Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June transition period; when an empty cooler is still something

Finding active fish can be done in two ways, cover lots of water and use a fast presentation. A bass fisherman will fish a spinnerbait along a stretch of bank to find active fish, before pitching a texas rigged worm. A walleye fisherman may troll crankbaits in open water to find active walleyes before slowing down the troll with a worm harness. A salmon fisherman will troll spoons in excess of 3 mph high in the water column to find active salmon and trout, but slowdown to 2 mph with Flasher/cutbait to entice a lazy King.

June 2015 didn’t provide much fish activity on Lake Ontario in the Western Basin. Temperatures were still very cold, but on top of that the weather consistently changed and the wind direction was ever changing. Inconsistent weather and water conditions rec havoc on Salmon and Trout trying to find comfort and food.

In the 90’s we would block out the month of June from booking trips, as we wait for the transition water conditions and weather conditions go from Spring into Summer. That time off was usually well planned as the fishing was also very difficult. Since the 90’s Great Lake Salmon fisherman have learnt a great deal, added new techniques and tackle that has lessen the effects of the “transition period” on fishing success. Our techniques in the 90’s was all about finding active fish running 3 mph with spoons and rarely ever fishing below 100 feet down. The recent 2 decades brought on slower trolling techniques using Flashers/Cutbait, Flasher/Fly, fishing deeper with our downriggers, magnum directional divers and using stealthy Leadcore and Copper line.

”Low and slow” is without a doubt the most effect means to catch kings in June. Water temps are not setup that deep, but post spawn alewife start an instant migration from spawning locations along the beaches of the southshore to open water. We often refer to this behaviour with Rainbow trout when they drop out of spawning streams and instantly shoot right out into the open waters of the main lake to recover and find comfort. Water temps are still not to the Alewife’s liking and they live the early part of June in water temps colder than they like. Sometimes the temps are seldom different from near the surface down to the bottom in 200 plus feet of water. So why ride near the surface when you can escape predators easier at greater depths.

A little understanding of fish biology and the interaction of Salmon and their primary forage fish called alewife can be good starting point. Differences in Alewife location is entirely about what they prey upon. Understand “newage Alewife habits” can go along way to help unlock the mysteries of finding Salmon willing to bite during the changing and unpredictability of the June transition.

Alewife have also changed their diet in the past 20 years. Where zooplankton was flourishing in the lake high in the water column and near shore areas, now is much less with our reduced nutrient loading in the Great Lakes and the invasive introduction of Zebra mussels in the 90’s, the plankton counts for those species of phytoplankton, and subsequently zooplankton, have diminished. The prolific nature of plankton requires shallow warmer water with nutrients; June is not conducive to that environment

Where food is not near the surface in June, the only alternative is to seek a food chain substitution that live at greater depths and are more prevalent with or without the need for warm fertile nutrient rich surface water. Mysis is a shrimp like inhabitant of Lake Ontario’s depths and are becoming the replacement diet for Alewife in June. (T.J. Stewart, W.G. Sprules, and R. O’Gorman, 2009) https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70034738

The weather in June was rainy, lots of East winds that continued to throw a curveball for those fishing the far Western basin of Lake Ontario. In May the Niagara Bar on the New York side was hot, but come early June that scenario watered down as the fish migrated North and East of the Niagara River Plume. Every time the winds kicked up out of the East, the fish scattered and thinned throughout the Western half of Lake Ontario. Reports of good fishing one day were flipped on its head the next as the fish again moved. Reports literally meant nothing as you started from scratch each and every day.

Early through to mid-June had to be the toughest fishing of the year. Despite vigorous effort, three trips in a row the boat did not land a salmon. Lake Trout saved a few of those trips as we turned to run Cowbells and Peanuts or Cowbells and large Spin-n-Glows with trimmed used A-TOM-MIK flies to gain a few fish in the trip catch count. Even the Lake Trout at times were shy to bite, but in one trip where our focus was entirely on catching a derby contenting Salmon, wound up leaving us with an empty box for the trip.

From Photo_Gallery16
From Photo_Gallery16

The Veteran’s Day Derby was held on June 13th, 2015 and the derby asks charter boats and recreational boats to participate in taking out a Veteran on the lake for a fishing derby. Biggest Salmon was the goal, so Paul and I boated back to Grimsby/50 Point waters with hopes of finding a salmon sizable enough to make it to the derby scales.

Paul has served our Country and continues to be involved with Royal Hamilton’s Light Infantry. He is a Hamilton with kids that have grown. He described that fishing wasn’t a common thing to do recreationally. Instead fishing was a means of survival. He recalls working in the Artic and Icefishing for something to eat, jigging a line using his bare hands in brutally cold winds and not catching much. No wonder fishing wasn’t a favourite past time.

The day for Paul was about as fruitful as his Icefishing experience as we had only one strike the entire day and returned to Bronte Inner Harbour with nothing to show for. We were not alone, 35 boats in the Derby. Over 75 anglers and only 7 fish caught on 5 boats. Might be marked as the lowest fishing count day of the year.

During the BBQ and Weighin and many presentations an announcements, my emotions for those who serve made the empty cooler in the boat seem such a small concern. It struck me that my freedom to fish is far more important than the catch. The people who make it possible for me to fish are our Veterans. People around me were mingling like any other group function and without actually addressing their importance to Canada, we might not even recognize what they had been through.

The Poppy Memorial Cup was shown to remember those who have fallen, those who were lucky enough to get back up, and those who continue to battle the aftermath of the conflict in Afghanistan.

From Photo_Gallery16

I had to hold my composure when listening to the moving stories from WO Renay Groves told with her Newfoundlander accent. How the Cup was made, what transpired as she took on the project to put together the cup that made it so special, so important. One of the veterans leaned over to me and said, “she kept it real”, meaning the story could be related to those who have served and not softened for civilian ears. For more info on the cup see this link. http://www.qor-east.com/Bringing%20The%20Poppy%20Home%20Project.htm

I thought about how the conflict in Afghanistan was in my lifetime, but how generations before lived the times of both World Wars, where friends and family were torn apart in an effort to hold up our nation’s freedom. A freedom that I don’t ever want to take for granted.

An empty cooler on the boat is still something, it means we were privileged to go fishing when so many sacrificed to give us the freedom to fish

Shane Thombs