• Oswego Trout and Salmon…, Easy Spring Kings

    Posted on January 28th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    May 5, 2004..., Jackson and his crew with part of a limit of early spring kings.

    As we backed my charter boat into the narrow slip at Oswego Marina, my buddy Bob, standing on the dock, asked 12-year old “Jackson” Davis, “How”d they bite, young man?”  Jackson couldn’t wait to spit the words out, “We limited out!”  “Aha, said Bob, the browns are a lot of fun this time of year, aren’t they?”  “We didn’t catch any browns”, Jackson blurted out, we caught king salmon”.  Jackson flipped open the big cooler, heaping with 8 to 19 pound mint-silver kings. 

    The date was May 2, 2005, and we could not have had a better day of  fishing.   I had located the fish the day before, figured out a pattern, and “Jackson”, his Dad, and Bob Jones had cashed in.  The seas were calm and the skies sunny, but the best part…, we were the only boat on eastern Lake Ontario fishing kings that morning.

    Since 2004, spring fishing for king salmon, just 5 minutes outside Oswego Harbor, has been fantastic.  In 2004, 2005 and 2006, just in the monthof  May, anglers aboard my charter boat boated more than 400 king salmon and 150 cohos, this in an area much better known for spring brown trout fishing.  Fishing for king salmon continues on through June and July as these sleek predators stay just offshore while hordes of alewives move shallow to spawn.

    Experience has shown that high spring flow in the Oswego River is a major attraction for baitfish and spring kings and cohos.  Since 2001, another great year for spring kings, the pattern seems clear, high flows produce hot spring salmon fishing. 

    Some springs, as snow melts and runoff peaks flow in the Oswego River reaches up to  25,000 cfs.  Laden with nutrients from thousands of acres of rich farmland in the 5,000 square mile watershed, the huge greenish colored plume of water off Oswego Harbor is like an oasis in the Sahara to fish in eastern Lake Ontario.  With such a mild winter so far in 2015-16, and so little snow pack in central New York, flow in the Oswego River might be lower than normal, but a lot can happen between now and spring. 

    If you’re thinking about sampling the super spring king fishing at Oswego, on a typical sunny day the early bird definitely gets the worm.  Leaving the dock at Oswego Marina at 5:00 AM, it’s only a short 5-minute ride to the fishing grounds in 90 to 100 feet of water.  Most mornings my rods are in the water just before daybreak.  At that time, almost no fish or bait can be seen on my Garmin fish finder below 30 feet.  Some calm mornings, salmon can be seen porpoising right on the surface…, exciting.  All the early morning action is in the top 30 feet of water, and I mean action. 

    Triples and quads are not unusual.  One morning, my crew of three  ranging from 79 to 85 years old, including one “young” lady angler, hooked and landed six kings at once from 13 – 19 lbs.  Whew!  Even though the surface water temperature in early May is 39-40 degrees, on  sunny days, kings start to move deep by 7:00 – 9:00 AM and are often flat on bottom in 120 feet of water by late morning.

     ProChip Flashers and dodgers trailed by Howie Flies are standard fare for spring kings.  Spoons like Maulers, Northern Kings, and Michigan Stingers are also excellent spring king medicine.  Downriggers, Dipsey Divers, and copper line fished from planer boards get lures down to kings.  My personal favorite in May is a white ProChip 8 trailed by a Little Boy Blue Howie Fly.  Mauler spoons in either Black Venom or Blue Dolphin patterns are also deadly fished clean on a downrigger.

     If you’re waiting until August to fish for king salmon in eastern Lake Ontario, you might want to rethink your plan, especially this year.  Oh, and the other thing…, there is no better eating fish in fresh water than a spring king salmon dripping with oil after chowing down on alewives all winter…, yum, yum!

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon…, Less is More

    Posted on January 24th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    A midmorning trio of kings caught with only the center rigger in the water.

    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 Lake Ontario to Oswego Harbor in eastern Lake Ontario 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 with only one  rigger in the water, “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 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 only one!  One fish on one rod every 10 minutes equals 6 fish/hour, equals…  You  know!

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Spring Cohos on Dodgers and Flies

    Posted on January 19th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    A nice coho that hit a green fly behind a red dodger

    We watched my 16” flat screen in amazement as not one, but four cohos darted around behind the red #00 dodger and little green hummer Fish Doctor fly trailing 5’ behind my underwater camera on the center rigger set 15’ below the surface.  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.

    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.   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 or orange in it.  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 3-5 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 northern Oswego Co., 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 3-5 month old spring fingerlings, young cohos remain in spawning streams in rearing areas for more than a year.  To mimic this behavior, the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation stocks 3”-4” chinook salmon at the spring fingerling stage and 5”-7” cohos at the yearling stage.

     One of the favorite rigs for spring cohos is a fluorescent red #00 dodger trailed 12” – 14” back by a small 1” – 2 ½” green mylar coho fly, which I tie myself.  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 #00 dodgers and coho flies behind inline planer boards like the Church TX-12 Mini Planer(www.churchtackle.com) off each side of the boat.  . 

     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 weighted 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.  High action jointed plugs like the J-9 orange and gold Rapala are favorites, along with standard size Michigan Stingers in hot colors, especially in a combination of fluorescent red and silver or brass.

     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.  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!

     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…, The ABU Garcia 7000 Synchro

    Posted on January 16th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    The ABU Garcia 7000 Synchro

    Fifteen minutes earlier, 100 feet below us, a big king salmon had inhaled a whole alewife rigged behind an 11” ProChip flasher.  The rigger rod doubled over, drag screaming on the levelwind reel in John’s hands.   The 25 lb. king thrashing in the net on the deck was a beauty.  John’s comment surprised me.  He didn’t say “Wow, what a beautiful fish!” or “Man what a heck of a fight!”, but, “Holy smokes!  That’s the smoothest reel I’ve ever used!”  My sentiments exactly about Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro.

     Each season on Lake Ontario I fish about 150 charter trips, and put my equipment to the test.  When I find gear that really performs day after day,  I like to share that information with fellow anglers.  This past season, one piece of equipment stood out, Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro, one of the slickest levelwind line counter reels you will ever fish.

     The 7000i Synchro,  holds 250 yards of  20  lb. test monofilament line or 1000 feet of 30# test twisted stainless wire plus mono backing.  I have fished the 7000i line counter four charter fishing seasons, roughly 150 charter trips per season,  for salmon and trout without only minor issues including eventual wear of the level wind and slight loosening of the reel handle.  Most anglers would not put this many hours on a reel in their entire lifetime.

     Since I started trolling for trout and salmon with wire line back in the a1960’s, then leadcore line, Dipsy Divers, planer boards, and downriggers I use today, I’ve fished most  brands of levelwind reels on the market, but none has performed better than the Abu Garcia 7000 Synchro I fished for the first time during the 2011 Lake Ontario season.

     After fishing it almost 650 trips since then, including two months of the 2015 season, the one word that comes to mind is…, NICE!  The 7000 has always been a great reel, popular with Great Lakes charter captains especially.  But, now Abu Garcia has  taken this classic trout and salmon reel several  steps further.  The Carbon Matrix drag is silk smooth.  Three ball bearings give it a Teflon feel.  The rubber textured reel handle knob is super comfortable, but the handiest feature on a busy charter boat is the Synchro drag system.

     Every angler who trolls big water, whether for trout, salmon, walleyes or muskies will appreciate the  Synchro drag system, especially if you fish deep with downriggers or Dipsy Divers.

     No more flipping the free spool lever and thumbing a reel or changing the setting on the star or lever drag as you lower your downrigger into the depths.  No more wearing the skin off your thumb as you drop a Dipsy back on wire. With the 7000i Synchro, if  you want to drop a rigger or let out a Dipsy, you never have to take your hand off the reel handle or change the drag setting.  All you do is crank the reel handle backward a ¼ turn and the drag automatically loosens up slightly, maintaining enough tension to keep a bend in a downrigger rod as a rigger weight drops or allow a Dipsy to drop back slowly.  

     With 150 charter trips under my belt per season, I really appreciate  the Synchro feature of  the 7000 LC reel and everything else about it for Lake Ontario trolling.  What a time saver this drag system is!  Now, when I’m dropping a rigger to 140 feet for lakers, which takes a while, I no longer have to “stand at attention” with a reel in free spool and thumb the spool until the rigger reaches the right depth.  All I do is crank the 7000i’s handle back a ¼ of a turn, walk away, listen for the beep on my Penn rigger signaling the rigger has stopped 140’ down, return to the rigger and crank the Synchro handle forward ¼ of a turn to the original drag setting and I’m good to go.  Meanwhile, I can be netting fish, setting another rod or taking a quick sip of coffee.

     Performing flawlessly four more than four seasons, all I can say is…, What a reel!!! .  My Fish Doctor anglers really enjoy using it, and land  more fish with it because of the silk smooth drag and comfortable rubber tension reel handle knob that isn’t as tiring as a slipper plastic knob.  Very nice reel!

    Fifteen minutes earlier, 100 feet below us, a big king salmon had inhaled a whole alewife rigged behind an 11” ProChip flasher.  The rigger rod doubled over, drag screaming on the levelwind reel in John’s hands.   The 25 lb. king thrashing in the net on the deck was a beauty.  John’s comment surprised me.  He didn’t say “Wow, what a beautiful fish!” or “Man what a heck of a fight!”, but, “Holy smokes!  That’s the smoothest reel I’ve ever used!”  My sentiments exactly about Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro.

     Each season on Lake Ontario I fish about 150 charter trips, and put my equipment to the test.  When I find gear that really performs day after day,  I like to share that information with fellow anglers.  This past season, one piece of equipment stood out, Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro, one of the slickest levelwind line counter reels you will ever fish.

     The 7000i Synchro,  holds 250 yards of  20  lb. test monofilament line or 1000 feet of 30# test twisted stainless wire plus mono backing.  I have fished the 7000i line counter four charter fishing seasons, roughly 150 charter trips per season,  for salmon and trout without only minor issues including eventual wear of the level wind and slight loosening of the reel handle.  Most anglers would not put this many hours on a reel in their entire lifetime.

     Since I started trolling for trout and salmon with wire line back in the a1960’s, then the leadcore line, Dipsy Divers, planer boards, and downriggers I use today, I’ve fished most  brands of levelwind reels on the market, but none has performed as well  than the Abu Garcia 7000 Synchro I fished for the first time during the 2011 Lake Ontario season.

     After fishing it almost 650 trips since then, including two months of the 2015 season, the one word that comes to mind is…, NICE!  The 7000 has always been a great reel, popular with Great Lakes charter captains especially.  But, now Abu Garcia has  taken this classic trout and salmon reel several  steps further.  The Carbon Matrix drag is silk smooth.  Three ball bearings give it a Teflon feel.  The rubber textured reel handle knob is super comfortable, but the handiest feature on a busy charter boat is the Synchro drag system.

     Every angler who trolls big water, whether for trout, salmon, walleyes or muskies will appreciate the  Synchro drag system, especially if you fish deep with downriggers or Dipsy Divers.

     No more flipping the free spool lever and thumbing a reel or changing the setting on the star or lever drag as you lower your downrigger into the depths.  No more wearing the skin off your thumb as you drop a Dipsy back on wire. With the 7000i Synchro, if  you want to drop a rigger or let out a Dipsy, you never have to take your hand off the reel handle or change the drag setting.  All you do is crank the reel handle backward a ¼ turn and the drag automatically loosens up slightly, maintaining enough tension to keep a bend in a downrigger rod as a rigger weight drops or allow a Dipsy to drop back slowly.  

     With 150 charter trips under my belt per season, I really appreciate  the Synchro feature of  the 7000 LC reel and everything else about it for Lake Ontario trolling.  What a time saver this drag system is!  Now, when I’m dropping a rigger to 140 feet for lakers, which takes a while, I no longer have to “stand at attention” with a reel in free spool and thumb the spool until the rigger reaches the right depth.  All I do is crank the 7000i’s handle back a ¼ of a turn, walk away, listen for the beep on my Penn rigger signaling the rigger has stopped 140’ down, return to the rigger and crank the Synchro handle forward ¼ of a turn to the original drag setting and I’m good to go.  Meanwhile, I can be netting fish, setting another rod or taking a quick sip of coffee.

     Performing flawlessly four more than four seasons, all I can say is…, What a reel!!! .  My Fish Doctor anglers really enjoy using it, and land  more fish with it because of the silk smooth drag and comfortable rubber tension reel handle knob that isn’t as tiring as a slipper plastic knob.  Very nice reel!

    Fifteen minutes earlier, 100 feet below us, a big king salmon had inhaled a whole alewife rigged behind an 11” ProChip flasher.  The rigger rod doubled over, drag screaming on the levelwind reel in John’s hands.   The 25 lb. king thrashing in the net on the deck was a beauty.  John’s comment surprised me.  He didn’t say “Wow, what a beautiful fish!” or “Man what a heck of a fight!”, but, “Holy smokes!  That’s the smoothest reel I’ve ever used!”  My sentiments exactly about Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro.

     Each season on Lake Ontario I fish about 150 charter trips, and put my equipment to the test.  When I find gear that really performs day after day,  I like to share that information with fellow anglers.  This past season, one piece of equipment stood out, Abu Garcia’s 7000i Synchro, one of the slickest levelwind line counter reels you will ever fish.

     The 7000i Synchro,  holds 250 yards of  20  lb. test monofilament line or 1000 feet of 30# test twisted stainless wire plus mono backing.  I have fished the 7000i line counter four charter fishing seasons, roughly 150 charter trips per season,  for salmon and trout without only minor issues including eventual wear of the level wind and slight loosening of the reel handle.  Most anglers would not put this many hours on a reel in their entire lifetime.

     Since I started trolling for trout and salmon with wire line back in the a1960’s, then the leadcore line, Dipsy Divers, planer boards, and downriggers I use today, I’ve fished most  brands of levelwind reels on the market, but none has performed as well  than the Abu Garcia 7000 Synchro I fished for the first time during the 2011 Lake Ontario season.

     After fishing it almost 650 trips since then, including two months of the 2015 season, the one word that comes to mind is…, NICE!  The 7000 has always been a great reel, popular with Great Lakes charter captains especially.  But, now Abu Garcia has  taken this classic trout and salmon reel several  steps further.  The Carbon Matrix drag is silk smooth.  Three ball bearings give it a Teflon feel.  The rubber textured reel handle knob is super comfortable, but the handiest feature on a busy charter boat is the Synchro drag system.

    Every angler who trolls big water, whether for trout, salmon, walleyes or muskies will appreciate the  Synchro drag system, especially if you fish deep with downriggers or Dipsy Divers.

     No more flipping the free spool lever and thumbing a reel or changing the setting on the star or lever drag as you lower your downrigger into the depths.  No more wearing the skin off your thumb as you drop a Dipsy back on wire. With the 7000i Synchro, if  you want to drop a rigger or let out a Dipsy, you never have to take your hand off the reel handle or change the drag setting.  All you do is crank the reel handle backward a ¼ turn and the drag automatically loosens up slightly, maintaining enough tension to keep a bend in a downrigger rod as a rigger weight drops or allow a Dipsy to drop back slowly.  

     

     With 150 charter trips under my belt per season, I really appreciate  the Synchro feature of  the 7000 LC reel and everything else about it for Lake Ontario trolling.  What a time saver this drag system is!  Now, when I’m dropping a rigger to 140 feet for lakers, which takes a while, I no longer have to “stand at attention” with a reel in free spool and thumb the spool until the rigger reaches the right depth.  All I do is crank the 7000i’s handle back a ¼ of a turn, walk away, listen for the beep on my Penn rigger signaling the rigger has stopped 140’ down, return to the rigger and crank the Synchro handle forward ¼ of a turn to the original drag setting and I’m good to go.  Meanwhile, I can be netting fish, setting another rod or taking a quick sip of coffee.

     Performing flawlessly four more than four seasons, all I can say is…, What a reel!!! .  My Fish Doctor anglers really enjoy using it, and land  more fish with it because of the silk smooth drag and comfortable rubber tension reel handle knob that isn’t as tiring as a slipper plastic knob.  Very nice reel!

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Timing is Everything

    Posted on January 11th, 2016 admin No comments

     

    Mike, Dave, and Nate Inginger with a king salmon triple they boated in early morning on 5/28/15.

    Whether it’s precisely casting a dry fly to a rising brown trout in a crystal clear stream or centering a rocketing grouse in a pattern of 6’s as it thunders away thru a jungle of aspens, timing is everything.   So too, is timing the secret to a successful king salmon fishing trip on Lake Ontario.

     

    Misconceptions about the best time to fish for kings in eastern Lake Ontario plague anglers and result in disappointing trips.  Many years ago, back in the late 70’s when I first started fishing eastern Lake Ontario, king salmon were few in number and only available to boat fishermen when adult spawners moved into the southeast corner of Lake Ontario in August and September to stage in Mexico Bay off the mouth of the Salmon River where the first king salmon stockings were made in 1971.  Ever  since, the notion persists that the best king salmon fishing is still in August and September.   Each year I even receive calls from anglers asking to book lake salmon fishing charters in October, long after adult kings have entered spawning streams. 

     

    The fact is, in the Oswego area of Lake Ontario king salmon are available through most of the lake charter fishing season from early May to mid to late September, depending on conditions.  Some of the best, most consistent king salmon fishing occurs long before August in some of the nicest weather of the lake fishing season, when mint silver kings are aggressively feeding, and much better eating than when they start coloring up in late August. 

     

     A few years ago, in the month of May, in 31 charter fishing trips, Fish Doctor anglers boated 201 adult kings in 31 trips.  Last season, 2015, the hottest salmon fishing of the season was from late April thru May and again from July 10 to to August 8.  When George and Kevin Robinson and their two buds fished aboard the Fish Doctor on May 30, they boated 10 adult kings, our best catch in May, with no other boats nearby.  Later on July, our best trip that month, Joe Winot and his family boated 15 kings on a beautiful, calm, sunny day.   Compared to later in August and September, there is lots of elbow room on the water in May and July.

     

    In May, if river flows are high, the warm, nutrient laden water of the Oswego River, is like a magnet to baitfish and the trout and salmon which feed on them.  King and coho salmon stack up in the plume of the Oswego River where it extends out into the lake in 70 to 120 feet of water, providing fast spring salmon fishing.

     

    The peak alewife spawn, when the bulk of the adult Lake Ontario alewives are inshore spawning in shallow water occurs each year around midJune.  As these baitfish begin to move back offshore in early July after spawning in the warm shallows, adult kings, steelhead, and brown trout along with an occasional Atlantic salmon are waiting for them in the deeper, colder water .  When that happens these actively feeding salmonids are an easy target for anglers along the outside edge of the baitfish concentrations.  Alewives slowly move back out into deeper water after spawning, and the king salmon follow them, providing fast fishing action in July and early August.

     

    Importantly, weather conditions tend to be much more stable in spring and midsummer than late August and September, when the big blows across the length of the 200 mile long lake keep many anglers off the water. 

     

    After midAugust, the quality of king salmon fishing in the lake depends mostly on the weather.  If it’s windy and rough, you cannot safely and/or comfortably fish the lake.  If it’s rainy with lots of runoff, flow in  rivers like the Salmon and Oswego rises, attracting spawning kings.  I’ve seen major king salmon runs in the Salmon River as early as August 24.  When that happened, it was tough to catch a salmon within 6 miles of the mouth of the Salmon River for the next three days. 

     

    Another factor to consider is boat fishing pressure in late August and September when kings stage in small areas off the mouth of the Salmon River and in and around Oswego Harbor, concentrating fishing boats.  Yes, there are lots of kings in that situation, but lots of boats also, definitely not a place for the weak of heart! 

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Salmon Skein for River Kings

    Posted on September 12th, 2015 admin No comments

     

    This huge male king could not resist a dead drifted gob of salmon skein.

    Although most river kings are foul hooked illegally in Great Lakes tributaries like New York State’s Salmon River, kings can be caught legally.  My drift boat clients boated many hundreds of kings on back trolled wobbling plugs like M-d Flatfish, gaudy wooly buggars fly cast to spawning fish, and dead drifted salmon skein.  For the wading fisherman, though, salmon skein drifted on a float is one of the simplest and  most effective techniques.

     

     The following article “Deadliest  River Salmon Bait”, by Kenny Darwin describes how to catch river kings on skein.   

     

    Kings go nuts for a chunk of skein drifting in the current. They strike the offering more often than coho, browns or steelies and I’m not certain exactly why. Is it the waving action of the membrane that holds the eggs together that draws their attention? Maybe the odor of fresh eggs, held tight in the natural membrane smells irresistible. Heck, I’ve seen kings in clear water streams like the Platte, Betsie, Pere Marquette, Boardman in Traverse City and more swim several feet across current to get in a downstream feeding position of the drifting candy. Sometimes they gulp the bait and you can see them smashing the eggs in their mouth, between their sharp teeth, and a cloud of milky substance is expelled through their gills. More often they slowly open their huge maw, take the bait very gently, in a non-violent feeding fashion, and the strike is less abrupt than a small trout or perch pecking at your hook.

    So, which skein works best and where can you get it? It has been this old river rat’s experience that the number one skein comes from Chinook salmon. Coho will work, steelhead is OK, brown eggs are almost impossible to find, but king eggs are the ticket. My recommendation would be to visit a salmon trolling port like Ludington, Frankfort, Manistee, and Grand Haven, anyplace that has a fish cleaning station. Go in August when king eggs are still tight in the skein. Most Great Lakes trollers catch enough kings that they simply toss the valuable bait down the grinder with the carcass. Wash the eggs to remove blood, let drip dray, place in ZipLoc freezer bag with a couple hands full of Boraxo 20 Mule team soap. Roll skein until cover with Boraxo and freeze. A skein will keep for a couple years in the freezer. I collect skein for fall and spring fishing during August when catching Great Lakes kings that have tight membrane. By September 1st I’ve got several king skeins in the freezer and when the fish are slamming spawn in Sep.-Nov., I’ve got plenty of bait for river outings.

    When you get ready to go fishing, thaw the skein, cut it with scissors into bite size bits and cover the eggs with Boraxo 20 Mule Team soap. Place the eggs on newspaper and roll until the bits are covered with soap and the moisture of the cut eggs has disappeared. Toss any newspaper that is wet or covered with egg gunk. Allow the eggs to dry for a few hours, place in clean Ziploc bag, jar or plastic container and refrigerate. Roll skein in Ziploc to completely cover all moist areas, ad more Boraxo if the powder gets mushy. Skein in the frig can last several months, provided you keep rolling it and adding new Boraxo. Take out the day you want to fish. You can reach into the bag and grab individual chunks and not cover your hands, clothing, and boat with egg juice.

    The biggest advantage of rolling cut chunks in Boraxo is it dries the membrane, makes it easier to place on the hook and the eggs toughen up. This process happens relatively quickly and you can go fishing with the cut skein almost immediately after it has been rolled in Boraxo.

    If you catch a female river king and her eggs are still tight, you can make dynamite bait pronto by cutting and treating with Boraxo powder. Some stream fishermen prefer to use skein that has not been frozen.

    One deadly trick is to use a bit of color with the Boraxo. This gives the eggs a more vivid look and salmon love eggs died red, orange, pink or yellow. One of my secret tricks is to use a pinch of Siberian Salmon Egg cure radiant orange color. Mix it 50/50 with Boraxo, stir it with eggs and it will quickly turn them a beautiful bright orange color that river kings can not resist. Some anglers prefer to mix eggs with cherry Jell-O mix and others use regular food coloring. Some coloring will dye your hands, so when using colored cut spawn make certain to carry a rag to wipe hands.

    The problem with cut spawn is it’s difficult to keep on the hook. It requires a gentle lob cast in order to prevent jerking the offering off the hook. Some Michigan anglers use a skein egg loop knot or snell on the hook. You can snell single or treble hooks. I prefer using a large single hook No.4 Mustad 92141, which has a turned up eye. The snell knot wraps around the shank of the hook out through the eye and the skein is placed in the loop of the line near the eye. The loop holds the egg cluster and because the skein is cured it will stay on the hook for quite a while. Eggs will break off the cluster and drift in the current, which is a fine way to chum salmon. When the eggs are gone and only the white membrane remains, replace with a fresh skein chunk.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…,, Meat and Mylar

    Posted on August 7th, 2015 admin No comments

    A 29 lb. king that hit a mirage fly baited with a strip of herring on 8/4/15

    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

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Preferred Water Temps for Trout and Salmon

    Posted on August 3rd, 2015 admin No comments

     

    Grant and Capt. Ernie, with one of a cooler full of kings boated on July29, 2015.

    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.

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Copper Do’s and Don’ts

    Posted on July 22nd, 2015 admin No comments

     

    Joe Winot and his mom Darlene double teamed this king to the net on 200' of copper.

    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!

     

  • Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Fishing…, Generating that Strike

    Posted on July 7th, 2015 admin No comments

    Proper presentation is the key to generating strikes from kings, this one boated on 4/30/15.

    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.