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Will Elliott: Winds of change confound anglers

How often do we hear “You should have been here – yesterday, last weekend or maybe next week” for reports on when the fish were/are biting?

That was the outcome of a Lake Ontario trolling run with successful charter captains and friends on Thursday morning.

The weather gods finally cooperated for this morning’s run. After bitter, and often hefty, northeast winds, the waters off Olcott Harbor appeared pond calm as Capt. Bob Cinelli piloted his 36-foot Tiara charter boat named White Mule out of the harbor and headed west to warmer waters set up off Four Mile Creek and Fort Niagara.

Greenish Niagara River outflow waters formed some promising surface currents as Karen and mate Roy Letcher set up a lines program that has effectively caught king salmon, steelhead trout and an assortment of other salmonids during a spring season that has been successful all along the Lake Ontario shoreline from Fort Niagara to well east of Oak Orchard Point in Orleans County.

Bill Hilts Jr. supplied food, snacks and fishery insights as Bob and Karen sought trolling directions and tooled the tackle to key in on fish scattered by recent winds and cold-water up-welling all along the shoreline shallows. With 70- and 80-degree days, much of the lake’s surface waters read in the 40-degree range for much of the near-surface waters that day.

The day before, the Cinellis pulled three nice steelies while trolling shallow rigs off Olcott. Earlier this season, charter captain Dan Dietzen, of Sea Cin Charters out of Dunkirk, set up at Wilson Harbor. During 10 booked trips, Dietzen pulled a limit of salmon each day. He is now back to Dunkirk and waiting for the scourge of northeast winds to subside.

But our Olcott trip to waters off the Niagara River just did not produce well that morning. At 8:03 a.m. Letcher reeled in a “shaker,” a yearling king salmon that probably made the 12-inch limit for that species. With hopes of a mature version of kings, he did not bring the fish aboard; he did not even hold it up for a photo session. Too bad. The only other hit came at 10:42 a.m. on a planer-board line that Karen had rigged up with a spoon pattern she designed and had hooked fish with earlier this season. That fish spit the hook.

Rigs included side planers, down rigs, copper and lead core lines, and Dipsy Divers. Spoons and flasher-and-fly terminal tackle were set up at depths from 14 to 69 feet. The sonar screen looked like something from an episode of Wicked Tuna. Fish showed occasionally; an odd suspended fish, rather than anything school-like, appeared on the sonar screen.

Bait schools were scarce, big-fish marks appeared at various levels of suspension and sometimes buried near bottom. “But that might not just be lakers,” Cinelli said of king salmon that cruise from about 20 feet below the surface to flat on the bottom at depths of less than 100 feet.

Working with and into currents, across and along scum lines (lanes of floating debris that sets up on the surface along current plumes), the presentations that day just went either unnoticed or passed upon from just after 7 a.m. to about 1 p.m. Other trollers seemed to endure the same fate.

This setback in the spectacular Ontario salmon bite began the previous Sunday. The Niagara Pro-Am Team Tournament, held out of Wilson and Olcott harbors last weekend, saw outstanding catch results on Saturday, but Hilts Jr., the tourney coordinator, canceled the Sunday competition at 7 a.m. due to small-craft warnings posted for the entire Ontario shoreline in New York State.

That Sunday storm brought in the northeast winds that bollixed the bite on both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie most of this past week. The end results were iffy/so-so outings on Lake Erie for perch and walleye and on Lake Ontario for trout and salmon.

But by Friday the hit and catch count began to improve. The Cinellis and Letcher headed east out of Olcott Harbor, using the same trolling rigs they had set up and run westward on Thursday.

By 11 a.m., the lure presentation produced nine hookups that resulted in three kings, two steelies and one lake trout.

“That’s late-spring fishing on Lake Ontario; that’s all I can say,” Bob Cinelli said. For details on fishing conditions and chartering options, check with him at 860-9774.

Anglers entered in the Southtowns Walleye Tournament on Erie until June 14 and the Niagara Pro-Am out of Olcott and Wilson on Ontario this weekend could meet with exceptional catch prospects, with the right kinds of winds and sailable wave activity.

That’s fishing . . .