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Lake Ontario Bonanza!

Lake Ontario Bonanza!

Empire State anglers can expect more excellent fishing from this great lake in 2009. Here's the inside scoop on where and when to fish for browns, rainbows, cohos and more! (June 2009)

Chinook salmon -- a primary target of Empire State Lake Ontario fishermen -- can make or break the summer season. These heavyweight torpedoes peel the line from reels with explosive sprints and are widely regarded as the ultimate sport species in the lake. Maybe that's why they are called "king" salmon.

Chinook fishing has been spectacular for several years, as measured by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's fishing boat survey. Although catch reports declined a bit from the two previous years, 2008 still ranked as the sixth best year since the surveys started in 1985. The great news from fisheries managers is that conditions are in place for another banner year of kings!

Every year is different, however, and last season, fishermen had to adjust to changing wind patterns from one end of the lake to the other. The chinook and coho fishing got off to a slow start in the western basin, for example, which many fishermen attributed to unusual windy conditions, while wind-driven breakers roiled eastern waters, making it difficult for brown trout anglers.

"While no single species produced fabulous results last year, the season was really pretty good throughout," reported Jana Lantry, a DEC aquatic biologist with the Lake Ontario Unit, who supervises the fishing boat survey.

The message here is that with a 200-mile shoreline, fishing is hot somewhere on Lake Ontario nearly all the time.

Here's a look at some of this month's likely hotspots:


Salmon fishing starts early off the mouth of the Niagara River due to warmer water arriving from Lake Erie. In the middle of the flood, an immense, crescent-shaped shoal comes up from the depths, built over centuries by the roaring current of the river. This is known by local fishermen as "The Bar," and is probably the best-designed fish magnet in all of the Great Lakes.

Spring fishing is great for all species of salmon and trout as they follow schools of baitfish to The Bar, and it certainly remains a hotspot through June, explained Bill Hilts Jr. of the Niagara County Sport Fishing and Tourism Office.

Situated just off the shoreline, The Bar is about three miles in length and is marked with a green buoy at the top where water depth is 18 feet, but depths vary from 50 to 80 feet. Nearly any trolling rig may be effective here, but downriggers at slow speeds are recommended.

The best access to The Bar is from Fort Niagara State Park north of Youngstown, at the river's mouth, via Route 18F, or the Robert Moses Parkway. Excellent launching facilities and parking are provided.

Fishermen also launch on the river at Lewiston, which is a six-mile run to the lake. The Village Marina is located on North Fourth Street.

Two small harbors along Niagara County's shoreline had been the centers of fishing activity for a century before the salmonid introduction program boosted the action several notches.

"June divides the spring and summer fisheries, and there are a lot of options for trollers as fish start to scatter," explained Capt. Bob Cinelli, a local guide.

During June, the inshore brown trout fishing will start to heat up, with chinooks and cohos scattered from inshore to mid-depths several miles out.

Some anglers prefer to fish the top 50 feet over deep water for chinooks and steelhead, according to Cinelli. Then, there is always the chance to take a mature chinook down deep, under the warmer water.

Wilson and Olcott are along Route 18 north of Lockport. At Wilson, public launch ramps and parking facilities are available at the Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, and the town of Wilson provides a single ramp at Twelvemile Creek, on Riverview Drive.

At Olcott, the town of Newfane Marina, an excellent facility, is at the end of West Main Street.

Fishing off the mouth of Oak Orchard Creek is similar to the mixed-bag opportunities at Wilson and Olcott. The shallow water over the gently sloping bottom holds baitfish and salmonids inshore as the seasonal scattering of fish begins.

Point Breeze is a major fish stocking location, as are all the stream outflows. Last year's stocking totals at this location, for example, were 134,000 chinooks, 21,000 rainbows, 85,000 lake trout, 26,000 coho and 32,000 brown trout.

Point Breeze is halfway between the Niagara River and Rochester in Orleans County off the Lake Ontario Parkway.

Oak Orchard State Marine Park provides launching facilities, but there are no nearby accommodations.

As one of the major sport-fishing centers on the south shore, Sodus Bay is near the east end of Lake Ontario, where wind can be a problem for anglers throughout the spring season.

When high winds keep boats off the main lake, however, fishermen based here can continue trolling in the bay.

Lake conditions off Sodus Bay match other areas along the south shore. Water depths reach about 50 feet a mile out, for example. Structure is generally limited to some isolated boulders and shallow dropoffs, so trollers will be mainly looking for thermal breaks and scum lines.

The large harbor at Sodus Bay provides extensive marine facilities and services are available. A public launch is provided at the Sodus Point Park, and several marinas offer launch facilities.

Sodus Bay is east of Rochester in Wayne County on Route 14 north from Route 104.

Brown trout are the main game all spring in the southeast corner of the lake, as warmer water from the Oswego River attracts baitfish and predators, frequently right into the harbor, which makes it a popular place to troll spoons. But big browns will also be concentrated throughout the inshore waters around Oswego during the month, with most fishermen working depths from 12 to 20 feet. Planer boards are highly recommended.

Dawn, dusk and cloudy days are usually the best times to fish for trout, which can be spooky in the shallows. Even so, browns can be taken from shore, docks and jetties when conditions are right.

Salmon become more prevalent off Oswego toward the end of June, and some productive areas to check would include the long shoal running easterly toward Ninemile Point, and the Ford Shoals to the west of the harbor. Mexico Bay, north of Oswego, is highly recommended for all of the salmon and trout species, as these waters regularly produce fishing tournament winners. Chinooks will be targeted, of course, but browns and rainbows, and probably some lake trout, will be included in the catch.

There are no public launches in Oswego, but Wrights Landing, at 41 Lake Street off West First Street, accommodates fishermen. The Mexico Point state launch is at the mouth of the Little Salmon River, off Route 104B, one mile north of the hamlet of Texas.

The rocky shoals and shoreline dropoffs from the mainland and islands in this region were the main spawning areas of lake trout, according to historic records, and the habitat in these northeast waters continue to hold more lakers than anywhere else in the lake. While there are opportunities here for other salmonids, lakers are most prevalent. Fish will be moving offshore, and most fishermen will troll close to the bottom in 60 to 80 feet of water. Popular areas are around the islands, including Calf, Stony and the two Galoos.

The Henderson Harbor region is southwest of Watertown off Route 3 and offers a variety of accommodations and marine services.

Launches include Wescott Beach State Park on Route 3, which is four miles south of the village of Sacketts Harbor; Henderson Harbor, located adjacent to Route 178 and one mile west of the village; and Chaumont Bay, located off Route 13E two miles west of Chaumont.

More information on Lake Ontario fishing is available on the NYDEC's Web site at Click on "Outdoor Recreation," select "Fishing," then "Freshwater Fisheries Research," and finally "Lake Ontario Fisheries Research." For boat launch information, click on "Boating" and from the menu on the left, select "Boat Launch Sites."

For general information about accommodations and maps, call the New York tourism office at (800) CALL-NYS.

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