Pond Hopping – Lake Ontario

Pond Hopping – Lake Ontario

May 16, 2012

Lake Ontario: Coho grow fast in ‘Season of the Salmon’

By Mike Pehanich

Will this be the season of the salmon?

If early season results are your bellwether, this may be a salmon year to remember – at least on Lake Ontario.

Forage is plentiful, coho are growing fast, and many king salmon are already tipping the scales with weights not often seen until late summer and early fall.

On a “Traveling Angler” outing last week for Small Waters Fishing, our party found coho salmon fat, plentiful and “fighting wild.”

Nearly 50 emerald shiners stuffed the stomach of the first coho we cleaned at the Lewiston fish cleaning station on the Lower Niagara River. The emerald shiner population is booming on Lake Ontario right now, and it is partially responsible for the fast growth of the coho and the hot angling action.

Jeff Pierce of O. Mustad & Son was captain; Ray Lynch of RealTree and I comprised the crew.

Big water opportunity for small waters anglers

Pierce took a light tackle approach. We cast white jigs and 4-inch curlytail grubs off the mouth of the Lower Niagara River where the coho were heavily schooled. The most productive days for our party came when the schools betrayed their presence by attacking emerald shiners at the surface.

Captain Frank Campbell and Steve Quinn of In-Fisherman also took a light tackle approach fishing jerkbaits and live emerald shiners on a three-way rig in the same area.

What a difference the light tackle makes! If you have encountered coho only with heavy trolling gear before, you won’t recognize the critter at the end of your line! They are wild leapers that not only test your tackle but, more often than not, win the fight.

We used medium action spinning rods from the new Abu Garcia Villain line and eight- to 10-pound Trilene fluorocarbon line on Pflueger Supreme and Abu Garcia Revo Premier reels.

If you are a small boat angler who lives near the Great Lakes, check reliable fishing reports — and reliable weather reports — for opportunities to fish near harbors, break walls and river mouths for spring trout and salmon. Spring coho and brown trout in particular are willing to bite a lot of your standard bass lures such as curlytail grubs, jerkbaits, jigs, and  small crankbaits. Try live bait rigs, too. This is great sport in spring, and you will develop a new respect for the coho salmon. But, remember “safety first” on these waters. Don’t venture out in potentially rough seas, and don’t venture too far from the launch.

Spring coho that feast on emerald shiners and other small baitfish can provide small waters anglers with a great opportunity to cash in on big water action. But it's "safety first!"

The first coho I hooked launched himself skyward nearly four feet in the air on his first jump, then leaped seven more times before the fight was half a minute old.

We landed that one, but that morning, our party lost at least three times as many as we put in the boat.

And these coho seemed significantly larger than those I have caught this early in the season (at least in Lake Michigan) with lots of four- and five-pounders already in the mix.

Why so big?

No doubt the longer growing season resulting from the mild weather of past winter accounts for a portion of that growth.

The other factor is the abundance of forage, at least forage well suited to fish the size of spring coho.

The numbers of emerald shiners was astounding. We found huge schools around seawalls and in current breaks and all over the river mouth and out into Lake Ontario.

Apparently the jig-and-grub combo did a fair imitation of an emerald shiner!

“But what about the king salmon “Lake O” is famous for?” you ask.

We’ll cover the kings tomorrow!

Check out Mike’s Excellent Buffalo-Niagara Fishing & Dining Adventure,” a saga of multi-species angling excitement and culinary indulgence in the Buffalo-Niagara region of New York with frequent updates, chronicles, recipes, and tips on restaurants, lodging and attractions.

For additional information on the Buffalo-Niagara area, check out our Buffalo Niagara Vacation Resource guide and the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau website  ( visitbuffaloniagara.com )

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