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« Predator Management | Main | And When We Awoke »

The 17.5 Foot Approach

.... To Lake 'O' Steelhead Fishing

By ~ Mathieu Chauvin

``So what time are we getting out there? ``

...asked my friend, for the second time and I replied with a smirk`` 4:30am and the boat will be floating, so we meet at the marina at 4:15 ’’. I knew he would find this is rather early and only half the ride out there would be in the dark anyways..... ``If you want to be there for the morning bite, it’s when the sun comes up at 5:40, so I’d rather be putting my downriggers in the water, than my boat. ``                                                              

That has to be the most repeated question when I’m lining up friends for some of my annual Lake Ontario runs. Just as well, because I don’t like line ups at the boat launch and so the earlier the better. To be honest, I rarely get more than 3 hours sleep at any given day while I’m down there. I mean who can sleep-in anyways when the sound of screaming reels is stuck in your head. Just never happens.


So the boat’s floating, truck’s parked and my friends are jumping in the boat. Sonar and lights lit and a full equipment check.  We then start our slow promenade out of the harbour. As soon as we get onto the big lake, the complete darkness is broken with the spotlight shining as far as we can see. Dangers definitely lie in dark waters, being aware and not in a hurry is the key. If you’re lucky you can follow the lights from another early fisherman just to get your direction right, at least until the day light breaks.  If we were fishing for King salmon, we would have started fishing in 90 feet of water. But since the weather is calm and my friends are looking for numbers, we are going straight to 300 feet of water. Depending on the waves, that can be from 35 minutes and dry to 1.5 hours and wet. Ultimately the lake conditions decide.                                                      

My boat is a 17.5 foot side console with a 90Hp and a 9.9hp kicker.  It’s some of the smaller crafts you’ll see on the open waters of Lake Ontario.  Some of you have heard the expression `` it’s not the size that matters`` and that’s true, you can keep up to the charters no problem if you calculate the ``how many fish per line’’ ratio, i.e.; if a charter boat is running 12 lines and producing 20 fish and I’m running 6 lines and producing 10 fish, then it’s the same thing. I have seen kayaks out there but not past 50-60 feet of water. So, is it safe to go 25km from shore in such a small craft?  It depends on a couple of factors.  Are you an experienced boater? Do you have onboard: GPS, Compass, marine maps, VHF radio, first aid kit, Barometer, flares and spotlight, and the most important: toilet paper, because you just never know.... Apart from all of the other legal equipment requirements, backups of all are always more useful with you, then at home on your shelf.

Great Lakes

The waters of any Great Lake can be very unforgiving and I know of some friends’ relatives who never came back off the water. Expect the worst and hope for the best. Never take chances, they will come back and bite you in the butt. 

Lake Ontario has a great assortment of ‘salmonoids’. There are three species of Salmon; Chinook, Coho and Atlantic, as well as three species of trout; Rainbow (Steelhead), Lakers (Grey trout) and Brown trout. Many of the tributaries are all on the north shore and each is as equally good (or bad) depending the weather and season.                         

Lead Core

Ok, now back to fishing. My rods are all between 8.5 to 10.5 feet and heavy action. Let’s start with the classics. The Good Ol’ Penn 309 on an 8.5 foot trolling rod spooled with 10 colors of lead core and 300 feet of high visible Dacron backing. This setup is one of my personal favourites, but it’s also what I use to keep the boat straight while trolling. How? Well it’s set in a holder located right beside my outboard, in the middle of my spread of lines. All the 10 colors of lead core line are in the water and the high visible backing stretching in the direction we are trolling from. This way I can see whether I’m turning or going in a straight line without taking my eyes off the rods in order to look at the GPS. Remember at 25 KMs you often can’t see the shore and it’s only you and the sun.  The sound of a Penn 309 pulling drag is like a Chinese noisemaker on caffeine.


Next would be the down rigging rods. Two or four, 9 foot rigger rods attached to release clips with 10lb rigger weights. These need to be spread at least 10 feet to avoid tangling.  Counter reels are not necessary with riggers since they have counters on them already. The distance of lines between the clips and the bait can vary between 10-40 feet. Sometimes they like it close to the weight, sometimes not. Switch it up a bit and figure out what works that day. The same goes with your baits but we’ll touch on that later.

In this picture you can see my simple spread of 5 lines. The lead core is next to me on my right, down the center. The two Downriggers are at each corner of the transom and the Dispy rods are set in front and more horizontal with the water.  Notice the Salties rod holders made of metal.


Next are the infamous Dipsy rods. These are heavily loaded, 10.5 foot rods, with strong counter reels with great drag systems.  They are equipped with 50 lb braided line attached to Dipsy Divers, obviously, and snubbers.   These setups need very strong rod holders as they torque to the maximum while trolling. Often the rod holders for the downriggers do not do the job. There is something special about the screaming drag of the already heavily bent dipsy rod. It can be a violent affair trying to get the screeching rod out of the holder when a large salmonoid grabs it. Believe me; it leaves a mark in my memory almost every time!


There are many great bait making companies such as Northern Kings, Gibbs, Silver Streak, Michigan stinger, Dream Weaver, Rac , A-Tomic, etc. etc., that make a huge variety of Spoons, Flashers, Spin Doctors, Hoochie Mammas, and Trolling Flies. The biggest thing is to match the hatch. The large prey in Lake O is Alewife and they are green, black, blue, orange, purple, white, glow and everything in between during their growth. The trick is the classic saying ``Match the Hatch``. A good trick is to open up the belly of the first fish you get and identify what they are feeding on. SIZE is very important.


So if you are just starting out, and want to keep it on the economical side then spoons are the way to go. They are like the bread and butter down there for trout and salmon. Spoons cost roughly 5$ a piece or 60$ per dozen. Be careful though. They are as addictive as sports cards. Pairs are important because when one color pattern is hot, you can then double it or even triple it. Why not when it’s hot, it’s hot! Here is a small list of patterns that are a must have in my books: Micheal Jackson, Milano, Watermelon, Blueberry Muffin, Cheery pie,  Orange Crush, Greesy Chicken wing, Funky chicken, Green Monkey Puke, Green parrot, Doctor Death, Kevorkian, Kevorkamuffin, etc. Basically anything that resembles these patterns will work as well. A neat trick that my mentor taught me is to clear coat your spoons with finger nail hardener before they get wet. It will triple there life span. If you want to get really technical and suffer less heartbreak, switch all the split rings and treble hooks for single Siwash hooks. The larger salmonoids can break the factory hardware quite easily and quickly become the giant that got away... I’ve had spoons come back bent like the letter ``L`` with no more split rings or broken hooks. There are many other proven types of bait that work very well for salmon and trout; I will definitely get into these in future articles.


Anywhere from 2.0-3.5 MPH is the trolling speed that works for me, often right in the middle. Windy days pick it up, non-windy days, slow it down. There is a current in the lake, from West to East. Trolling certain directions can change everything. If you’re after the early King salmon bite, try dragging your downrigger balls just close to the sand in 90 feet of water, say 80-85 feet down. If you’re after numbers, go for the steelies out in 300 feet of water and troll between 25 to 50 feet deep for Steelhead and Cohos. If you can get onto the thermo cline out there, you’ll find some Kings as well.


But not least, and for goodness sake, SWITCH IT UP. I like to put something different on all my lines, at all different depths and FIGURE OUT WHAT WORKS. Follow the thermo cline and you will end up with fish. REMEMBER, you get what you put in, so the more you work your lines, the more fish you will produce. This is what works for me!! Try it, and please let us know.



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