Trout and Salmon Fishing on Lake Ontario (Part 1: Early Season)

Pro-staff Contributor: Chris Davanzo

Chris with a few of the fish he caught on Lake Ontario.

Chris with a few of the fish he caught on Lake Ontario.

After hunting seasons wind down for us in New York, we switch gears and start fishing Lake Ontario’s southern basin for trophy class salmonids such as rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout, king salmon, and coho salmon. Trout and salmon are known for their voracious fight and aerial acrobatics when hooked up. The best time to catch these fish is April through September, and as the season progresses we tend to chase different species.  During early-April through mid-May we focus on brown trout and coho salmon close to shore. When the temperatures start to climb we head off-shore to chase kings, lakers and steelhead. We finally finish up our season by returning to the mouths of the rivers for pre spawning kings and cohos. Each part of this blog series will focus on techniques used during each segment of the season.

Water Temperature and Depth

The preferred method for catching fish in the early season is to troll lures and exact depths using down riggers, divers, lead core line, and planer boards, with stick baits on them for any fish feeding in the top 12 feet of the water column.  As air and water temps increase, the fish will move deeper and we’ll focus on using down riggers and lead core lines with spoons and flashers. Throughout the season, we focus on finding the “magic” water temperature and depth that triggers the fish to bite, once we do, we can usually stay there all day and pick up fish.

Fishing with Rapala Scatter Raps

This early season, I had the opportunity to run the new Rapala Scatter Rap series of stick baits for brown trout and coho salmon. They made a splash with us this year aboard “Hooked Up Charters.” Captain Bruce Stenglin and I ran them with great success!  The Scatter Rap’s new lip gives it a sweeping motion along with that trademark tight wobble that Rapalas are known for–it was the ticket! Our first day we boated over twenty salmon on Scatter Raps and Flat Raps, and we haven’t looked back.

Early Season Techniques

Two of the main things we look at during early season fishing are what the fish are foraging as well as water clarity. From April through May, our in-shore water is slightly stained due to run off from the snow melting as well as basic turbidity caused from wind and currents.  We look for breaks—where clear water meets the more turbid water—because this is where fish act as ambush predators and come out of the dirty water to hit our baits.Lure-Rod

The main forage of fish in Lake O are round gobies and alewife, also known as saw bellies, which are members of the herring family. Matching the look and presentation of the bait fish plays such a crucial role in successful fishing in Lake Ontario. When running these baits we look to run colors and patterns with green, yellow and most of all orange. This season our hot colors were anything with an orange belly such as gold florescent red and fire tiger. We trolled these lures off of two planer boards with three rods on each board to increase the amount of lure coverage in the water. We focused on lures with an average running depth of 3-9 feet due to the fact that we were only fishing in water from 5-12 feet deep.

As our season progresses we will have to adapt our techniques as well as bait choices to fit the need of what the fish want to eat. Check back again for to my next article in this three segment blog on fishing salmonids on the great lakes.

Chris Davanzo is from the finger lakes region of western NY. Chris is the owner and operator of Fish and Feathers Outfitters which is the Northeast’s premier outfitter for waterfowl. When Chris isn’t in the swamps chasing ducks you can find him on a trout stream or in a treestand with bow in hand. You can contact Chris via his site fandfoutfitters.com and find him on Facebook (facebook.com/chris.davanzo).

A look at Chris's setup while fishing on Lake Ontario.

A look at Chris’s setup while fishing on Lake Ontario.

Hunting Snow Geese in Western New York

Pro-staff Contributor: Chris Davanzo

In western NY, when the snow and frost laden winds start to shift from the south, they bring a mass of voracious snow geese racing north to their breeding grounds of the northern tundra. Their migration moves pretty quicklGoose Binocularsy—the geese leave the eastern shore of Maryland as well as Middle Creek Pennsylvania to stage on the western Finger Lakes before moving onto the Saint Lawrence River and up through Quebec. My group has learned to target Greater Snow Geese, which are significantly larger than their cousins found in the Midwest and on the West Coast, in and around the Finger Lakes and Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge area.

You Reap What You Sow

Snow goose hunting takes shear willpower and stamina. It requires early mornings with late nights, hours of scouting, ungodly amounts of fuel and mileage, and moving thousands of decoys a day with a small army of dedicated hunters all with one common goal.

This year, friends of Heartland Waterfowl—Matt Krekleberg, Brian Crumm, and Logan Burditt—made the 22 hour trek halfway across the country with 1200 decoys in tow. Due to changes in weather and bird movement we chose to be more mobile than just setting up and running traffic on birds. We ran a mix of Deadly Decoys, White Rock decoys and Avery full body snow goose decoys. Setting the rig of over 2500 goose decoys takes a solid 4-6 hours on average, but over the past two seasons we have realized that the more work you put into snow goose hunting the more geese you will harvest.

There’s No Business Like Snow Business

Our first few days of the season were plagued with poor weather and overall conditions.  There were overcast skies and no wind; which made it difficult to get birds to commit to our set because they were decoy-shy. On the second day, there were a ton of birds in the area but we had over an inch of rain so there was no way of getting the decoys into the field. But our patience paid off because the last three days were a different story.  We had high winds, sunny skies, and a little snow—the birds started working and coming into gun range!

The day that the weather changed started just like every other day of the season.  My alarm clock went off at 12:30 am and I eased myself awake with a hot cup of coffee and the realization of how much work was ahead of us. But when you work with a good group of guys everyone starts to fit into their niche, so the setup went very smoothly and we got the entire rig set in about three hours. The eight of us had a cool, calm demeanor as we sat in our blinds—knowing that we were in the right spot and Goose Decoyshad these geese in checkmate as we waited for dawn and the first barks from incoming snow geese. Minutes later “Snows coming!” was shouted and we covered up as the first flock came right in. With the first flocks centered up nicely, we took our shots and sighed in relief as all of the hard work of the past five days was rewarded with white feathers flurrying down upon us and the smell of burning gunpowder in the air.

The birds flew pretty consistently throughout the next two days and we were able to shoot a pile  out of that field—successfully ending a trip made of great memories, hard fought battles, and time with friends.  In the end, all of the work and waiting was worth it and we can’t wait until next season when the chase for the white devil starts again!

Chris Davanzo is from the finger lakes region of western NY. Chris is the owner and operator of Fish and Feathers Outfitters which is the Northeast’s premier outfitter for waterfowl. When Chris isn’t in the swamps chasing ducks you can find him on a trout stream or in a treestand with bow in hand. You can contact Chris via his site fandfoutfitters.com and find him on Facebook (facebook.com/chris.davanzo).

Goose Group