This is the time of year when hundreds, no probably thousands of New England anglers head for New York's Lake Ontario to fish for the much-vaunted spring run of both brown trout and coho and king salmon that are cruising the shorelines and feeding on the baitfish gathered there.
Because the eastern end of Lake Ontario is the closest to our local anglers, the area around Pulaski, N.Y., and westward to Rochester, is the most common areas for this fishing, but actually the brown trout and salmon are available around just about the entire shoreline of this huge but smallest of the Great Lakes.
Although these fish are often available from certain places on shore, it's mostly a small boat fishery and trolling close into shore in water from 10 to 30 feet produces most of the action. The use of both planer boards and downriggers is just about universal, but not actually essential for catching these, to our locals, huge fish.
Small boats with anglers using just what are called "flat lines" with no planer boards or downriggers keep a keen eye out for some of the big blows that this lake is famous for. They are actually sometimes more effective than the larger boats as they are much easier to navigate the shallow water and stay in depths where the fish are feeding.
Both spoons and lures are effective for catching these fish, with some anglers sticking to lures, others swear by spoons and many just mix both kinds in their trolling pattern. This time of year with the now very clear water of the lake, smaller lures such as Thunderstick Juniors, Rapalas and similar types of "stick baits" work well for both trout and salmon. Spoons will run the gamut of colors but most of the best spoon lures are in the popular flutter-spoon styles and not much over three inches long.
Colors of both spoons and lures can bring big discussions among these early season anglers but it seems that when there's a bit of color in the water the bright colors such as the orange, yellows, reds and silver or gold seem to work best. In clear water conditions the more natural colors such as blue, green, black, purple and those color patterns that mimic the baitfish seem to work well.
Long thin casting rods in the eight to nine foot range and small casting reels seem to be dominant lately, actually these rigs were originally used for stream fishing for steelhead trout and are called drift rods. The light action of the rods, especially when used with planer boards or downriggers will withstand hard hits without the hook pulling free from the fish and also with planer boards prevent false releases from the planer boards as they bounce over waves.
Lots of the charter captains have gone to single hooks on both their lures and spoons, removing the multiple treble hooks that almost universally come with the purchase of this gear and replace them with a single, large gap hook, most often of the Siwash pattern that have an open eye that is easily affixed to the lure buy just pinching the hooks eye with a pair of pliers to the eye were the removed treble hook was attached.
Because the fishing is often fast and furious, the single hooks are much easier to remove from fish of from fingers and thumbs of over anxious anglers. And this fishing is often catch and release thus the single hooks make release so much easier on both fish and angler.
The water of Lake Ontario, once so dirty that you often couldn't see your lure that was two feet down, now will often run so clear that you can actually see a downrigger weight in more than 30 feet of water, so lots of anglers have gone to using the fluorocarbon leaders rather than plain monofilament. Pound tests vary with what you are mostly catching, but it seems that lines with breaking points of between 10 and 15 pounds seem to be most popular, with those using downriggers often opting for the heavier lines and leaders.
It's very important to accept the fact that this lake is like a small ocean and can be very dangerous. It's not unusual for powerful storms to swiftly move across the lake and often are accompanies by water spouts, a type of tornado. Keep a marine radio on your boat and both an eye and ear out for potential dangerous conditions. It's better to be a late fisherman than to be "the late fisherman."
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.