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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.