Put Lake Ontario in your plans soon

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Fish populations tend to go up and down. Sometimes we tire of fisheries, often fisheries that are so good that it is almost can’t miss. On the Great Lakes, weather can wipe out entire seasons when the bad weather happens on the days you could have fished.

I am running out of excuses for not having fished for Lake Ontario salmon more often in recent years.

All that ends now. This is the year to fish Lake Ontario. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, anglers have been enjoying record catches. During the most recent April to June, catch rate was 227 percent above the five-year average. The catch rate for brown trout was 38 percent above the five-year average, and the coho salmon catch rate was 21 percent above the five-year average. Even the catch rate for Atlantic salmon, though they are a small component of the Lake Ontario fishery, was 73 percent above the five-year average.

My trout and salmon experiences at Lake Ontario began in the late 1970s. Even fishing in a 15-foot boat with a 6 hp motor and not knowing much about that kind of fishing, we managed to catch fish. The Pennsylvania salmon program in Lake Erie was going strong at the time, and I had been casting for coho and steelhead since 1967. Every spare day I was at one or the other lake, weather permitting.

Sometime in the late 1970s, I bought a deep-hull, 16-foot aluminum boat with a 70 hp motor. It was an ideal boat for trailering all over the Eastern Great Lakes. Then in the early 1980s, I was fortunate to start meeting some of the people on the business side of trout and salmon fishing. That steepened the angle of the learning curve.

Of all the chinook salmon fishing situations I tried, the most memorable was trolling at the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek. That was when chinook salmon fishing at Lake Erie was near its best. The number of chinooks and the size of the Chinook was well shy of Lake Ontario standards, but it was a lot closer. Close enough that I could sneak up to the boat launch and spend maybe three hours trolling from the lake upstream to Route 20.

The best evening ever was a dark and stormy evening when the aroma of ripe grapes was at its sweetest. The afternoon was so dark that there was no way of knowing just when the sun left the sky. Big waves from the lake rolled between the breakwaters at the creek mouth, preventing me from trolling the last 50 yards of the creek channel.

The boat I used for these salmon fishing adventures was a 12-foot Elgin car-top model with a 7-1/2 hp motor that made the light boat scoot along pretty fast. It was hauled in the bed of my pick-up truck which made launching and loading a breeze. The boat would not take much wave action.

It was while using this little boat that I realized how fishing is more fun the closer you get to the water. On this particular evening, I was nearly too close to the cold Lake Erie water.

Fishing was slow. I caught and released a 20-inch brown trout at the upper end of my trolling run, near the railroad bridge. The creek was locked in darkness before the next hit. The rain had started as a steady drizzle when I launched the boat. Now it was a downpour that even the big lights at the lower end of the creek did not light things up much.

Only one line was in the water, Whitey and the Plug, a white, Fenglass flipping stick that had been converted to a heavy trolling rod and a Bomber Model A colored chartreuse. The lure was set just set just 12 feet behind the propeller.

The boat lurched backward, the rod holder made a banging noise, the stiff rod went into a full bend and the old Penn reel screamed when a chinook smashed the lure and took off directly toward the lake. I was too occupied with the rod and reel to do anything with the motor except put it in neutral.

The strong wind was driving big raindrops directly into my face. Waves smashed against the transom, drenching me. An alarming amount of water was quickly filling the bottom of the boat. And the fish was still taking the line. I was very happy that I had been wearing my life jacket the whole time.

With the motor in neutral, the Chinook was pulling the boat toward the bigger waves. It was getting close to being a matter of me or the fish. It does not get any better than that, so here I will end my rambling with one more suggestion that this is the year you should get back to Lake Ontario.