It took some doing and electronics wizardry, but Lake Ontario’s trout and salmon run might have a toe-hold on starting blocks this hot-and-cold spring season.
A Niagara County media gathering this past week included an outing in search of Ontario’s nomadic schools of trout and salmon. Our Tuesday morning outing was aboard Capt. Kevin Jerge’s Afishionado Sportfishing vessel out of Wilson Harbor.
Jerge, president of Wilson Boatyard Marina, skippers an impressive 37-foot Sea Ray equipped with the latest Raymarine and Navionics electronics, which helped find everything from bottom contours to fish swimming at all depths and directions.
Capt. Jerge promotes a catch-and-release approach to trout and salmon catching, which took some time to apply. But the outing ended well, for both a catch count and size-wise.
Few boats were heading out of Wilson Harbor as we arced westward to the Niagara Bar shortly after 9 a.m. in blazing sunlight on a pond-calm water surface. Not a boat appeared on the horizon until we approached the bar, and the breakdown was clear – a small flotilla of boats in U.S. waters off Fort Niagara and a smaller pod of trollers set up off Fort George in Canadian waters.
Aboard for this trolling run were Jeff Fink, Raymarine program expert; Shaun Ruge, Navionics specialist; and Charlie Puckett, Flambeau Outdoors products rep with a good handle on waterfowling as well as fishing gear.
The electronics tips, tricks and wide-ranging info shared on this outing could fill a book-length text on fishing with modern sonar and map-charting gadgetry. My humble presence was mainly to chronicle the many electronic advances anglers have when on the water, on a boat or even fishing from shore.
Jerge had downrigs with spoons and flasher rigs down below and planer boards with side rigs in place in minutes, but it took a while before a release tripped or a planer-board line popped with a strike.
Lake trout dominated the catch, a couple green-silvery coho salmon hit higher baits and one king came on board for a respectable count of about 10 fish on the line with seven caught and six released; two fish passing the 20-pound mark.
Lakers began and ended the catch. Spoons took a fish or two, but for Jerge’s setup the Dream Weaver Spin Doctor and fly, a flasher rig, did the most damage. Puckett and Ruge did the catching; Fink and I served mainly as moral support.
Puckett reeled in the first laker, a 5-pounder, and later took a nearly half-hour turn at weaving a vicious fighter between other lines. A king salmon, the only fish to go into the cooler, tied into only one adjacent line before Jerge got a landing net under Puckett’s king at about noon. That Chinook went for a green and white fly behind a Spin Doctor.
Colors varied in clear waters that showed no staining out deeper throughout the day. Sunlight presence was the same from start to finish, but trollers had no consistent fly pattern. Before and after hits on the green and white a black-based tinsel fly took a fish or two.
This disparity in hit/bite preferences is why Jerge goes with so many rods running spoons and flasher rigs set at assorted depths and distances from the boat hull. They worked.
Ruge took the other half of big-fish honors with a lake trout that would at least have made the early board in the LOC (Lake Ontario Counties) Derby. The laker, sporting sea lamprey strike marks on both sides of its body, was in good health and swam away swiftly when released.
Ruge, on his first trip over the Wilson Harbor to Niagara Bar, used his Navionics device and pointed out features of the waterway as though he had been a charter captain on these waters for decades. He pointed out the new Plus program, a mini SD card, that charts all U.S. and Canadian waters with readings that are continually updated with user input. The various levels of Plus can be reviewed at navionics.com.
Puckett reps for Flambeau, famous for fishing trays and accessories, but we chatted mostly about waterfowl hunting, the poor season seen across the northeast and the many species-specific Flambeau duck decoys. Along with the standard array of mallard and woody deeks, the Flambeau line also includes both green and blue teal models.
As with every serious waterfowler in Western New York, Puckett, based in Middlefield, Ohio, looks for a better duck season this coming fall.
Jerge saw last year’s trout and salmon fishery on Lake Ontario as tough and challenging; he posits no real verdict for the coming season. But boat-slip numbers at Wilson Harbor increased again this spring, and it looks like more anglers will be on the water early this season.