The best places to battle freshwater fish


Western Lake Ontario has been, for the past 40-plus years, the go-to hot spot for the biggest and baddest freshwater fish that most of us will ever do battle with.

No kidding. We are talking about fish that can and do strip a football field length of line off of a screaming trolling reel just for giggles. Not just once but three of four times before surrendering to a fisherman who most times, is just about as tired as the fish by the time it’s over. These Lake Ontario fish are silver in color. The biggest and for sure the worst of the bad actors are Chinooks or King salmon.

These guys are real cap-on-backwards bar brawlers. In five years, the adult Kings often chunk up to 30 and 40 pounds. And don’t let the roles of fat fool you — it’s mostly muscle.

So go ahead, pick a fight with one. You’ll see. Or it’s their cousins, Coho Salmon or silvers. A good bit smaller but just as pound for pound spunky, two or three silvers can pretty much pack a cooler.

And to the list of possible lure takers, lake trout, brown trout, and of course, high jumping steelhead trout. Not bad, for a day’s mixed catch.

In short, make at least one trip to the Niagara region of Lake Ontario. Book a charter and see some sights too. It’s big water excitement unmatched anywhere.

And best yet, if last year’s results hold true, it’s looking like the good old days are soon to come — times two.

The news doesn’t get any better than this! That’s what New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation said the end of January when they released the preliminary results of the Open Lake Fishing Boat Survey for 2017.

Based on the catch rate reported by active charter boat captains, the fishing was the best ever in the 32-year history of the census. Those in the know claim that this coming fishing season should be even better.

There were plenty of one-year-old salmon swimming in the lake last year. Those fish are survivors and they will be there in 2018 as hungry 2-year-olds.

Last summer’s Coho salmon catch rate was the highest since 2010 and the rainbow catch jumped up 54 percent from 2015.

Spearheaded by the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association, the port of Olcott will once again host a net pen project for salmon and steelhead in 2018, a project that has been going on for 11 years.

Some 50 volunteers were involved last year to help rear 67,000 salmon and 3,500 steelhead. The success of the first 10 years of pen rearing was outstanding, both in the way of local support and in how the fish reacted to the 18 Mile Creek site at Olcott.

The fish grew big and healthy in a relatively short amount of time and the benefits are already being realized out on the lake.

There is also a pen rearing project in Wilson. In 2017 they reared 10,000 salmon and thousands of steelhead. It was the first time salmon have been stocked in Wilson in 25 years.

In addition, the Niagara River Anglers Association also operates a net pen for 75,000 kings. Of course, these aren’t the only fish that are stocked but fish in pens survive better than two to one as compared with direct hatchery to lake stockings.

Want to know what’s going on with the Lake Ontario fishing scene? Make your first stop the Niagara County Fishing Hotline.

The number for the hotline is 1-877-FALLS US. It’s also on the net at The Great Lakes Western New York Hotspot Fishing Map is now available and can be ordered by calling or online.

For other updates from April to October, check out

There is now an electronic version of the map at

Great Lakes salmon do not reproduce naturally. That’s why state hatchery fish and pen raised fish are stocked and can be fished for. Lake Ontario provides ideal conditions and plentiful forage which means salmon and trout grown fast and strong.

Fish that are kept in pens for several weeks before being released are imprinted with the waters where they were reared and thus consistently return to that very spot as adults.

Coho salmon mature in four years, Chooks in five. Great Lakes trout can survive for several years.


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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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