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Tangle with Lake Ontario Beasts: Walleyes and Pike

Tangle with Lake Ontario Beasts: Walleyes and Pike

Fishing and computing; what’s the common thread? Inputs and outputs.

For Lake Ontario’s walleye and northern pike fishing, what nature puts into the lake greatly impacts what anglers take out of the lake.

“I think it’s the nutrients pumping out of the bays and tributaries that attract the baitfish,” said Capt. Larry Hammond, of Rochester, N.Y. “Wherever the baitfish are, that’s where the predators will be.

“The water warms up faster in those shallows and around those tributaries than anywhere else on the lake. That draws the baitfish in there and, in turn, gets the walleyes and the northerns in there.”

lake ontario walleye hammond
Walleyes are abundant and sizable in Lake Ontario, Capt. Hammond knows where to find them. Photo courtesy of Eric Wlazlak.

Marking his 8th charter season, Hammond has fished the lake for over 40 years. Running a 10-meter Trojan International out of Rochester’s Shumway Marina, Hammond said his primary fishing area exemplifies the water input principle.

“In the area I fish, we have what we call The Rochester Basin; we have two bays, three creeks and the Genesee River flowing into one big area,” he said. “It provides deep water close by with the warm water and tributaries for spawning grounds (for multiple species).

“There are ecosystems around every corner. That’s the cool thing about our lake.”

The Right Neighborhoods

Specializing in trout and salmon, Hammond said his walleye fishing has been a welcome bonus. You can’t tell a fish not to eat, and a few bycatch moments clued him in on another Lake Ontario option.

“I started catching them by accident while trolling for the brown trout; they’re kinda roommates with the browns,” he said. “The best way to target them is in low-light conditions, so we look for stained water.


“That’s the key for anyone looking to catch walleyes—to target areas around the mouths of the different bays and tributaries for colored water. Usually, there’s bait hiding in that colored water and that’s where the walleyes are going to be.”

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Lake Ontario is famous for a lot of species and walleyes are certainly no exception. Photo courtesy of Eric Wlazlak.

He favors early May in the lake and then the bays and rivers once spring warms those inland waters into the mid 50s. Throughout the year, his preferred depth range is 5 to 40 feet.

“Walleye relate to any structure, like rock piles and the water intake pipes all across the lake on the U.S. and Canadian side,” he said. “If you use Navionics (mapping), you can find those pipes; usually in the 40- to 50-foot range. There are big walleyes on those things all year long.”

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For his pike efforts, Hammond typically fishes closer to the outlets into the main lake. Here, water dynamics can ignite fireworks.

“When we get a hard northeast wind, Lake Ontario flips and cold water pushes in on the shore,” he said. “Any bait schools that the northerns are on will run into those outlets because there’s a mix of warm water and cold water.

“Your best shot at a 20-pound northern is when the lake flips. With that warm water falling out of those bays and tributaries, they’ll be right there and it’s money.”

Trolling Tactics

Noting that Lake Ontario’s burgeoning baitfish population has bolstered walleye and pike numbers, Hammond takes a match-the-hatch approach to targeting these feisty predators. His top lures are the Berkley Flicker Minnow and the Berkley Flicker Shad—black/gold for overcast days and white for stained water.

For northern pike, he uses 10- to 12-pound Berkley Trilene XL monofilament main line, with 14-pound Berkley Fireline leader. That superline, Hammond said, not only adds strength, but the microfused Dyneema fibers often ensnare the pike’s teeth.

A 10-pound Suffix monofilament main line and an 8- to 10-pound fluorocarbon leader does the trick for walleye. For both fish, he typically runs between 1.5 and 2.7 mph and sets his baits 75 feet back.

“I use side planers to spread out the baits,” he said. “Getting the baits away from the boat is critical because we have such clear water.”

He’ll run six lines for walleye, but he finds four is better when trolling shallower, weedy waters for northern pike. To combat floating leaves, Hammond rigs a small plastic bead several feet above his bait.

“I’ll almost always start in front of a bay or a tributary and I’ll look of loons and any other diving birds,” he said. “They’ll give away the bait better than anything.

“Also, water color is important. I want to find pea green water. It could be the size of a football field or a half mile, but there will always be a patch of green water somewhere and the bait will be there and the predators will follow.”

Keepin’ It Fun For All

Hammond said a good day of fishing will yield 15 to 20 strikes. While he rates walleye and pike high on the table fare scale, he’s not a fan of cleaning the latter, due to the difficult bone structure. Nevertheless, this species’ aggressive nature justifies the angling effort.

lake Ontario pike are big
The norther pike population in Lake Ontario is robust to say the least. They can attain remarkable trophy quality, and they’re willing to eat. Photo courtesy of Larry Hammond

“The northern is my favorite strike of all,” he said. “They’re a violent and powerful fish. With a walleye, the rod will just load up.”

When he’s not running charters, Hammond spends his weekdays in the classroom. A sixth-grade teacher at Rochester’s Andrew J. Townson School No. 39, he relates well to kids and puts a lot of effort into making his boat a place of learning an enjoyment.

Got a question on lake ecology? Capt. Larry’s happy to explain the when, where and why of Lake Ontario fishing. Want to learn how he sets up his trolling spread? Lean in and he’ll be happy to share the details. (Anglers young and old are welcome in the educational conversations.)

kids fishing
There are so many opportunities on Lake Ontario, it’s seemingly endless. Fun is to be had by all—make some time to visit! Photo by Larry Hammond.

And then there’s the funny photos.

“When a kid catches a fish, I have stick-on mustaches, so I put on on the kid and take pictures for (social media),” he said. “I also have a prize box for trivia contests during trips.

“We love taking kids fishing because they’re the future of our sport.”

Captain Larry Hammond

Bullseye Charter

(585) 851-6383

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