Posted on August 7th, 2015 No comments
An hour into their afternoon trip, Mike Ducross and his buddies from Cornwall, Canada, were not quite as optimistic as they had been after watching my morning charter carry heavy coolers of 20–30 lb. Lake Ontario kings off the dock. They had heard the war stories about how we had them dialed in all morning with whole alewives and big flashers, and knew we were returning to the very same “X” on my chart plotter. The Sitex fish finder showed the kings were still there, but they were turning their noses up at our 2-rigger spread of 13” Slashers and whole alewives down 120 and 130 feet.
With unwavering confidence in the big silver and gold prism taped golden retriever flashers in bright midday light for staged kings, I had opted for changes in leader length and bait head color, to no avail, before deciding on one last change before doing something drastic.
Still firm in my belief that when a big king bellies up to the sushi bar he’s looking for one thing, alewives, I reached into my bait cooler for a freshly salted alewife strip and replaced the whole bait with a baited fly. Minutes after dropping the rigger back to same depth of 120’ with the same 15’ setback, the rod fired. Immediately I reset it the second time, and it fired again. Meanwhile, the whole bait, 10’ deeper at 130’and 25’ back was just a slug. While fighting the second fish, Mike pulled the deep rigger, while I baited another Mirage fly, and we reset the rigger exactly as before, 130’ down and 25’ back. Before we could untangle the second king from the net, the deep rigger fired.
Four hours later, as the sun angled toward the horizon and light intensity at the riggers dropped, you guessed it, the program changed and the kings decided they absolutely loved whole alewives in a glow green bait head 60” behind a glow green splatterback HotChip 11.
Why a king salmon, with a brain the size of a pea, would select a baited fly over a whole alewife one time and do the reverse the next, I cannot imagine. What I can say is it’s not the first time I’ve seen it happen, and I’ll be ready when it happens again.
Baited flies and, before that, baited hoochies or squids, in combination with flashers have been a go-to rig for me aboard my charter boat, ever since my first trip to Alaska in 1990. Fortunate to be invited aboard several commercial salmon trolling boats, the first thing I noticed on deck was buckets of 11” plastic flashers, mostly white, green, chartreuse, and red. Hanging on the rear of the cabins were rows and rows of 3 ½” hoochies(squids) in a myriad of colors, some for kings, some for cohos. Closer inspection of the hoochies showed a piece of light brass wire, inside each hoochie, attached to the eye of a 6/0 single hook.
The wire on these hooks was for attaching 3”- 4” herring strips inside the hoochie, which rarely go in the water for Alaskan kings without bait.
The trollers also showed me how they rigged whole herring, herring filets, and cut plugs, all of which they carry onboard, along with spoons and plugs, during an king salmon opening. To a man, they were adamant about how fussy king salmon were and how important it was to master a variety of techniques to consistently catch fish in all conditions.
I never forgot that lesson, and returned to Lake Ontario with a new perspective on fishing bait for kings and a conviction to do my utmost to become as versatile as possible in fishing for them .
Today, my favorite flashers with baited flies include, 8” ProChips, 11” ProChips and HotChips, and 13” Kingston Tackle Slashers in a variety of colors and finishes. I use 36”- 48” leaders on 11”- 13” flashers and 19”- 30” leaders on 8” flashers. Flasher/fly color combos are the same as for clean flies.
Rather than the single hook used by commercial trollers, I prefer a tournament tie with a 5/0 beak hook and a #2 bronze treble. The same tournament tie used with clean flies can be used with bait, but I prefer to extend the leader length between the beak and treble hooks about 1 ½” so the treble trails at the tail of the bait. Although, the alewife bait strip can be hooked on the leading beak hook, even a properly prepped alewife bait strip softens quickly in fresh water and seldom will stay on a hook very long.
The secret to keeping an alewife bait strip secured inside the fly is to wrap it on the beak hook just behind the hook eye using soft .020” diam. brass wire. Although the brass wire can be attached to the beak hook on a pretied Tournament Tie, I like to attach it before I snell the hook, by simply placing a 3” length of wire midway through the eye of the hook, pulling the brass wire down along the shank of the hook, and tying the snell, leaving about 1 ½ inches of each end of the wire extending to each side of the hook.
The head end of a correctly shaped bait strip, tapered to about 3/8”, is then laid skin down against the hook shank, and the brass wire is wrapped from opposite directions around the bait with enough tension to slightly bury the wire into the meat on the bait strip. It is not necessary to twist the ends of the wire together to hold the strip. The wired bait will remain in the fly as long as you fish it. I prefer lightly dressed flies for use with bait strips.
From 18 years of experience fishing what have now become know on my charter boat as sushi flies, I’ve found that elongated diamond shaped bait strips about 3” in length and ½” to 1” wide, tapered to 3/8” at the head and ½” at the tail are about right. The later in the season, the larger the bait strip, including strips with tails as wide as ¾”. Bait strips are filleted from both sides of an alewife and trimmed to shape. The better the quality of a bait strip, the better it catches fish.
Availability of alewives to use as whole bait or bait strips has always limited the use of alewives for Great Lakes trout and salmon. The Familiar Bite Co., which harvests, brines, and vacuum packs fresh alewives in 8-packs, has now solved this problem. To properly prep quality bait strips, filet alewives when fresh or immediately after removing partially thawed bait from a vacuum pack, trim them to shape, and place them in a ziplock bag of noniodized salt. They will keep indefinitely refrigerated. I carry ziplocks of preshaped bait strips in a small bait cooler along with a brine jar of whole alewives and an ice pack.
Years of experience and millions of Great Lakes king salmon have proven clean flies catch fish. When it comes to inactive kings, though, especially staged fish or big, lazy fish, I’ve found that sushi flies are just what the doctor ordered
Posted on August 3rd, 2015 No comments
Any Great Lakes angler who trolls the midsummer depths for trout and salmon will tell you that temperature is one of the keys to locating and catching trout and salmon.
In early July this season as surface water temperatures increased, trout and salmon dropped deeper into cooler water. On July 11, when the Winot family filled coolers with salmon aboard the Fish Doctor, most of the kings were caught between 40 and 60 feet below the surface. Two weeks later, when Bob Heimbecker and his son Grant and fishing buddies Glen, Donnie, Rick and Heather fished with me on July 29, kings had dropped to 75 feet and deeper.
Most fishing books and articles list preferred water temperatures for locating kings, browns, steelhead,, and lakers, but experience has shown me that these so called optimum temperatures may be close to meaningless most of the time.
As for optimum water temperatures, read the “Good Book” and remember what it says, but don’t use the info as the “Bible”. In my “Fish Doctor Book”, preferred water temperature for various salmonid species falls into two categories, 1) resting temperatures, and 2) feeding temperatures. These, I find, are far different. Sure, when steelhead are dormant, they may be found resting in 42 – 52 degree water, suspended in the depths in midlake with their eyes closed(not literally). Why then,did we catch one setting a rigger, 30 feet behind the boat, 6 inches below the surface in 72 degree water on a bright, sunny afternoon in early July? Answer…, because it was actively feeding, looking for bugs or whatever it could find right on the surface, 100 feet above cold water.
A hungry fish isn’t much of a reader and it doesn’t always follow the rules. Put some baitfish a few feet above or below it’s so-called preferred water temperature, and it will ignore the written word in favor of hunger pangs. Chinook salmon and steelhead, both transplants from the Pacific, have rewritten the book in Lake Ontario on preferred temperature for these species, probably as a result of evolution and natural adaptation to the colder waters of Lake Ontario. Thirty years ago, we usually caught chinooks in 50 to 60 degree water. Today, they are common found feeding in water temperature as warm or warmer than 60 degrees, but resting in the ice where it’s a chilly 41 degrees. Brown trout may be even more temperature tolerant, and I have boated many in water temperatures from 65 to 71 degrees. Steelhead once common in water temps from the mid40’s to mid50’s and low 60’s, are now bending rods in surface breaks at 38-41 degrees.
My rule of thumb…, when trout and salmon are aggressively feeding, fish warm. When their guts are bulging with alewives and other forage, don’t be afraid to drop ‘em deep and fish the ice.
Posted on July 22nd, 2015 No comments
After I wrote the article, “Copper Magic” which appeared in a 2006(I think?) issue of Great Lakes Angler, lots of trollers read about the benefits of trolling copper line, including the mystical electrical attraction of fish to wire, and the fast sink rate, 1.65 times that of leadcore. Most anglers who tried copper raved about their success catching trout and salmon with it. A few had problems, mostly with (1) depth control, (2) kinks and breaking, (3) and attaching backing and leader to copper. Since then, copper line has become the rage on the Great Lakes. Lots of anglers have mastered it’s use, but many, including folks new to fishing copper, still have some problems with it.
Depth Control – So, you spooled up with an unknown amount of line and you’re on the water. You’re seeing kings on your fish finder at 66 feet and want to put drop your copper rig right to that depth. Good luck. You’re just guesing unless you know precisely how much line you have in the water. The .037 diam. copper line I use sinks at a rate of 22 of depth per 100 feet of line at a speed of 2.7 mph when fishing a spoon. Dodgers and rotating flashers, which have more resistance in the water run shallower. To control the depth at which you’re fishing with copper, you must either buy premeasured sections of line, or measure it yourself.
When I rig reels for fishing 100 to 500 feet sections of copper from inline boards I accurately measure it with a 200 foot surveyor’s tape. For copper rigs that will be fished straight off the boat, I measure the wire and at 25 foot intervals code it with shink tubing or thin strips of adhesive tape from Johnson and Johnson Band-Aids or . If these strips are applied tightly, just a couple of wraps, they will last for many years. Unless the diameter of shrink tube is small enough and it is heated enough, it will slide on copper line.
There are at least two different gauges of twisted copper line now available. The heavier .gauge, labelled 35 lb. test and .037 diameter, may actually test closer to 40 lb.. The lighter gauge is listed at 30 lb. test. I have no idea what the sink rate of the lighter gauge copper is, but did receive some interesting info from Capt. Dave Begins, Dream Chaser Guide Service, who weighed 100 foot sections of each gauge copper with the following results;
30# test – 4.03 oz.
35# test – 5.55 oz.
With the 35# test, heavier gauge line weighing 36% more than the lighter gauge, you can bet the heavier line sinks quicker.
Kinks and Breaking – One of the characteristics of wire line, even soft, multistrand copper, is that it has memory. It is just the nature of the beast. Get some slack in it, and a loop will form. Put tension on the line and the loop tightens into a kink that will eventually break under pressure. Avoid slack line and you’ll avoids kinks.
Yeah, but what about those “Mystery Kinks” that appear even when you’re being really careful? Well, chances are you’re letting your line out to fast, about the same way you let out lead core. What’s happening is you’re letting out line fast enough that your terminal gear plus the speed of the boat isn’t pulling the line tight enough and as the line freefalls, it forms unseen loops underwater. When you stop letting out line, the loops tighten and form kinks. You let it out in perfect shape, but when you reel it in, you have dreadful and costly “Mystery Kinks”,or is it just work of the deep water copper devil!
If you’re fishing copper on inline boards, especially my personal favorites, Church Walleye boards with metal releases, DO NOT clip the copper wire directly in the release. Do not clip or wrap copper wire in any release. Clip the backing in the release, instead. Trust me, or pay the price!
Four years ago, I switched from inline boards to large, triple “megaboards”. Towed on 300 lb. test mono tether line, they’re capable of fishing three sections of copper line as long as 600 feet without the board dropping back. I use Scotty downrigger releases snapped intp a ¼” diameter spring clip(available at Lowe’s, etc.), which is clipped on the tether line.. These big boards are a bit bulky to store onboard, but they do an awesome job in the water.
Attaching Backing and Leader – Nothing is more frustrating than losing fish, gear, and copper line because the attachment between backing and copper broke. If you want to minimize this unpleasant, blood pressure raising experience, use Size 3, 150# test heavy Spro swivels to attach backing and leader to copper line. Spool on 35# test Cortland Spectron, tie an overhand loop knot in it, thread the loop through one eye of the swivel and loop it around the swivel. Spin the last 6 inches of the copper line to tighten the twist in it, slide the copper through the eye of the swivel and then twist the loose end of the copper tightly to secure it. Spool on the measured length of copper, attach the opposite end to another Size 3 Spro swivel in the same manner, and then tie on the mono leader with your favorite knot. Voila!
Oh, and one other thing. Beware the Twili tip if you’re using braided line backing. The sharp end of the stainless coil spring wire can saw through braided line, especially Dacron. Believe me, 300 feet of copper can sink a Church Walleye board! How do I know? You guessed it!
One of many comments I received about fishing copper line was from Capt. Ed Retherford, who fishes Trout Scout V on Lake Huron out of Alpena, Michigan. Ed fished copper to help him place 6th out of 115 boats in the Michigan Brown Trout Super Tournament and to place his crew 5th out of 123 boats in the Ladies Michigan Brown Trout Tournament. Shame, shame on you Ed for sneaking around Alpena for two weeks without telling anyone, including your kids, you started fishing copper!
Posted on July 7th, 2015 No comments
I finally got a day off from a busy Lake Ontario trout and salmon fishing charter schedule, so what the heck was I doing on the water on the morning of July 6, 2015? The answer…, experimenting with a new trolling system geared to catching widely scattered kings. It took only a couple of hours. The 17 lb. king and 8 lb. steelhead in the box, plus a screamer that broke off, and another fish that didn’t hook up were proof of the pudding. The system worked.
Trying to find the right bait or lure and getting a fish to hit it, is an age old challenge to anglers. Too little stimulus, and the fish ignores the bait or lure. To much stimulus and the fish avoids it. What makes fish tick? Well, there are lots of things to consider, not only lure or bait size , color or action, but speed of the lure through the water, available light, and water color, all underscored by fish activity level.
For the troller, speed at which a lure is presented is critical. Troll a streamer for Mr. Lake Trout at 6.0 mph and forget it. Troll that same speed for Mr. Landlock in the right conditions, and hang on. Speed control while trolling shallow is easy using a surface trolling speed indicator or even just a trained eye and ear. Fine tune the action of a lure boatside as you adjust your trolling speed, then maintain that optimum trolling speed.
Speed control as you fish deeper, especially in lakes like LakeOntario with strong subsurface currents is not so simple. As depth and currents increase, on my charter boat I depend heavily on my Fish Hawk X-4 downrigger temp/speed unit that relays back trolling speed and temp at the weight. Once fish are located, and we start catching them at a certain speed, depth, and temperature, it’s all about “repeat-a-fish”, that is repeating the same effective presentation
Much has been written about optimum temperatures and trolling speeds for various gamefish. I once caught a 3 lb. lake trout 3 feet below the surface at 6.0 mph while trolling for landlocks, but I”ve watched a musky on my underwater camera approach a lure when the boat was dead in the water. There is no “bible” on trolling speed. Read the available info, then “sort the wheat from the chaff” based on your own experience. Remember effective trolling speed for any species may vary from day to day based solely on it’s mood.
I believe one of a troller’s greatest pitfalls is trolling at a constant speed in the same direction. With 34 years as a charter captain, I’m still guilty of this, especially when the boat is on autopilot. When fish are hitting at a constant speed/direction, fine, troll at that speed/direction. When they aren’t, vary your speed. Erratic lure speed and direction often spell the difference between a good and a bad day. It’s often not trolling speed that catches fish, it’s changes in trolling speed.
The number of lures anglers troll also affects success, especially on big waters like LakeOntario with multiple salmonid species scattered far and wide from the surface to 250 foot depths. Prior to about 1972, when trout and salmon were near the surface, most trollers fished flatlines, sinking fly lines, or shallow run lead core, and were physically limited to 2-4 lines to avoid tangles. With the advent of downriggers and planer boards, multiple lure presentation vertically and horizontally away from the boat became simpler, allowing charter boats like mine to run a standard surface spread of ten or more lines on planer boards and downriggers.
As for preferred water temperatures, read the “Good Book” and remember what it says, but don’t use the info as the “Bible”. A hungry fish isn’t much of a reader and it doesn’t always follow the rules. Put some baitfish above or below it a few feet, out of it’s preferred water temperature, and it will ignore the written word.
Remember, versatility catches fish. Learn to use a variety of fishing gear and techniques to be more successful. Small inline planer boards that attach directly to your line and fish out from the side of the boat are deadly for landlocks with streamers. In early spring, a Dipsy Diver rigged with your favorite landlock or lake trout spoon fished off the side of the boat with just 25 feet of line in the water is a killer.
Posted on July 5th, 2015 No comments
Thirty years of trolling bait on Lake Ontario has given me a ton of confidence in trolling meat for trout and salmon. Trial and error, success and failure, it has all gone into the equation of a trolling spread I now routinely use. It combines whole bait, Sushi Flies, and artificials. The bait of choice for me and Lake Ontario trout and salmon is the alewife. The best and only fresh frozen, vacuum packed alewives are the Familiar Bite brand available from Great Lakes Tackle Supplies.
One of the questions I’m asked is how to prepare bait strips for Sushi Flies. First, though the Sushi Fly…, deadly for negative kings and a consistent producer of big kings on my charter boat. I rig all my Sushi Flies on 50# fluorocarbon leaders with a tournament tie, a 5/0 beak hook and a trailing #2 chrome treble. It’s the same tie used on unbaited flies, but I extend the leader length between the beak and treble hooks about 1 ½” so the treble trails an inch or so behind the mylar on the fly, approximately even with tail of the bait. Although, the alewife bait strip can be hooked on the leading beak hook, even a properly prepped alewife bait strip softens quickly in fresh water and seldom will stay on a hook very long.
The secret to keeping an alewife bait strip secured inside the fly is to wrap it on the beak hook just behind the hook eye using soft .020” diam. brass wire. Although the brass wire can be attached to the beak hook on a Tournament Tie, I like to attach the wire before I snell the hook, by simply placing a 3” length of wire midway through the eye of the hook, pulling the brass wire down along the shank of the hook, and tying the snell over the wire, leaving about 1 ½ inches of each end of the wire extending to each side of the hook.
The strip of bait for a Sushi fly is filleted from a fresh or fresh frozen alewife, then trimmed to a an extended diamond shaped strip from 3 to 4 inches in length, about one inch wide at the widest point, 3/8” wide at the leadng end, and a half inch wide at the tail end. I usually split the tail end about one inch back into the strip to give it some flutter.
The head end of a correctly shaped bait strip, tapered to about 3/8”, is then laid skin down against the shank of the beak hook, and the brass wire is wrapped from opposite directions around the bait with enough tension to slightly bury the wire into the meat on the bait strip. It is not necessary to twist the ends of the wire together to hold the strip. The wired bait will remain in the fly as long as you fish it.
I prefer lightly dressed flies for use with bait strips. Fresh, high quality bait is the key.
Posted on June 8th, 2015 No comments
Flashers and bait are definitely hot for midsummer king salmon in Eastern Lake Ontario. This commercial salmon trolling technique, imported two decades ago from the Pacific Coast, not only catches salmon, but it excels when they are in a negative mood. It also catches big, slow moving kings that aren’t particularly interested in chasing a fast trolled artificial. Cursed by some, loved by others, a flasher trailed by a whole alewife is a proven king salmon rig in Lake Ontario. The same technique works in any lake using natural bait including smelt.
Beware, though, If you dont like getting your hands fishy, if you don’t want to mess with a rig that can be tricky to tune, or if you want to speed troll at 3.0 – 5.0 MPH or more. However, if would like to master a deadly technique which is a menace to monster kings, you better give flashers and bait a try.
The better the quality and freshness of any bait, the better it works. The only source of quality whole alewifes I’m aware of, if you don’t catch your own, is Great Lakes Tackle Supplies <www.gltsupplies.com. > Fresh frozen, vacuum packed 8-paks of “Familiar Bite” alewives are available online. “Red Label” alewives are 5-6 inches and “Green Label” alewives are 6-7 inches. This bait is pre-salt brined and is ready to fish right out of the package.
To keep alewives as fresh as possible and avoid stinky spills onboard, I keep whole bait and prebaited heads in a small “Tupper Wear” container with an ice pack in a lunch size cooler. Prebaited heads and neatly coiled leaders are stored in individual ziplock bags. The night before I use it, I thaw and rig enough bait and rig it in bait heads to get me started the morning.
Familiar Bite plastic bait heads, specifically designed to fish alewives, are available in clear, green, blue, and chartreuse, rigged with a leader, a 5/0 beak hook and a free swinging #2 treble. Each bait head includes toothpicks you’ll need, one to fasten the alewife in the bait head, and the second to adjust the leader length between the bait head and the bait. I usually doctor them up with stick on eyes and tape
Proper tuning of an alewife trolled at a precise speed is the most important step in effectively fishing flashers and cut bait. This means 1-2 revolutions per second of the bait in a snappy rolling motion, more of a corkscrew than a spin. The better a bait is tuned, the more speed tolerant it will be. A trolling speed of 1.7 – 2.3 mph is generally the target, but whole bait can be tuned to run as fast as 3.5 mph. Everything else, including flasher and bait head color combo, may be perfect, but if a bait head is not tuned properly and trolled at the right speed, you might better be bottom fishing for horned pout.
To tune a bait head, you must insert the whole alewife all the way to the foreward end of the head and firmly secure the bait with a toothpick. If you leave an air space or the bait is loose in the head, the bait head will not fish right. The second toothpick is inserted into the blister of the bait head, wedging it against the leader , holding the leader in place firmly, but allowing just enough movement to adjust the proper bend in the bait.
To make the bait head corkscrew thru the water, hook the beak hook through the lateral line of the bait so the trailing treble hangs freely at the tail of the bait, with at least a half inch between the eye of the beak hook and the rear of the bait head. Then, slowly pull the leader forward through the bait head to put a permanent bend in the bait. The slower the trolling speed, the more bend it generally takes to rotate the bait. The faster the trolling speed, the less bend it takes.
Leaders and their length play a critical role in the effectiveness of flashers and whole bait. Leader lengths from 48-72 inches are most common. The standard rule governing leader length is the more aggressive the fish, the shorter the leader. The lazier the fish, the longer the leader. Monster kings often prefer the lazier action of a bait fished 72 inches or more behind a flasher.
Fishing flashers and whole bait is all about trolling speed control, tuning, color combinations of flashers and bait heads, ;and leader lengths based on the activity level of salmon. Pro-Troll’s 8-inch and 11-inchProChip Flashers make trolling whole bait simple. Standard colors in white, green, and chartreuse are my personal favorites. Most of the time, on my downriggers, I only have two in the water at a time. I also use them on wire Dipsys and copper.
Flashers and bait are tough to beat for catching king salmon. Commercial trollers on the Pacific Coast fish them for their living. In Lake Ontario, the technique has proven itself for two decades. The extra flash of large attractors seem to turn kings on in deep water, and the slow, rolling action and smell of real meat consistently catches kings.
Posted on April 24th, 2015 No comments
I sent the center rigger down the 5th time to 135 feet. Conditions had not changed in several days and I new the troll, due north at a surface speed of 2.7 mph. Wham!! Dr. Kerry Brown, Capt. Tim Hummel, and their first mates, Tom and John watched the 7’ Shortstick double to the water as I tightened the line to the release. The tally was 5 kings in a row on the double pearl dodger and “king salmon” Howie Fly behind the decoy rigger weight down the center, before we could put another line in the water.
Kerry, and his crew had traveled from the Port of Oak Orchard in western LakeOntario to OswegoHarbor in eastern LakeOntario on July 20, 2005, to do an on-water Howie Fly class with me. Tom’s comment after a half hour on the water and five consecutive kings on one rigger, “I’ve seen enough, we can go back!”
What Dave had not seen, was what was comng next. Instead of dropping the center rigger back down to 135’, I rigged the two corner riggers with dodgers and flies and dropped them to 130’ and 120’. No takers! I immediately dropped our hot item on the center rigger back down to 135’. We watched intently. We were still on the same hot troll…, identical speed, identical direction, doing everything to “repeat-a-fish”. The sonar was still showing bait and kings from 100’ to 140’. Nothing. After setting copper lines, wire Dipsys, and a thumper rod, we started catching fish again, but not on the riggers.
One week later, the scenario was similar. As my crew approached the end of an 8-hour charter, we had boated some nice kings, but not a single one of them had come on a rigger rod. Running three to four riggers at a time, the flashers and Howie Flies, had not produced a nibble. Because our copper rods, wire Dipsys, and thumper rods were all firing I had not changed the rigger spread. As we got ready to haul lines, I purposely pulled both boom riggers and spread out the corner riggers, one down 100’, one down 140’. Before I could get the second boom rigger weight out of the water, we doubled on the two green ProChips trailing green krinkle flies. Reducing the number of riggers in the water and spreading them out was all it took.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a firm believer in the addage that, “less is often more”when it comes to fishing riggers. And, when I say less, think about not just dropping down to two riggers, but sometimes to only one! One fish on one rod every 10 minutes equals 6 fish/hour, equals… You know!
Posted on March 29th, 2015 No comments
It had to be frustrating. The two anglers trolling near us in the 16-footer just outside eastern LakeOntario’s OswegoHarbor hadn’t moved a rod. In a flat calm sea I watched the smaller boat’s every move and repeatedly dodged their planer boards that had to be more than 100 feet off their beam with one line on each set no closer than 100 feet from the boat.
Four of our 6 planer board lines were stone dead, but finicky April browns were hammering the tuned black and silver F-11 Rapalas on the other two lines, set just 15’ out from the boat and 70’ back. “It’s all about the cone of disturbance”, I thought to myself.
A few years earlier, trolling for staged king salmon in 12 feet of crystal clear water off the mouth of the Salmon River, my son Randy hollered to me from the cockpit, “Dad, come look at this!” As I peered over the gunnel in the direction he was pointing, I could clearly see the sandy bottom under the boat. Then I saw what he had, a huge school of kings that we were trolling through, moving about 25 feet away from the boat as we passed through them, almost as if we had an invisible plow attached to our hull. Every time we trolled through the school, the fish moved away from the boat exactly the same distance. Again, I thought, “It’s all about the cone of disturbance.”
Cone of disturbance or COD for short, is a concept you don’t hear much about from Great Lakes trollers. A few savvy anglers, though, use it to consistently boat more trout and salmon. It’s the area of disturbance around a boat that pushes surface oriented fish away vertically, and horizontally a certain distance to what I like to call the “sweet spot”. Reverse this concept, and the same factors can actually attract fish from a distance to the outer edge of the COD around a boat. Things like boat visibility, engine and outdrive noise, prop disturbance and flash, hull vibration, and electrical charge all repel fish a certain distance from a boat. That distance depends on other factors like species behavior, water clarity, light conditions, and lake surface conditions. From experience, I’m convinced that even subtle things like engine lifter noise, affects COD.
For some species like the crazy, fearless coho, with a definite attraction to motion and noise, outer limits of the COD may be within arm’s reach. But other more sensitive or wary species like chinooks and browns behave differently, and are seldom caught as close to the boat. For each individual boat, each species has it’s own sweet spot.
The bottom line for anglers is about taking advantage of fish concentrations when presenting baits and lures. As a boat “plows” through the water and pushes fish out to the edge of the COD, fish tend to concentrate a certain distance from the boat. Theoretically, if that distance was 25’ off the beam, and steelhead were equally distributed just under the surface, the concentration of fish in the sweet spot would be 150% or 1 1/2 times greater than the average distribution on the lake surface. Not a bad spot to target, eh?
Effective rigger, Dipsy, sinking line, and planer board setbacks are as much a part of COD as are the perpendicular distances vertically and horizontally from from the hull of the boat. As a boat moves past fish, of course, they may eventually move at whatever distance back behind the boat. Fish a Dipsy Diver with 6 – 10 feet of leader on 15 feet of line to the rod tip for spring browns in clear water and you’ll likely draw a blank. Fish a Slide Diver, one of my favorites, on 15’ of line but with a 20 feet or longer setback to a lure, and you’ll likely hook up.
The other important factor here is fish activity level. We all know fish are not active 24-7. I saw a good example of this at a major sporting goods retail store recently where I was doing a seminar and talking with anglers near the store’s huge aquaria for several hours. While there, I noticed a landlocked salmon, constantly swimming around the aquaria for a couple of hours. Then, for no apparent reason, it suspended motionless, hardly gilling, in a corner of the aquaria, and stayed there for several hours. It reminded me of a scene in an instructional video by master fly fisherman Jim Teeny where he unsuccessfully cast flies to several inactive steelhead lying almost motionless in a shallow run, then chucked a rock at them to break the dormant “spell”, moving them to another location, and then hooked up on his first cast, all filmed from atop a ledge, 50 feet above. Anyone who has spent much time fishing Great Lakes steelhead offshore has seen these fish, lying motionless, just barely below the surface, seemingly dormant. That changes when a boat passes close to them and “kicks them in the butt”. You’ll often find more active fish at the sweet spot along the edge of the COD.
The COD varies from boat to boat. My 28’ twin engine Baha, with oversized mufflers on V-8 engines, catches fish much closer to the boat than a 26’ 4-Wynns I/O I operated years ago. BZ(before zebra mussels) when water visibility was 3-5 feet in Lake Ontario, my son Jeff tipped me off to one of the hottest COD recipes I’ve ever used for surface oriented steelhead, a green size #1 Dipsy Diver on the #3 setting with no ring, on 20 lb. test mono, 25 feet from the rod tip. It not only took more steelhead than any other rod on the boat, the fish caught on it averaged larger. The same recipe was deadly on inshore browns. Thinking more in vertical terms rather than horizontal, one of the deadliest recipes I ever used BZ for staged kings off the mouth of the Salmon River was a tuned #88 Sutton 15 feet behind the weight and 18 feet down over 20 feet of water.
Today, AZ(after zebra mussels), with water visibility greater than 30 feet at times, those recipes have changed, and are more variable, especially as water turbidity varies. Fishing in early spring in the turbid plume of the OswegoRiver in 20-30 feet of water, I still catch browns on Dipsy Divers 25 feet from the rod tip, but in clearer water 40 feet of line to the rod tip is a better recipe. Short rigger setbacks in 20 feet of crystal clear water no longer work for me for staged kings.
I’ve always said that all it takes is one blistering hot rod to make a fishing trip successful, and on many trips on my charter boat, that rod is fishing the sweet spot on the edge of the COD. If your way out rods that are often deadly don’t seem to be working, tuck things in a bit, because chances are, revved up trout and salmon may be eyeballing you boatside as you troll by.
Posted on May 17th, 2012 No comments
If you troll for trout and salmon, and haven’t tried the Slide Diver or the Lite Bite Slide Diver you should. It is a real fish catcher onboard my charter fishing boat, the Fish Doctor, and has really been smokin’ during the fantastic April-May king salmon fishing we’ve been enjoying in the Oswego area of LakeOntario this spring.
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” 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 onMay 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.
Posted on October 19th, 2009 No comments
Mike DuCross and his fishing buddies from Cornwall, Canada, were excited as we headed out of Oswego Harbor in eastern Lake Ontario in early September, 2009. They had seen the catch of 20-30 lb. kings my morning charter carried off the dock, and heard the war stories about how we had them dialed in all morning with whole alewives and big flashers.
With 30 years of experience fishing for fussy Lake Ontario kings, I wasn’t quite as confident. With a hot bite all morning long, I didn’t really know what to expect on the afternoon trip. Two things I did know, though, were that conditions had not changed a bit, in my eyes, since late morning, and the “X” on my chart plotter that marked the scene of the morning’s hot action was where we would start with the same hot 2-rigger spread of Kingston Tackle golden retriever Slashers and Familiar Bite alewives in sun-faded chartreuse bait heads, one rigger at 130’ and back 25’, the other at 120’ and back 15’.
After an hour of trolling without a touch, everything looked the same in early afternoon as it had in late morning on the 10” Sitex CVS 210. There were plenty of kings in the area, but their mood had changed. Altering leader lengths between flasher and bait and switching bait head colors had made no difference.
With unwavering confidence in the big silver and gold prism taped golden retriever flashers in bright midday light for staged kings, I had opted for changes in leader length and bait head color, to no avail, before deciding on one last change before doing something drastic.
Reaching into my bait cooler, I pulled out a a freshly salted Familiar Bite alewife strip, and securely wired it to the leading beak hook of a Tournament Tie on a Mirage fly with a 48” leader and replaced the whole bait with the baited Mirage fly. After dropping the rigger back to same depth of 120’ with the same 15’ setback as before, the rod fired in minutes. Immediately after I reset it the second time, it fired again. Meanwhile, the whole bait, 10’ deeper at 130’and 25’ back was just a slug. While fighting the second fish, Mike pulled the deep rigger, while I baited another fly, and we reset the rigger exactly as before, 130’ down and 25’ back. Before we untangled the second king from the net, the deep rigger with the baited fly fired.
. Why a king salmon would select a baited fly over a whole alewife one time and do the reverse the next time I cannot say. What I can say is that it’s not the first time I’ve seen it happen.
A couple hours later, as the sun dropped toward the horizon and light intensity at the riggers dropped, you guessed it. The program changed and the kings decided they absolutely loved whole Familiar Bite alewives 60” behind an 11” glow green ProChip 11.
Baited flies and, before that, baited hoochies or squids, in combination with flashers have been a go-to rig for me aboard my charter boat, ever since my first trip to Alaska in 1990. I was fortunate to be invited aboard several commercial salmon trolling boats, and the first thing I noticed on deck was buckets of 11” plastic flashers, mostly white, green, chartreuse, and red. Hanging on the rear of the cabins were rows and rows of 3 ½” hoochies(squids) in a myriad of colors, some for kings, some for cohos. Closer inspection of the hoochies showed a piece of light brass wire, inside each hoochie, attached to the eye of a large commercial single hook.
The wire on these hooks was for attaching strips of herring inside the hoochie. The bait strips are generally about 3 inches in length, and a hoochie rarely goes in the water for Alaskan kings without them.
The commercial trollers also showed me how they rigged whole herring, herring filets, and cut plugs, all of which they carry onboard, along with spoons and plugs, when they’re trolling. To a man, they were adamant about how fussy king salmon were and how important it was to master a variety of techniques to consistently catch fish in all conditions.
I never forgot that lesson, and returned to Lake Ontario with not only a new perspective on fishing bait for kings, but a new conviction to do my utmost to become as versatile as possible in fishing for them .
Today, my favorite flashers with baited flies include, 8” ProChips, 11” ProChips and HotChips, and 13” Kingston Tackle Slashers in a variety of color and finishes. I use 36”-48”, 60 lb. mono leaders behind 11” and 13” flashers, and 19” to 30” leaders behind 8” flashers. Flasher/fly color combos are exactly the same as for clean flies.
Rather than the single hook used by commercial trollers, I prefer a tournament tie with a 5/0 beak hook and a #2 bronze treble. The same tournament tie used with clean flies can be used with bait, but I prefer to extend the leader length between the beak and treble hooks about 1 ½” so the treble trails at the tail of the bait. Although, the alewife bait strip can be hooked on the leading beak hook, even a properly prepped alewife bait strip softens quickly in fresh water and seldom will stay on the hook very long.
The secret to keeping an alewife bait strip secured inside the fly is to wrap it on the beak hook just behind the hook eye using soft .020” diam. brass wire. Although the brass wire can be attached to the beak hook on a pretied Tournament Tie, I like to attach it before I snell the hook, by simply placing it through the eye of the hook, pulling the brass wire down along the shank of the hook, tying the snell, and trimming the brass wire leaving about 1 ½ inches of each end of the wire extending to each side of the hook.
The head end of a correctly shaped bait strip that is tapered to about 3/8” at the head end of the strip is then laid skin down against the hook shank, and the brass wire is wrapped from opposite directions around the bait with enough tension to slightly bury the wire into the meat on the bait strip. It is not necessary to twist the ends of the wire together to hold the strip. Using this setup, the bait will stay attached to the beak hook as long as you fish it. I tie my own, lightly dressed flies to use with bait.
From 18 years of experience fishing baited flies, I’ve found that elongated diamond shaped bait strips about 3” in length and ½” to 1” wide, tapered to 3/8” at the head and ½” at the tail is about right. The later in the season, the larger the bait strip, including strips with tails as large as ¾ inches in width. Bait strips are filleted from the both sides of an alewife and trimmed to shape.
The better the quality of the bait strip, the better it catches fish. Availability of alewives to use as whole bait or bait strips has always limited the use of bait for Great Lakes trout and salmon. The Familiar Bite Co., which harvests, brines, and vacuum packs freshly collected alewives in 8-packs has now solved this problem. To properly prep quality alewife bait strips, filet them immediately when fresh or immediately after removing partially thawed bait from the vacuum pack. Trim them to shape, and place them in a ziplock bag of noniodized salt. They will keep indefinitely refrigerated. I carry a ziplock bag of preshaped bait strips in a small bait cooler along with a brine jar of whole alewives and an ice pack.
Years of experience and millions of Great Lakes king salmon have proven clean flies catch kings, but I’ve found that baited flies will outfish clean flies for unaggressive fish, whether they are just negative, nonfeeding staged fish, or big, lazy fish.