• Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Search and Destroy at Warp Trolling Speed

    Posted on January 20th, 2020 admin No comments

    With king salmon stockings cut by 20% each year in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and king salmon numbers dwindling because of it, things are changing in Lake Ontario.  If anglers don’t adapt to those changes, it will make for some slow days on the water.

    When good numbers of active, feeding, aggressive fish of any species  are concentrated and you find them, figure out what they want and present your trolling arsenal to them effectively, you can  put a lot of fish in the net in a hurry,  and it usually doesn’t take many lines in the water to do it.  But, in the next few year, in Lake Ontario the opposite will often be the case.  Due to decreased stocking, plus the usual effects of weather, fish behavior and movement, and other factors,   king salmon will at times be fewer and more scattered than ever before in the 200 mile length and 50 mile breadth of Lake Ontario like.

    Onboard my charter boat, the Fish Doctor, when kings and steelhead  are scattered hither and yon and are tough to locate, I switch to one of my favorite techniques, search and destroy mode,  and head with the “pedal to the metal” for the open lake at maximum trolling speeds of 3.5 to 4.5 mph, far from any other boats.

    A key element of my search and destroy spread is an oversize planer board I call a megaboard.  Two of  these big, 36” triple boards go in  the water on 300# test mono spread 150 feet to port and starboard .  Using customized Scotty releases, each board is rigged with up to three sections of leadcore line if fish are shallow in the top 30 feet of water, or a combination of leadcore and copper lines if the fish are 30 feet and deeper.   Downriggers, wire Dipsys, and slide divers on braided line are added to the spread, depending on target depths.

    Two, three, five and seven-color leadcore sections are rigged with 50 feet of leader and backed with fine diameter, 40# test  Berkley braided line spooled on Penn Fathom 25LW reels  fished on light 7’ rods.  At 2.7 mph the 18 lb. test  leadcore line I use fishes down about 4’ per color. At 4.5 mph, it fishes shallower. Six  lead core sections, all with tuned spoons,  spanning 300 feet are fishing  8, 12, 20 and 28 feet or thereabouts below the surface with the shallowest furthest from the boat.  Combined with tuned dodgers and HotChips 8s plus tuned spoons on riggers and divers, this “high, wide, and handslome” spread can be deadly and, most importantly, helps you cover a lot of water to located fish and bait.

    Ditto for copper sections from 100’ to 600 feet hen fish are deep with the shallowest copper furthest from the boat…, 3 copper lines per board with tuned spoons and/or tuned attractors.

    Only two stock spoons I fish have proper action at speeds up to 4.5 mph without tuning them, NK28s and Pro Kings, and both of these work better with a Sampo #3 coast lock snap.  On other spoons like Stingrays and Silver Streaks, hook size and swivel size must be increased to make them run properly at warp speed.

    Dodgers and 8” HotChips are tuned by bending with the action adjusted boatside as you monitor surface trolling speed.

    Lure selection, of course is important at fast trolling speeds, but doesn’t seem to be as critical as when trolling slower.  I call this the “take-it-or-leave-it” factor.  Burn a spoon past a king salmon and they don’t have much time to make up their line.  Reaction strikes and solid hookups are the result.

    Such was the case on May 12, 2016, when Jerry Argay and his crew headed northwest aboard the Fish Doctor out of Oswego Harbor on a midlake search and destroy “mission” for kings. After covering miles of water we locate them in the top 25 feet over 300 to 400 feet of water, but the rods weren’t popping.  Under a clear, sunny sky with the lake mirror calm, the kings were fussy.  With the lake’s surface glassy, I knew light intensity at 30 feet was only about 6%, perfect conditions for UV spoons.  It wasn’t until we found the magic, a Michigan Stinger  UV green alewife, that things really started happening.

    When their 8-hr search and destroy trip was over  my crew of veteran anglers had boated 25 kings, releasing all but 11 delicious, mint silver fish from, 5 to 18 lbs. Every rod on the boat had fired, but the leadcore sections on the megaboards had made the day.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Booking a Lake Ontario Charter

    Posted on January 15th, 2020 admin No comments

    So your friends returned from their Lake Ontario charter fishing trip and you’ve seen all the photos of gigundus trout and salmon they caught, right?  Now you’ve decided to book a charter trip in 2020.  What now?


    Kings like this can be released in early spring when surface temps are cool.

    Well, first, you have made a great decision.  Lake Ontario fishing is unlike any other in the Northeast.  There is a large charter fleet on this 200 mile long lake, with around 450 USCG licensed captains fishing out of ports from Henderson Harbor in the east to Wilson Harbor in the west.

    However, like lawyers, real estate agents, and car salesmen, not all charter captains are created equal, to put it politely.  The key is to find a friendly, patient veteran with vast experience and good equipment who can put you on fish and catch them.

    Planning and preparation are crucial in booking a charter trip anywhere.

    If you don’t have a referral from a reliable person, your first step should be checking web sites online.  You’ll find a wealth of info, but read between the lines.

    Web site testimonials are meaningless…, they are all 5-star!   Beware of  Google rankings.  Anyone can show up on the first page of a Google search if they are willing to pay a webmaster enough money or pay for an ad.

    Most web sites list “What to Bring With You”, and if not , ask your captain.  Bring the proper gear with you, and you’ll have an enjoyable trip without overloading the boat.

    Remember that children under the age of 12 must wear a PFD at all times, and it’s best to bring your own to make sure they fit properly.

    Call early for best dates.

    Safety is the top priority. All Great Lakes charter captains must be USCG licensed and for your protection should be insured.  Their charter boats must meet all USCG requirements.  All safe charter boats are equippe3d with radar.

    Ask questions.  How many trips does a captain fish yearly, part time or full time?

    What size and type of boat will you fish from?  Veteran Ontario captains seldom fish less than a 28-footer.

    As for price, you usually get what you pay for.

    Some captains will not release fish and return to the dock the minute you catch your limit, no matter what size the fish.  Abbreviating your trip to 1 or 2 hours and paying for a 6 to 8-hour trip can be a turnoff.  A typical scenario is this…  An unnamed charter boat out of Oswego last June bragged about returning to the dock in two hours with a 2-man limit.  An hour later, the two clients were at Fat  Nancy’s Sport Shop in Pulaski, complaining they paid for a 6-hour trip and fished only two hours, even though they wanted to return the smaller, but legal, kings they caught.  Ego cost that captain a return trip.  Ask.

    Instead of just emailing or texting your captain,  chat with him by phone to get a feel for his personality.  Incompatible personalities in the confines of a boat can make for a long day.

    Beginners new to trolling may want to fish on a boat with a mate.  Veterans, however, may prefer a hands-on trip with no mate so they can help rig lines and hook their own fish.  Again, ask.

    Work with a captain to schedule your trip when fishing is best for the species you want to catch.  For browns, your captain will recommend a spring or midsummer trip.  For monster kings, book in late August or early September.

    Once you book a trip, ask your captain to help you with lodging and places to eat.

    So, now you called early, found a top captain, decided when to fish, and nailed down your trip with a deposit.   When the big day comes, and you arrive at the dock on time with the proper gear, just relax and take it easy.  Let your captain take it from there.

    Sit back with a cool drink, catch some rays, and enjoy some of the best trophy trout and salmon fishing in the Northeast.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Ontario Mystique

    Posted on January 4th, 2020 admin No comments

    It’s the feeling you get when you fish Lake Ontario.   You just never know how big the next fish you catch will be.  I have fished this 200 mile long lake since 1977, and every time an anglers onboard hooks up with a monster, I feel it.  It’s like a chronic case of buck fever!  It happened again on September 17, 2019.

    Before daybreak when Mike Wales and his crew boated out with me through the mouth of the Little Salmon River  into Mexico Bay at the southeast corner of Lake Ontario, their thoughts were on salmon.  Kings and cohos migrate from all over the lake to this 20 mile wide bay where they stage before their spawning run in the Big Salmon River.  Along with the salmon, prespawn brown trout, some of them huge, also concentrate here.

    As we navigated out to the area in 35 feet of water where I had been fishing the previous day, the conversation was all about salmon.  Fishing for both kings and cohos had been better than I cared to mention, hesitant to elevate expectations.  When I mentioned the brown trout we had been catching in a bit shallower depths than the kings, there was no response.  Just, “How many salmon? How big?”

    With the sky lightening over the east shore, I had just set our third downrigger when the center rigger rod bent to the water.  We were locked up with our first king of the trip on a J-plug.  Action was steady until the sun sun broke over Tug Hill Plateau, then slowed.

    That’s when I headed for slightly shallower water toward the brown trout zone.  Although kings and cohos are the main target in September, on every trip I keep one rod in the water for brown trout.  Browns are great eating in September, and you never know when you might just tangle with a big one.

    As we trolled along at 2.5 mph in 30 feet of water, the port slide diver with one of my favorite brown trout flashers and flies  was fishing just above bottom.  When that rod doubled over and the reel’s drag started screaming, my first thought was, “Aha, a shallow water king.”  Not so.  Instead of the screaming run of a September king, the fish only ran about 50 feet, then stayed deep, refusing to come up off the bottom.  “Hmm, too warm in here for a big laker?”  I wondeed,   “A big brown?”  That’s when I felt it

    The chance of catching a brown twice this size keeps you on the edge of your seat when you fish Lake Ontario.

    .  If it is a big brown, how big?.                             

    It only took about five minutes to find out.  When Hen ry Hitchcock eased it to the surface, all I could see was gold.  When it came aboard, it took my breath away, even after seeing  thousands of Lake Ontario browns boated.  What a magnificent male brown trout in full spawning colors!

    As big and beautiful as the brown was, I knew there were even larger ones, much larger ones,  in this seemingly limitless lake we were fishing, maybe nearby, maybe our very next fish.

    It’s the feeling you get when you cast or troll a line in Lake Ontario,  legendary for world class trout and salmon.  Would anyone have ever imagined the once 26 lb. 5 oz. NYS steelhead record would be broken by an unimaginable 31 lb. 5 oz. steelhead?  What’s next?  There it is again…, Ontario mystique.

    And, what about the 32 lb. 3 oz. NYS record brown trout?  Is there a bigger one out there?  I’m betting there is.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, to Release or Not to Release

    Posted on January 3rd, 2020 admin No comments

    I don’t remember his name, but I do remember  his fish. The young man standing in the back of my charter boat that late April day had been hooked up with it on an ultralight 9’ noodle rod and 10 lb. test line for about 5 minute and we had yet to see the fish.

    There were no head shakes like those of a heavy lake trout, no short runs like those a big brown.  Just a heavy pull like a monstrous walleye.

    We were fishing browns that morning in the warm, plume of the Oswego River where it entered clear, frigid Lake Ontario just outside the harbor walls.

    Minutes more passed with the noodle rod doubled over and still no fish.  I was scratching my head wondering if we had foul hooked a fish.

    Then the  huge brown surfaced.  But why the lethargic fight?

    As I netted it, the answer was clear.  It was a huge female brown trout that had spawned in the fall, spent the winter in the Oswego River, most likely, and had just dropped back into the lake.  It was the longest female brown I had seen in 42 years fishing in Lake Ontario, but thin, with a huge head and frayed tail from spawning.  With barely enough energy left to swim and feed, it had not put up much of a battle.

    With the big female brown trout  still in the water and swimming upright in my oversized landing net, it was time for a decision…, to release or not to release.

    The young angler was excited.  This was this the biggest brown he had ever landed.  But, our  cooler was already half full of good eating browns.  And, it was obvious the big female would not make a god mount with scrape marks on its sides and a tail frayed tail from digging a gravel redd.  When I explained the flesh in spent fish like this is nowhere near as good eating as that of smaller browns which had yet to spawn , the young man made his decision…, “Release her”!

    Releasing a 55 1/2", 52# musky aboard the Fish Doctor

    Before we did, a quick measurement showed she was 38” long,  and I guessed about 18 lbs.  By the end of the season, after feeding heavily on alewives it might reach close to 30 lbs.

    The decision to release or not release a fish, isn’t always an easy one, but for one of the crews who fish with me twice a year, once in early spring and again  in midsummer,  it’s no problem.  In the spring when Dan Barry and his buds fish with me,  they , released every brown trout.  Why, because when they fish, the water is cold, the fish are near the surface, they are fishing with artificial lures instead of bait, and the browns they catch can be released unharmed.

    Importantly, the smaller 2-year old, 2-4 lb. browns they catch will grow to be 6-12 lbs.  by the next spring.  The older, larger browns they release have the potential to live several years longer reaching world class size, and thrill another angler another day.

    But, in late August, it’s a different story.   The 3-year old king salmon we target will die in 2-3 months after spawning in October and November.   Most kings they catch are usually deep and surface wter temperature is in the mid-70s, making it tough to release them unharmed.  Dan and his crew keep every legal king they catch, most of which are smoked.

    The bottom line, after complying with existing regulations is this.   To release or not to release a fish depends on what is good for the fishery, the fish population, and, in the end, your personal choice.