POINT BREEZE, N.Y. - Fishing for king salmon and steelhead trout here on western Lake Ontario, where both species grow big, is something like seeking the "perfect storm."
No, not lightning-laden thunderstorm cells like the ones that, thank goodness, passed north and south of the trolling sport fleet here on Wednesday.
This 20-pound-plus king salmon taken in Lake Ontario was landed by Port Clinton's Steve Hathaway after a 20-minute fight.
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Rather, it's about the coming together of the right water temperatures at the right depths, currents, winds, and schools of baitfish, all of which put big kings and steelies within striking distance of brightly colored spoons with bizarre nicknames like Rodney, Screwface, 42-Second, Purple Frog, and Raspberry Dolphin.
The garish patterns of purple, chrome, pink, chartreuse and more - one of them even is called Monkey Puke - must look like a hot date to these sleek, silvery baitfish-eating machines. For when your trolling pattern or spoons slides into the perfect salmonid storm, you are in for a fishing treat.
"My knees are still shaking," said Steve Hathaway of rural Port Clinton, who was on his first Lake Ontario salmon trip and who had just spent more than 20 intense minutes dueling with a drag-screaming 20-pound-plus king. It was part excitement, part fatigue. His left hand was a little cramped, too, from hanging onto the rod and a strong fish for so long.
A retired Ohio watercraft supervisor, he was a member of a fishing crew of four aboard Ed LaBounty's Pirate Queen and had been on deck for the next fish when a long rod jestingly called a widow-maker started bouncing, a signal for fish-on.
Ed LaBounty, skipper of the Pirate Queen, finds time to relax on his 31-foot craft with his Labrador retrievers, Jig and Lady.
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This rig is set up with a reel filled with 400 feet of lead-core sinking line, 100 feet of monofilament leader, and hundreds of feet of backing. In a typical trolling set-up, the spoon is 500 feet or more behind the boat and when a fish takes the bait, it may rip off hundreds of feet more line. Bill Nowak, who runs the Walleye Queen currently in port here, said one fish last week took the line-counter on a widow-maker to 972 feet before they turned it around.
It wasn't long, however, after Hathaway's duel that he was ready for his next turn in the rotation - on the widow-maker or any of the other rigs trailing off the Pirate Queen's stern.
"On dark days a dark pattern is better and on a sunny day the brighter colors seem to work better," explained LaBounty on spoon selections. His lure collection aboard would run well into four figures to replace. A resident of Graytown, he is a veteran of 26 years as a fishing guide in western Lake Erie's walleye haunts, doubling the years by also fishing Lake Ontario's famed salmon grounds.
LaBounty is quick to admit that these fish are unpredictable. In other words, if a spoon type or pattern that makes no sense suddenly starts to work, he'll rig up with an array of patterns in similar colors and types. It pays to be flexible.
Besides the widow-maker, LaBounty and most skippers drop "cannon-balls" on wire line off stern-mounted downriggers, running shorter but tough rods and reels full of 20-pound-test monofilament with spoons trailing at various depths. They also will rig some long, specially designed rods that handle reels with wire line, used in tandem with Dipsy Divers and a terminal rig called a "Spin Doctor," a fish-shaped, vaned piece of plastic containing an "e-chip" that emits slight, attracting electric current, plus a flasher fly.
The idea is to set out a smorgasbord and hope that something will come to dinner. Not all of the tricks work all the time, but with veteran skippers in charge, something usually works at least some of the time.
The fishing here this week was good, tending to be more steelhead than kings. Average catches were running eight to 10 fish per boat, with a "major" king of 20 pounds or more being a fair expectation. Kings as large as 29-3 have come into port in the last week.
LaBounty's first day here was Tuesday, this after winding up summer walleye work out of Meinke's West Marina in Jerusalem Township east of Toledo on Sunday afternoon. Ask him sometime about getting his beamy, 31-foot, twin-engine boat onto a semi-trailer rig, safely to New York, and changed over to salmon gear by Tuesday morning. So you want to be a charter captain, eh?
"I know more about these boats than I ever wanted to," he said, facing a laundry list of tweaks and fixes right on day one. "I like them, they're good boats, but " They're boats - what more needs be said.
LaBounty even brought along his two Labrador retrievers, Jig and Lady, a brother-sister act. "They're family," he said.
The canines accompany him on his trips and are well-behaved and a welcome break between fish.
Fortunately, LaBounty's long experience with boats and fish put his first run well into the plus column for fish, with steelies to 10 pounds and kings to 12 pounds the first day.
He came back with the 20-pound king among three and an 11-pound steelie among seven the next day. His anglers were happy.
The salmon and steelhead runs should concentrate as the fish stage off the Oak Orchard River here for fall spawning runs into early and mid-September. The thought of a brawny 20-pounder on a widow-maker or an acrobatic steelie silver-streak cartwheeling 40 feet behind the transom makes you want to go back.
Walleye action on western Lake Erie has been decent this week, especially in the more westerly reaches of the basin.
Boats are working off in 12 to 22 feet of water in Crane Creek and between West Sister Island and the end of the Toledo Ship Channel and taking limits, using mayfly rigs or worm-harnesses and bottom bouncers when drifting, or trolling with small spoons, according to Rick Ferguson at Al Szuch Live Bait in Jerusalem Township.
Farther east some walleye action is seen three miles west of West Reef and a half-mile off northeast of C-Can on the outer Camp Perry Firing Range, according to Rickard's Bait on Catawba Island.
Some walleye anglers have returned to hair jigs with stinger hooks, according John Jokinen, of Jann's Netcraft.
He said that about half of those going to the spring tactic are dressing the jigs with minnows, and the rest are using them without bait.
"We saw the same thing last year," Jokinen said about mid-summer jigging, explaining, "the fish are on the bottom."
Yellow perch action also has warmed up, Jokinen added, saying that anywhere in a circle from three-quarters of a mile to two miles from the Toledo Water Intake in 18 feet of water seems to be the active zone.
Rickard's said perching has picked up in 24 feet off Lakeside and off the northwest corner of Kelleys Island.
Western basin perch anglers are reminded that the daily creel limit for perch is 25, west of the Huron pier.
Bass pro Alvin Shaw of State Road, N.C., won $200,000 last weekend in capturing the $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour's Chevy Open based on the Detroit River.
He caught a two-day final-round total of 39 pounds, 11 ounces to outdistance his closest rival, pro Vic Vatalaro of Kent, Ohio, who won $50,000 with a 10-bass entry of 39 pounds, 8 ounces.
Throughout the event Shaw targeted small clumps of grass, rocks, and sand in 12 to 16 feet of water on Lake St. Clair. Instead of the time-tested method of dragging tube-jigs, however, Shaw cast green-pumpkin gold flake tubes with baitcasting tackle and eight-pound-test line to the top of grass.
Overall the top 10 finalists among pros entered 40 bass Sunday weighing 121 pounds, 1 ounce, including six five-fish limits.
On Saturday Mark Frickman of Grand Ledge, Mich., won the co-angler division and $30,000 with five bass weighing 19 pounds, 4 ounces. Andrew Lemle of Perrysburg, a frequent top-10 co-angler finalist in such events, finished fifth in the division with five bass at 11-7 to win $7,000.
Overall co-angler finalists entered 33 bass weighing 101 pounds, 6 ounces on their last day, including four five-fish limits.