New York Ontario Brown Trout

New York Ontario Brown Trout

Here's a look at where to find -- and fish for -- New York's big Lake Ontario brown trout this season. (April 2008)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Lake Ontario is one of the Empire State's premier destinations for excellent brown trout fishing, giving up state-record browns each year. Through the action is hottest in spring, big browns may be taken from this Great Lake right through the summer -- with another peak in action each fall.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Resources Bureau of Fisheries plans to stock about 455,000 yearling brown trout into Lake Ontario each year.

"We actually get only between 80 and 85 percent of that," said Tom Eckert, a DEC fisheries biologist.

"A number of years ago, we stocked some inland waters with larger 2-year-old brown trout. That requires keeping a portion of the yearlings in the hatcheries, and that took away space for more yearlings. So we're down from 95 percent of the target number we used to stock."

The eastern basin lacks good brown trout habitat, so the majority of stocked browns are poured into the main part of the lake.

"We consider this a put, grow and take program," Eckert said. "Most browns are harvested at age 2, 3 or even 5. The minimum length is primarily to protect newly stocked trout.

"The daily creel limit on browns is three fish, with a 15-inch minimum. We want them to get big and be harvested later. There is tremendous growth potential in that lake."

The 15-inch minimum length is in effect on most of the "put, grow and take" species in Lake Ontario, including coho and chinook salmon.

In 2007, the minimum length on rainbow trout was bumped up to 21 inches. The three-fish-per-day creel limit includes a total of three fish in any combination of trout and salmon species. Eckert said that brown trout anglers have much to look forward to in 2008: "Last summer was quite hot and dry, but browns are stocked directly into Lake Ontario. The water levels were fine most of the year -- a little low in the fall, but nothing to suggest trouble for brown trout.

"We just had a very good year for brown trout in 2007. The harvest rates were up. Things look good for 2008. Of course, conditions in spring are probably the biggest factor.

"A lot of Ontario browns are harvested in April and May," he went on. "This is a big, rough lake, and if it's blowing gale-force winds, you can't get out there. I advise visitors to factor that in and plan for longer trips, so that they'll have at least one or two days with decent conditions."

In spring, sometimes as early as March, Brown trout may be found close to shore.

"There are areas of wide-open shoreline where casting can work," Eckert said. "But it's hard to cast straight out from shore. The creek mouths are attractive, especially if we get a couple of sunny days in a row.

"The water temperature is from two to five degrees warmer than the lake, which is ice-cold. The fish tend to congregate toward any kind of warm pocket. Also, the lake gets very clear, while streams become turbid and silted. Fishermen here talk about trying to find some 'colored water' -- water that's not as clear, where fish won't be as spooky.

"We do have situations where people cast from shore," Eckert said. "And if you hit the right spot, you can catch a lot of fish in a hurry. Try to find a pier or a place to get out deeper, or a creek mouth that may have warmer, colored water. Sodus Bay has piers, and Fairhaven has piers on both sides that are readily available to shoreline anglers.

"In spring, any tributaries -- even if there aren't big piers -- can be good spots to fish from shore. Be careful about trespassing. Be sure to get the landowner's permission.

"Most brown-trout fishermen troll," he continued. "That way, they can cover a lot more water. If you have a little 14-foot boat, sitting near a creek bed may be more effective. But if you have a big boat with an outrigger and temperature gear, you should be able to find pockets of warm water.

"If you have a surface-temperature device, pay attention. If it goes up a couple of degrees, especially if you get a hit, remember that spot and quietly turn around and head back through it."

Most anglers use an outrigger because the fish are spooky, and an outrigger lets your line shear off quite a ways, keeping the lures well off to the side of the boat, and that's typically most effective. You'll also be trolling away from your lure, and you can run the lure in closer to shore than you might want to take your boat.

"Early on, anglers commonly work much closer to shore for browns than for other fish," he said. "Out in western Ontario, which tends to have more coho and Chinook salmon, a lot of guys head out a ways and run right past where the browns would be.

Use a variety of lures. I encourage anglers to experiment. If you get a hit or two, listen to the fish -- that's always a good idea.

"As the water warms up, browns begin to move off shore," Eckert said. "Compared to most other species, browns tend to be closely associated with the bottom. They don't go way offshore and suspend like other species. They can, but it's unusual."

The eastern basin lacks good brown trout habitat, so the majority of stocked browns are poured into the main part of the lake.

What's unique in Lake Ontario is the huge volume of the lake. The stratification scheme starts at the shoreline and progresses out toward the center, where there's a reservoir of cold water -- ice water early in the season. There will be scum lines on the surface where the cold and warmer offshore waters meet.

Then as the season progresses, all of the cold water is pushed down deeper. There is a more dynamic stratification scheme than in smaller inland lakes.

"There are temperature devices that can measure down at the downrigger," Eckert said. "That kind of data is really valuable -- they give the trolling speed, plus the top and bottom temperatures. Browns like cool water, so look to those areas where temperature bands are approaching the bottom, where the transition water temperatures intersect with bottom. If you have good equipment, you can adjust trolling depths accordingly.

"The Niagara River tends to be very cold because Lake Erie f

reezes completely," he said. "And the water up in the eastern basin is colder, so these are not good spots early in the spring. Usually, the best area with the highest harvest is from Rochester east to Mexico Bay, a little east of Oswego. Then as the weather warms the best area tends to spread out a little bit more," Eckert said.

"As fall approaches, browns get ready for spawning, and the amount of feeding they do is decreased. They do bite, but not as readily. In October, they enter the lower tributaries and Ontario shoreline near tributaries."

Along the shoreline of Lake Ontario, there are numerous launch ramps -- about 40 of them along the 190-mile stretch between the Niagara River and Stony Point near Henderson.

Anglers who venture upstream at tributaries should remember that on those waters, regulations are often more restrictive. Before heading out, be sure to check the 2008 fishing regulations for the Great Lakes and their tributaries.

"We have developed a pretty well-known fall fishery in western Lake Ontario around Point Breeze, Johnson Creek and Oak Orchard Creek," Eckert said. "A lot of guys use fly tackle. The browns here average 6 pounds or more."

Access for Oak Orchard Creek is off Route 98. Access for Johnson Creek is off Route 18. Access to Point Breeze is off Lake Shore Road. See page 70 of DeLorme's New York Atlas and Gazetteer, for details on all three access points.

The Braddocks Bay area offers several good areas for shore fishing, as well as plentiful launch sites. Braddocks Bay, Cranberry Pond, Long Pond and Buck Pond access can be had from the Lake Ontario State Parkway. For details, see DeLorme's NYAG, page 71.

Little Sodus Bay is another good possibility for launching an expedition for browns or fishing from shore. Fair Haven Beach State Park offers fishing access and a great base camp.

For details on the bay and the park, check DeLorme's NYAG, page 74.

The shores of Lake Ontario are dotted with state parks that offer access for boating and shoreline fishing as well as a variety of lodging options from tent sites to full-service lodges.

For a complete list of state parks along Lake Ontario, you can log on to

For more fishing information, you can call the New York DEC, Bureau of Fisheries at (518) 402-8920, or visit

For travel information, call 1-800-225-5697, or visit

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