“It ain’t over till it’s over.” – Yogi Berra
Those words of wisdom have been passed on through the ages. It applies to many aspects of life, including competitive fishing. Zack Blain of Honeoye reeled in a 29-pound, 10-ounce king salmon during the final weekend of the 10th annual Summer Lake Ontario Counties Trout and Salmon Derby held June 29 to July 28 to win a check for $11,000. The win didn’t come easy.
Blain, trolling the lake waters with Cory Hetzel of Honeoye, has been fishing Lake Ontario derbies a long time, and never won anything of significance. On July 27, the last Saturday of the derby, the two were traveling to fish out of Point Breeze in Orleans County. As they motored down the Lake Ontario Parkway west of Rochester, Blain saw a flash of brown and heard a thump. They had just hit a deer. That didn’t stop them from their quest to catch a big fish in the derby. They continued on their way.
They finally launched their 18-foot Alumacraft boat named Where’s the Wheel. Their focus was going to be to the west of Point Breeze, roughly 4 miles. They started to troll with an A-Tom-Mik Pro-Am fly behind a black 2-face spin doctor, placing it 75 feet below the surface. At 6:15 a.m., they hit a double – two fish on at once, one on the rigger and one on a wire diver off to the side.
The wire diver was the one that took off like a freight train as the reel screamed. They decided that the wire diver would have the priority when it came to fighting and netting the fish. When Hetzel finally brought the fish to the back of the boat, it was a fish much smaller than they realized. Blain picked up the other rod, hoping the other salmon was still on. He had just left the fish on the line and put it into a rod holder.
As he started to reel, the weight of the salmon let him know that he was still there. Within 10 to 15 minutes, the Chinook came to the back of the boat and when Blain saw the fish, he shouted: “Grab the net, this is a good one. Don’t miss it.”
They drove the chunky fish into the Captain’s Cove weigh station at Point Breeze and had to wait until it opened at 9 a.m. When they threw it on the scale, it read 29-10, just 1 ounce heavier than the salmon caught by Doug Parker of Lockport while fishing the Niagara Bar earlier in the week.
When asked what he was going to do with the money, Blain said that he was going to repair his truck from the deer damage and put a new roof on his house. Hetzel needed a new trolling motor.
Parker’s fish was caught with Matt Dunn of Newfane and his father, Marc Dunn of Pendleton. They were fishing the Niagara Bar on July 22, using 10 colors of lead core line and a standard Michigan Stinger green and silver spoon on the drop off in 100 feet of water. During the fight, they almost lost the fish twice, the last time as they were getting ready to net it. As Parker pulled the fish into the net, the elder Dunn scooped the fish … at the same time the line broke.
In the Lake Trout Division, the father-and-son fishing duo of Ed and Steve Klejdys of North Tonawanda swept first and second place with a 24-5 fish and a 23-14 laker, respectively, caught July 4 and 5 on the Niagara Bar off the mouth of the Niagara River. It’s not the first time that they’ve led the charge in the division.
This time, they were fishing in 110 to 120 feet of water on the drop off trolling a favorite homemade spoon, using a downrigger from their 19-foot Monarch boat. “We caught both big fish on the same lucky spoon,” Steve said at the awards ceremony in Sodus Point on Sunday. “And then dad lost the spoon the next day.” The spoon was green and a special red color that really seemed to make a difference with the bigger fish. It will be back to the drawing board.
Randy Snyder of Marion took top honors in the Brown Trout Division with a 22-14 lunker that simply blew the competition away, beating the runner-up by 6 pounds. While the size of the brown trout was impressive, catching browns didn’t come by accident. Snyder was fishing with Dean Fisher of Marion and they caught 232 brown trout in this year’s derby until they nabbed this winner on July 15. Knowing that it would be tough to beat, they switched to a salmon program out of his 22-foot Penn Yan (named SlooooMotion) for the remainder of the contest.
“We had been fishing cold water but the winds changed,” Snyder said. He had worked the night shift and they decided to fish in the afternoon. “We were fishing east of Hughes Marina around Boller Point and found the temperature we were looking for in 90 feet of water. I put a Stinger green alewife spoon in sting ray size down 85 feet on the rigger and caught three smaller browns before the bigger one hit. It was the biggest brown trout that I’ve ever caught.”
In the Rainbow/Steelhead Division, Steven Biernacki of Medina was fishing with his father, Michael, also of Medina, out of Point Breeze on June 29, the first day of the derby. The water was messed up and they just started trolling north in their 22-foot Crestliner to see what they could find.
Along the way, he put out a Moonshine spoon in a “Hulk” pattern behind a diver. What made this a bit unusual was that it was a slide diver and you can set up the lure as far as you want away from the actual diver. Just to try something different, he put the lure 80 feet behind the diver before he secured it to the line and then put the line out another 100 feet on a No. 3 setting. At 11 a.m., he reeled in the biggest steelhead that he’s ever caught in a derby, a 14-8 silver bullet, and the lead.
“I just wanted it to hold up for the week for the weekly $500 prize,” said Biernacki. “I never expected it to last the entire derby.”
The next LOC Derby is the fall “Return of the King” 18-day contest set for August 16 through Sept. 2. For more information, visit loc.org.