• 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…, April 24, 2019, Fish Doctor Trout and Salmon Fishing Report

    Posted on April 24th, 2019 admin No comments

     

    Co-captain Kevin Kellar shows off a nice king aboard the Fish Doctor, 4/22/19.

    As I eased the Fish Doctor past the west end of the detached breakwall, just outside Oswego Harbor, I heard co-captain Kevin Kellar say, “Fish on, boys.  Grab that center rod!”  25 feet below us a yet to be seen king salmon had chomped down on an aqua Howie fly and I could hear the reel moaning as as the 3-year old king headed NE, stripping line from the reel.

    That’s just a sample of what has been going on aboard the Fish Doctor since April 18, our first day on the water, a fantastic beginning to the 2019 season. 

    Fishing for brown trout has been steady, as usual, around Oswego Harbor, but the king salmon fishing has heated up earlier than normal.  So far best depths have been 15-40 feet of water for the kings and larger browns.  Browns and kings have been coming on everything we’ve put in the water, flat lines off the boards, lead, slide divers, minidivers, and riggers.  Along with the browns and kings, a few lakers, cohos, and Atlantics have been stretching the lines.

    All of the water the Fish Doctor has been prowling so far has been off  from and east of Oswego Harbor, but we’ve heard reports of kings being caught on the color line as far west as West Nine Mile and Fairhaven. 

    The browns have been hitting standard spring items, including spoons, stickbaits, and occasionally flies.  Michigan Stingers in the standard size and Scorpions have been the best producers in black/silver, black/silver glow, brass and green, copper goby, brown trout Chucklet, and others,  There is always a chewed up old black/silver 3F Evil Eye in the water, deadly in the spring.  Old reliables like the black and silver F-11 Rapala always catch browns.  To date, the larger browns have been coming offshore in 15-40 feet of water.

    Kings have been in 15-40 feet of water, with the most boated so far this season 8 or 9 on 4/22.  On April 19, it took a while to find them, but our PA crew was 4 for 5 on kings with in the last 1 ½ hrs we fished. .  Dodger/flies, spoons, black and silver F-11 Rapala flat off the boards, are all  working.  The best spoons for kings have been standard size Michigan Stingers and 3F Evil Eyes in the same colors as for the browns.

    Surprisingly, some of the kings have hit small spoons, #3 Needlefish, Eppinger Chucklets on flat lines off the boards and minidivers.

    All of the browns we’ve cleaned onboard so far have been feeding on gobies, but on 4/22, we did see a released lake trout spit up a 3-4 inch yearling alewife, the first alewife we’ve seen this spring.  Hopefully that is  a good sign of what might be a strong 2018 year class of alewives.

    All in all, it looks like another great spring season out of Oswego.  You gotta love the early kings in shallow, with little or no travel time to get to the fish. Especially when many of them are being caught on ultralight Fish Doctor ShortSticks and Altum 12 reels spooled with 10# main line and 8# leaders. 

    Yeah, it does take a little longer to land them on ultralight gear, but what a way to battle a souped up spring king!

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Fishing the Slide Diver and Lite Bite Slide Diver

    Posted on April 12th, 2019 admin No comments

     

    A late April brown that hit a lemon lime flutterdevle 30' behind a slide diver.

    If you troll for trout and salmon, and haven’t tried the Slide Diver or the Lite Bite Slide Diver you should.  They are a real fish catcher onboard the Fish Doctor, and have  been smokin’, especially in the spring,  ever since I started using them

     Anglers who troll for trout and salmon are familiar with directional diving planers like the Dipsy Diver.  These planers attach directly to monofilament,  braided, or wire line and take your bait or lure down to target depths. The adjustable rudder on many of these  diving planers directs them to port or starboard of the boat.   These types of planers use water pressure against the angled surface of the diver to take the diver and the attached leader and lure to depth. 

     A drawback to standard diving planers…, the length of the leader training them is limited to a maximum of about eight feet or whatever length an angler can handle when the planer is reeled to the rod tip while landing a fish.  This is where the Slide Diver parts company with all other available directional and nondirectional diving planers.

     Slide Divers differ from all other diving planers and  are a major part of my trout and salmon arsenal aboard the Fish Doctor for one reason.  They are inline planers, that is the line passes through them and can be locked in place any distance ahead of the lure.  This allows a lure to be fished at any distance behind the Slide Diver, a huge advantage when trolling for boat shy trout or salmon just below the surface.  In many cases, a trout or salmon in the top 30 feet or less of water won’t hit a lure fished on a 6’to 8’ leader behind a diving planer.  Set that lure back 20’ or more and lock your line in place in a Slide Diver, though, and you’ll catch fish. 

     The Lite Bite Slide Diver is an improved version of the Slide Diver that has a different trigger mechanism, allowing even the smallest trout or salmon to release the trigger, avoiding dragging small fish behind the planer undetected.

     The setup I’ve used this spring on Lake Ontario to fish Lite Bite Slide Divers is a 9’ medium heavy rod with standard guides, and an ABU Garcia 7000 Synchro line counter reel spooled with 40 lb. test Berkley braided line. The braided line is slipped through an 8 mm. bead and attached to 6’ of 15# to 20# test fluorocarbon leader with a barrel swivel.   The rudder on the Slide Diver is adjusted to the #3 setting taking the diver as far away from the boat as possible.  Spoons are normally fished 20 to 40 feet behind the Slide Diver.  When any size fish hits the spoon, the trigger on the diver releases and the diver slides back to the bead ahead of the swivel, 6’ ahead of the spoon.

     You will appreciate one of the greatest  advantages of the Slide Diver when a steelhead or landlocked salmon hits and goes aerial, leaping across the surface.  Instead of dragging a solidly attached diving planer along with it, increasing the chance for the hook to pull free, the inline Slide Diver  slides freely on the line, never allowing the fish to pull directly against the diver.

     Chris Dwy and Bill Purcell will attest to the effectiveness of Slide Divers after fishing them aboard the Fish Doctor on May 7, 2012, to boat a limit of king salmon and brown trout.  With the last king of their limit thrashing in the net, three more kings hit.   Chris and Bill had a triple on, two on Slide Divers.  All three kings were released unharmed to thrill another angler another day.

     There is a bit of a learning curve involved with using Slide Divers, but they are so effective for trout and salmon, the time it takes to learn to use them is well worth it.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, If You Always Did What You Always Do

    Posted on April 12th, 2019 admin No comments

     

    A change in tactics put this silver king in the boat.

    If you always do what you always did, you will always catch what you always caught.  I remember that statement by Chip Porter, one of the best fishermen on the upper Great Lakes, when he and I were touring the states of Michigan and Wisconsin a few years back giving seminars for Chip’s Salmon Institute.

     The point he was making was although an angler may catch fish using the same technique that has produced for many years, it still pays to be versatile and experiment with new techniques and fishing gear.  Conditions might change in the waters you fish or the fishing there may fizzle altogether, and you might have to seek out new waters where your old technique doesn’t work as well.  Also, if you learn new techniques, you might be even more successful in your favorite waters, catching more and bigger fish.

     Back in the 1960s on 28 mile long Lake George in northeastern New York State, a top fishing guide named Doug specialized in hooking up his clients with bottom hugging lake trout.  His technique, jerk lining 7-inch Hinkley spoons on copper line was devasting for big lakers feeding on ciscoes up to 10 inches.  But, the ciscoe population diminished and smelt showed up in the lake in 1976 changing the predator/prey scenario.  Doug consistently caught plenty of lakers in the 1960s doing the same thing he had always done,  but when conditions changed, and smelt became the primary lake trout forage, he stayed on top of his game  by switching to smaller smelt size spoons.

    At the same time, 2 to 4 lb. rainbow trout were plentiful in Lake George, but Doug never fished for them, even though I consistently caught them fishing small Mooselook wobblers on leadcore line at moderate trolling speeds and at slower speeds on leadcore using small chrome/copper cowbells trailed 18 inches back by an F-4 fluorescent red Flatfish.  If Doug had changed his ways and added a single leadcore rig to his spread his clients would have caught more rainbows.  

    In the early 1970s, downriggers first became available commercially and I started doing something I had never done, leaving my copper  and leadcore rigs at the dock and experimenting with riggers in Lake George for trout and salmon.  There was a learning curve involved in fishing this new fangled gear, but it didn’t take long to figure things out.  Trolling medium size Mooselooks at moderate speed near bottom was all it took to catch lakers.  The only problem was most of these lakers were 5 lbs. or less and I knew as a fishery  biologist working on the lake that much larger lakers were there.

    Although I could have fished the same old way with Mooselooks and continued to catch small lakers on spoons at a moderate trolling speed, I wasn’t satisfied and continued to experiment with different downrigger techniques.  Surprise, surprise!  Yes, there were bigger, lazier, slow moving lakers there, and they could not resist an F-7 Flatfish wobbling along slowly,  inches off bottom, 4 feet behind an 8-inch chrome dodger attached to the tail of a fish-shaped downrigger weight.

    At the slow speed I was trolling for lakers, the same, small, 4-blade cowbell I used for rainbows on leadcore line caught suspended ‘bows just as well on light tackle when the cowbell was attached directly to a downrigger weight and fished with the same fluorescent red F-4 Flatfish trailing 18 inches behind the tail spinner of the cowbell at a water temperature of 61 degrees. 

    Not doing what I had always done with copper and leadcore line produced consistent combination catches of lakers and rainbows on much lighter tackle than I had been using.  

     

  • lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, MLE, Fish Cleaning and Rigging Table

    Posted on April 4th, 2019 admin No comments

     

    Cleaning fish onboard is a time saver for my customers and me.

    Making life easy(MLE), as easy as possible has always been a driving force onboard my charter boat, the Fish Doctor.  MLE saves time, money, and most importantly, energy.

    Energy  conservation is a major issue when a captain is fishing solo with no mate, doing many doubles during the season from daylight to near dusk on 150 to 200 trips per season.  Every move is measured.  Every ounce of energy saved is an extra ounce available  for rigging another line, handling another fish, another charter, or coping with another day of high seas.

    Over the years I have learned ways to save energy and time while on the water to become as efficient as possible, and the cleaning board I built on the port transom of my charter boat is near the top of the list.

    It started simply as a cleaning board, built on pedestals about placing the board about8 inches above the gunnel.  The initial objective was fish cleaning on the water after a trip on the way back to the dock.  The purpose, two fold, (1) for the convenience of anglers so they did not have to pay for fish cleaning or wait in line after hours on the water at the fish cleaning station, and, (2) to save time for me between trips or at the end of trips.

    That is exactly what happened, but in addition I use the cleaning table at the port corner of my boat far more for other things than fish cleaning.  The table isperfect for rigging at the back of the boat, changing lures, rigging bait, cutting Sushi strips and more, plus it’s a “leaning post”.

    What an energy saver for me, especially in rough water,  when rigging lines, including the port corner rigger, as well as wire Dipsys, copper, leadcore, and others!  The reason…, being waist high, I can lean against it, helping balance myself.

    Because of the waist high height of the cleaning table, it quickly became the favored station on the boat for fighting fish, again, especially in rough water.  Folks unaccustomed to boats and a bit unsure on their feet in rough water can lean against it to keep their balance while battling trout and salmon.

    Lastly, it’s a tool bench.  A few holes strategically placed at the front corners of the table are perfect for holding pliers, etc., keeping them at my finger tips when I need them at the business end of the boat.  A few screw hooks inderneath and I have a place to hang my billy club, scent bottles, etc.

    When you’re busy on the lake, it’s all about efficiency and energy conservation.  Make your life easier!

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salm on Fishing…, MLE(make life easier) Tips from the Fish Doctor

    Posted on April 2nd, 2019 admin No comments

     

    This pic has nothing to do with MLE techniques..., just checking to see if any of you boys are reading my blog!

    There is nothing a charter fishing captain who fishes two trips a day, day after day in all kinds of weather and conditions likes any more than something that MAKES LIFE EASIER(MLE)!  Over the years, I have discovered some of these MLE items that will save you time, effort, and money.

     As I prepare for the 2019 charter fishing season beginning in midApril in and around Oswego Harbor trolling shallow for trout and salmon, one of the first things that will makes life easier and save a ton of energy and aggravation is the use of 6 lb. downrigger weights.

     It may not sound like much, but the difference between using 6 lb. and 10-12 lb. downrigger weights when you’re fishing up to two trips day after day is HUGE.  It’s huge as far as saving energy, and it’s even huger when it comes to reducing wear and tear on your body and equipment.

     Here’s the deal.  Most anglers use the same 10 or 12 lb. rigger weights all season, whether they’re fishing shallow or deep.  However, there is actually no need for the heavier rigger weight when you’re fishing shallow, especially at early spring brown trout depths or offshore spring steelhead depths shallower than 10-15 feet.  The lighter rigger weights work fine with minimal blowback.

     If you’re using downriggers mounted either astern or abeam with booms long enough to require a retro-ease, which is used to pull the weight close enough for rigging, there is a huge difference between pulling a light rigger weight and a heavier weight to the boat.  If you’re using a heavy weight, you have to grab on to the retro-ease line firmly with your full hand, pull it to the boat, and lock it in place with the chock.  It takes some “umphh”!  When you get it locked in place, if the water is rough, you all know what happens.  The weight starts to rock and roll, putting a lot of stress on your retro-ease line, downrigger boom, rigger cable, terminal snap, etc., etc.  Put too much stress on the cable connection to the weight too many times, and you hear the dreaded splash as the cable breaks and the weight heads for bottom.  Been there, done that, eh?

     Now, with the lighter 6 lb. MLE weights,  you grasp the retro-ease line with a couple of fingers, easily pull the light weight to the boat and lock it in the chock.  When it’s rough, the little weight bobs around a bit, but doesn’t put much stress on your gear.

     This MLE tip saves me tons of energy thru the season whenever I’m trolling shallow.

     The other major benefit of 6# weights over larger weights…, completely different signature with far less “disturbance” in the water .  The result…, trout and salmon hitting on shorter setbacks.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Targeting Early Spring Cohos

    Posted on March 16th, 2019 admin No comments

     

    An early April coho that could not resist a red dodger and green fly

    Plenty of late March and Early April cohos are caught by brown trout trollers, but if you really want to fill the cooler with delicious spring “silvers”, you need to target them.  And, that’s exactly what we were doing just outside Oswego Harbor aboard the Fish Doctor in early April. 

     On my 16” flat screen,  we watched in amazement as four cohos darted around behind a red #00 and Little Green Hummer fly 5’ behind my Strike Vision camera on the center rigger down 15’.  As all four fish swirled around in full view of the camera, one of the  silvery torpedos shot forward and nailed the fly, pulling the line from the release.  The 7’ Shortstick sprang upward and a quick hand snatched the ultralight rod from the rod holder.  Before the excited angler could say, “Fish on!”, the mint silver coho was already airborne.

     All 13 rods in our coho spread of riggers, Dipsys, and inline planers were rigged with red #00 dodgers and L’il Green Hummer flies.  We were definitely targeting cohos

     Coho salmon are an early spring bonus in inshore waters of  Lake Ontario, and are often in the  same water around Oswego Harbor as brown trout or just outside them in the ice water.   Nothing compares to their wild and wooly antics when hooked close to the boat.  Absolutely fearless of boats, and very surface oriented, I’ve seen them hit lures many times that were in full view, less than 6’ behind a down rigger weight and not more than one foot below the surface. 

     The wilder and noisier the action of a lure and the gaudier the color, the more cohos like it.  As they say, cohos like any colored lure as long as it has fluorescent red.  When you find a “wolf pack” of marauding spring cohos, prepare for action, because it’s not unusual for  every single rod you have in the water to double over with a fish on it.

     Cohos are hyper fish.  Everything they do is fast including the rate at which they grow.  The cohos that make up Lake Ontario’s spring fishery are 2-year old fish that weigh 2-3+ lbs.  By late August of the same year, when they stage before returning to the hatchery in the headwaters of the Big Salmon river in Mexico Bay they will weigh 6-12 lbs. and more.   After spawning, adult cohos will die like all Pacific salmon. 

     Unlike Chinook salmon that migrate back to the lake from spawning streams as spring fingerlings, young cohos remain in rearing streams in for a year or more.  To mimic this behavior, the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation stocks 5”-7” yearling cohos each spring.

     Needless to say, my favorite spring coho rig  is a fluorescent red #00 dodger trailed 12” – 14”(or shorter) back by a 2 -2 ½” green mylar fly.    The smaller dodgers are effective trolled shallow on downriggers and Dipsy divers.  The icing on the cake for any spring coho spread is a set of red #00 dodgers fished behind inline planers port and starboard.

     To rig dodgers and flies for trolling behind inline planers, use 6’ of 20# test leader ahead of the dodger.  Between the leader and the main line snap in a 5/8 to 7/8 ounce bead chain keel sinker.  This keel sinker helps keep the dodger from planing to the surface.  Set the dodger/fly back 25 to70 feet behind the inline planer board, and let the planer board out to the side of the boat the desired distance.  Multiple inline planers can be used off each side of the boat,with the nearest inlineno more than 25’ out. 

     Riggers are normally set in the top 10 feet of water when surface temperatures are cold in late March, and April, then set deeper as temperatures warm and cohos move offshore.  Much like landlocked salmon, cohos are attracted to the boat, and downrigger setbacks of  6 to 20 feet are common.  My side riggers are set 3 to 5 feet down and 10 to 12 feet back with the dodger fly clearly visible from the boat as it wobbles back and forth. 

     Diving planers are set on 15 to 25 feet of line between the rod tip and the Dipsy until surface temps warm.  A trolling speed of 2.0 to 3.0 mph is about right depending on water temperature.  When a coho hits close to the boat, you usually see the fish in the air before you see the rod go!

     Although I rarely target cohos with them, high action jointed plugs like the J-9 orange and gold Rapala or  standard size Michigan Stingers in hot colors, especially in fluorescent red and silver or brass combos will also catch cohos.

     Interestingly, the one salmonid species that likes dodgers and flies almost as much as a coho is the landlocked salmon. 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, A Sushi Fly Lesson

    Posted on January 27th, 2019 admin No comments

    Sushi Flies, rigged and ready with a strip of fresh brined alewife

    (reposted on 1/27/19 after being deleted from archives)

    As I stood at the rigging table in the stern of the Fish Doctor wiring a strip of fresh frozen alewife to a Sushi Fly I just unhooked from the mint silver king lying on the cockpit deck, I could only shake my head.  “Why would a king salmon with a brain the size of a pea select a baited fly over a whole alewife?”

    Earlier that day, on  my morning charter, I had located a concentration of active king salmon well away from the fleet and messed with them with different presentations for a few hours until I found the hot item…, a simple 2-rigger spread of  Kingston Tackle Slashers trailed by whole alewives. 

    It was like clockwork…, mark a king or kings on the fish finder and a rigger rod would pop as a big, adult salmon inhaled the real McCoy behind the flasher.  At trips end, we couldn’t close the two coolers onboard.

    Soo…, having figured things out, I thought, I headed back to the same spot for my afternoon trip, still well away from the fleet.  “We’ve got it made.”, I thought, with what turned out to be way too much confidence.  Fortunately, one of the things I’ve learned over 40 years of charter fishing is to keep that overconfidence to myself, just in case.

    Well, it turned out to be one of those just-in-case situations. As I slowed the Fish Doctor to trolling speed, I pointed out to Val Ducross and his Canadian fishing buddies the waypoint where we had found fish in the morning.   The fish finder showed us the kings were still there.  Again, I thought to myself, “No problem!”, as I rigged the two hot golden retriever Slashers with whole bait in a clear bait holder and dropped them to the magic depth, one set back 15’ the other 25’, spread 10 feet apart.

    Sooo…, we were ready and the rods were popping, right? Wrong!  With absolutely no change in conditions, same sunny sky, same westerly chop, and plenty of kings at the  same depth, I could not believe it…, ZERO!  After 45 minutes of trolling through king salmon, not a touch.  I pulled each rigger several times to checkfor tangles, make sure the bait was rolling properly, and even changed bait, but nothing.  Because the spread had been so good on my morning trip, and conditions had not changed, I probably  left the flashers and whole bait in the water longer than I should have.

    Finally, I had to make a change.  I  pulled the shallowest rigger and without removing the line from the release,  handlined the Slasher to the boat,  replaced the whole bait with a freshly baited Sushi fly, and lowered the same Slasher I had been using, with the same 25’ setback, back to the exact depth where it had been fishing.

    Long story short…, the Slasher and Sushi fly fired in less than 5 minutes and continued to fire nonstop while the Slasher and whole bait next to it never budged.  Once the whole bait behind the Slasher on the  second rigger was replaced with a Sushi fly, that rigger also continued to fire nonstop.

    Are we talking fussy, or what???  Moral of the lesson the kings had given me and many other anglers including some commercial salmon trollers I know in Alaska…, never get hung up for too long on one technique when you’re trolling for fickle king salmon!