Friday, August 8, 2014

Walleye on a YoYo Port Bruce Barometer, August 3 & 8, 2014

You got to love that fishing excuses shirt with all the reasons printed all over it that reads why you didn't catch fish on your fishing trip. ***Sometimes you feel like you are living those excuses when your catch rate is slightly less than you have anticipated. You can try to align yourself for the best outcome, but whether you like it or not, you cannot control everything that is explained on that shirt of excuses.

Over the August Civic Holiday Long weekend and crossing over the next week into the second weekend in August, I made plans to make the best of my time fishing for Walleye out of Port Bruce. The past two years previous I was exposed to what I would potentially call a Great Lakes Walleye trollers dream fishery. Here, limits of walleye for most savvy, fast paced, Lake Erie trollers were common practice. Coming back to dock with anything less than a count of walleyes that equal full limits would mean pulling out that most dreaded excuse shirt again. It usually not about if you got a limit, it’s more asked, “and how fast you reached your limit?”

The Civic holiday Long weekend was first met with the adversity to drive down to Port Bruce. The drunken dump truck driver that smashed his way to producing total traffic mayham in Hamilton, clogged all routes in and around Hamilton trying to make a detour around the closed QEW Toronto Bound at the Skyway bridge.

My son Aidan and I rode out together with our tent, alarm clock and the boat behind us as we inched our way across the South Hamilton Mountain zig-zagging our way to the 403 following lines of vehicles doing the same. We rolled into Port Bruce and stayed at Beelin Trailor Park where we set up camp right at dusk.

The next morning the clouds hung low and were dark and the air humid. Aidan and I made a big campfire breakfast and had plenty of time to prep the boat, put it on the dock at the campground slip and then manage to drive into town for ice and a few other “missed things” on the camping packing list. Meanwhile the thunder already started to rumble across the lake and the rain followed with lighting chasing most of the fisherman off the lake and back into Catfish Creek. It was only 2 hours of fishing for most of those guys and I was glad Aidan and I took our time that Saturday morning.

While in Alymer, I get a Phone call from Tom letting me know they were well on their way from Burlington, traveling to meet us at the North Erie Marina. At 2 pm Aidan and I met up with Tom and Mac at the gas dock and while we set off down Catfish Creek towards the open waters of Lake Erie, a fellow angler warned us that another thunderstorm approaching in about ½ hr as it was already in the Port Stanley area.

With discussion with Tom and Mac and as a safe alternative we decided to do a bit of perch fishing first and wait out what will happen with the chance of another T-storm on route. The Perch grounds are close and easy for us to pick-up and go back into dock in sheltered harbours. This would be a better alternative than being 12 miles off shore fishing for walleye.

We motored out to where at least another 10 boats were anchored and pulling up perch consistently. I set the anchor and start putting minnows on pickerel rigs and handing the prepared fishing rods to Aidan, Mac and Tom. In no time they were into the perch, two at a time and many were in the 8-10 inch range. No really big perch, but we were able to manage 20 keepers before a big black cloud sounding its alarm of thunder approached us. We pulled up and ran into the creek, making it to the dock with just enough time to tuck away all that we didn’t want to get wet, and out of harm’s way.

Harm wasn't the word for it. We stood under the fish cleaning tent as I cleaned the perch we had just caught and watched rain pour down then mix in hail, strong winds and flashes of lightening that lite the darkness under this ominous and powerful storm cloud. The Trailer Park was flooded with areas of giant pools of rain water, I could only guess the harm to our stuff in the tent, back on our campsite.

The time was ticking away and the storm seemed to hang on us like it was barely moving past. It was 6 pm when the rain finally ceased, we hopped in the boat and set off to the Lake once more, but we knew we are getting close for time to get this trip in. We reached the Pier head and looked out to the South only to see another very dark cloud. That was enough, the walleye excuse shirt for the day would include a thunderstorms.

The next morning Aidan and I woke up to the alarm clock and we met up with a friend of mine, Rob to attempt the walleye trolling thing,once more. Again the skies were overcast and the air humid with the marine forecast labeling it a chance of thunderstorms. The lake had only a slight chop from a light Northeast wind. We ran straight out to my waypoints from last year and began setting lines. Before the second rod was set the first one already had a fish on. I hand the rod to Aidan to reel in. I set the next rod and it goes off. Oh boy, We are doubled up and wouldn't you know, both came off, I thought “not one of those days?” Sure enough the next three were lost fish and then we finally boat one walleye barely hooked on the tail hook of the crank bait. Subsequently the next few walleyes we boat were also just barely on the tail hook and we drop a number of other fish off the line between each successful catch.

I said to Rob, “These fish are biting soft after all those Thunderstorms yesterday”. They were tough to keep on the hooks, but as the morning continued we discovered what sets were getting more bites and we started to present more shorter leadcores with deep diving cranks. I simply had one 5 colour Leadcore and one 7 colour leadcore that I alternated on the starboard side Bert's mast planerboard line. The other side the planerboard line pulled a 10 colour Leadcore that wasn't nearly as productive. To make that change, I instead pulled one of the rods off the Planerboard and ran that rod with a reel, spooled with 10 colours of Leadcore, down the chute, but only let out 7 colours. That change translated into managing a few more bites and fish. The divers set on 3 and out 130 and 140 were also getting bites pulling stickbaits, but the diver bite slowed as the morning progressed and the leadcores took over the production line.

From Photo_Gallery15

We heard rumbling of thunder from across the lake and decided to motor back in at 2 pm. We were 3 shy of a three man 6 fish limit with 15 walleyes in the box, and 8 lbs 10 oz was Aidan’s biggest of the day. We dropped Rob off at the Marina and then Aidan and I had went to the beach and then a fish fry. After dinner it was about 7 pm and I said to Aidan, "let’s get out there and fish until dusk – this evening looks too good to pass up." The threat of that distant thunderstorm never turned our way and the skies opened up and the winds remained light. Aidan was so eagerly looking forward to round two on Port Bruce Sunday fishing with just his dad and we motored out 7 miles and set up in 52 feet of water this time.

Running four lines meant easy to manage and relaxing troll for me and the little man. One directional diver with a Knock-out Blueberry muffin on a 3 setting out 135 feet, One 5 colour on an inline board and one 7 colour on the other inline board and the last rod was a chute leadcore rod loaded with 10 colours but let out 6 colours. The diver and spoon managed 2 walleye, the 7 colour managed 1 walleye and the 5 colour leadcore another 2 walleye to finish our limit, but the chute rod was yet to come in. Sure enough it manages another walleye and we turn it free at the back of the boat. The Sun was approaching the horizon by this time. 1 ½ hr fish and we were “boxed out for the day”. Instead of fishing the Monday morning we packed up and headed home and watched a giant black cloud hang over Burlington. It was the storm that caused the flooding and damage in the area.

The Friday August 8th I traveled back down to Port Bruce with Rob, leaving the house at 3 am and launching the boat at Port Bruce at 6 am. We were met with Bob and Nicholas at the ramp and we set off for another try at limits of Walleye. There was a light to moderate East wind that made about a 1 ½ foot to 2 foot chop and I decided to run East of my waypoints with the idea to troll downwind to them. We set up in 57 feet of water near where the depth drops out gradually to 60 feet of depth. We quickly boat four walleye on the diver and spoon and diver and stickbait out 120 and 140. And the leadcores on the boards were getting bites too but things slowed to one bite per 40 minutes or so and we lost a few as well while the winds finally started to diminish. Once they did the 7 and 10 colour Leadcores started picking off fish at a much faster pace than the divers and we soon had 9 walleye in the boat by noon and it was time to pull and run in to pick up the afternoon crew.

Dave and Ryan were next to board for the afternoon and we set off with the lake now flat since the wind was no longer blowing. I set up East of the waypoints and trolled to them and this time with a much better game plan. Rods were firing at a regular pace all afternoon. We lost many walleye, but the group was easy going with only poking fun at each other and jokes to keep conversation light on everyone's missed opportunities. 7 colour Leadcores were by far the best on the boat. Divers also had plenty of hits but too many missed fish. By 6 pm everyone on board had limits and we were running back to the marina with big smiles and a heavy colour of 13 walleye and 2 rainbows. The day’s 12 hours of fishing was 24 walleye and 2 rainbows and likely lost nearly dozen other walleye throughout the day.

From Photo_Gallery15

As a casual once-a-year visitor to the Port Bruce area, I think I was caught up with all the hype and then set my expectations pretty high. Nothing grounds you quicker than working your way through adversity. Chased off by Southwestern Ontario thunderstorms, to fishing a soft bite due to the passing of those thunderstorms and East winds, and then the many lost fish that are, for the most part, all elements in the game we cannot control. This time the excuses shirt was well worn. So much so, it turned into a hand rag we can use to wipe off the Walleye juices.

Shane Thombs

Thursday, July 24, 2014

FightRileyFight, Hockey and Fishing. July 24, 2014

When a NHL hockey team is knocked out of contention in or before the post season, the reference to golf comes up. Golf… Hmmm, yup I suppose that is a popular off season activity for a Hockey Player, at least that’s what the press can capture in photos and make reference to. The silent, and- maybe best to keep it that way, -is fishing, shhhh! Not too many paparazzi will wake up when it’s still dark to run down to the marina to take a photo of a Hockey player setting off in his boat to go fishing. Hey, hockey players grew up bouncing out of bed in the dark to make their way to the arena for practice before the arena food booth had the coffee percolating.

Not all the media coverage on Hockey Players is as intrusive as I had described. Riley Dunda of Grimsby, plays for the Hamilton Redwings Junor A team, and had suffered a significant stroke that was considered life threatening. It was first covered by the media as a “bad news story”. Local, Regional, and even national news of the story spread rapidly. Certainly it would be a shock to the local hockey world (fans and organizers) to see one of its young prospects be challenged with this adversity. The Dunda hockey family instead took the “bad news story” and rewrote its meaning. Fight Riley Fight says it all as Riley ensues what was his already well understood Hockey work ethic into a rehabilitation, strength and conditioning. The media picked up on it and now we have Fight Riley Fight, road to recovery "good news story".

If you are not familiar with Riley’s story, here is a link to help bring you up to speed Follow his progress on Facebook as many of his great accomplishments are shared in video and status feeds. This write up is not about his undeniable diligence toward full recovery, it is about experiencing life away from its seriousness. Instead Riley, accompanied by his brother (and best friend) Liam and local Grimsby angler and advocate of Grimsby Minor Hockey, John Slade and myself. This is Liam in his Plymouth Whalers sweater

John arrived early to help prep the boat and connect with Riley. Riley showed dockside with his mom and I was introduced to him by John. I shook his left hand as it was lifted to present itself for the hand shake. The handshake was also met with eye contact to reveal his spirit and proud sense of being. I truly believe a handshake tells you a lot about a person. I knew right from the get-go Riley was not one to back down from this experience. Moments later Liam pulled up as he just witnessed the Blue Jays win their 11th game in a row- What a season they are having. He was still in his Jays fan wear when he stepped into the boat.

The Lake was picture perfect with nothing more than a ripple and a bright sunny sky. I motored out to 90 feet of water and settled the boat just East of Grimsby. I set the lines and John steered the boat and managed conversation about all the things around fishing, hockey, and life in general.

I have known John for 25 years since I was a young teenager fishing Forty Mile Creek for Salmon and Trout. John, ever since has been somewhat of a mentor for me in the fishing industry. John was also heavily involved in his son’s hockey as he made his way through minor hockey and beyond. His son also coached both Liam and Riley during those early years. John has a way that inspires one to do their best, and is an advocate of life lessons learned through experiences on and off the ice for hockey players, but also for me as it relates to on and off the water. I had worked with John on conservation projects, fishing promotions and public speaking opportunities that have etched important “life lessons learned” that have shaped me. That same knowledgeable mentoring was communicated while on the boat with both Liam and Riley. Yes conversation talked about Riley’s highly involved physiotherapy and training, but John also explained why fishing is also a form of his recovery.

Then we were interrupted by the sound of the drag coming from the reel on the port side wire diver rod pulling a directional diver and a Spindoctor and ATOMMIK Tournament trolling fly 130 feet back behind the boat. It hooks up after taking the strike and we have our first fish on. I place the rod in the rod holder and told Riley, "It’s all yours". Riley worked to crank the reel as this aggressive salmon pulled line out of the reel and Riley worked to bring it back in. He reeled it all the way in and I net the first fish of the night. I hand the fish to Riley for a photo and he was all smiles. We put the fish in the fish box ready to come home.

Riley looked at his left hand in agony after much work turning the reel handle hundreds of times to pull in this fish, and John kidded with him saying, "This will be his new physiotherapy equipment. A fishing rod and reel".

We continued to talk about all things hockey, from the past and the future of both Riley on the Hamilton Red Wings Junior A team and Liam on the OHL Plymouth Whalers team. As the evening was near its end and the sun approached the western horizon, we anxiously waited for our next fish.

We were pointed back towards port and now approaching 120 feet of depth when the starboard side wire diver pulling an 8” Protroll flasher and Magnum frog coloured MCRocket out 130 feet on the 3 setting, takes a vicious strike. The line is peeling off the reel as I hand the rod to Liam and the reel's drag screams as the clicking turns into a high speed cadence of sound. As soon as the rod leaves my hand and into Liam's, the Port side wire diver rod strains as it was out 125 feet on a 3 setting pulling a Spindoctor and ATOMMIK Trolling fly. That drag was singing as well and I knew both fish were about to make a memorable story for these two hockey kids. I handed the second rod to John, and John worked with Riley to fight the fish. John didn’t even touch the reel’s handle, just worked the rod to help hold it up against the muscular fish. Riley cranked away through the firm instruction from John, when and how fast to rotate the reel handle.

Meanwhile I coached Liam as his reel revealed the fish had pulled enough line out to display 900 feet on the reel counter!!! I told Liam that fighting fish is like learning to make and receive a pass using an egg on the blade of your stick, and not break it. I told him, "Slow and easy", just enough to push push the egg and not too much to break it. The line can only hold so much, soft hands and finesse in fishing is the same as stick handling.

Riley’s fish was not a small one either. It too, pulled line out hundreds of feet, making it that much more work for him to retrieve all that line back on the reel and fight the fish to the boat. “Fight Riley Fight” He brought the fish to the back of the boat and I net the fish and bring it aboard.

The excitement climaxed as both Riley and Liam (still busy reeling in his fish) were giggling in hysterics over what would be one of the largest fish they have ever caught together. I again raised my right hand to shake Riley’s in congratulating him, but this time he presented his right hand with a giant grin, and I knew then, he was living in the excitement of the moment and no ailment was going to get in the way.

Minutes later Liam muscles in the second fish and I scoop it up in the landing net and lay it on the floor beside Riley’s fish of near identical size. For a moment there was silence, then a look between brothers that said it all. This experience, however serious things have gotten in recent months, is now replaced for a moment of pure victorious pleasure. You might even say it's the same type of feeling as you get in a win in hockey shared with your team mates. Even big Salmon are no match for Riley and Liam.

From Photo_Gallery15

Shane Thombs

Friday, July 18, 2014

Jigging for Lake Ontario Lakers… “For Real?”

So what is more productive, Trolling for Lake Trout or jigging for Lake Trout? I’m not sure I can answer that just yet. This year I was finally spurred on to jig for Lake Trout after a slow and dismal start to the summer time salmon trolling success. When the salmon are available to catch while trolling, the thought to stop the boat and jig for Lake Trout is less appealing, but the recent weeks without salmon to be had, made it an easy decision to try something new.

Call it ignorance, or as Doctor Phil would say, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and wish for a different outcome”. While the Chinook Salmon seem few and far between and the Rainbow Trout catch rate early this summer has been down and despite the obvious, we continue to troll with hopes of an elusive Chinook Salmon and a few silver sided Rainbow Trout or coho to come to the boat. Instead we reel in Lake Trout, one after another and wish for a trolling reel to pull drag and show us the power of a “KING”. If it’s Lake Trout coming to the boat anyway, the need to troll for Lake Trout also comes into question. What’s an alternative? Answer… Jigging!

Lake Trout have a stigma amoungst most Lake Ontario Trollers. Besides not the most sought after fish for the dinner table, from a sporting perspective they are also characterized as sluggish fighters. Trolling then hooking a Lake Trout does have an effect on a Lake Trout’s fighting style. They seem to swim along with the boat and rarely pull against its inertia. Take that same fish and hook it on medium action spinning rod more commonly used for smallmouth bass fishing and the boat only moving by the power of the wind and waves, and now you have a different fish.

On July 10th leaving the dock at 5 pm Scott and I ventured out to waters straight out from Foran’s Marine in Grimsby. A gentle 10 km/hour wind from the East made a perfect speed to drift and jig. I settled the boat in 105 FOW and scanned the bottom for obvious signs of Lake Trout. Minutes later the SONAR showed fish and the boat was then in 115 FOW. Set out a drift sock and sent down jigs and jigging spoons to the bottom. The drift would take us parallel along the drop-off that runs from 85 feet of water and down to the base in 110 feet of water. After about a 45 minute drift to cover water and try different baits those deeper marks were reluctant to take our offerings. We pulled in our gear and then ran up on top of the drop-off in 85 feet of water. The bottom was full of signs of life and we continued our drift and missed one fish that snapped at a jigging spoon and then another on a tube jig. In roughly 20 minutes of drifting, the SONAR went blank and we pulled our lines up again to make another move.

This time I ran in a little shallower and with greater fluctuation in water depths that drop-off into deep water only a short distance away from the shallow water. That area was west of the Grimsby Weather Marker and we stopped the boat in 74 FOW water and found bait fish and plenty of marks on the bottom below the bait. Almost moments after Scott dropped his smoke coloured bass tube jig with a ¾ oz tube jig head. He set the hook on a solid bite and his “bass rod” bent over. He slowly brought the fish up to the boat commenting that he was using a 3 feet of 10 lbs test fluorocarbon leader tied from his braided line and the jig. He played the fish to about ten feet from the boat trying his best to keep just enough pressure on the fish but not too much to bust the light line. To this point I’m thinking to myself this is a typical Lake Trout fighting style. Little to nothing, other than a head-shake, here-and-there. Then the fish made a massive head shake that throbbed the light “bass rod” and like you can tell the fish turned his head toward the bottom when his rod tip was pulled down and buried into the water and with burst energy the fish pulled drag off his 3000 sized spinning reel like he hooked a king salmon. Straight down the fish pulled out 80 feet of line in a single dash and I looked at the SONAR and watched the line from the surface to the bottom across the screen looking like the contrails behind a Jet across a blue sky. He managed to inch the fish back to the boat and again the fish dove to the bottom. Now we had two solid runs and already 10 minutes into the fight. This time the fish circled around below the boat and when it was viewed through the clear water showing the white leading edges of the pectoral fins and the dark silhouette of its robust body, turned to the net and we scooped it. The fish read 13 lbs 1 oz on the scale.

From Photo_Gallery15

For the next hour Scott hooked 3 more fish and landed two of them on that same jig. I also landed another fish on a 1 ½ oz Mr Champ Jigging spoon and that fish measured 13 lbs 7 oz! Three fish over 10 lbs and the fourth was around 6 lbs. All of them fought like the first and Scott’s comment when he hooked the final fish of the night was he was waiting for the second run to the bottom. Sure enough the drag on his reel was peeling out line again.

We made the same drift three times and on the third and last drift the sun was down on the western horizon and it was time to pull lines and head in.

A few days later Scott emails me and writes, “If Friday is available Ari and I want to give it another try”. The winds were in our favour once more and Ari, Scott and I were lined up to try those Lake Trout once more. The GPS chart plotter showed our drift path lines from the week before and it was a good starting point. This time the winds were slightly more East South East and that meant we would follow the drop-off contour lines in parallel. Our thinking is that if we find the productive depth, we would be in that depth for a long time during our drift. The first drift in 77 feet of water was without a touch. We pulled up shallower on the next drift, settling for 65 feet of water and almost immediately Scott sets the hook on the first fish of the night. It came to the net and we scooped it up. The fish was roughly 10 lbs and Ari, Scott and I were happy to see we had another fish to the boat on a jig.

From Photo_Gallery15

Scott released the fish and then we got back to dropping down our jigs to the bottom. Minutes later I lift up the tube jig and there was weight- not a bite-just weight. I passed the rod to Ari, but during the pass-off the fish comes off. During that same drift I had another solid bite that felt like a strike from a pike, it was so alarming to feel the strike, but the hook didn’t find anything solid.

Another hour went by and near the end of the drift where the west side of the reef also ends and the drop-off approaches; Scott sets the hook on another Lake Trout and hands the rod to Ari. Ari battles the fish for nearly 15 minutes and we slide the net under this nice 14 lbs 9oz Lake Trout and she was ecstatic. Her biggest fish ever!

From Photo_Gallery15

On our next drift Scott hooks and lands the biggest Lake Trout of the night at 15 lbs even and the largest Lake Trout on a Jig from my boat. The sunset was another beauty and Ari snapped photos and captured the moment. Another successful evening of Lake Ontario Lake trout jigging thanks to Ari and Scott.

Contrary to the popular belief held by most savvy salmon trollers on Lake Ontario, jigging for Lake Trout is a common practice not only in up-north lakes, but also in the Great Lakes. For an example, where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario, the Lake Trout swarm the river’s sand and rock deposits commonly referred to as the “Niagara Bar” to spawn in the fall and then forage throughout the winter and well into the spring. Anglers jig for Lake Trout while drifting in the vast volume of effluent river water flowing into the Lake. The action of catching those cold water Lake Trout can be extremely productive. 20 to 50 fish days are possible and with the only restriction to those numbers is the physical endurance your arms can take to reel in one fish after another.

From Photo_Gallery6

A less popular form of jigging for Lake Trout is fishing from a boat in the “wide open lake”. This was the exact words from Scott as he said he felt spatially lost being miles off shore and jigging on the big lake. Scott is an avid bass angler and has fished Lake Erie. Lake Erie, to those that fish smaller inland lakes, would have the same sense of “out in the middle of nowhere” type of feel, so for Scott to say the same thing about Lake Ontario Lake Trout jigging grounds, really resonates the meaning. Attention to your electronics and the advanced bathometry to show variations in depths and aspect of the drop-offs and how to approach them based on your drift direction are the elements to jigging success. The technique to determining your boat position for the best drift is possible after much practice drifting for smallmouth bass on Lake Erie. Even the position of your drift socks or turning the main motor on an angle will change your drift direction slightly. Tricks that work the same for Lake Ontario Lake Trout jigging.

Although more time devoted to jigging will reveal a greater understanding for technique and tackle, essentially you can begin to see how the fish will behave to your jigging rhythm and sweeping rise and fall techniques. For an example, Bass often chase your bait up when they are active, however Lake Trout appear to chase your bait readily regardless. We would see it on the SONAR as we raise and bait the fish would follow it up. Triggering those fish to bite is often about pulling it away from them rather than keeping it on their nose like you do for bass. That would be one tip is to work the bait many feet up off the bottom and be ready for a strike at the top of your lift, not just as it falls. This was true when using the jigging spoon as I would start by pounding the bottom and after a few thumps, I will crank the reel over, jigging the spoon a few feet off the bottom and then crank the reel over again and repeat until the bait was nearly 20 feet off the bottom. Then drop it down again and repeat the process.

Tube jigs were the most productive and the drift and drag technique that was made popular by the Lake Erie Smallmouth Bass anglers in 90’s was the same style technique that produced bites on Lake Trout. A few snaps of the jig to keep the bait pop up off the bottom attracting attention from Lake Trout a distance away, seemed to work. Scott described some of the bites as “goby taps”, which seemed contrary to thinking a big Lake Trout as a ferociously high-order predator ready to engulf the bait. Best producing Tube jigs were not the “white tube” you hear so much about for Lake trout ice fisherman from up north, instead, goby imitation colours like smoke with red and gold metal flake, or green with back and red metal flake were getting bites. Braid main line and then a 5 foot fluorocarbon leader was used. Tying direct to braid meant no bites on the finessing presentation using tube jigs, fluoro was important, but the main line being braid allowed the thin diameter line to provide good feeling of bottom in 80 plus feet of water, and the no stretch factor translated bites and allowed solid hook sets even with the fish being so far away from you.

We also tried shad tail plastics on 1 oz jig head and Finesse fish on drop-shot with a 1 ¼ oz weight and they weren’t productive during those outings. Much more experimentation is needed to truly count out what works and what doesn’t, but it was clear, tube Jigs in Lake Erie Smallmouth colours that imitate the goby, have a place in the Lake Ontario Lake Trout jigging tacklebox.

While Scott was fighting one of the fish to the boat, a couple of guys trolled past as I was netting it and lifting it into the boat. We came back to dock at dusk and the other boats were pulling up at the same time. They wondered what the heck we were doing with spinning rods lined up in the rocket launcher rod holders of my centre console. I called out, “How did you do?” the reply, “not even a sniff”, “you?”. “We were 4 for 6… pause…. JIGGING”. I felt like a kid who just put chalk in between the layers of the teacher’s chalkboard brush. The weird looks we got said it all, jigging won for the most productive means to catch fish over trolling that day 

Shane Thombs
FINtastic Sportfishing

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fish were less play in May

After a steller start to the 2014 season in April, May was marginally less productive but still a good month of Salmon and Trout fishing. Changes in conditions and how each portion of shoreline would see the effects of those changes resulted in changes to our fishing success. Like the David Bowie song.. "Ch-Ch-Ch Changes". Flexibility to move from one port to another was critical, and more so, having a network of fellow anglers keeping the lines of communication open to help keep on top of what was happening from Hamilton to Niagara-On-the-Lake.

The April rains and periodic East winds set up the shallows for excellent fishing in April and the very beginning of May. The creeks flowed with warm and coloured water that emptied into Lake Ontario at Grimsby, Jordan, Charles Dailey Park, Port Dalhousie and Port Weller. This provided excellent fishing the first two weeks of May in shallow. We continued our April shallow water stickbaits presentations towed behind inline planerboards and got into some excellent Brown Trout, Chinook Salmon and Coho salmon coming to the boat.

Top producing stickbaits were the Perch Ripplin Redfin, Clown Bomber Long A (silver and gold) and A steller stickbait that outfished the rest on the Saturday before Mothers Day was the LiveTarget Emerald Shiner Bait Bail Jerkbait. I found the stickbait set-ups were best using 9 ft Shimano TDRs with my 25 lbs test main line with 20 feet of 12 lbs test fluorocarbon. The heavier pound test mainline created “lift” to keep the body baits from diving down into the bottom and were perfect to hook up to the releases in the inline planerboards. The stickbaits were stretched back behind the board 100 to 200 feet. Three boards on either side of the boat, and two flatlines run straight back off the boat, rounded out a 8 rod spread. We trolled having the boat ran the depths between 12 to 16 feet knowing the far board closest to the shore would be in much shallower. That was where the LiveTarget Baitball jerkbait excelled since it ran shallower and had that great finish of emerald shiners that the browns couldn’t resist. The Jefferies family had a great morning trip with a number of Browns and smaller salmon. Winds were blowing, but they were from the southwest so close to shore was no problem.


The Alewife baitfish showed up in huge numbers, raiding the waters along the beaches in less than 18 feet of depth. One trip with John, a Photographer from the Ontario Out Of Doors, was out with the plan to photo Brown Trout for the magazine. On May 3rd at Jordan Harbour the sudden visit of Alewife in typical Brown Trout shallows meant the browns already had enough to eat and they didn’t have to move too far to get to the dinner table. John’s trip, only resulted in one small Brown Trout for a picture.

Different stretches of the shoreline warmed up faster or were coloured more by heavy run-off coming out of the creeks. The balance of just the right temperature, coloured water and to what depth that water would find its way out to comfortable depths for wary spring salmon and trout, was puzzling.

The second week of May we had yet more rain, overcast and cold temperatures and this continued to add favourable conditions for shallow water salmon and trout. On May 16th I fished with a friend out of Grimsby and we found Chinook Salmon in the green coloured water in 25 Feet of waters. Action in a short 4 hour trip would suggest another week or so of great fishing along the shoreline.

On May 17th we had a very special guest on board. Aaron and his parents joined us for a 4 hour morning fishing trip. Aaron in his pre-teens is already taken a liking to fishing. His excitement for the trip was evident even as a shy and quiet kid, you can tell his eye’s sparkled with the thought of trying something new in fishing. We left the Foran’s Marina in Grimsby and turned west where we had success the evening before. But after 1 hour of trolling those waters, and only catching one small brown trout, Aaron’s first brown trout mind you, we decided to troll back across the front of Grimsby and down along the shoreline towards Beamsville.

40 Mile Creek was pumping brown run-off water and the currents of the lake looped the outflow to create a mud-line from the mouth and then parallel to shore running for nearly 2 miles to the east. Immediately as we entered the coloured water the downrigger set 10 feet down with a custom tapped Northern Dancer Magnum size spoon hooks into a 6 lbs Chinook salmon. This was Aaron’s first Ontario King Salmon.

From Photo_Gallery14

It wasn’t long we started to receiver more action in the stained coloured water. Aaron brought in another brown trout as well as his first coho salmon. We lost a few other fish and a few short hits, but the shallow water bite was still around thanks to the rains and cool temperatures.

While we fishing shallow at Grimsby on the Saturday of the long weekend with some success for Aaron, the reports of incredible catches from Jordan Harbour to Charles Dailey Park area filled my phone with text messages. Then again on Sunday Port Dalhousie was met with a flurry of action of salmon. We were out on the lake on the holiday Monday and due to the past two days of success, I told John to meet us down at Port Dalhousie for as early as you can. We left the dock at 5:45 and motored out to Port Weller where we set up in 45 feet of water. 10 minutes into our troll the wire diver with a flasher/fly starts clicking away with our first salmon on. John’s grandson manages a nice silvery king to the boat. The rest of the morning was a slow bite picking up a few smaller salmon. It slowed to as little as no bites in 2 hours so we moved in shallow it hopes of resorting to Brown Trout and coho in those waters. We reached 30 Feet of water and the rigger down 22 feet with a spoon fires and the drag sings a welcoming sound to indicate a decent king salmon. Handed the rod over and the John’s other Grandson takes a hold of the downrigger rod and watches as many feet of line leave the reel in quick fashion. Then moments into a powerful run the line goes limp and we reel in nothing on the business end of the fishing line. We trolled for another 2 hours without a strike, but they had a few good eating salmon for the smoker to take home.

From Photo_Gallery14

The fifth week of May following the long weekend was the mark of the transition from very shallow water patterns to open water patterns. The Alewife that was so plentiful along the beaches was now splintering off into smaller schools and began migrating away from the shoreline. On May 24th we had a special event where we host a Big Brother/Big Sister and their little, out for a day of fishing on Lake Ontario. Mark Penner and I had a few hours to look for some salmon first thing in the morning, before making our way to Fifty Point Marina to the event. We launched the boat in the dark and set lines before the sun poked up on the East horizon. It latterly took less than 5 minutes before we had our first salmon in the boat and 3 more would come quickly after.

Then it was time to pull lines and run to Fifty Point. We gathered our Big Bros/Big Sister with two littles named, Madison and Oscar. We set lines not far from Port in waters in the 35 feet depth. After setting lines we waited. Then a fish pulled back a planerboard, but shortly after came unpinned. Short strikes would continue to plague us as we missed a bunch more and then the time was getting short so at 11 pm we turned out over deeper water and lowered the speed and put out Cowbells and Peanuts to manage a few bites from Lake Trout in 70 – 90 feet of water. Hooking three Lake Trout but we only managed to boat 1 and pulled in a small salmon as well on a leadcore line. It was a great event as usual. And with a total of 29 Bigs and Littles ready to see what fishing on Lake Ontario was all about, we just had enough boats to accommodate the crowd.

From Photo_Gallery14

After the event BBQ, Mark and I were off to pick-up our afternoon clients at the dock in Grimsby. Larry and his grandson Carter were ready to board and we set off at 3 pm to fish until dusk. Larry has been battling poor health in 2013 and had this trip booked but had to reschedule it three times last year due to health and poor weather conditions. This was the day, and because Mark and I saw that the kings were catchable in the 30 foot depths during low light, but near impossible to catch when the sun was up, made our game plan a little less obscure. We were going to target Lake Trout and then turn into the shallows for the evening bite for salmon.

We motored out to near the weather marker and set lines in 65 FOW. Within minutes one rod went off and then the other. Double header! Both Lakers were around 10 lbs and nearly clones in colour and size. We thought it would be easy pickings for a few more Lake Trout, but we trolled for some time without a fish.


Then by 6:00 pm the wind picked up and turned the flat calm lake into a chop from a brisk south wind. Immediately we made the plan to turn into the shallower salmon waters and reset our presentations to match. In doing so we had a massive line tangle that weaved both a 10 colour leadcore (too deep for our shallow water program) with the 5 colour leadcore that was optimal for our program. I knew we need to salvage the 5 colour and in doing so the next 30 minutes while Mark trolled our way slowly in shallower, I patiently took apart the leadcore “knitted scarf” and success! Both came out ready to do battle again.

Once we reached 40 feet of water, I sent a diver on 3 setting out 85 feet with a HogWild SpinDoctor and matching A-Tom-mik Tournament fly and this 14 lbs Lake Trout would be Carter’s biggest fish.

From Photo_Gallery14

10 more minutes we reached 30 feet of water in front of Murray Street Park in Grimsby and the 5 colour we just salvaged towing a Magnum Michigan Stinger Chicken Wing on an inline planerboard pulls back. The drag is peeling and the rod handed over to Carter again. The fish is an obvious Chinook salmon and not a bad one at that. After 10 minutes we pull the board off and then Carter wrestled this nice 17 lbs Chinook Salmon to the boat.

From Photo_Gallery14

We release the fish and the rigger rod hooks a fish with the ball only down 12 feet. I slip on my footing falling directly on the gunwale beside the downrigger with both hands trying to free the strained rigger rod from the downriggers rod holder. The drag is singing and I hand the rod over to Larry and he kindly decides to hand it to Carter again, but during that transfer the fish comes unhooked. We trolled until the sun disappeared off the west horizon with a spectacular sunset to cap off a very long, very trying, but very good result to a dawn until dusk fishing day on Lake Ontario.

To tail out the Month of May, Lanny from Toronto, a serious derby fisherman, joins us again this year with hopes of catching a decent Chinook Salmon for the St Catharines Game and Fish Spring Derby. I hold a boat ticket that covers everyone on board for the Spring, Summer and Fall Derbies held by the St Catharines Game and Fish and Lanny was happy to try his luck in catching a derby fish. We launched from Port Dalhousie and the lake had a nice ½ foot wave from the west. We ran to about 120 FOW off the ledge of the Niagara Bar and first stopped in front of 4 mile point and the screen revealed a great picture of baitfish and fish in the top 40 feet. Just to illuminate water we ran another couple miles to near the border to take a look there as well, but there wasn’t much to see so we ran back to 4 mile point and set up a six rod spread.

We were looking for derby fish and Lanny has a great amount of confidence running cutbait for bigger fish, our six rod spread started out with two cutbait rigs on each rigger, flasher fly on one diver, Lanny’s apex on the other diver and two leadcores (5 colour and 10 colour) with spoons. We had the toughest day ahead of us as we watched countless fish come in under the boat to the downrigger weights inspect our gear and then scurry off. We managed only 2 small coho to the boat on a 42nd Michigan Stinger on 5 colour leadcore.

The month of May had tough fishing at times as we adjusted to the "Ch-Ch-Ch Changes", but we had wonderful people to share the boat with and great conversations and laughs. Warmer temps are coming and that can only bring wonderful summer sunsets and more hard fighting Salmon and Trout.

Shane Thombs

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April’s shallow water trolling simulates the ol’ days

I started in the charter fishing industry in the early 1990’s during a time that was seeing the end of an era for consistent shallow water salmon success. Working on Reel Pleasure Charters full time out of Fifty Point Marina, we would start operations in late April and by the end of May we had already managed 40+ trips. The first few years as a deck hand on Reel Pleasure (1994 being the most memorable) the numbers of fish located along the shoreline in less than 30 feet of water was remarkable.

From Misc

The years before witnessed cold winters and subsequently the pattern of fish movement into the southshore shoreline shallow water was more consistent and predictable. You can blame it on our warmer winters, call it the effects of Global Warming, but regardless, the days of predicting good spring salmon fishing in April and even May along the south shore has become a thing of the past.

Then after the mid ninety’s we saw the change, Zebra Mussels, warmer winters, and less and less fish coming to the boat in the areas we fished in the past. Reel Pleasure remained moored at Fifty Point to accommodate the flow of corporate charters from the Steel industry in Hamilton. Close proximity to our customer base, but the problem was, no one told the fish to stay in our end of the lake. Not being agile enough to move with the fish worked against us. Times change and so do the unpredictability of spring salmon locations.

Our winter this year, from the prospective of ice coverage on the Great Lakes, showed the greatest percentage coverage since 1994. 20 years later, after a similar pattern in weather and subsequently a similar shallow water fishing migration of feeding salmon, has brought back the stickbaits, plainerboards and other shallow water techniques to kick off our 2014 April fishing.

What does this mean for FINtastic Sportfishing? Call the past a learning experience and when I started up my own charter business I committed my business plan to charter in a smaller- more trailerable boat so I can move to where the fish are. Stay on top of the most productive waters (within reason). I’m glad I’m not calling one port my home and “attached to a dock”, and as you read my April report below, you will understand why.

April 2014 is now in the books. Our start for FINtastic Sportfishing began when the boat was pulled out of the barn on Friday after work on April 11th. Then working up a sweat putting everything back together, check the motors on the water muffs, and then splashdown first thing on Saturday morning April 12th.

Mark Penner and his friend Steve from high school and my son Aidan joined me for the first 2014 Lake Ontario trip of the season. We launched the Key Largo from Port Dalhousie, largely because the ice still had not melted enough to open the other ramps in the area. The winter was a long and cold one, and as we motored out past the pier heads and turning west we noticed the water temps were 39 degrees F.

We set up in shallow in front of Charles Dailey Park and the water temps crept up to 42’F. We trolled for roughly an hour and then the first rod went off. Aidan fell asleep in the front of the boat, but was awaken and handed the rod. The first fish of the year was a small Brown Trout coming on a planerboard with a 45 sized deeper diver pulling a Dreamweaver SuperSlim. Not long after, another inline planerboard pulled back. The fish came off only 20 feet behind the boat.

From Photo_Gallery14

We trolled west to Jordan and found the muddy water coming out of the bay was warmer at 44’F we found where the water went green west of Jordan in front of Vineland and then the action started to increase. We managed 3 more browns in the last hour of fishing and then pulled lines at 11 am. Success in shallow started the first time out.

From Photo_Gallery14

The first chartered trip on Good Friday April 18th was with a returning customer John who had his son John and his grandson Mitchell join us for a spring time brown trout troll. This time we launched out of Foran’s Marine in Grimsby and we trolled the shallows from Grimsby Beach to Baker Road Water Treatment plant. The water was very cold at 42 degrees F with only an increase of about a degree in the brown coloured water coming in from Forty Mile Creek. Talking with a few friends that were there two days ago said the water temps were 46-48 degrees F but with the winds from the North East the day before, cooled the shoreline for our Saturday morning trip. It was Mitchell’s birthday and he was first up to reel in a fish. A 4 lbs Brown came to the net after snapping up a Chart/Chrome stick bait off the planerboard. It was a long wait for our next fish, but John Sr was ready when the rod in the downrigger only dropped 6 feet and 40 feet back, gets pounded by an obviously better fish. I thought Lake Trout, but the fish came to the surface and showed its brown spots and pulled drag and bulldogged to the 16 foot depths. John brought the fish the net and it tipped the scales at 12 lbs!

From Photo_Gallery14

Easter Monday I was greeted by the Town of Grimsby, Town Manager, Keith and his out of town brothers, David (Alberta), and Paul(Quebec). We launched out of Jordan, a decision I made after thinking the waters might be warmer in the area, more so than out of Grimsby on Good Friday. We began our troll not long after motoring slightly east and setting lines in the brown coloured water. Yes! The water temperatures were warmer. 44 degrees out over 25 feet of water and going up to 49.5 degrees in 12 feet of water in pockets between Jordan and Charles Dailey Park.

Our second line was hardly set before the first line was bit and then the Opti Tackle Inline Planerboard started to pull back with a splashing fish on the surface 90 feet behind it. Paul was up first and reels in the first Chinook Salmon to the boat at 8 lbs.

From Photo_Gallery14

We angled in to shallower water and as we approached 16 feet of water the “short string” Wire diver rod with only 40 feet and a Deeper diver 65 on 3 setting and Dreamweaver Super Slim Mixed Veggi spoon starts throbbing under the pressure of a decent fish. First I thought big brown trout, but again I was fouled when the rod was handed to David and a silver sided King Salmon swooshes the water’s surface with its big tail and then bolts for about 30 yards. In the meantime another rod takes a strike and Keith is on it. The first double header of the season, yippy! David works on the his decent sized chinook salmon, and it comes to the net while the excitement of the catch spreads to laughter around the boat. David in his bright coloured rain jacket lights up the picture holding up this 19 lbs spring king.

From Photo_Gallery13

Keith manages his fish to the boat that was a nice eating sized coho and it goes in the box for dinner that night. We release the 19 lbs salmon to grow a little bigger. We managed another coho and 3 brown trout to round off our count of 7 for 9.

From Photo_Gallery13

On Sunday April 27th I was asked to jump on my clients boat as part of my “On-The-Water Consulting” program. Nick launched his brand new 18 ft Tracker Targa down the Jordan Boat Ramp with the help of his fishing buddy Rob. It was later in the morning since the wind forecast suggested an 8 am start might let the lake relax after the strong Northwest winds overnight.

It was only a slight chop on the water and we only turned east rounding the rocks at Jordan and began setting lines.

The mud line was pushed in close to shore at Jordan, but we could see the giant plume of brownish coloured water that expanded outward from shore at around Charles Dailey Park. We trolled our way there and it wasn’t long before we started seeing action. First fish, a small brown trout, came on the short string wire diver and Dreamweaver SS in mixed veggie spoon. The other 5 lines were all stickbaits behind inline boards. First pulled at 90 foot leads, but after 11:30 the lead lengths were stretched out to 120 ft do to the bite slowing down due to boat traffic.

Nick and Rob managed 13 fish to the boat including 3 kings over 12 lbs, 2 small kings, 6 coho and 2 browns. The action was great and weather turned out to be a perfect day.

From Photo_Gallery14

The cold winter and late spring has one advantage for the Lake Ontario troller. The waters along the south shore of Lake Ontario, in shallow, warm up the fastest. The middle of the lake is still very cold cold, and the waters coming down the Niagara River remain iced down from the collected ice held back behind the iceboom strung across the beginning of the Niagara River at Lake Erie.

The Ontario side along the southshore is the place to be after a long cold winter since the warmer near shore shallows become a magnet for salmon and trout. Recent years we have had very warm winters and early springs and the window of opportunity to catch shallow feeding salmonids was shorten to only a week or two. In 2014 our spring is simulating our early 1990’s shallow spring salmon action. I rub my hands together that would also see some of the best May Salmon action if the Niagara River continues to flow cold. The fish may seek our warmer waters and remain accessible to those western end ports well into late spring. Only Mother Nature can write the end to this story.

Shane Thombs
FINtastic Sportfishing