It feels like yesterday when the internet became our biggest tool to expanding our network of anglers. It instantly expanded from those you chat with at your home Marina to those you talk to from Marinas around the lake. We often talk at length about how the ecology of the Great Lakes has changed dramatically and how that has played for or against our success in catching fish. What we tend not to discuss is how as anglers, we have made adjustments in order to continue to catch fish. The evolution of the most successful Great Lakes trollers can be hinged on the Network of anglers they are associated with and build knowledge and experiences with. Technology changed the way we communicate about fishing and the means of using it to stay on top of where the fish are, and how to catch them. We have gone from the 1980s and 90s where dockside conversations and VHF and/or CB radios were all you needed, to internet reports in the 2000’s from around the lake and now it’s all about the Cell phone era of txting and private messaging with a refined group in a circle of friends.
The Network has gone from small and social, to extremely large and unsocial, and then back down to a small and social but from a more refined group of individuals from various locations around the lake in an anglers “Contact List”.
The Dockside Dets
In the 80’s and 90’s the network of anglers in a single marina would be all you need in your network. In the 80’s the fish were plentiful and easily available with a short boat ride from your home port during the majority of the season. If you hadn’t been out in a week or so, a few simple questions around the dock, was enough info to put fish in the boat. Those in the marina worked together to find fish and the VHF radio chatter would help steer you in the right direction or bring others to steer towards you. There were plenty of fish to share and the info was something to share as well. Anyone with “Their ears on” can hear over the radio who is catching them and on what. This network was perfect for the scenario of the day, but something changed. Yes technology advanced but so too did fish location and fish behaviour.
Zebra mussels and reduced nutrient loading in the Great Lakes caused Lake Ontario to clear up dramatically in the late 90’s. Where fish were at home in slightly coloured water back in the 80’s were then exposed to the sun, the sounds of passing boats and more aware of the hardware that trollers in the 80’s could “get away with” because back then, the fish would barely see all the gear in the water and if they did, it was interesting to them.
In the late 90’s fish behaviour changed about face. The saying “Here today and gone tomorrow” was a 90’s term between salmon fisherman and if you thought you had those salmon figured out, all too soon you will be challenged once again. Sometimes change was daily, and it was evident that hourly adjustments on technique and location would also be necessary. This era was an adjustment for all anglers to deal with on the lake. The change spurred on “new-age” techniques like Directional divers and Leadcore line then followed by copper line. Boats seemed to expand range and run miles from their home port or for those with trailered boats would consider no Port a home port. This was the “New-Age in Salmon Trolling on Lake Ontario”.
Much of one’s success is about being at the right place at the right time, maybe even lucky. Salmon move dramatically in a short period of time. They will move across the lake, moving with the currents and the waves, following the bait in and out, up and down and then sideways. Fish found in front of your port, may be in front of the next port the next day. Move, Move, Move. Being there at the right time would consider fish in clear water would bite better based on environmental conditions such as during dawn and dusk, choppy or coloured water conditions or move up or down in depth and on structure.
The Internet Knowledge Base
The 2000’s brought on the internet and we developed a Network that was very large expanding to ports around the Lake. The knowledge base grew rapidly as we learnt together in the New-age of Salmon trolling techniques. You contributed your information and knowledge widely. You helped many catch more fish, find more fish and at times discovered you shared a bit too much with too many. That era of anglers developed skills together and we grew appreciation and respect for one-another over the internet. While on the water we used a VHF radio at times and carried a cell phone. We learned towards using the cell phones more and more and soon conversations were cut back from a massive internet audience to a one-to-one conversation. The Internet was a knowledge base but also daily reports helped give the perspective of where fish are being caught. Are they in Toronto, any closer to home caught yesterday, how deep, who was catching them and how deep. This helped as a starting point and after you get off the water you share your experience to the massive network of anglers so they can use your contribution. This was really useful for the weekenders, but a handful of charter and tournament anglers also filled in reports after a successful trip or tournament outcome.
Now-a-days newer trollers come to the internet to help speed up the learning curve on new-age trolling techniques since the knowledge base is easy to query and pull valuable information from. But here comes a divide and the reason why websites like “Spoonpullers” have been regarded by many as an internet chat board that has lost its appeal.
The Cellular Contact List
Experienced anglers already understanding the basics and rarely use the knowledge base of info on a website like Spoonpoullers. It’s a nice to have, but it’s not a necessity or something that will draw you back in on a daily basis to find out the latest and greatest fishing conditions. Experienced Salmon trollers find those types of websites taxing on your time sifting through messages of useless information and small talk. Filtering through so much text from unknown sources leaves much to be desired. Often the new guys to the sport are posting and the experienced guys are not. It’s a double edged sword that has lost its appeal for many.
Most successful anglers in the 2000’s up to today, are mobile, they are agile in use of tactics and location, they are confident in what they have will get bit, but know they are still subject to luck and the need to stumble upon something. Stumbling upon something can be overlooked if you are not paying attention to every detail and successful Great Lakes Trollers, are in my opinion, the most “situation aware” type of fisherman next to fly fisherman. Yes more than the bass guys, there I said it.
If you put a situation aware angler in amoungst a refined network of other like-minded “situation aware” anglers then quality information is gathered. No more sifting through superfluous internet chat board messages.
Much of the pioneers that helped develop the internet chat boards are also the founders of the content in the knowledge-base contained in those websites like Spoonpullers. Many of those contributors cut back on communicating on the website chat boards, if they do, it’s more about posting a few pictures and telling funny experiences and not necessarily sharing details and info. If too little info is shared then often a few comments are added on the board to call you out. Give that a time or two and those highly experienced and knowledgeable anglers will instead post on a place like Facebook. Less negative feedback and if there is any, guess what, you are blocked from the Social network of that angler.
Today a cellular list of contacts are a circle of quality anglers that are instead interested in learning just a little bit more with attention to details, and looking for the little thing that counts. This pursuit is not found on the internet chat boards anymore. It is within a refined group of like-minded highly capable, highly respected anglers that are “situation aware”. Details are contained inside the network circle and are not meant to be shared widely. Good information will leak out in time, but let’s hold on to it just a little longer. Keep one step ahead if at all possible. This desire for a good network means you better share useful information as much as you ask for information. Loyalty, comradery, openness, out fishing regularly in similar waters and sharing similar styles of fishing will help find your place in a network. You get out what you put into it. You share more, you get more back. One sided conversations are a full stop to future conversations. Unlike a chat board, where you are called out and look bad if you don’t respond, in an informal Network, you are out, cold turkey. Not a secret society, not a code, just guys willing to share details with one another and manage who is in that circle.
I will admit that this promotes exclusivity, and is not the best environment for newcomers into the sport. I remain adamant that information will be shared on a one to one basis. Call me and I’ll be happy to share what I have experienced. No BS, Ill share details. One caveat though, report back with your results and share what you learnt on the water when you are out. Call on VHF radio, txt, private message or email and the Network grows with another individual.
I blame most fish we catch as a result of what information gathered through communicating. Yes you still have to trick the fish you have under the boat into biting, but it’s true that information sharing is the catalyst to catching more fish.
During the first week of August my family and I were staying at Port Bruce, North Erie Marina. This is a location that I discovered 4 years before through two generations of anglers. Marshman lives in St Thomas and Port Bruce and Port Stanley is his home waters. My other contact was Mike from Catch One Sportfishing a long time friend since back in the late 80’s from Fifty Point Marina. He settled in with a trailer and his 35ft SeaRay at Port Bruce. Information on where walleye were being caught was limited to a few willing to travel further to find fish. Marshman found walleye off Port Stanley near the weather buoy and a few other reports around the dock explained fish coming from 19 miles straight out of Port Bruce.
The first half of the week was a constant southwest blow that kept me and my kids from getting out on the lake as well as hosting others to come out with us for a few booked charters. Finally by Tuesday the winds slowed first thing in the morning and my son and I headed in the direction of the Port Stanley weather buoy. As we motored out the wind went from nil to at least 15 km/hr. By the time we stopped 2 miles short of the buoy, the winds were gusting and the white caps were forming already. My 10 year old son Aidan has seen his share of rough water in the past and he was good with it. We fished 4 rods and managed 3 walleyes before calling it quits early in the rough stuff.
Wednesday morning the leaves at the top of the trees were still, the kids were yanked out of bed and we set off with my daughter Myra and Aidan with me. We ran out to where we were the day before and the marks on the screen were plentiful. We set lines and got into fish right away, but this time it was sheephead after sheephead. We did pull in a few walleye but knew we needed to move out before the junk fish drive us nuts. So we moved out to 65 FOW and soon we were into a better walleye bite. We stopped at 11 am with 9 in the boat. LiveTarget deep diving smelt was good on 7 colour Leadcore.
Thursday morning was going to be a special trip. We were invited by Mike and Lois of Catch One Sportfishing to join them for a fish on their 35 foot SeaRay.
Shari and the kids would join me for the first time together in a number of years.
We fished the same areas I left the day before and the cooler held 10 walleyes before we headed back in. 8 colour Leadcores with LiveTarget shallow Banana Baits in Green were best by far.
Big thanks to Mike and Lois for the hospitality.
Mike and Lois are long-time friends and the very first members of my network of salmon fisherpersons. When I cut my teeth in charter fishing in the early 90’s working as a deck hand on Reel Pleasure Charters out of Fifty Point Marina, Mike and Lois had their charter boat 4 slips down from us. In those days there were a dozen other charter boats in Fifty Point and we worked together to find fish. By the mid 90’s Mike and Lois in Catch One Sportfishing and us in Reel Pleasure Charters, were all that were left.
One pivotal moment occurred during the last year of Reel Pleasure Sportfishing that had shaped my take on my own approach to charter fishing from that point on. The last year of Reel Pleasure Charters, Captain Larry O’Conner got a very inviting phone call from a friend and fellow charter captain Yvan of Get-it-Wet Sportfishing. Yvan had heard we were without fish and our success rate was dismal at the time, meanwhile the charter boats out of St Catharines were smashing fish. A dozen coho each trip, kings and lots of Lakers. Larry first came to me and asked if it would be a good idea to move the boat. I said yes, Larry agreed, but since our 30 booked charters were through Stelco, we had to run it by them first. This is where the “buck stops”. This kept Reel Pleasure on the dock in Fifty Point for its last dismal season.
The fishing out of Fifty Point was on a downward tailspin and the results of empty coolers were enough to eradicate the charter industry from Fifty Point. Soon Mike an Lois were left to themselves as the lone charter operator out of the marina and although Reel Pleasure Charters folded, I continued to fish nearly 3 times a week on the Lake mostly out of Fifty Point and continued to communicate with Mike and help out others out of Fifty Point. I was fishing mostly out of the “Grey Ghost” with the late Ken Fisher. We worked with other boats such as “Double Dutch”, “Bears Den”, “Class Act Sportfishing”, and “The Norseman”.
Those days we spent nearly as much time chatting on the dock as we did fishing. The network was truly a social interaction, but you often were unaware of how the fishing was from other ports. That was until the Internet happened.
I developed a website for our fishing club the Strait Line Anglers. We had a messageboard and I would post my results nearly every trip, and soon others added to it as well. One of my posts was about the great comradery between Lake Ontario Trollers. I nicked named them “Spoonpullers”. That was the start of the new Networking website for Lake Ontario and Jason Cuipak picked up the name Spoonpullers and the rest is as you have seen it unfold.
On my return to Lake Ontario the salmon fishing slowed dramatically once more. They were far East and it often meant our attention to fill the boat with Lake Trout. Cowbells and Spin-N-Glows ran on the downriggers bumping along the bottom claimed one Lake trout after another. Every trip we targeted Lakers it was a complete smashing. Anyone who thinks you need to go North to catch lots of Lake Trout- give your head a shake. There were many over 15 lbs. As much as 19 lbs and 4 in the 18 lbs bracket. Most trips were split in half. Try to fish salmon and rainbows for the first half of the trip (if it’s a morning trip) and then Lakers to finish off the trip. The reverse for afternoon trips.
Still a few Salmon were making it to the boat and it still remained a cutbait bite whenever the fish were in range. Young Samual caught a nice one weighing in at 20 lbs 4 oz and enough to win the Junior derby division with his fish caught on the last day of the derby.
Rainbows were normally an August fish to target, but they still remain at large for the month. At this point it seems we might not have rainbows to target this year.
The odd rainbow that did find our spoons appealing was large bows. Here`s 3 bows that were 11 and 12 lbs.
Since the bows were less than dependable, Tom booked his trip that intended to fish for August bows. I let him know it wasn`t happening like he had seen in the past. I asked him if Walleye action on Lake Erie fit the bill. He agreed that catching fish for his buddy Clay would be best and to have some walleye to bring home to eat would be another bonus. So Port Maitland bound we went. Last trip to Port Maitland was the last week of July and there was a fender bender that set us off the dock a little late. Not unlike that time, Tom ran into some frustration driving down to Port Maitland. The highway was a mess with an accident slowing traffic. To make matters worse, Tom was pulled over for speeding and of course that set the start time back 45 minutes.
While we waited for Tom and Clay, as boats arrived after a morning full of walleye fishing, we gathered in some great information. Friend Rob Leblanc came in as well and thrown us a worm harness he had luck with and gave us a waypoint to plug into the GPS and set a starting point.
The Lake was calm and Tom and Clay were ready to see what Lake Erie gold looks like. We pulled walleye from deep water. 80 to 90 feet of water and we were pulling them off the bottom. Downriggers in the mud or 15 feet up off the bottom with a 3 colour Secret Weapon Rig took most of the bites along with Wire and braid 107 sized divers on 3 setting and out 220 to 250 to start the trip. Cores and higher sets on the divers worked in the last hour as the walleye started to rise off the bottom to the 60 foot zone. 8 colour leadcore and 10 colour leadcore managed a few bites. 8 walleye with a number of them coming off would be the final count.
August ended on a high note for Lake Ontario. The last weekend of the month the staging mature salmon showed up in front of Port Dalhousie. We unleashed a season`s worth of frustration with full on efforts for making up for lost time.
On Saturday morning I fished the Catch the Fry Salmon Tournament with Ed from Meaford, Ontario and Rob Leblanc that fishes the event with me every year. We fished our skinny water stager program and boated 8 mature salmon for 14 we had on in 37 FOW. Cutbait on 11 inch Hotspot from downriggers and Echip ProTroll and SpinDoctors with A-TOM-MIK trolling flies on the divers and 5 and 7 colour leadcores. We didn`t box the best fish we had on and we landed 5th.
The afternoon trip was also very good. We started out in 260 FOW and we had a few shaker salmon and trolled our way into Port Weller. We hooked a big Lake Trout at 19 lbs and then when we approached 40 FOW we hit a 22 lbs king.Picture .
Then we hooked another moments after netting that one and by the end of that fight we were busy with fish after fish for the next 3 hours. We boated two 24 lbs kings and many in the mid and high teens and low 20`s.
The next morning Ed joined us for a morning fish. We first worked stager Salmon for 3 hours boating another 6 for 10 hooked. Then we ran out looking for Rainbows and losing 2 nice ones on jumps behind the boat. The Sunday afternoon trip was with Hockey friends Dave and his two boys and his brother Scott and his son Brad. The bite slowed slightly but they still landed 3 salmon out of 5 hook-ups and the biggest was 25 lbs plus. Biggest of the season on the boat.
The weekend count was an astonishing 21 for 39. Many lost fish but it was so much fun.
Wish we had those salmon sprinkled more throughout the season.
During the month of August the boat moved from Port Bruce, to Foran`s Marina in Grimsby, to Port Maitland to Port Dalhousie all in the same month. Move, Move, Move being flexible, and in the loop of what is happening through a network of great fisherman made the network put the net to work in August.