Searching for elusive salmon in Lake Ontario

Mike Tontimonia fishing photo
A fine sunset, gentle waves and the tug of a king salmon makes for a fine Great Lakes adventure. (Mike Tontimonia photo)

Everyone knows how hard it is to find a needle in a haystack, or at least we know how hard it probably would be. That’s just what it feels like here on Lake Ontario in Olcott, N.Y.

It’s the closest body of water to Ohio where a person might hook up with a fish big enough to break tackle, strong enough to make one wonder which end of the fight is winning, and stupid enough, or maybe hungry enough, to chomp down on some twisted piece of chrome or sparkly gob of plastic flashing through the water.

Chinook salmon, more commonly called king salmon, live here — some naturally and some stocked. As fish go, these silver giants are by far the fastest growing, the most muscled and the fearless holders of the top spot in the underwater food chain.

If nothing else, kings are bullies. When they eat, which is often and lots, they grab and swallow alewife, smelt and darn near anything else that crosses their path. And then they look for more.

King salmon attract anglers like blossoms bring bees. That’s why we’re here. It’s the right time, the right place and the right fish. Simple.

We are fishing with Captain Jerry Brandt aboard his craft, the Laura Ann, a brand new Thunder Craft that Brandt wanted to show off. He resides in Brunswick, Ohio, but chases big water sport fish wherever and whenever they call for his attention.

But let’s get back to the needle in the haystack thing. King salmon are plentiful indeed but so are the 7,340 acres of Lake Ontario. And even when they are findable, they may not be in the mood.

Brandt, like all big water guides, puts his trust in the trolling methods experienced salmon pros use. He looks for the right stuff, like a layer of salmon-attracting currents, temperatures and bait fish to tell the story.

When he finds the keys, he goes to work on using the right gear, tackle and equipment to put a lure where a salmon will find it. And when the stars align and a big king crushes a sharp hook, the excitement is nothing short of remarkable.

“Fish on” is the much-anticipated call. When it happens, the lucky angler who grabs the deeply bent rod learns quickly just what salmon fishing is all about.

A big king can and will put a test to rod and reel, let alone the arm muscles of the fisherman who is doing his or her best to bring it to net.

Lake Ontario grows them big. In fact, just last week Brandt lost a significant amount of gear to an angry salmon so big and so strong that it won a brutal battle with gear and equipment before he could get to the straining rod holder.

Oh boy, that’s the kind of fish that we all hope to duke it out with. And when we do it right, it’s a prize as gratifying to hold as that elusive needle.

The village and port of Olcott is a busy place right now and will get even busier as the late summer season for catching giant salmon runs into fall. The Olcott dock areas buzz with activity, especially in the hour or two before daylight as docked boats and trailered boats head out for the morning bite.

If you go

Mobile guides like Brandt and his Hook Charter clients book rooms, while a large contingent of captains resides in the area.

The Old Fire Station, and yes, it was that in a former life, is a good choice for rooms. It also houses a restaurant, which, according to my gang, serves the best burger in the state of New York. The Old Fire Station can be reached at 716-778-4443.

New York offers a handy phone service for purchasing nonresident licenses, which can be reached at 866-933-2257. Hook Charter is online at


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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.



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