Since trout and salmon stocking began in Lake Ontario in the late 1960s, the fishery has boomed in the spring and fall, with dips and doldrums in catches seen in late spring to sometime in midsummer. Not now.
For more than five years charter captains such as Bob Cinelli at Bob Cinelli Sport Fishing at Olcott Harbor and other guides out of the Niagara River, Wilson Harbor, Oak Orchard Point and points eastward have been finding and consistently catching king salmon, steelhead trout and other salmonid species all summer long.
“We really didn’t see a big dip in early-June king numbers,” Cinelli said Thursday morning as our party of four and captain’s mate Wyatt Goehring set out from Olcott specifically targeting king salmon.
Bill Hilts Jr. brought together Dick Conley of Lockport, Tom Danaher of Waterport and me on as much an experimental/reconnaissance outing as a king salmon fishing foray.
Both Conley and Danaher are longtime members of the Niagara County Fisheries Board with reams of savvy on Ontario’s fish species, stocking programs and fish outings from the inland waters at Lake Alice where Danaher resides to Alaskan adventures Conley enjoyed during six years of his youth.
Hilts made sure we all had registered in the Lake Ontario Counties Derby, which began June 14 and goes to July 27. We stood a chance of entering something in the Salmon Division, with the right kinds of finds and catches.
We did find all kinds of fish moving at less than 75 feet over depths of 250 to 350 feet, at distance of less than four miles from shore. Cinelli’s gauges also showed the radical swings in water temperatures at varying depths. A few days earlier the cold water was down some 80 to 90 feet; on this day 42-degree readings showed at less than 50 feet.
“We got fish at depths of 35 to 65 feet today,” Cinelli said of a day with no Derby weigh-ins but catch totals that kept all hopping from the first “jack” (juvenile/year-old) king Conley reeled in at 7:45 a.m. to a triple hookup at 1:28 p.m.
Conley took the honors for that last king catch also, another jack salmon that was released, while the other two hookups “spit the hook.”
Ontario trollers know the drill; many a sizeable salmonid – trout or salmon – hits and spits the hook before an angler can get to the rod and set the hook. Goehring, an excellent set-up man on the rigs and readied at the rod holders for every strike, did what he could and we finished at midafternoon with a respectable count of nearly 20 hits and eight fish in the boat. One mid-sized king caught early in the day sported a sea lamprey attached to a nasty wound on its left side just above the pectoral fins. That fish swam away; the lamprey did not.
For the “box” (fish kept for table fare), only two fair-sized kings came to shore that day; Danaher took accolades for the biggest king, a nice, clean salmon that measured nearly 30 inches with estimated weigh guesses between 12 and 15 pounds.
With rigs set this deep well out in open waters our connection with steelies was nil. Over depths well above bottom-dwelling lake trout, our lake take sticks at nix. Salmon were the main target, but amid the string of adult and jack king salmon, Conley caught and released an Atlantic salmon.
Atlantics, a native species of Ontario waters, have been on a decline since early industrial development along the Lake Ontario shoreline. But federal and state agencies have studied water and forage conditions and have increased stocking numbers. These salmon are showing increasingly in anglers’ catches along much of the U.S. shoreline.
Conley’s Atlantic did not measure close to the required 25-inch mark for legal possession, but, as so many anglers have seen in recent years, these native salmon put on a fight comparable with salmonids twice their size and weight.
Hilts took a bye on battling the fighting fish, but Goehring saw to it that he headed home that afternoon with clean, fresh squares of fillets ready for a blackened-salmon grill/fry that evening.
The ongoing results of the Lake Ontario Counties Derby are posted on the derby website (loc.org) leaderboard. This early summer’s fishery is following typical patterns for fish catches in Ontario’s Eastern and Western Basin. Eastern Basin anglers dominate the Lake Trout Division, with all 20 leaders taken so far between the Niagara River and Olcott Harbor.
Brown Trout Division entries are drawing a close tie between sites at each end of Lake Ontario in New York. About two-thirds of Salmon Division entries come from the Western Basin between Fort Niagara and Oak Orchard Point.
With so many hot fisheries in progress right now in Western New York, anglers should consider an Ontario go. Cinelli’s sonar screen is charting increased numbers and sizes of kings, which should provide a good mid- and late-summer salmon run from Western New York ports.
Cinelli can do bookings for many dates through the summer season or can recommend other guides out of Olcott Harbor or other WNY ports. For fishing updates and trip options, check with him at 860-9774 for an enjoyable trip, with or without a Lake Ontario Counties Derby entry.