Sunday, August 14, 2016

Agile management of stocking numbers can work. Are you ready?

In March, various newspapers (both hardcopy and digital), social media, and talk around the Great Lakes centered on the collapse of the Chinook Salmon Fishery in Lake Huron and the very real threat of Lake Michigan following the same dismal path. Conversations at tackle shops and fishing club meetings were of concerns that Lake Ontario might also be sucked into the same vortex that leads into the black hole of salmonless waters. The hype over the doom and gloom reports of the salmon fishery on the upper Great Lakes had many thinking we are next and with this thinking after two extremely tough years (2014, 2015) of lake Ontario fishing, it was like the writing was painted on the wall.

I am a volunteer member of the Fisheries Management Zone 20 advisory council. Essentially a group that work together to communicate the various interest groups around the lake. Geographically, Jerry Mitrovich and I have done our best to extend the interests of the Ontario South Shore angling community, covering Hamilton and Niagara to be specific. Maybe more so, being on the council has allowed a better understanding of the state of the Lake. What we know, what we like to know and what we like to see happen to open water and near shore fisheries are discussed and learned by those on the council. Although the members of council share a variety of viewpoints, when the data shows a significant trend, where a variety of data sources seem to coincide, there is no reason to push individual agendas when we have a very necessary mandate to help manage a trophy salmon fishery and mitigate the risk of any such collapse.

The media and angling community buzz was enough for the council to pay close attention to the issue. Coincidentally Lake Ontario data revealed a troubling change nearly upon us. The signs written on the wall were seen by members of council in 2015, but the angling community still hadn’t seen those signs, it was still early to say for certain where the fishery was heading. Fragile – Yes – but with a warm winter in 2015-16 we had high hopes for a recovery. Unfortunately recent survey data shows we did not see a recovery significant enough to provide us hope.

Additionally, the content in the media about the upper Great Lakes were only part of the writing on the wall when it comes to the state of Lake Ontario. The upper lakes mostly struggle with the lack of nutrients and plankton to feed baitfish. Lake Ontario, on the other hand, has more short term concerns related to cold winters in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and the stressed alewife populations with a gap in year classes. Like a car that needs an engine tune up, rather than a full body off restoration.

I am an avid angler with an extreme interest in a quality Chinook salmon fishery but still remain objective on all aspects of a potential decline in baitfish levels, it was absolutely critical not to get sucked into the negative slant the media had played, but also not to take a foot stomping, near sighted “there’s tons of baitfish- I see it on my SONAR – there can’t be a baitfish problem”, stand.

The council continues to be educated on the ecological scenario past, present and future (whatever that might be?). Knowledge is power they say, but it’s not about power, it’s about an understanding and the council requires we work together to abate any possibility of a salmon fishery crash on Lake Ontario. We will soon grapple with what measures we need to take in order to react to changes in predator/prey balance? We need to be agile enough to be proactive instead of reactive. Have trust in the data, the concepts and the idea that a balance of predator/prey is more than an allotment of stocking targets. Make changes ahead of any signs of a failing food web is critical, a lesson we should learn from watching the crash of Lake Huron.

The biggest point of interest to discuss is how we plan to stock fish. Can we work with our neighbouring jurisdiction in New York to find a happy place with not only numbers of fish stocked but how we stock those fish? Not just about acting on increasing or decreasing stocking numbers, instead or also by adjusting the allocation of fish as they relate to the most effective sites and survival rates at those sites. Pen sites vs direct stocking sites vs tributary stocking sites. Some may argue we need to know more to make bold decisions, I think- even if it’s not solid science; I rather do something, and learn from it, then do nothing and learn what we should have done when it’s too late.

Without getting into a great deal of history on Alewife in the Great Lakes and the rise of the Chinook Salmon fishery, Chinooks were likely North America’s and maybe even the World’s largest success story in fisheries management. Projects are often judged by three main factors, Social, Economic and Environmental. Socially, Chinook Salmon are without a doubt the most sought after Salmon or Trout species in the Great Lakes. Economically they generate highest investment over the other Salmon and Trout species. Environmentally, the imbalance in the Great lakes ecosystem in the 60’s with an Alewife population explosion, went through a dichotomy, becoming a relatively stable predator/prey balance once Coho and Chinook salmon stocking was introduced and for the most part remain balanced for the past 50 years.

In the 60’s it was an experiment, in the 70’s the fishery was discovered, in the 80’s the fishery reached an unprecedented flurry of angling attention setting the bar for expectation. In the 90’s the fishery began to turn downward in relation to the expectations set in the 80’s. In turn, this changed angler attitude. Anglers thought stocking numbers would directly correlate to catch rates and a sense of political pressure or measure of accountability towards fisheries managers was the new agenda. Adjustments to reduce stocking numbers to restore a healthier predator/prey balance, was met with angler disappointment rather than a means for providing a balance.

In reaction to anglers holding fisheries managers accountable, stocking numbers became rigid targets to be met to please the angling community.

In the 2000’s that same attitude persisted, but the state of the lake and fishing productivity seemed to have rebounded after anglers figured out how to catch more fish using “new age” trolling techniques.

Folks, it’s time to react to change once more. The rigidity of our stocking targets amoungst a fishery that is dynamic and ever changing, doesn’t work. Perfect example is the state of Lake Michigan’s fishery faced with the same sense of rigid stocking targets became a discussion of stocking entitlement rather than truly reacting to a decline in predator/prey imbalance.

The demographics of alewife in Lake Ontario have recently changed. Recent surveys show data that we are not in a great place. Anglers may say they see lots of bait on their SONAR, but having an understanding of what they are seeing might add knowledge to the subject herein.

The 2012 year class of alewife are currently what is holding up the existing fishery. Subsequent years of recruitment failed to follow suit with its more prevalent predecessor adults born in 2012. We are facing a two and maybe even three year gap that is very concerning for the health of our alewife population in the near future. The 2012 year class are over their prime. It’s like having no men and women in Canada under the age of 50 and then asking 50 year olds to make enough babies to keep our Canadian population strong. Are you getting the sense of the magnitude of the issue?

Yes it’s an issue but it’s not with certain doom. Unlike the upper Great Lakes the most important factor that will help Lake Ontario rebound is that we have much higher nutrient loads to fuel the food chain. Higher nutrients provides- higher phytoplankton provides -higher zooplankton provides - food for Alewife. If we help the Alewife numbers by reducing pressure from its predators, a recovery can happen. This isn’t the case for Lake Huron and maybe even Lake Michigan as it would be only part of the problem they face. We can make good of a bad situation, but we must be willing to act.

Knowledge is not power in this case, but what knowledge we do have on the topic and how we react to this change, we might come out ahead. What do we need to do- change attitudes about the sense of entitlement when it comes to stocking numbers. We need to be creative and forward thinking, be willing to try even without solid evidence that one stocking technique, number or location be the definitive answer to our problem.

Those that like it in black and white…

If you were to give up a significant number (maybe even all) of Chinook salmon stocking numbers for 2 years knowing your catch rates will drop dramatically for the following 3 years as a sacrifice made in order to mitigate the risk of any such collapse, would you do it? Short term pain for long term gain?

You can point your finger and demand to see evidence, but as my mom would say, “ you point your finger and there are 3 others on your hand pointing back at you.” Don’t hold grudges over who gets what and how much, change your sense of entitlement. If the writing is painted on the wall, saying “Enter the black hole leading to salmonless waters here”, why not paint over it?

Shane Thombs

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Go fishing, It’s as simple as that.

Over the years my charter business has become busier and busier. My clientele might even be a bit different from others in the Charter fishing industry.

I was told when I started, that the preferred clientele are those from the corporate world. They have the money and they throw you a bit extra after a good day of fishing. Sounds great, but after 6 years in service, I am not so sure that’s the type of people I get calls from. Instead I seem to cater more for families, and friends. Less suit and tie and more folks who work hard, but value a little time away from their 9-5 or night shift working for “The Man”.

My groups are often about the experience and not about impressing a hosted corporate client. Don’t get me wrong, I think the corporate guys could enjoy my service as well, but because for me its about fishing, and not about pampering, I don’t think I have what they want.

I like to think I have folks with good “Work Ethics” and recognise the benefit of having quality time fishing with friends and family. If I was to further describe the type of clients I have would be that they are respectful, grounded, and expect only a nice time on the water with or without a boat load of fish.

There are so many stories of hard working folks I have shared the boat with. They soak up the experiences of watching the sun rise, the sound of the drag on a reel buzzing with a big fish, and the trill of seeing that fish in the net hit the floor of the boat. It’s the weekend, it’s a fishing trip to remember, its time shared with those people who mean more than a corporate account on the ledger. High fives, sometimes kisses and hugs, and ‘dat-a-boy’ echoes on every trip.

From Photo_Gallery20

Three years in a row I have had the privilege of having Charlie out fishing with his son Samuel. Sam’s new name is “Salmon Super Fan Sam”. Charlie contacted a Harvey Velix the President of the Golden Horseshoe Outdoors Club in Hamilton. They knew each other from working at LiquidAir in Hamilton. Charlie drives truck and makes deliveries all over Southern Ontario but lands home each night to balance, the best he can, family time. Charlie contacted Harvey because he had a bad experience walking along the Charter boat dock at some other marina, and was asking if there would be a charter boat that he can take him and his son Sam out fishing for the day. Totally understand that a big charter boat wouldn’t pull off the dock without a hefty cost associated, but Charlie felt a bit of a cold shoulder. Maybe had he shown up in a suit and tie it would have been a different response?

Harvey referred Charlie to me and for that I am grateful. The first trip we shared was in 2014 when we launched on an afternoon trip in August out of Hamilton Harbour and ran nearly 18 miles before dropping lines. We caught a bunch of fish and Charlie was surprised and Sam was completely converted into a Salmon fishing Super Fan.

From Photo_Gallery15

In 2015 we departed from Grimsby, but the Northeast winds made the lake a little bumpy. We ran into the waves upwind and trolled “down hill” back towards Grimsby. In the first 20 minutes we hook-up with a decent fish. Sam was on the rod working the fish to the boat and we slide the net under the fish and scoop it up. Sam’s smile was ample, Charlie was also ecstatic and was so proud of Sam’s catch. We placed the fish in the fish box and continued trolling when Charlie fell ill. At first we thought seasickness so we wrapped up our trip early and headed in. When we got to dock he apologised over and over again to Sam for cutting this short. Sam is a good kid (respectful, using good judgement and the opposite of spoiled) took it in stride and was still on cloud 9 with his biggest fish he had ever caught, in the box.

We drove up to Grimsby Tackle and put the fish on the scales. It weighed 20lbs 4 oz and was good enough to win the St Catharines Game & Fish Summer Derby Youth division.

From Photo_Gallery17

Before they drove home Charlie was feeling a bit better and he explained that he has been working far too much. Waking up at 2 am to get home for dinner time. He works 6 days a week and felt bad that he was so burnt out. It wasn’t seasickness, it was fatigue that caught up with him. He knew in the morning leaving the dock that he was exhausted, but wanted Sam to enjoy a simple day of fishing.

From Photo_Gallery20

I am a Huey Lewis and the News fan and this is a great song about the working class that the corporate world might not understand. The last verse is exactly what Charlie books his fishing trip to share with Sam. It goes like this,
Before you know it the kids are all grown
And married off with kids of their own
And it's all in the past
It's as simple as that
... YouTube Huey Lewis and the News

On July 17, 2016 Charlie and Sam were ready. Charlie got a call from work on Friday evening and using his words “don’t do this to me, I had this planned a month ago”. It turned out to be just a question, but you can tell Charlie’s work ethic and being at their beck-in-call must be a privilege of the company. We set off at 6 am and it felt like in no time we had 17 fish in the boat, Sam’s second biggest fish at 20 lbs 1 oz (only 3 oz shy of last year’s fish) and with a two man limit of delicious salmon in the box by 9 am. The lake was flat and we had time, so I didn’t mind cleaning the fish for them so they can enjoy their afternoon and maybe have one on the BBQ for dinner when they get home. Besides making a mess of the kitchen counter wasn’t exactly what Charlie’s wife had in mind.

From Photo_Gallery20

Sharing stories, Charlie described his experience bumping into Johnny Bower while shopping. This was only a month after Gordie Howe had passed and Charlie knew they were buddies that would go fishing together during the off season. Charlie described how Mr. Bower was approachable, and easy to have a chat with. 90 years old, a hockey legend and not unlike many of yesteryear’s hockey players, they are respectful, and truly understand hard work.

From Photo_Gallery20

We were dockside a little earlier and Charlie was happy to shorten the day and have about 30 lbs of salmon fillets in the cooler to take home. Salmon Super Fan Sam maintains his nick name.

From Photo_Gallery20

Corporate Clients or fellow family members and friends, it doesn’t matter, as long as the time is less about pamping and more about quality time together fishing, It’s as simple as that.

Shane Thombs

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I see red for more Coho action

There is something to be said about those who have refined a fishing technique so well that their reputation is formed by it. I can easily name off fellow fishing friends who fish Lake Ontario and subsequently name their preferred trolling technique. Some (maybe even most) of them wish to keep their learnt experience, crafting their technique, a secret. In a humble way, those who rightfully deserve the reputation as a good ____ fisherman, will usually deny knowing enough about their beloved technique to make it the answer to catching fish every day, throughout the season.

From Misc

In some instances though, it becomes such a refined craft that your confidence in its use becomes the only path to your success. "Live by the sword, die by the sword". If your technique is less effective than another technique, then your catch rates also becomes less. Conversely, when your "tried and true" technique is only passively catching fish on other novice angler’s boats, you likely have a few tricks up your sleeves to elevate your success well above average. Further to that, with your refined skill, your success in fish catching numbers exponential grows over others when the fish are hands down focusing on your one technique over any other, that day. I write this thinking about how cutbait has become one of those refined trolling techniques that more folks have intently focused on and many of them completely rely on its success.

Talking to a fisherman who has the need to hold a fishing rod in hand and cast and manipulate the bait, are usually the first to turn up their nose to trolling. Saying words like “trolling is boring” in a tongue and cheek response. Trolling for salmon can be as regimented as you would like it to be, or as fluid and agile as you are comfortable with. Trolling is one big topic from which countless techniques are spawned.

A very quick list of merely salmon trolling techniques that I lean heavily on would look something like this...

-Shallow water LIVETARGET stickbaits off Planer boards in the late April.
-Spoons on downriggers in early May.
-Deep water Cutbait and MC Rockets in late May and June.
-Stealthy wide spread spoons in shallow in late June and early July.
-8 inch Flasher and ATOMMIK flies in late July.
-BlueZone speedy spoons on cores in early August.
-Pierhead stager cutbait and flies in late August.

Each of the above listed would have "parameters" that have crafted its technique on my boat. The parameters discovered through trial and error become like rules and are programmed in your style of fishing. Provided that you pay attention things like trolling speed, properly matched equipment, when and where to use the technique based on conditions, you can then begin to form your own parameters. Understanding the parameters to your technique adds to your level of comfort and helps you to prepare and be confident before lines go in the water. Some anglers may have their own list; some might say they only do one thing every time they are out. The point is, there are many options, much to learn, much to perfect, much to keep your attention to details and it’s certainly “not boring”.

Seeing Red

For years I have been intrigued by new techniques and eager to learn and add to my own list of "Go To" salmon trolling techniques. A technique often referred to as the coho rig, is not something new, just newer to me. I have been trying it out, here and there, in past years with marginal success and really no set parameters learnt with those, too few, opportunities. This spring it started out the same. I tried it and it caught a few fish, then I put it out on the next trip and it caught a few more. After trip trial number 3, the fish responded once more and it was time to pay attention. For the month of May I truly challenged myself to learn as much about this technique as I could possibly cram in while the fish were responding. In the spring the coho are congregated and within close geographic range of the south shore. Historically coho catch rates drop off once the lake stratifies in horizontal temperature bans. The coho seem to spread out, move East and off shore. In May they are here, close, congregated, hungry and it's about that time. Strike while the metal is hot, Red Hot!

If anyone who salmon fishes Lake Michigan reads this, they will be shaking their head thinking where have you been? It’s true, for us Lake Ontario Salmon fisherman, we have been living under a rock when it comes to targeting spring time coho. I think largely because numbers of coho stocked in Lake Ontario were very low. The only coho stocking on the Ontario side is from the Metro East Anglers Club and not from the government. New York contributes to the lake a few coho, and in the past, stocking was the primary catalyst to coho numbers and catch rates. Now catch rates for spring time coho seems to steadily increase with each passing year. The contribution to the coho numbers and catch rates are not from stocking but from the successful recruitment from natural reproduction.

The upswing in Coho numbers still hasn't turned “King” salmon hunters to switch techniques and focus on the smaller cousin of the black gum beasts of Lake Ontario. Even with the continuous ups and downs of catch rates for chinook salmon in the spring, anglers still remain devoted to targeting King salmon and ignore the best tasting red fleshed salmon on Lake Ontario, Coho Salmon.

From Photo_Gallery19

If the attention to fish coho was evident, without a doubt Lake Ontario salmon trollers would steal Lake Michigan anglers coho rig techniques and also start seeing red.

The coho rig consists of a 00 red Dodger and small 1 –to 1 ½ inch tinsel fly. Michigan spring coho fisherman run nothing but coho rigs on all the rods and flush out as many tasty coho from the surface waters of Lake Michigan. Along with the 00 Dodger there is also the mini Red SpinDoctor with the same small flies.

This year I read as much as I can find on how the Michigan anglers run coho rigs and duplicated those techniques even though it is entirely different from the boats trolling around me.

From Photo_Gallery19

A few parameters I have learnt about running in the red...

00 Dodgers require speeds of less than 2.4 mph and I discovered this while running one on a wire diver and watching the cadence of action the rod tip twitches with every sway of the Dodger. Fast shakes of roughly 2 per second would tell you the Dodger is dodging back and forth. If instead the rod tip pulls back and forth slower at 1 per second, then the Dodger is spinning. 2.3 mph will insure a perfect speed before any type of spinning out even on the fast side of a turn. I have slowed the boat down to 1.8 mph and still got bit on 00 Dodgers, but if you are mixing in spoons on the riggers or on leadcores, they are likely not getting many bites at those speeds.

Where the experiment went viral on my boat was using walleye style inline planer board rods with braid line and a 15 ft of 20 lbs Trik Fish fluorocarbon leader. I tested out the new White Diamond OKUMA planer board rod and was thoroughly impressed. An inline planer board needs to run smoothly for Dodgers so not to interrupt the dodging action. My best results were on water that was less wavy and with the White Diamond OKUMA planer board rod with the proper action for inline boards, the boards tracked perfectly without bobbing or jerking. Smooth as silk.

From Misc

Because the coho rigs work when running them shallow beneath the surface (<15 feet down) braid line only requires a small amount of lead to bring the 00 Dodger down below the surface. The Lake Michigan guys use a inline keel weight 5 feet before the dodger. Instead I like to use snap weights and used the 50/50 technique so common for walleye trolling. 50 feet back then the snap weight pinched onto the line and then 50 more feet of line let out and then attach the inline planer board. Adjusting the amount of weight between 1 oz to 2 oz will keep the Dodger in the top 20 feet. My most consistent weight size was 1 ½ oz. and estimate that to pull the Dodger at the 15 foot mark.

The trouble with Dodgers having to run at no faster than 2.4 mph, it means finding baits that also run well at that speed if you are mixing up presentations for other species such as Chinook Salmon and Lake Trout. With great success I found running cutbait on the riggers and deep set wire divers on the rods near the boat in the centre of the spread to target Kings and Lakers with “happy” speeds that the 00 Dodgers worked on the inline planerboards out to the sides of the spread. Now you are fishing for Red, Greys and Black mouths all at the same time.

Those days when you're slower trolling and centre spread with cutbait isn’t getting kings and you require a faster spoon bite, the Dodgers come out and the mini red SpinDoctor and flies go in. 2, 3 or 4 colour leadcores will bring the mini SpinDoctors to the productive under the surface depths. On Friday June 3rd fishing off the Niagara Bar, one rod with 3 colours of leadcore accounted for 7 coho on its own and the total catch with the other 5 rods accounted for only 4 others running spoons. The mini SpinDoctor and flies worked slow at dodger speed, but also fast with spoons running 2.7 mph.

From Misc

The red 00 Dodger or red mini SpinDoctor are the most important part of the rig, but there are some interesting discoveries when experimenting with the flies as well. The leader length of the fly is absolutely critical. I tried longer (like 20+ inches) and kept trying shorter until I discovered the optimal length is between 12 and 13 inches to the head of the fly.

From Photo_Gallery19

I use my ATOMMIK tournament flies and trim them shorter and slide them on the leader before a bead and the size 2 treble hook. 20 lbs fluorocarbon Trik Fish leader line is all you need and it's plenty strong for those coho in the 4 to 8 lbs class.

To experiment a little and to reduce the fly size a little smaller, I began tying my own "make do" coho flies using the tinsel from Craft Cord. Be sure to look for craft cord without filler yarn mixed into the metallic finish tinsel. Looking around the house for ever dead ball point pen and then pulling them apart and using the ends of the ink tubes that were void of ink. That was the tube to tie the fly and to allow the leader line to be pulled through.

From Misc

Not uncommon to fly tiers, the tube is placed in a vice and then thread is tied on the tube first. To keep the thread in place and not spin around the tube, apply a drop of crazy glue. Then the tinsel from the cut craft cord will be pulled out as single strands to form the fly body with a nice skirt. Simply wrap the thread to tie the tinsel on the tube, add a little crazy glue and finally add some black nail polish on the threads to give it a shine. Trim the tube with side cutters to the head of the fly and run the fluorocarbon leader through the tube and tie it off.

I experimented with a few colours and found great success with Green, black, and blue tinsel as well as adding a little orange marabou to the inside of the fly to add a bright colour to the fly body.

From Misc

The coho rig doesn't just catch coho salmon, we have taken a few rainbows and the odd chinook salmon as well. I am confident now to say if I see the fish feeding on the surface chasing bait and splashing about while we troll past, the coho rig will produce.

From Photo_Gallery19

If you think “Trolling is Boring” then you are not challenging yourself to learn a new technique. If you want to add a new technique to your repertoire, give the Coho rig a try and start seeing Red.

Shane Thombs

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Is it about the fish held by the fisherman or is it the fisherman holding the fish?

I was off to a slow start the Tuesday back at work after the most amazing weather and good fishing over the May long weekend. At lunch the gorgeous weather persisted and it meant getting up from my desk and going for a walk in the sun. The Durand neighbourhood south of City Hall in downtown Hamilton is full of great historic and some beautiful up scale homes and it makes for a nice stroll. I try to take a different route on each walk to explore and I know this particular route I had passed by before, but never realized this one feature at the corner of Bay Street South and Robinson St.

Decorated along the length of a stop sign pole was flowers and two candles at its base. I almost walked past without slowing my paces, but something intrigued me to look closer.

From Misc

My toes nearly at the base of the two candles on the ground and without my reading glasses on, I focused on the picture of the person from which this memorial display was in remembrance. It was to my surprise a young man holding a Musky. I am not sure why it had a profound effect on me, but I stepped back and knew this was important.

From Misc

The first thought was about how I might have passed by without a change in my stride as I made my trek back to the office, but something stopped me.

Then most important thought was how it wasn't the fish that stopped me to take a look, it was something else. Essentially it was the person first that brought my condolences to pay informal respects, who happened to be a fisherman holding a fish. Discerning what that might mean, it became apparent that after a weekend like we had of incredible fishing, when social media feeds were literally flooding our mobile phones with hundreds of fish pictures that your thumb swipes past quickly in disregard for the moment of which the photo might have been taken. The deeper meaning to the great catch is the experience that the fisherman had just been a part of when the picture was taken.

On Saturday May 21st a friend of mine named Jason Schall from the southern states was up to experience more of what Ontario fishing has to offer. In particular, he desired to fish on Lake Ontario with his goal to catch the final species of salmon to complete the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) prestigious award certificate called the IGFA Salmon Royal Slam. Catching a Chinook salmon would round out his list of salmon species required. At nearly 8 am, a baritone yell of excitement and victory pierced the light wind and turned our attention to our friend Karl’s Lund boat marked OKUMA, trolling past in the opposite direction. No words are required for this picture and what it says about this special moment.

From Misc

The picture of the young man holding the Musky for which the Bay Street and Robinson Street corner memorial was in remembrance of Jordan Jull. He passed away on November 3, 2014 2 days after his 23rd birthday when he lost control of his motorcycle at that intersection. Why did we have to loss another young angler when we already have too few? I don’t know Jordan, but looking at him holding that musky, I feel like I know him because I knew what that moment feels like when you hold that great catch. A “Fish of a Lifetime”

Even with the rat race of our daily lives, as a fisherman I know habits like scrolling past pictures of fish in my feed is another example of missing the true meaning of that great moment in life. It really is, and should be, about the fisherman holding the fish.

Shane Thombs

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Having the patience of a kid for Spring Time Brown Trout fishing, 2016

Everyone who fishes anticipates the coming of spring. This winter was very mild and kept an energy of excitement and anticipation for Spring. Seminars were packed, shows saw increased attendance, and the cash registers were ringing at the tackle retailers during a time of what would be the quiet season.

That enthusiasm was a necessary recharge to the fishing industry after two consecutive years of record cold winters and dismal fishing success throughout the summers of 2014 and 2015 on Lake Ontario. A positive attitude towards the upcoming season continued into the beginning of March with some incredible weather and boat ramps free of ice. For those with aluminium boats that were ready in time, would launch and find Brown Trout snapping up body baits trolled along the shoreline. On March 12th a friend in the salmon fishing fraternity boated the earliest Chinook Salmon I have heard of and it was not a small fish. It was just shy of 20 lbs. Here again the excitement level in the salmon fishing community was given a shot of energy like a race engine with a shot of Nitrous Oxide. Visions of spring time trolling spreads are planted in my mind.

From Photo_Gallery19

Then something happen on the fourth week of March and it shock us back to reality. The winter temperatures arrived, as did the snow falls. But it wasn’t for one week, it lasted for 6 more weeks. Like a kid full of sugar candy, my patience to start the trolling season was wearing thin.

The first half of April saw more snow than we did in November and December and temperatures that resembled what should have been during early March. With the cold weather came North and North East winds. The winds were persistent and constantly coming from that direction, not like it was induced by approaching cold-fronts, but rather like we were stuck in a polar vortex for weeks. (Got to love those new weatherman catch phrases).

By mid-April the coloured water along the shore looked promising for Brown Trout. We worked the shoreline waters of less than 12 FOW and managed the odd Brown Trout pulling stickbaits behind the boards. The best producer by far was the Jointed LIVETARGET smelt in the 115 size in black and silver back 55 feet behind the inline planerboard on 12 lbs test line. In April charter bookings were light and therefore made it possible to get the kids out. Here’s my son Aidan and Mark’s son Jeffery showing the results of a short evening first trip out on the boat for the year. Jeffery holds up the rod with the LIVETARGET that took the fish Aidan is holding.

From Photo_Gallery19

When the weather allowed us to get out fishing I was amazed at the great conditions of coloured water along the shoreline and the satisfactory water temperatures in the shallows. At times, hours of trolling resulted in no bites in what appeared to be the most perfect Brown Trout conditions. In New York they are blessed with incredible Brown Trout fishing and it is my wish that the south shore between Hamilton to Niagara-on-the-Lake would establish a similar fishery. Changes in the methods the MNR stocks Brown Trout would have to change. In the new 2016 stocking plan those changes were issued. Now stocking will take place in greater numbers in less number of locations. Port Dalhousie will see more Brown Trout plantings and that should booed well for the future. I keep thinking we need more though. I’m not an advocate in stocking more to catch more, but Brown Trout are a different type of fish that appears to find Gobies the new food source along the shoreline.

The Ken Fisher Memorial derby held by the Strait Line Anglers Club was the next trip out on the lake and the game plan was to seek a morning king bite in the green water that reached out to 40 FOW. We trolled mostly 27 feet to 32 feet where the colour transition appeared evident. We trolled quicker with spoons and a few stickbaits hoping for a silver fish to add weight to our cooler for weighin. Instead of hitting our first salmon of the year we were taking bites on the spoons we had on the downriggers. We boat the first fish on a spoon stretched back 40 feet behind the ball and down 14 feet. It wasn’t a salmon but a Brown Trout. Then maybe 15 minutes later a silly set up on an inline planerboard was a Super Magnum sized Matrix spoon in blue and silver back 50 feet on mono line with no weight hoping for a bite beneath the surface takes a strike. Dad reels it in and it’s a small Brown Trout that had an unusual appetite. As we net the fish and work to get the hooks out of the fish, Aidan yells Dad, dad that rod. It was the rigger rod set 25 feet down over 30 feet of water and spoon (a bit of a story about this special spoon in a moment).

Aidan tried to pull the rod out of the rigger rod holder, but I had to help. Then it was all him on the rod meanwhile dad and I ready the net untangling the hooks from the previous Brown Trout. Aidan is confident on the rod and works the fish in without instruction, but once I turned my head to what was going on I wondered about the type of fish. It wasn’t behaving like a Salmon and it appeared to be approaching the surface rather than bulldog down like a Lake Trout, none-the-less it wasn’t a light and easy fish like the last two. As it got closer and visible through the pea green water the fish was known to us as a Brown Trout. Not just any Brown trout, but a FAT one that I scooped in the net and high fives to Aidan as we giggled about what he caught it on. We brought it to the scales to weigh in for the St Catharines Game and Fish derby with hopes for it to break the 10 lbs mark. It was shy of that at 9 lbs 4 oz. But later it was told that the Junior division doesn’t have a minimum size. So that put him first on the derby board in the Brown Trout category. No wonder it was so fat, check out one of three gobies found in the fishbox that the fish spit up.

From Photo_Gallery19

That Brown Trout was all Aidan’s and here’s the back story on the spoon. Two years ago on a charter one of my clients was fighting a fish on a Magnum Warrior spoon when the fish charged the boat and the spoon went into the prop. I unravelled the line from around the prop to pull off the spoon that had no more paint on it and it was bent in half at a little more than 90 degrees. About the chuck the spoon away I said to Aidan when I got home, “You want your own spoon to paint it as you wish?”. Of course he said yes, so I bent it back to straight and he picked gold and purple spray bombs from my garage shelf and proceeded to paint one end gold and the other purple. Then I said when it dried, you can add tape to it to finish it. I said you can use transparent tape like this fish scale tape over top of the paint and then add an eye. You can add other tape too, whatever you wish. So he added a glow eye and a glow ladderback. Boom – Aidan’s spoon.

Picture of his spoon.

Each time we go out fishing we have to run his spoon and this day was without exception. That spoon has caught its share of fish. Mostly Rainbows during the summer on leadcore. I asked where you want to run it. He said the downrigger. His call, his spoon, he spotted the rod, he fought the fish and he got it to the net. It was all him and that’s what makes it special.

Like a kid, I had little patience in waiting for the Spring Brown Trout fishing to get underway. Once it did, the kids shared turns on the rods bringing in fish. One of those turns might turn out a Junior division placeholder in the St Catharines Game & Fish Derby.

Shane Thombs

Friday, February 5, 2016

Desired Rods and Reels Combinations, fit for the job.

At seminars and follow-up emails, and phone calls I am often asked what rods and reels do I prefer for Walleye and Salmon and Trout trolling. In the interest of answering this question I tried to demonstrate my desired combinations and the application it is used for. What you see in this list is not necessarily rod and reel combos sitting and waiting to be used in the rod rack at home, instead they are a mix and match and then taken apart and put together in another combination to achieve another purpose. Re-purposed. I have developed my own preferences in rod length, rod power, rod action, length of rod butt, line weight, line type and a slew of other attributes. My desired combination of rod and reel will likely be different than yours.

The most notable difference you will likely find with my rod, reel and line selection is my attention to satisfy my charter customers and provide fish fighting enjoyment. These are not combos designed to winch in fish in the hands of a Tournament Angler. On the big lake a derby angler may beef things up for the purpose of boating the biggest fish in the lake, looking for one big bite and not losing it when they hook-up. My approach focuses on more bites and less on focused effort toward the big bite. If I have to sacrifice brute strength in my equipment so I can instead turn more bites, I’ll do it.

From Photo_Gallery9

I grew up in an era that preached scaling down to gain bites when others will not get bit on heavier line and equipment. As a young teen fishing Chinook salmon off the piers, I would cast crankbaits and stickbaits on light line using medium action spinning rods. Our typical lbs test line was 8 lbs test so we can fit enough line on the reel at the smaller diameter to allow those kings to run. We would still get spooled at times, but the light line helped get a few more yards on the reel and let us cast a country mile. But most importantly the light line got us far more bites. I remember my personal best line catch for a salmon was 26 lbs on 4 lbs test and it was the first week of September as those fish were still fresh coming in from the lake full of energy. I was no hero that evening as I landed only 2 and lost 3. But other anglers stop fishing to come over to see what the difference was.

Outfits are personal preference and even more so when your expectations of your catch comes into play. Telling this is no secret, in fact I can’t say the same list will remain this way as I refine techniques, exposure to new products, or that conditions dictate necessary changes. Take it or leave it, you can opt to mimic or dispute my selections, not unlike TV, turn the channel if you don’t like what you’re watching.

A few concepts I wish to clarify first. When talking about rod action I am referring to the amount of bend in the rod when under pressure.

I will use a fraction to demonstrate the portion of the rod that you will see significant bend. ¾ would be a Slower Action bending throughout, ¼ would be a Fast Action rod.

When describing rod speed, it is the speed the rod blank will return back to straight. Faster speed rods will have the tip return to straight (neutral) very quickly – snap back. Slow, Medium and Fast speeds will be used in describing rod speed.

Lastly when we talk about rod power we are talking about the rod’s performance and flex in pulling against a force using the proper line rating. Light, Medium and Heavy power descriptions will be used to describe.

Downrigger Outfits

Flasher/Cutbait Flasher Fly on Downrigger for Salmon

Reel- Coldwater 303 with 40 lbs Test Mono
Rod – Blue Diamond 8ft 6in (BD-C-862MHa) ¼ Action Bend, Medium-Fast Speed, Medium Heavy Power.

Spoons on Downrigger for Salmon and Trout

Reel- Coldwater 303 with 17 lbs Test Mono
Rod – ClassicPro GLT 8ft (CP-DR-802M) 1/2 Action Bend, Medium Speed, Medium Power.

Wormharnesses on Mono on Downrigger for Walleye

Reel – Convector 20 D
Rod – Convector GL 7ft (discontinued but consider Blue Diamond 7ft 6in BD-C-762MLa) 3/4 Action Bend, Medium-Slow Speed, Medium-Light Power

Secret Weapon Rig 3 colour Leadcore on Downrigger for Walleye

Reel- Convector 30D
Rod – Deadeye Leadcore 7ft 6in (DE-LC-762M-T) 1/2 Action Bend, Medium Speed, Medium Power.

Big Boards

Jet divers and small directional divers with 30 lbs Braid used for Walleye and using big boards

Reel – Convector 20 D
Rod – Convector GL 7ft (discontinued but consider Blue Diamond 7ft 6in BD-C-762MLa) 3/4 Action Bend, Medium-Slow Speed, Medium-Light Power

From Misc

2 to 6 colour Leadcore used for both Walleye and Salmon using big boards

Reel - Convector 30 D
Rod – ClassicPro Leadcore 7 ft (discontinued but consider Deadeye Leadcore 7ft 6in DE-LC-762M-T), 2/5 Action Bend, Medium Speed, Medium Power

From Misc

7 to 10 colour Leadcore used for both Walleye and Salmon using big boards

Reel - Convector 45 D
Rod – ClassicPro Leadcore 7 ft (discontinued but consider Deadeye Leadcore 7ft 6in DE-LC-762M-T), 2/5 Action Bend, Medium Speed, Medium Power

Inline Boards

Spring Brown Trout and Fall Walleye on stickbaits and crankbaits on 14 lbs monofilament pulled behind Inline Planer Boards.

Reel – Convector 20 D
Rod – Deadeye 10ft (DE-PB-1002M), 1/3 Action Bend, Medium-Fast Speed, Medium Power

Inline Planer Boards with Leadcore or Copper for Salmon

Reel – Leadcore; Same as above, Copper; Clarion 453 for up to 400 ft
Rod – Classic Pro GTL 8ft 6 in (CP-CL-862M) ¼ Action Bend, Medium-MediumFast Speed, Medium-Medium Heavy Power.


Wire Divers for Salmon and Trout and Walleye

Reel- Coldwater 303D with 30 lbs 7 strand wire
Rod – Blue Diamond 10ft with TwillieTip (BD-C-1002MH) 1/2 Action Bend, Medium-Slow Speed, Medium Power.

Braid Divers for Salmon and Trout and Walleye

Reel- Coldwater 303D with 30 lbs braid
Rod – Coldwater 10ft 6in with (CW-C-1062M or MH) 2/5 Action Bend, Medium Speed, Medium Power.

Mono Divers for Stager Salmon

Reel- Coldwater 303D with 40 lbs mono
Rod – ClassicPro DD 10ft 6in (CP-DD-1062M) 1/5 Action Bend, Medium-Fast Speed, Heavy Power.

There are always trials with new techniques and coincidentally efforts are made to matching up with different rods and reel combinations to discover the most desired combinations in refining or craft. Desired combinations can also be named favourite rod and reels for the job, or most trusted, or most preferred. Regardless of what you like to call it, you will develop your own combinations you are most confident in. Your list will take on its own shape, it will morph as conditions change and your trials teach you more of what you like and dislike. Why do we go through this effort to finding the right combination? To build confidence. A confident angler is Kryptonite to fish. The Rod and Reel is the Superman “S” on the crest.

If you like to try out some of these listed examples, by all means. It’s a starting point to a list of desired combinations you will modify as time passes. Keep in tune, be aware and enjoy that time to develop your own confidence in your equipment selection.

Shane Thombs