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