New York's Lake Ontario anglers can expect more great fishing this season, thanks to a healthy forage base and continued ideal conditions. Our expert has the story. (April 2006)
Experienced fishermen from the Niagara River to the St. Lawrence River are betting on another bonanza year for Lake Ontario.
In case you haven't heard, salmonid fishing had a dramatic turn-around two years ago, especially for chinooks, and spectacular fishing continued through last season.
An important factor in the resurgence of salmon and trout is an adult alewife population in good condition, according to Dan Bishop, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's fisheries manager stationed in Cortland.
Reporting at the annual State of the Lake public meeting, Bishop said that the lake's smelt population was making a comeback, which also improves the forage base, although the supply of scuds -- important to small fish -- has declined drastically.
The food supply for salmon and trout is an ever-changing equation, but thanks to a strong alewife population, fishing is about as good as it gets.
Weather conditions -- always a concern of spring fishermen -- have been pretty good across the lake for the last couple of years, and that has improved catch rates. Last May, for example, was warm with no storms, and the DEC's boat census revealed a catch of more than 14,000 salmon, nearly twice the previous record for May.
Pen rearing of fingerlings and deep water releases of both pen-reared fish and hatchery fish have also boosted fish populations in the lake. Both techniques provide protection for newly hatched fish from inshore predators, such as perch and rock bass. Natural reproduction from the lake's tributaries is largely an unknown factor, but in the Salmon River, where improved flows throughout the year have been enforced, researchers have found significant numbers of wild fish. And, cormorant control in the east end of the lake is believed to have helped improve fishing.
The early season is an ideal time to hit Ontario, as the warmer water along shore attracts both bait and fish. You may strike silver nearly anywhere you can get on the water, but the following are some popular fishing centers.
NIAGARA RIVER BAR
With the lake coming off a record year for chinooks, west end fishermen are expecting another sensational year, according to Bill Hilts Jr., Niagara County's fishing specialist. (Cont'd)
"As long as the weather holds, great fishing should continue into 2006 and beyond," he reported.
Most springtime fishermen hit "The Bar," a huge pile of rock and rubble deposited by the Niagara River over many centuries. The main channel of the river is at least 75 feet deep as it enters the lake, but the bottom swoops up to about 18 feet in front of Fort Niagara, and the bowl-shaped reef extends out into the lake for approximately three miles, Hilts explained. A green buoy makes a good target for fishermen, and excellent fish-holding structure runs along both sides of the marker.
When trolling The Bar, expect the unexpected, possibly a lunker lake trout, smallmouth bass or walleye. Any type or color of spoon or stick bait can produce fish here, but downriggers loaded with dodger-tinsel fly combinations seem to be gaining in popularity. Many salmon fishermen prefer 22-inch dodgers, with trolling speeds from 1.5 to 2.2 knots.
Access to The Bar is easiest from Fort Niagara State Park, which has an excellent launch facility at the mouth of the river. Another option is to launch into the river at Lewiston -- also off the Parkway -- and run about seven miles to the lake.
WILSON AND OLCUTT
Although the Niagara River produces a current into the lake for several miles, Wilson takes on the saucer shape without significant bottom structure that is characteristic of the south shore. While the shallow, warmer waters all along the shore hold salmonids during April and May, the presence of bait around stream mouths and the even warmer water from tributaries pouring into the lake make for a dynamite fishing combination. And that's what put Wilson and Olcutt on every fisherman's map.
Twelvemile Creek enters the lake at the village of Wilson, where marine facilities and a public dock are available. The Wilson-Tuscarora State Park also offers a public launching ramp, and the small bay here provides storm refuge in this region of the lake.
Olcutt is a similar situation, with Eighteenmile Creek flowing into the lake -- public and marina launches are available.
Jetties at both locations provide shore-fishing opportunities. Dawn and dusk are usually best for light-shy salmon and trout. Both Wilson and Olcutt are in Niagara County off Route 18, also called Lake Road.
OAK ORCHARD AND ROCHESTER
Fishing conditions all along the south shore are similar, with a gently sloping bottom without dropoffs and rocky shoals. There are boulder fields, however, some bottom structure off points of land, and temperature breaks that trollers patrol, and, as mentioned above, the waters around tributary mouths are primary hotspots.
While salmon continue to dominate the spring fishery in the western half of the lake, brown trout are also important in the midlake catch. Chinooks, cohos and browns are notoriously spooky in shallow water, so planer boards are used to troll lures over fish that would be disturbed by a boat fishing only flat lines. Fishing is usually best on cloudy days and at dawn and dusk.
Boats may be launched at Oak Orchard, where there is a state park, and pier fishing is available. This destination is also called Point Breeze and is in Orleans County off the Lake Ontario State Parkway.
Complete marine facilities and pier-fishing are available in Rochester, where anglers fish the inshore waters off the mouths of the Genesee River and Irondequoit Bay. Boaters must stay at least 100 yards from the ferry when docked, and beware of its 8-foot wake.
The Sodus Bay area in Wayne County is among the most popular fishing destinations on the south shore, where a number of points and bluffs reach the water, indicating there is some structure that will hold fish.
Fairbanks Point is west of the bay, for example, and easterly; the water off East Bay and Port Bay is recommended. A pier offers shore-fishing at Sodus, and a public launch and marine facilities are available. Route 14 leads to Sodus Point from state Route 104.
harbor built for lake shipping, Oswego has it all for spring fishermen, even break walls that provide protection from westerly winds.
Tony Buffa, a local captain, recommends trolling the cloudy-clear break along the outflow of the Oswego River, which can extend three miles into the lake.
Shore-fishing is provided at the Linear Park, on the west shore of the river, and wallhanger walleyes are taken in Oswego Harbor at night. That season opens May 6.
Launch and marine facilities are available at Oswego and other eastern basin locations, including Mexico Point at the mouth of the Little Salmon River, and the Pine Grove ramp at Selkirk Shores State Park, on the Salmon River at Port Ontario.
Lake Ontario fishing changes dramatically in the northeast sector to a rock-ribbed shoreline, with numerous islands, bays, rocky shoals and steep dropoffs. The spring fishery here is focused on lake trout. A popular hotspot is "The Trench," a sheer 100-foot dropoff located off Stony Point light south of Henderson Harbor.
Other recommended locations for lakers include the structure off Horse Island, at the mouth of Sacketts Harbor, Bass Island, Gull Island and Six Town Point Island.
Launch ramps and marine supplies are available at Henderson Harbor and surrounding bays. Henderson Harbor is west of Watertown off Route 3.
Fishing maps and charts are invaluable for Ontario beginners, and are usually available at marinas and sporting goods shops. Charter boats are also on hand at the above locations, which provide expert introductions to the lake.
Current fishing conditions are updated on the following hotlines: Niagara County at (716) 433-5606, Wayne County at (315) 946-5466. Orleans County at (585) 589-3220, and the DEC's Region 7 office at (607) 753-1551.
For general tourist information and maps, call (800) 225-5697.