Each spring old man winter loosens his hold on Lake Ontario. The days begin to lengthen, ice and snow begin to melt, and right on cue, the brown trout awaken from their icy winter haunts. They begin their migration inshore to warmer water with only one thing on their minds: “Food!” Lake Ontario’s spring brown trout are nothing short of eating machines, ready to gorge themselves on whatever they can fit into their mouths. Given their willingness to eat, and the fact that the majority of the fish are easy to find, great spring fishing is a definite possibility in your future.
Locating brown trout water can be easy if you know what clues to look for. Find the warmest water available and you will find brown trout. Look near river mouths, small streams, bays, harbors, or warm water discharges. Focus on 5 to 30 feet of water and watch for turbot discolored water. A temperature gauge or probe such as a Fishhawk speed and temperature unit can also be a big help as surface temperatures may only vary by a tenth of a degree. This can mean the difference between a fair and excellent day on the water.
Ultra-light equipment is the order of the day for shallow water brown trout. I like long light to medium action rods for spring brown. The average spring brown trout will range from 3 lbs. to 8 lbs. with some fish into the high teens to 20 lb. range. Long light rods work well with light line, as you can count on the leverage of a long rod when fighting a larger fish. I pair it up with a good quality line counter reel with a smooth drag. I use 9’ 6” Okuma Celilo rods paired with Okuma Convector CV-15D line counter reels. The reels are spooled with 8 lb. maxima ultra-green mono line attached to a #10 barrel swivel, 8 feet length of Seguar 6 lb. flouro-carbon, and a size 2 snap swivel. These set-ups will land everything from a 5 lb. brown trout to a 25 lb. king salmon. One last comment on rod and reels: remember, when fighting these fish on light equipment, let the rod do the work as the reels are nothing more than a place to gather line. The long light action of these rods will wear fish down. This method of fishing takes a lot of finesse, so don’t try to drag fish into the boat. Remember that every fish you hook could be a once in a lifetime catch, so please take all of the time necessary to boat that fish. This could mean the difference between either a wonderful memory or just another story about the one that got away.
The methods to catch these fish will be stick baits run off of planer boards and flutter spoons run off of down riggers. Planer boards will key in on the surface oriented fish. A planner board is run off of the side of a boat held fast by a tow cable. Stick baits are run back at staggered length from 80 feet to 150 feet back behind the board and attached to the tow cable with a release that holds the line in place until a fish strikes and pulls the line free. Flutter spoons run from 40 to 100 feet behind down rigger balls set at various depths, depending on how deep you are fishing and where you see fish or bait on your fish finder. The favorite stick baits include: Smithwicks in black/orange/silver, blue/orange/silver, gold/orange, and fire tiger; Rapalas in black/silver, black/gold, orange/gold in f11 and the f13 size; and, Thundersticks in glow, fire tiger, and rosemary’s baby in regular and junior sizes. The best spoon patterns are: Michigan stingers in tuxedo, glow frog, bitter lemon, double orange crush, natural born killer, and rosemary’s baby; Northern Kings in die hard, monkey puke, pole cat, and black/gold holograph in 28 size; and, Dreamweaver Super slims in pk special, glow frog, double orange crush, leopard frog, lime ice, greasy chicken. These patterns are some of the hot spoons that always seem to produce.
Technique is the most important aspect of spring brown trout fishing. Trolling speeds of 1.7 to 2.4 mph will catch browns; I find 1.9 to 2.2 mph to be the best speed range. Temperature range will vary this time of year. Temperatures as low as 43 degrees may hold brown trout. Browns prefer water temperature ranges from 43 to 65 degrees. During this time of year you shouldn’t focus on a certain temperature – just find the warmest water available, as sometimes a difference of a half of a degree will do the trick. I also pay attention to the surface of the water: look for rising fish and diving birds. Don’t get hung up on not seeing fish on your fish finder. This time of year the browns are very surface oriented and most fish finders won’t pick them up. If you focus on bait and temperature, you will most likely have a good day on the lake.
The most valued piece of equipment for catching brown trout is your alarm clock. If you want to catch numbers of fish and bigger fish, be prepared to get up before the roosters do. Oftentimes the best bite of the day is over before most fishermen get on the water. That’s not to say you can’t catch these fish at any time of the day, but day after day, the best catches are produced before 7:00 a.m. Boat traffic will turn brown trout off. When the traffic gets heavy, and the fish begin to get pressured, I move to the outside edge of the pack. After the crowd thins, I move back into an area that has been holding fish and they always seem to magically reappear. Cloudy overcast days will generally fish better then sunny days. Brown trout seem to be light sensitive and become less active in high sunshine. When the sun puts brown trout down, start to move a bit deeper and run your leads a bit longer. I recommend playing around with lead lengths as these fish change their mood.
Weather conditions will dictate when and where you should fish. Heavy spring rains will swell tributaries; since the water they dump into the lake will always be warmer then the main lake water, fish will be drawn to them. These heavy flows will attract fish to the mouths of these areas and the shore line around them. Warm spring days will begin to melt heavy snow packs in the eastern basin area, which has the same impact on tributaries. Wind direction is also a factor with your fishing strategy. Offshore spring winds will blow warm inshore water out, making for tough fishing conditions. During offshore winds I focus on fishing near tributaries unless the wind is favorable to blowing warm water offshore near the Nine Mile discharge. In this case, I will fish the buoy line off of the discharge area. When onshore winds prevail, I fish the shore line that the wind is blowing onto, as the wind will trap warm water against the shore line. The wave action will also keep water discolored in these areas. Remember dirty water will always be warmer than clear water. Finally, during very rough conditions, respect the lake: be safe and wait for calmer conditions before you get on the water.
The Mexico Bay area of the lake has a number of hot brown trout holding areas. Some of my favorite areas include: the Buoy Line off of Nine Mile Point; the stretch of shore line west of Nine Mile known as the High Rocks; Catfish creek Area; the shoreline from the mouth of the Little Salmon River east to the Selkirk Shore/Grindstone Creek area; and, the shoreline around the Salmon River mouth.
When fishing a new area or a spot you only visit once or twice a year, I would recommend checking with local businesses tied to the local fishing. The information they provide can be a very valuable resource to making your trip a success. The All Season Sports tackle shop on State Route 13 in Pulaski can tell you where to fish and what to use when making your trip to the big lake. Mike’s Marina on State Route 104B can help you with lodging and a boat slip. Since they are located on the Little Salmon River, you won’t have to travel far to get to brown trout water. Mike’s Marina is also home to the largest charter fleet in Oswego County. For a good meal and a nice room, I would recommend Stick Sports Bar and Hotel on State route 104B.