Trout and Salmon Fishing on Lake Ontario (Part 1: Early Season)

Pro-staff Contributor: Chris Davanzo

Chris with a few of the fish he caught on Lake Ontario.

Chris with a few of the fish he caught on Lake Ontario.

After hunting seasons wind down for us in New York, we switch gears and start fishing Lake Ontario’s southern basin for trophy class salmonids such as rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout, king salmon, and coho salmon. Trout and salmon are known for their voracious fight and aerial acrobatics when hooked up. The best time to catch these fish is April through September, and as the season progresses we tend to chase different species.  During early-April through mid-May we focus on brown trout and coho salmon close to shore. When the temperatures start to climb we head off-shore to chase kings, lakers and steelhead. We finally finish up our season by returning to the mouths of the rivers for pre spawning kings and cohos. Each part of this blog series will focus on techniques used during each segment of the season.

Water Temperature and Depth

The preferred method for catching fish in the early season is to troll lures and exact depths using down riggers, divers, lead core line, and planer boards, with stick baits on them for any fish feeding in the top 12 feet of the water column.  As air and water temps increase, the fish will move deeper and we’ll focus on using down riggers and lead core lines with spoons and flashers. Throughout the season, we focus on finding the “magic” water temperature and depth that triggers the fish to bite, once we do, we can usually stay there all day and pick up fish.

Fishing with Rapala Scatter Raps

This early season, I had the opportunity to run the new Rapala Scatter Rap series of stick baits for brown trout and coho salmon. They made a splash with us this year aboard “Hooked Up Charters.” Captain Bruce Stenglin and I ran them with great success!  The Scatter Rap’s new lip gives it a sweeping motion along with that trademark tight wobble that Rapalas are known for–it was the ticket! Our first day we boated over twenty salmon on Scatter Raps and Flat Raps, and we haven’t looked back.

Early Season Techniques

Two of the main things we look at during early season fishing are what the fish are foraging as well as water clarity. From April through May, our in-shore water is slightly stained due to run off from the snow melting as well as basic turbidity caused from wind and currents.  We look for breaks—where clear water meets the more turbid water—because this is where fish act as ambush predators and come out of the dirty water to hit our baits.Lure-Rod

The main forage of fish in Lake O are round gobies and alewife, also known as saw bellies, which are members of the herring family. Matching the look and presentation of the bait fish plays such a crucial role in successful fishing in Lake Ontario. When running these baits we look to run colors and patterns with green, yellow and most of all orange. This season our hot colors were anything with an orange belly such as gold florescent red and fire tiger. We trolled these lures off of two planer boards with three rods on each board to increase the amount of lure coverage in the water. We focused on lures with an average running depth of 3-9 feet due to the fact that we were only fishing in water from 5-12 feet deep.

As our season progresses we will have to adapt our techniques as well as bait choices to fit the need of what the fish want to eat. Check back again for to my next article in this three segment blog on fishing salmonids on the great lakes.

Chris Davanzo is from the finger lakes region of western NY. Chris is the owner and operator of Fish and Feathers Outfitters which is the Northeast’s premier outfitter for waterfowl. When Chris isn’t in the swamps chasing ducks you can find him on a trout stream or in a treestand with bow in hand. You can contact Chris via his site and find him on Facebook (

A look at Chris's setup while fishing on Lake Ontario.

A look at Chris’s setup while fishing on Lake Ontario.


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