I was a month into my new duties as editor of Great Lakes Fisherman magazine when the fellow handing over the reins to the now-defunct pub took me salmon fishing. Ottie Snyder had taken me under wing and showed me how to rig the magazine’s new IMP boat for serious salmon fishing, a process that took a week of six-hour days sweating through June to get the 26-footer rigged in time for the summer salmon fishery.
With a battery of Cannon auto-downriggers aft, a stout Riviera planer board mast forward and rod holders everywhere between, my first-ever salmon safari found us in Olcott, N.Y., on the shores of Lake Ontario. We had boxes of salmon plugs and spoons to choose from and soon we were stacking j-plugs over the downrigger balls, trolling multiple spoons off the boards and even had a pair of horizontal rods dragging erratic Dipsy Divers off each gunwale. I could only imagine the fire drill required if we happened to fool more than one fish at a time.
Ottie was a seasoned charter captain as well as an accomplished magazine editor, and had seen his share of notable Great Lakes catches. When he screamed “Fish On!” I grabbed the noodle rod that had momentarily straightened from its deep arc when the line released from one of the downriggers and he started clearing lines – no minor task. The unseen salmon at the end of my line fought with a strength like no other freshwater I had ever battled, and eventually Ottie grabbed the largest landing net I had ever seen and poised, staring over the transom as I brought the fish to the surface from my fighting position at mid-deck.
He said “Lift!” and slipped the net over the transom. A splash, followed by some colorful words, and his look back at me told it all.
“The hooks snagged in the net. We lost him,” he mumbled. The look Ottie gave me said it was a behemoth before his words confirmed it. “That was one huge Chinook.”
I never saw the king we lost that day, but it remains one of my most memorable fish of my angling career. I’ve relished catching Chinooks ever since, but never felt a king as powerful as that first one lost at the boat.
This is that time of year when the big salmon prowl, and there are several Great Lakes ports famous for producing giant kings. Lake Ontario’s Olcott is one of them.
The smallest Great Lake produces the largest king salmon every year, including a lake record 47-pounder, a fish the New York Department of Environmental Conservation believes can be attributed to planting lower numbers of the kings combined with continued spawning success of alewives and other baitfish species. Bait abundance can be so high in Lake Ontario that some 3-year-old kings weighing over 25 pounds are caught this time each season. Local captains and recreational anglers target kings over 150 to 400 feet of water with a mix of flasher/flies and spoons, keeping baits from just above to 20 feet over the thermocline. Anglers launch boats at the Town of Newfane Marina in Olcott.
Another famous August king-catching port is Manistee, Mich., on its namesake Great Lake. Locals know that when the salmon are found in 60 feet or less of water, catching them is a matter of locating cold water, baitfish, and trolling along a shelf out front of the harbor. Luhr Jensen J-Plug and locally made Scarface Plugs are popular. They advise using plug herring and big flashers when the kings move deeper. Boaters targeting Chinook can launch at Manistee Municipal Marina, the South Breakwater Ramp or at Seng's Marina.
I advise going out with an experienced salmon fishing friend or charter boat captain such as Craig Kent to learn the ropes of the local king fishery. The powerful salmon require special tackle and tactics, and it’s an open water fishery where wind, water and weather conditions need to be respected.
Captain Lee highlights Captain Craig Kent
Killin’ Time Charters is a Manistee-area fishing outfit known for bringing more than its share of king salmon over the transom of the Reel Teaser, a 1983 Trojan 10 meter powered by twin fuel injected 454 inboards. Contact Captain Craig Kent at www.killintimecharters.com or call 231-920-1680.