October 06, 2023
“The guy’s a legend,” said fellow New York charter captain Frank Campbell. “We’re talking 45 years of fishing Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, and Thousand Islands Region every day. Honestly, I don’t think ‘Johnny O.’ ever sleeps. All he does is catch fish.”
When visiting anglers book a trip with Capt. John Oravec, he personally helps with every facet of planning a successful trip whether it's Lower Niagara River drift fishing (12/10/23 through 5/10/24); Lake Ontario king salmon, brown trout, lake trout, steelhead, cohos, and Atlantics (5/10/24 through 9/15/24); or St. Lawrence River/Thousand Islands giant muskies, walleyes, and pike (10/15/23 through 12/15/23).
Oravec runs the 33-foot “Troutman 2” to fish big-water, main-channel reefs, island trolling during daytime and night, and downrigger tactics like wire line bottom-bouncing, planer board leadcore plugs and spoons, and what he calls "burger and fries” tactics, what amounts to time-proven tweaks employed that catch fish when other methods fail.
For long-range “run and gunning” Oravec uses a 20-foot Lund Fisherman for musky hunting in the Thousand Islands. It’s rigged for both trolling and deep jigging.
Intrigued, I’ve been talking and texting on-and-off with the legend, typically during odd hours, given he’s up at 3 a.m. every day prepping and out on the water not long after until supper time. While Oravec can be reached on his boats, he prefers to pay 100% attention to his guide clients and their needs—just as it should be.
New York Trophy Walleye Opportunities
“I have late-fall musky clients that are respectable late-season walleye anglers on Lake Ontario on the east end of the St. Lawrence River mouth,” said veteran NY charter captain, John Oravec.
Talking high probability fall fishing locations for big walleyes, he said the area from Lake Ontario’s Henderson Harbor all the way to Chaumon and Mud Bays to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River produces the biggest fall walleyes.
“Trollers will also enter the New York/American channel near Cape Vincent and jig the reefs there, which give up some really good suspended walleye action, many of them quite large,” he said.
According to Oravec, there’s apparently a walleye migration that commences late summer with walleye movements from Lake Ontario toward river mouth areas, basically Cape Vincent/Wolfe Island and the Carleton Island zone five miles in from the lake.
“Even the bays on Lake Ontario like the west end of Wolfe provide excellent walleye trolling action. Big Sandy Bay, too,” he added.
And miles up into the St. Lawrence River can produce some big fish—typically resident walleyes that never leave the river current and structure, spending their lives entirely in the St. Lawrence River system.
“The NY state record 18-02 walleye caught near Alex Bay on the St. Lawrence River in 2018 blows my mind. I’d bet it was a resident river fish,” Oravec said.
He continues: “For those unfamiliar with the area, Alex Bay is 30 miles up from Lake Ontario and is composed of a vast complex of islands, humps, and channels. And trolling only scratches the edges of where these fish live. Just how many mega-lunkers are there and feeding is anybody’s guess, probably a lot. That 18-02 fish won’t be the last giant caught. There could be 20-pounders in the system.”
In terms of traditional walleye trolling runs, he said the bays in the east are prime territory, like Big Sandy Bay and Reeds Bay.
“The vastness and complexity of the Thousand Islands is ideal for growing giant walleyes. My mind is blown when I think of the size of walleyes that could be swimming around this area,” he continued.
“My opinion—having fished the St. Lawrence since the 1970s—is that it definitely harbors record-breaking walleyes. I can’t speak intelligently to the science behind their change in diet with the arrival of the invasive round goby, but I do know they have more than plenty to eat all year long.
“As NY waters gain in walleye fishing popularity, my guess is you’ll see it turn up more monster fish,” he said. “One of my mentors was an old Canadian fishing guide long-since-passed who once told me that he had two 20-plus-pound walleyes in his spring nets. And that was 30 years ago, so who knows?”
“One of the best tactics for boating giant muskies out here is trolling really deep. The entire frontier has changed. We now have zebra mussels, round gobies, and perch are exploding. So you’ve got big muskies living down to depths of 80 feet,” he said.
“I have a traditional trolling program with a couple secret twists. Lake Ontario is a big frontier, and with rising walleye populations in open water, you’re seeing giant muskies being caught all the way from the river mouth on the Bay of Quinte to the northwest to Henderson Harbor in the southwest,” he said. “And deeper trolling and jigging inside the river and Thousand Islands produces monsters, too. The options are nearly endless out here.”
“When conditions are right, I find both big pike and muskies tight to the humps and rock ledges in the large bays and fish ‘em with big rubber,” he continued. “I believe the two main big muskie ‘frontiers’ are the deeper river structures where big fish feed on perch, bass, and walleye and the smaller island groups downriver of Clayton and Alex Bay.
“The next big fishery is going to be the open-water reefs and offshore islands of eastern Lake Ontario where gypsy ‘lunge just wander and feed on lake walleyes that suspend from late summer through fall. Planer board tactics will turn up big muskies along these areas and you’ll also catch the occasional giant walleye on the same rigs.
“St. Lawrence River muskies have been studied and tracked and shown to migrate great distances,” he continued. “The big muskies from Lake Ontario often enter the St. Lawrence River in the fall and start setting up near spring spawning bays. ‘Local’ big-river muskies move around the major islands like Wolfe, Grindstone, and Grenadine Hill. You can almost get lost in the maze of forage and fish everywhere.
“I believe the muskies’ fall roaming instinct and vicinity to forage is what exposes the old, trophy adult fish to angling pressure. But there’s a great deal of unfished structure, too, that provides a haven for them to become old and huge!”
Want to Set Your Next Personal Best?
Lake Ontario’s Record Book
Lake Ontario/Lower Niagara River/St. Lawrence River have produced numerous state-record fish and even some world-record catches. A look at some of the NYS records that have been caught in Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River/Lower Niagara River.
You can reach Captain John Oravec via his website: captjohnoravec.com, his cell at (585) 590-2045, and e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.