Salmon roam the waters of Lake Ontario at will. They know no international boundaries and unlike the common thinking that New York stocks more salmon then the province of Ontario, therefore would see more salmon on the New York side, but that is not true either. When we say they are nomad, is an understatement, considering studies that show that even during a very short window of time, Salmon and trout in Lake Ontario will swim from one end of the lake to the other. We still don’t understand how far and how frequent Lake crossing occurs during a typical 4 year life span of a Lake Ontario Chinook Salmon, only to say that home for a salmon is not just the waypoint you saved in your GPS.
During spring the lake is without warm surface temperatures to cap the main lake and allow thermal stratification of the water column. Even after weeks of warm calm water (like we seen throughout the month of May this year) the warmer surface water is too thin to allow salmon to sneak up on prey. Think of it like how during the winter you go inside the house, site in the living room beside the wood stove where it’s warm. In our warmer months the temperatures are more comfortable outside and you can roam anywhere you wish and remain comfortable.
Salmon need the thermocline to setup deeper to provide the fish a comfortable depth from the bright sun and anglers passing by in our fishing machines. Instead of having a comfortable depth and horizontal temperatures to coincide, we instead have the lake that contains an overwhelming amount of water volume that hovers around the 39’F- 42’F degrees and only a small amount of water warmer then the “Core of the lake”. Where the warmest water is in the lake is subject to change. Point source for warmer water like Creeks and rivers is one contributor of location based warmer water, but that is all subject to the lake currents and whatever way the wind blows.
With merely the natural lake current, areas of warmer water temperatures are subject to being gently pushed around in a plume of warmer areas to form vertical temperature structure. Too much wind can cause mixing with the cold lake core and chill the water down again by the wind and waves.
Here today and gone tomorrow is the fitting description of spring time salmon location unless you find the perfect situation of warm water, comfortable water conditions via depth or stained water colour from sun and angling pressure, and baitfish. The location of warm pockets of water will also be where salmon and most of the baitfish will be located. Spring batfishes seek warmer waters and coloured water to make them feel less visible to hungry salmon. If that environment can match that with close proximity to spawning habitat, like sand beaches or river outlets, they will relate to those areas in May.
In 2015 May’s weather pattern was calm and warm for many days in a row. It helped warm up Lake Ontario’s surface water, but more so it warmed Lake Erie’s Eastern basin surface water that is drawn down the Niagara River and into Lake Ontario. Like a light switch, the Niagara River’s plume flowing out into Lake Ontario was too cold to hold fish in April and was not much warmer than the Core of Lake Ontario but by the first week of May, the plume warmed above the Lake Core temperature and in came Baitfish and hungry salmon.
Since the Niagara Bar drops out into very deep water off the ledge, it also provides salmon ample comfort to ambush prey and abate angling pressure from above. The plume of the river became the perfect storm as these elements collide. The only thing that could change the scenario would be a strong wind to move the plume or mix it with the cold lake core.
Naturally and without the influence of wind events, the Niagara plume comes out of the river mouth and turns east to run along the New York shoreline. Since we were weeks without any winds or changing currents the Niagara Plume never crossed over to the west in Ontario waters. If you were outside the plume in New York waters your fishing success was dramatically different. Without a New York fishing license, you were simply on the “Outside, Looking In”.
How May unfolded
Thursday April 30th I was establishing plans to fish with my long-time friend Ron for the Friday before fishing the King of the Lake Salmon Tournament out of St Catharines Marina at Port Weller for Saturday and Sunday. Ron is a conservation officer for the Ministry of Natural Resources and was out checking licenses earlier in the week and observed many Salmon coming to the boats along the Canadian Side of the Bar but noted the vast majority of boats on the New York side of the border off the Niagara Bar. Some he recognized as Canadian boats and plenty of the larger vessels that were surely to be fishing the King of the Lake Tournament.
Lake Erie was at the tipping point of warming up faster than Lake Ontario and therefore flowing water into Lake Ontario a few degrees warmer. This phenomenon is often the case second or third week of May, but the sunny calm waters for two weeks straight has the situation fast forwarded a week. This situation also would never had been considered a month before as guys were still icefishing on Lake Erie around Point Abino on Easter Weekend.
Thursday night I consulted with my tournament team and good friends over Friday’s prefish game plan and I relayed the information I gathered. The interest was to find our own fish and make the best of it on Canadian waters. Dave and Bruno were to scope out the waters between Grimsby and Weller and Ron and I to scope out from Port Weller to the border.
Friday Morning Ron and I launched from Dalhousie and when coming out noticed that the water coming out of the pier heads was flowing well, was green and was 44’f! I scanned for a short while with the SONAR, but didn’t see much so we set off to start fishing at the Pier Heads at Port Weller. The colour was a tint of Green but nothing like the week before. In fact looking at the water inside of the canal at the mouth of the pier heads showed that the lake water was pushing inward slightly and not much current coming out like you would hope.
Point source for coloured and warmer water has important roles as to how the weekend would unfold. 20/20 hind sight as they say but documenting it here will surely help me in the future to be observant of these things.
Ron and I fished tight to the break wall East of the plume of water and trolled East to the Greenhouses following the canal plume and trolling with the light west wind on our stern. We manage two small kings on the first pass and turned to roll back west to make another pass when we hit this ugly looking Brown Trout.
The next past didn’t produce a bite, so we angled out a little deeper and trolled west in 45 FOW. 5 colour leadcore and 6 colour leadcore with magnum Proking spoon in Pearl Necklace colour and a Michigan Stinger Reg size NBK took two quality kings where one came to the boat and the other slipped the hook. The late April producer, a LiveTarget Deep Diving Banana was also set out on 12 lbs test mono and behind the inline board where it hooked up into our third good king of the day. We boated that one and then called it a morning to head in. Meanwhile at this same time Dave and Bruno in the other boat trolled their way down from Jordan Harbour to Port Dalhousie and stumbled upon the plume of green water with plenty of Kings. Soon they were steady on the rods and they had 4 for 6 in the boat while we were putting out boat on the trailer and heading home. For the next two hours before the 2 pm weighin for big fish Friday they manage 6 more kings that were all over the 10 lbs mark.
This flurry of action Dave and Bruno found was to be our game plan for the morning. We had this as a Plan A and a much weaker plan B at Weller where Ron and I fished.
Tournament morning we lined up and blasted off at 6 am rounding the corner to the west, well in front of everyone going the same way. Dave’s boat is a 22 Grady White with a 225 Yamaha. We sat down in the water depth that Dave found them Friday afternoon and we trolled the first pass with nothing, but Yankee Troller and ThrillSeeker both reputable New York boats, worked their way inside us and fished the 25 foot to 35 foot drop. We watched them net one each and then Yankee Troller left, Thrillseeker stuck it out for another hour. We hooked 3 good kings and that was it. 5 colour leadcore with reg sized ProKing using a colour that was with oil slick looking tape on one half and glow on the other with a black ladderback tape down the centre. We didn’t fare well with many big boxes showed up to the scales and everyone who did them came from New York waters.
Sunday morning we had no plan B we were just out to go fishing and if we got lucky it still wouldn’t be enough to be competitive. We elected not to waste our money purchasing a NY license since we were so far out of it, so all we could do is turn to the west but this time with only one other tournament boat. Miles Ahead. We managed 2 kings and one coho that would measure, but all our kings were smaller and we had no Plan B. So we trolled a straight line all the way past Port Weller on to the ledge at the bar all the way to the border line. We were all alone on the Canadian side except for the odd weekender recreational boat in much closer to shore. But when you looked to the East side of the border line that would be New York waters there was a sea of black dots of boats thick as the bugs that coated the boat. It was like we were on one side looking into where we should have been, but just couldn’t get there.
Mother’s Day weekend I was out only on Saturday afternoon on Lake Erie for some Perch. We launched from Crystal Beach and were met with calm conditions and very hot conditions for early May. The trip was scheduled for 6 hours but it latterly took 4 hours to find a school of Perch and over 4 different spots. The last 1 ½ hrs of the trip the guys were pulling in perch as fast as we can hook them and bring them on board. I was busy baiting hooks and unhooking perch and they managed a bunch of excellent sized perch. A perch fry for Mother’s Day was made possible.
The long weekend of May was a continuation of exceptional weather to get out on the lake. Calm water and sunny warm conditions was very inviting. Throughout the week leading up to the long weekend the reports of salmon in New York waters off the Niagara River continued to overwhelm. Trouble is, as a charter operator clients may not be fond of having to purchase a New York fishing license on short notice and without a guarantee that both the weather and fishing would make the added expense worthwhile.
However, there was light at the end of the tunnel, even though it may have been dim in compared to the bright light on the New York side. A few reports of Chinook salmon were being caught off of Bronte on the Wednesday through to Friday before the Long weekend. Baitfish was there and in comfortable deep water close by along the North Shore, even with Gin clear water.
The Saturday John and his grandson Carson joined us dockside at Foran’s Marine in Grimsby where we boated across a flat lake to Bronte and sat down in 170 FOW.
It was instantaneous to see the marks of fish deep in the water column and immediately we set lines to range from 50 feet down to 150 feet and in no time rods started popping. Lyman down 70 on a short lead off the rigger fired first and the drag started singing. 14 lbs King. Magnum Diver on 3 setting out 300 with Glow Green Dot and A-TOM-MIK Glow ProAm fly takes the next black jaws and it hits the deck in the low teens. Frog MC Rocket Mag size with 11” Hotspot flasher in Frog takes the next 3 shots and manages our largest of the day at 15 lbs to weigh in at the 3x3 Salmon Tournament that lasts all weekend long. We ended the day with 6 kings between 10 lbs to 15 lbs and 3 Lake Trout and 1 coho.
Sunday I was off the water, but heard the leading weights in the 3x3 were pulled from New York waters.
Come Monday John and his other Grandson were ready to tangle with some more kings off Bronte. Again, beautiful calm seas and overcast skies for us to motor across from Grimsby. We sat down in 140 FOW and trolled East. We weren’t marking as much. Water appeared clearer still and the baitfish were non-existent. We continued our search East past Bronte and still nothing. We pulled lines at 10:30 am and nothing to show for. Ran back to Grimsby but by then the shallow water bite was done and our time on the water fell short. – Marked as my First skunked trip in 5 years of chartering.
My wife was in for surgery after the Long weekend which meant I was off the water for the rest of the month.
This also was the beginning of the transition in the lake. More on this in my June summary, None-the-less two consecutive winters was about to show its effects on a very cold Lake core and the lack of heat energy stored in the Lake as a result. May was calm and warm which was a help for Lake Ontario, but the transition to summer temperature stratification will require a lot of the same warm and calm conditions. You never can truly tell when you are on the Outside, Looking in.