I enter the speed in my mental diary, and note the location.  Straight-as-an-arrow trolling patterns at a constant speed can be 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.  If fish are really negative, you’ll see my throttle occasionally in neutral, then forward.  The “dying baitfish” action, as a spoon settles then swims upward, or a stickbait does the opposite, will often trigger strikes from otherwise unwilling spring browns.

  • Oswego Brown Trout Fishing…, Trolling Direction for Spring Brown Trout

    Posted on February 18th, 2018 admin No comments

    A 2-year old Lake Ontario brown trout about to be released.

     

    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. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Improving Trophy Brown Trout Fishing

    Posted on February 17th, 2018 admin No comments

     

    Trophy Oswego Browns like this often show evidence of hook scars from catch and release.

    Want to improve trophy brown trout fishing in Lake Ontario?  Think about this.

    From 1989 to 2007 when I operated a drift boat business on Lake Ontario tribs, just about every drift boat guide and many of  the bank guides who fished these rivers killed every steelhead their customers caught and bragged about dead stringers of fish, including beat up, scrawny, lifeless, inedible dropback spawners.

     I remember a spring trip on the Salmon River one late April day when my clients had caught and released around a dozen dropback steelhead, knowing they weren’t good eating and should live another day.  As we passed another drift boat the guide purposely lifted a stringer of 6 lifeless dropbacks and splashed them into the river alongside his drift boat, for us to admire, he thought.  Wrong!

    It’s hard to say why, although a few years of slim pickings for steelheaders may have contributed, but that kill-and-hang-em mentality slowly evolved to a catch-and-release ethic which has improved the quality of steelheading in many Lake Ontario steelhead tribs.  One of the contributing factors…, recreational(for lack of a better word) anglers who had not been releasing steelhead followed the river guides’ lead.

    So what about Lake Ontario brown trout?  Well, all you had to do is listen to the VHF in past years, and you would have heard charter captains bragging about catching a limit of 6, 9, 12, or more breowns in an hour or two and returning to the dock 4 to 6 hours before there charter was supposed to end.  Every brown over 15” went in the “box” no matter how big

    Or,  watch the goings on at any marina today, including Oswego marina where I moor my charter boat and, especially in April, May,and early June if king salmon are scarce in the area.  You’ll see captains hanging limits of browns of every size on meat racks for bragging(?) photos of limits of fish.  Many times, depending on the fishing, all or most of these browns are 1 ½ to 4 lb. 2-year old fish with the potential to live several more years and grow to trophy size.   Killing a 2-lb., 2-year old browns that could live to be 4 years old and grow to 20 lbs. limits the trophy quality of the brown trout fishery, PERIOD!

    So, what if…?  What if charter captains voluntarily decided to set the example and rather than focusing on limit catches of brown trout, instead focused on catches of trophy browns,  If fishing was hot and heavy a small brown over the legal size limit was in good shape, release it. If fishing was tough and a customer wanted a fish to eat, then keep that small, legal brown.  If a small brown was hooked badly and would not survive, keep it.

     What if, releasing small, young browns drastically improved the numbers of trophy browns. What if  Lake Ontario developed the reputation not for quantity, but for quality, and attracted anglers, not just from the Northeast, but from the entire country and maybe even further away?

    It certainly wouldn’t hurt the charter business, and it might just produce the quality fishing that today’s catch-and-release steelhead ethic has produced in Lake Ontario tributaries.   

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

    Posted on February 9th, 2018 admin No comments

     

    Fish Doctor favorite..., Penn Fathom 60LW for 300' copper sections

    I was uneasy, sitting next to float plane pilot “Buss” Byrd, engine roaring, 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” answered calmly, as the rickety old biplane jumped from the water, pontoons brushing the spruce tops.

    The answer is the same aboard the Fish Doctor when someone asks about using multiple copper lines.  I fish up to a 7-copper spread, but only when I have to and only with  oversized planer boards I call megaboards, for suspended in IN NO BOAT TRAFFIC!  If the bite is hot using my standard spread of riggers and wire Dipsy rods, there is neither the time nor  need for fishing multiple copper lines.    If the bite is slow, or suspended fish are scattered far and wide,  up to 7-copper lines go  in the water, six megaboards, and one down the chute. 

    It’s a lot of work, especially fishing solo without a mate, but multiple copper lines catch fish.  Mess up, and it’s a copper calamity!   Done properly, it often saves the day.

    The megaboards I use with up to 500’copper sections run nearly straight out boatside rather than  dropping back  like inline boards.  These  triple boards  are built with 3’ x 10” boards with Styrofoam flotation to keep them from diving in roughseas.  They are rigged on  200 feet of 300# test mono tether line on Great Lakes Planer System  masts and rod holders.   

    My choice for releases is the Scotty Power Grip Plus 1170.

    For copper reels, I prefer Penn’s  Fathom 40LW for 200’ copper sections with 35” Spectron backing, the Fathom 60LW  for 300’ sections with 50# Spectron backing, and the 345GTI for 400, 500, and 600’ sections with 50” backing. 

    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 set at 41- 62 degrees, with a combination of spoons and flashers.  Two to four wire dipsy rods fishing  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.  

    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 heck can break loose with multiple hookups.  And, yes, tangles can occur.  But, if you’re concerned about that, all I can say is NGNG(no guts no glory)!!!

  • Oswego Brown Trout Fishing…, Releasing Dropback Spawners

    Posted on February 4th, 2018 admin No comments

     

    A dropback brown about to be released

    I cannot remember who caught the brown trout, but I do remember it coming on a Michigan Stinger fished on  leadcore off  the board just outside Oswego Harbor. What I will never forget is that it was the longest brown trout that has  come aboard the Fish Doctor in 40 years of fishing Lake Ontario.  The monster brown was released to swim another day because she was a drop back spawner. 

    When the fish hit, the leadcore rod just bowed over slowly and the backing pulled  out of the Scotty release.  No run, no tugs, no head shaking, just a heavy , steady pull as it came to the boat, much like an early spring northern pike, lethargic.  When I finally saw it, I almost mistook it for a big steelhead, but not quite.  It had too much bulk.

    As the net slid under it, I could see what we had, a monster spawned out female brown trout in the 16-18 lb. class.  I measured it quickly…, well over 36  inches, then slid it back in the water in the landing net.   The big hen  had expended all  her energy spawning and had remained in a river, probably the Oswego, way too long into the winter, not feeding.  When we hooked her, she had not been in the lake long enough to chow down and put some “meat” on her bones.

    The angler who caught her could not believe it.  “Wow, that’s the biggest brown I’ve ever seen!”  “Yup!”, I  replied, “She’s a monster, but she’s  in tough shape, thin, with eroded fins after spawning and basically  inedible.”  With the fish still in water in my landing net off  the stern of the boat, recovering from the battle, I explained that the 3-4 pound 2-year old browns were far better eating,  and that the big brown in the net had the potential, if it was released, to weigh well into the mid-20 lb. class by mid-August.

    The angler took the high road, “Release her!”

    …and, in my opinion, to improve Lake Ontario’s brown trouit fishery,  that should be the fate of every thin, poor condition, beat-up, drop back spawning brown trout that is.  The condition of the flesh of these fish and their low oil content makes them close to inedible.  So, why keep them, unless…, a paying customer decides to do so.  Even then, many of charter customers would be more than happy to release the fish in favor of  a eating brown, if they knew it was tasteless and realized it’s potential contribution to the trophy brown trout fishery. 

    Why are most of these emaciated drop back spawners chucked in a cooler, and hung on a meat rack for photos.  Being as tactfully said as possible, let’s just say it’s seldom for the benefit of the angler who boated them. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Coping with Clear Water Browns

    Posted on February 3rd, 2018 admin No comments

    A monster Oswego brown trout on ultralight, clear water tackle.

     

     In the past 25 years fishing conditions have changed drastically in Lake Ontario, and so have consistently successful angling techniques, especially for shallow water browns in April and May. 

     In the early 1970’s, when I climbed aboard legendary charter captain Ron Ditch’s charter boat at Henderson Harbor to show him how to fish his new downriggers for lake trout, his  chartreuse downrigger weight disappeared 2-4 feet(that’s not a typo!) below the surface.  Those turbid water conditions persisted through, 1993, when zebra mussels showed up in the lake. 

     In mid-May of 1995, on a glassy calm day I dropped a chartreuse rigger weight into the depths, and it disappeared at 36’.  Now that’s a major change!  Subsequently, to cope with the gin clear water conditions and catch fish consistently new fishing techniques have evolved that will help first time spring brown trout trollers catch more fish.

     Although we still fish turbid water after westerly or northerly blows and around the mouths of rivers like the Oswego during high spring runoff, much of the time  water conditions are gin clear.  This is especially true during calm weather and when spring tributary flow is low.   Coping with these clear water conditions for shallow water browns in April and may can be especially challenging.  This is when finesse combined with an understanding of brown trout behavior becomes  the name of the game. 

     Before the introduction of zebra mussels, in turbid water conditions, to catch browns you  simply had to chuck almost anything chartreuse over the side and tow it around on as heavy a line as you wanted. It was “Heave, ho, and away we go!” Today, try the same tactic in shallow clear water, and you will end up whining back at the dock.   One way to avoid that is the use of a stealthy presentation with light line and terminal tackle matched with a light action rod and reel.

     My spring brown trout rods are spooled with 10# test main line, hi-vis Trilene  Solar on the planer board and flat line rods and clear Berkley Big Game on rigger rods, each terminating with 8’ of lighter leader.   Some captains I know effectively use main line as heavy as 15# mono, plus a lighter leader.   The more durable main line, along with a less visible, lighter leader results in a deadly brown trout combination.  I personally like the finer diameter main line, especially on planer board and flat line rods,  because without adding any weight, thin diameter line allows  stick baits and spoons to fish deeper than larger diameter line. 

    For light  lining spring browns on planer boards, flat lines, and riggers, I use two different rods with the same reels.  I build my n planer board rods on a 9’ graphite, 3-4 weight, slow action St. Croix fly rod blank  and my rigger rods on 6-7 foot moderate action e-glass blanks.  Both styles of rods are built with non-slip EVA foam grips, quality reel seats and Fuji casting guides for use with levelwind reels.

     In the past, I’ve used either Penn 855LC digital line counter reels or, more recently, ABU Garcia 5500LC line counter.  This season I’m switching to ABU Garcia Altum 12 digital line counter reels, because of their greater line capacity and improved digital line counter.

     When using terminal leaders as light as 6# – 8# test, levelwind reels  must have a silk smooth drag or or you will curse your ultralight gear as a hog brown heads for the horizon with your lure and only part of your line trailing from hit’s toothy maw.   Fill your reel to the brim with quality line.  You’ll need it when you hook  a monster. 

    Yes, times have changed when it comes to fishing for shallow water brown trout in Lake Ontario.  Heave- ho techniques with heavy line and terminal tackle are a thing of the past.