Lake Ontario’s renowned salmon and trout fishing should be the real deal this year if Niagara Tourism fishing division head Bill Hilts Junior has his crystal ball clearly focused.
Hilts, an avid angler himself, keeps close tabs on what was and what should be as winter turns to summer in the next couple of months.
Ohio fishermen who have learned how exciting this fishery is look forward to hooking, fighting, and landing the largest and strongest fresh water fish that most of us will ever experience.
Hilts said that last year’s fishing was excellent, producing improved reviews and reports than recent years.
Coming off a very mild winter, the Niagara County shoreline, led by the popular ports of Wilson and Olcott, offered some great spring and summer salmon fishing when it came to the months of May, June, July and some of August in the lake.
In fact, the July open lake creel showed that the waters off Niagara was the best ever as far as catch rates.
The fall run of fish into 18 Mile Creek had a slow start, no doubt because of the dry summer, but picked up. The area finally received some rain and resulting run-off from the Erie Canal.
During a regional 2016 Spring derby, more than 60 percent of all the all winning salmon and trout came from Niagara County, with many of those prize-winners caught off Wilson, Olcott and the Niagara Bar.
The Grand Prize checked in at 26 pounds, 4 ounces, a mature King Salmon weighed in at Wilson and caught in open waters just west of the port.
Fishing was more of a typical spring for local boats and it continued right into the summer, said Hilts.
In the LOC Summer Derby, Chad Fenstermaker of Warren, Ohio, was fishing with Captain Mitch Shipman of Signature Charters to set the pace with a 31-pound, 7-ounce King caught out of Olcott during the final weekend of the month-long derby.
On the final Saturday of the Fall LOC Derby (Labor Day weekend), the winner was another big King, a 34-pound, 9-ounce King from the Eastern Basin. But a Pennsylvania angler fishing with charter Captain Harry Zimmerman of Northfork Charters came close with a 33-pound, 8-ounce King.
Olcott did produce the top steelhead for the fall, a 15-pound, 15-ounce trout.
Derbies like these mentioned are annual draws for local and visiting anglers who fish either on their own craft or on that of a charter guide.
The chance that the next fish caught might be a winner is always there and any fishermen can enter for a small fee.
According to Hilts, the mild winter could trigger not only an early start to the season but another big year all summer.
He said, “It looks like things are shaping up to be another banner year. With a second mild winter in a row (Lake Ontario was still 37 degrees on Feb. 1); it’s going to mean an earlier spring, bigger kings and a stronger forage base.”
In the “glass is half-full” department, Wilson will receive its first stocking of salmon since the early 1990s, part of a pen project to increase survival rates of hatchery fish.
Based on a study conducted the last 6 years, pen reared fish survive better than 2 to 1 to direct stocked salmon.
In addition, other studies have shown that roughly half of the salmon in the lake are the result of natural reproduction so some exciting things are happening.
Hilts is describing young fish spending time in river underwater pen before actually being released rather than fish delivered from a hatchery and stocked directly into the lake.
The Niagara River will now be included in the normal stocking regiment that the state dishes out. In the past, only bonus fish were stocking in the river.
Starting in 2017, the river will receive 15,000 brown trout as an annual target. In addition, it will also receive up to 10,000 bonus fish.
Many years this will result in a stocking of 25,000 yearling browns – which is great news.
Hilts said that interested anglers can keep posted on how the fishing is going each week through the Niagara County Fishing Hotline at 877-FALLS US or go online at www.niagara-usa.com.
The Niagara ports of Olcott, Wilson, and the Niagara River are popular launches for the Lake Ontario fishery.