Your boat’s first splash-down of the year, always comes with some angst. Turn the key with hopes all will run smoothly, the boat will run like it did last year. You hope for no surprises. It would be considered a good trip if your planned first launch and boat ride runs smoothly and all things work accordingly. Where a good first trip can be considered an all-around success is if you can also add to the trip, your first fish of the Lake Ontario trolling season.
Although tossing in the boat some of your fishing gear, might not be the priority when you launch the boat for the first time in the early spring, after an hour or two of paying close attention to everything mechanical and functional in the boat, your angst settles and your attention turns to fishing. On Lake Ontario in Late March and Early April that attention will be trolling shallow for Brown Trout.
Catching Brown Trout on your first early spring outing is not only possible, but likely if you concentrate on finding warm and off-coloured water, and be equipped with lighter gear then you would normally use for salmon. When selecting a boat ramp adjacent to better early spring brown trout water, not just any stretch of Lake Ontario shoreline will do. On Lake Ontario for Ontario anglers, consider two parts of the lake to be your most productive Brown Trout water. The two most productive early season Brown Trout areas on Lake Ontario would include Prince Edward County’s west shoreline, near Wellington, and the extensive shoreline from Hamilton to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Be aware of the conditions along those shorelines to quickly find the better locations to home in on Browns. There is rarely a time where Brown will be scattered and spread out, they are most commonly concentrated on areas that contain warmer water and slightly off coloured water to offer security when shallow. Shallow water means less than 20 feet deep with waters less than 12 feet deep as the highest probability for finding warmer water with a little colour.
Warmer water can come from the outflow of rain swelled creeks. The plume of water will often be coloured brown and as it reaches out into the clear cold waters of Lake Ontario, the colour transitions to green. Salmon trollers love the colour change to green, but as a brown trout fisherman you shouldn’t be as concerned with that stretch of water. Browns will seek out the warmest water and that often is found immediately in the off coloured water.
Additionally, the Lake Ontario shoreline can also be coloured by an onshore breeze from a day or two before where large sized waves crashed the shoreline. Turbidity will add colour in the water and can draw fish in close to shore, but you will need to find any pockets of warmer water. Waves have a tendency to mix in cold water from the main lake and chill the water that was once a few degrees warmer before the waves kicked up. The perfect scenario is to have coloured shoreline water that meets up with the warmer plume of run-off water by a creek or large over flowing ditch.
Browns in March and early April are not necessarily feeding on smelts or alewives; it’s too early for smelt or alewife to come in shore. Shoreline water temperature below 40’F will inhabit Gobies and emerald shiners and they will contribute to the diet of early season Brown Trout. By mid-April with waters warming above 40’F the smelt come in and by late April the alewife are crowded in the shallows. So much so that it’s hard to fish Brown Trout in areas that produced fish only a few weeks before.
Leave your heavy salmon gear at home and think about fishing Brown Trout like you would with gear you would use for walleye fishing. 10 lbs test monofilament, consider using inline planer boards and almost entirely your lure choices will consist of stick baits and thin metal and wide body flutter spoons that wobble effectively at slow speeds.
With water temperatures in the 30’s and low 40’f range, your more productive trolling speeds will usually start around 1.6 mph and will rarely exceed 2.1 mph. Not unlike the refined techniques from avid walleye trollers, you will find that presenting baits with consistent speed and less erratic action work for Brown Trout. Inline planer boards jumping over waves will jerk the bait out of the strike zone and look unnatural. Smooth running planer boards and stretchy monofilament line will translate into more brown trout bites. Trolling in the same direction of the wind is often the solution, but also the stretch of monofilament will bring added flex to the line and dampen any sudden jerks and jumps from an inline planer board.
Wide wobbling light flutter spoons like from Williams, Silver Fox or older spoons like Evil Eyes are great when used on a 1 or 2 colour lead core or with a few split shot to add weight to pull the spoon down. Trolling under 2 mph can be difficult for some spoons have enough wobbling action so even a little bend in the thin metal can add action. Bend the line tie end of the spoon up away from the cup of the spoon and bend the hook end of the spoon down to exaggerate the cup of the spoon.
Likely the most productive tackle to focus your efforts will be to run shallow diving stickbaits like the LIVETARGET Smelts with my favourite being the LIVETARGET shallow lip Banana Baits. Rainbow smelt or Gold is the two best coloured baits and both smaller and larger sizes have their time and place. Run the smaller sized LIVETARGET shallow stickbaits off the outside (farthest from the boat) inline planer board on a slightly longer lead (depending on how shallow you run the board up closer to shore). Regular sized LIVETARGET Smelts and shallow Banana Baits can run on shorter leads and still manage to dive at depths in excess of 10 feet. Shallow Banana Baits tend to dive deeper than the regular smelt style baits if you are looking to adjust your lead lengths and achieve like depths.
So often you hear the line- “I’m only running four rods, why do I need more than two planer boards?” In my opinion, planer boards should be used on the majority of your complement of rods in your spread. If I am limited to run four rods, I prefer all of them to be pulling stickbaits on inline planer boards. Two lines out on each side. Sometimes in clear water and in an effort to keep the boat running over deeper water and allowing the boards to quietly pull baits nearer to shore in shallower water, I will run 3 on the inside (between the boat and the shoreline). The key to running multiple boards off one side of the boat gives you the advantage to judge one well tracking board, against the other, in case the line collects debris or the bait fowls.
If you have the opportunity to run six or more rods then a 2 colour leadcore and flutter spoon off the back of the boat can be deployed, and don’t hesitate to run a downrigger with short lead length behind the downrigger weight using a small bright coloured spoon to pick up a curious brown trout seeking to find what the commotion is all about.
Boat traffic can spoil a good spot. Learn to leave a spot and return hours later. Continuously pay attention to where there may be rafts of diving ducks or terns and gulls feeding vigorously in one area. This often happens mid and late April as many of the migratory fish eating gulls and waterfowl are passing through.
Keep those hooks sharp and pay attention to the style of baits that get the most action. Duplicate lead lengths to ensure you are reaching the best depths. Close attention to your surface temperature and look at the water clarity regularly. Use the cavitation plate on your outboard motor as a measure. When you can see the cavitation plate, you have decent colour. Too much turbidity to the water should tell you to use larger sized bright coloured baits with rattles or jointed baits to add sound. Cleaner water can mean the use of smaller more natural looking baits and concentrate on the planer boards to set them away from the boat.
When the boat ramp is clear of ice, your boat is ready to splash down for the first time and you want to catch the first fish of the open water season, look to the shallows for Brown Trout. Seek warmer water areas with a little colour and keep your equipment light to catch early season Brown Trout. You can turn your first Lake Ontario trip of the year from just a “good running boat” trip into remarkably successful brown trout fishing trip.