October 23, 2023
Lots of food, lots of fish; in terms of trout and salmon fisheries, Lake Ontario delivers. The easternmost of the Great Lakes, Ontario is fed by the Niagara River and forms the system’s Atlantic outlet through the St. Lawrence River.
One of the lake’s most experienced charter operators, Capt. Paul Nua runs a 31-foot Sportcraft out of Bald Eagle Marina in Kendall, N.Y. Generally fishing Lake Ontario’s Western Basin, Nua credits the strength of the fishery to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
“New York State and Canada stocks an awful lot of fish,” Nua said. “We’re not sure how many fish are native and naturally reproducing–some are. There just haven’t been enough studies for us to know that.”
Capt. Matt Yablonsky, who runs his 29-foot Blackfin at Bootleggers Cove Marina in Wilson, NY, notes that a major reason Lake Ontario’s trout and salmon grow plump is the classic predator-prey balance.
“The main forage for trout and salmon is the alewife,” Yablonsky said. “It’s a member of the herring family that came in (over 100 years ago) through the St. Lawrence Seaway. There was nothing in the lake to eat the alewives, so they started stocking the trout and salmon to eat them.
“Our fish have a lot of food to eat in Lake Ontario so our fish are well fed and good table fare.”
Where & When
Nua said his trips could range from nearshore to 16 to 18 miles into the lake. As he explained, location starts with finding the baitfish; and that starts with finding what the baitfish eat.
“There’s very little structure in the lake, so it’s finding the baitfish and trying to find the zooplankton where the baitfish will be,” Nua said. “You look for green water. Also, you can look at the satellite maps (which show zooplankton).”
Following ice-out, Nua expects primetime for brown trout in April and May, with some early salmon in the mix. He’ll focus on salmon (chinook, Atlantic, and coho) June through August. To keep things interesting, big lake trout could pop up anytime during the season, as long as water temperatures are between 46 and 48 degrees at the bottom.
Worth noting, Yablonsky finds that size varies by season. In April, he finds a mature fish weighing about 12 to 14 pounds, while that same fish in August and September will go 20 to 25.
“They feed heavily all summer long and they’ll gain 10 to 12 pounds.”
Nua’s trout and salmon fishing is all trolling and his main deal comprises herring strips on a Twinkie Rig. Essentially, a cut bait head holds the herring strip behind a string of squids or shimmering tinsel flies with a big flasher leading the way.
The standard spread comprises three downriggers, two Dipsy Divers and five copper lines–all placed relevant to water temperature and baitfish. For chinook salmon, he’ll run 2.6 to 2.8 mph, but if rainbow trout are abundant, he may kick it up to 3.2 or 3.3.
Yablonsky runs a similar program, but he mostly trolls flashers with Mylar flies and spoons.
What to Expect
In 38 years of charter fishing, Nua has racked up some impressive numbers. His highlight reel includes a 33-pound king salmon, a 22-pound 13-ounce brown trout, a 17-pound 3-ounce Atlantic salmon, a 16-pound 4-ounce rainbow trout, and a 27-pound lake trout.
“If we’re targeting salmon, 8 to 27 pounds is common,” Nua said. “I tell people to expect to catch eight to 10 fish a day. Depending on how they’re hitting, it may take 15 hits and 15 fish on to get that many to the boat.
“A lot of salmon will hit and run 600 to 900 feet of line out on their first run. They’re a phenomenal fighting fish.”
As far as table fare, Nua said it's personal preference, but the ranking typically goes: Atlantic salmon tops, then king, rainbow, and browns. Lake trout, he said grow extremely slowly, so they develop more fat, which yields a stronger flavor.
Nua and Yablonsky both provide all tackle, bait, and ice. Anglers need only bring their preferred meals and beverages–and proper clothing.
“A lot of days, it may be 40 to 50 degrees in the morning and 80 in the afternoon,” Nua said. “Early in the season, it’s going to be cold. Some mornings, we have to scrape ice off the windshield.”
Nua and Yablonsky stress the 3 fish per person daily limit–aggregate of trout and salmon species. That’s plenty for multiple meals, so bring a cooler.
“Most of our trips are limit catches,” Yablonsky said. “Once we reach our boat limit, we stop fishing and come in.”
For safety, the Captains handle the fish cleaning unless charter customers opt to take their fish home whole. Also, while Nua stresses an interactive experience for anyone from family groups to business entertainment, he and his mate do all the fish netting to keep customers clear of hooks.
“We definitely try to give customers a full experience,” Nua said. “Some groups have been coming 32 years straight. Some anglers like to be engaged; we have some who like to help set the boat (deploy baits), but some just want to fight fish and be out there with their friends."
As for those coveted fresh catch meals, Yablonsky offers this: “Our fish don’t need a lot of seasoning. My favorite is a little butter and garlic with a little Chef Paul Prudhomme Magic Salmon Seasoning.”
Captain Paul J Nua
Lake Runner Charters
Captain Matt Yablonsky
Wet Net Charters