• 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.

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