Early Season Trolling On Lake Ontario

By Zack Rayno, Founder, Great Lakes Steelhead Co

As old-man winter loosens his grip on New York, my mind wanders to bitterly cold, early-morning sunrises set to the soundtrack of the slow, steady hum of a boat engine.  It’s finally time to troll mighty Lake Ontario.

Another, consecutive, mild winter has many anglers excited for this coming season.  Ice cover held below 35% through 2016, which is a sharp contrast to 2014 and 2015, which had ice cover averages above 88%.  The limited ice lends a hand to the survival of our gamefish, as well as our baitfish, namely the alewife.

As a member of the Coldsteel Sportfishing fleet (www.coldsteelsportfishing.com), my home port is Oswego, NY.   Generally speaking, brown trout are our primary target early in the trolling season.  When pursuing our square-tailed friends, I am searching for two things; warmer/stained water and baitfish.  These conditions are often found at tributary stream mouths, especially after a melt or precipitation.

My lure selection, or spread, is usually a healthy mix of stickbaits and spoons run on planer boards and downriggers.  I am a believer in checking and changing lures often, but I follow a general set of guidelines when choosing a bait.  I like to keep the glows, bright greens, oranges and white lures out in the morning, on an overcast day or when the water color is a heavy stain.  As I pursue fish in these conditions, I like to keep my trolling speed on the slower end, giving fish time to notice the baits.

When faced with clear water and/or a bright sunny day, I find the natural color tones suit me well.  A simple black and white or silver often produces.  I also find that a higher trolling speed will illicit strikes, as fish may be reacting and chasing.  This also helps you to explore, potentially stumbling upon better water color or a slight jump in temperature.

Some days the shoreline brown trout bite is short-lived or maybe not at all.  When it’s time to examine other angling avenues, I look off-shore.  Early in the season, Lake Ontario will not hold a thermocline, having very little change in temperature in the top 100 feet of water.  As I scour the deep, I am looking for any kind of structure.  This can be in the form of a current line, a change in water temperature or a change in bottom structure.  Keeping an eye on your electronics is crucial.

Off-shore, I like to keep a spread heavy in spoons, throughout a wide-range of the water column.  Leadcore off of planer boards is the chief producer, more often than not.  I also keep a copper long-line off the stern.  Typically, I have a large flasher with an A-TOM-MIK trolling fly behind it, you never know when you’ll find a spring king with an appetite.  Checking, changing and adjusting your lure selection is important.  I like to keep a high trolling speed when off-shore, as I am searching for fish.

So, as the days grow a bit longer and warmers, prepare to dust off the trolling rods and re-organize the tackle boxes.  The challenges and rewards of fishing Lake Ontario for another season are just around the corner.