Lake Ontario Sportfish and Seasons

Brown Trout: Our Spring Staple

April, May, June

With approximately 449,000 Brown trout stocked into Lake Ontario yearly, this sportfish ranks third in the NYSDEC Lake Ontario stocking program.  The size of the Brown trout in Lake Ontario can range in size from a few pounds to as much as fish in the upper teens to 20 pounds.  Most people will consider anything over 10 pounds a trophy brown trout compared to their local stream fishing.  The New York State record is 33 pounds 2 ounces and is from Lake Ontario in Oswego County.

I start my season on Lake Ontario in April focusing on Brown trout along the shoreline in shallow water.  During this time, the majority of the water in Lake Ontario is colder than what the Brown trout prefer and it is key to focus on the warmer outflows from any form of tributary which will draw and concentrate brown trout.  Some of these features along Lake Ontario could include major rivers such as the Oswego River, smaller streams and creeks, ditches, sewer treatment plant outlets, and power plant cooling water outlets.

During this time on Lake Ontario, my main presentation is long lines off my planer board setup. Depending on water conditions, I will run my lures 100 to 140 feet out and off to the side of the boat from the planer releases.  Once I start fishing 10 to 15 foot depth on Lake Ontario, I will add a couple downriggers to the spread with lures back 60 feet or so and 5 to 10 feet down.  As Lake Ontario continues to warm through May and June, we begin fishing in over 15 feet of water, I will add dipsies and some lead core or short copper rigs.

Steelhead/Rainbow Trout: The Acrobat

May, June, July

With approximately 458,000 Steelhead stocked into Lake Ontario yearly, this sportfish ranks third in the NYSDEC Lake Ontario stocking program.  The size of the Steelhead in Lake Ontario can range from a few pounds to trophy fish weighing in the mid to upper teens.  Most people will consider anything over 10 pounds a trophy Steelhead compared to Rainbow trout in their local streams.  The New York State Lake Ontario record is 31 pounds 3 ounces.

We begin catching Steelhead on Lake Ontario in May as they return to the Lake Ontario from spawning in the tributaries.  Once they return to the lake in May, Steelhead can be caught using the same methods as our Brown trout fishing using flatlines on the planer boards.  Once the surface water of Lake Ontario begins to warm and thermal breaks begin forming offshore in June, we can still target Steelhead on the surface though June.  During July, we often encounter Steelhead when fishing for salmon over deeper water, offshore in Lake Ontario.  Steelhead are often the most acrobatic fish of the sportfish we target on Lake Ontario.

Chinook Salmon: The King

July, August, September

With approximately 1.76 million Chinook salmon stocked into Lake Ontario yearly, this sportfish ranks as the Premier fish in the NYSDEC Lake Ontario stocking program.  The size of mature Chinook/King Salmon in Lake Ontario can range in weight from an average in the mid-20’s to trophy fish weighing in the low to mid-30’s.  The King salmon is probably the most important species in Lake Ontario tourism and the sportfishing industry.  The King salmon draw anglers to Lake Ontario and Lake Ontario tributaries from many neighboring States.  The New York State Lake Ontario Chinook salmon record is 47 pounds 13 ounces and is from the Salmon River in Oswego County.

Although Kings can be encountered at any point in our Lake Ontario season, we begin targeting them in the beginning of July.  During July, we will be fishing offshore on Lake Ontario and chasing Kings over deep water.  Our general techniques include downriggers, wire dipsies, and copper rods.  I focus on finding the preferred temperature range of the fish based on the location of the thermocline and the location of bait.  On any given day, we could be as close as a mile or two from Port in 100 feet of water to 7 or more miles out on Lake Ontario over 600+ feet of water.

In August, as the fish get closer to spawning, they begin to stage closer to shore.  This is in preparation for their spawning run up the Lake Ontario tributaries.  We will generally be fishing within a few miles of Port in Lake Ontario depths ranging from 300 feet to as shallow as 80 feet of water.  Fishing techniques remain the same as our deepwater fishing using the downriggers, dipsies, and copper lines.

During September, the staging fish are even closer on Lake Ontario and most of our fishing will be from 150 feet of water to the Harbor as the mature Kings begin to enter the Oswego River for their spawning run.

Coho Salmon

April, July, August, September

With approximately 231,000 Coho salmon stocked into Lake Ontario yearly, this sportfish ranks fifth in the NYSDEC Lake Ontario stocking program.  The size of mature Coho Salmon in Lake Ontario can range in weight from the mid-teens to 20 pounds and trophy fish weighing in the low to mid-20’s.  Although the Coho salmon is an important species in Lake Ontario tourism and the sportfishing industry, most anglers catch them in the tributaries during their spawning runs.  The New York State Lake Ontario Coho salmon record is 33 pounds 7 ounces and is from Lake Ontario from the Port of Oswego.

Although Coho’s can be encountered at any point in our Lake Ontario season, we usually catch some while Brown Trout fishing in April and early May and then again during our summer salmon fishing.  During July, we will catch Coho’s while fishing offshore on Lake Ontario when we are chasing Kings over deep water.  Again, our techniques generally include downriggers, wire dipsies, and copper rods.  I focus on finding the preferred temperature range of the fish based on the location of the thermocline and the location of bait.  On any given day, we could be as close as a mile or two from Port in 100 feet of water to 7 or more miles out on Lake Ontario over 600+ feet of water.

Since the Coho follow the same general staging pattern, in August the fish are getting closer to spawning, they begin to stage closer to shore like the Kings.  This is in preparation for their spawning run up the Lake Ontario tributaries.  They will generally be found within a few miles of Port in Lake Ontario depths ranging from 300 feet to as shallow as 80 feet of water.  Fishing techniques remain the same as our deepwater fishing using the downriggers, dipsies, and copper lines.

During September, the staging fish are even closer on Lake Ontario and most of our fishing will be from 150 feet of water to the Harbor as the mature Coho begin to enter the Oswego River for their spawning run.

Atlantic Salmon

Any Time As A Pleasant Surprise!

As the indigenous salmon in Lake Ontario, the Atlantic salmon remains a prized trophy with just a few caught each year. The NYSDEC Lake Ontario stocking program only releases 144,000 Atlantics to Lake Ontario yearly.  Although the number of Atlantics caught each year is very low, they are making a slow recovery.  The New York State Atlantic salmon record is 24 pounds 15 ounces and is from Lake Ontario.

Since Atlantic salmon are such a low percentage catch on Lake Ontario, it is not feasible to target them on our Lake Ontario charters.  We do encounter them randomly during our normal fishing for other Lake Ontario sportfish.  During the Spring Brown trout fishing we usually catch some smaller Atlantics but our larger fish are caught while salmon fishing offshore on Lake Ontario.

Lake Trout

April, May, June

Another Lake Ontario native, the Lake trout ranks as second in the Lake Ontario stocking program.  The NYSDEC works in cooperation with the USGS releases 975,000 Lake trout to Lake Ontario yearly.  Lake trout can grow to a much older age then the other salmon and trout.  This allows them to reach a slightly larger size than the Brown trout or Steelhead.  In general, I catch Lake trout on my Lake Ontario charters from 7 to 14 pounds with some fish larger pushing 20 pounds.  The New York State Lake trout record is 41 pounds 8 ounces.

On my Lake Ontario charters, I normally catch Lake trout while Brown trout fishing in the early season in April and May.  Once the Lake Ontario shoreline warms into June, we can still catch Lake trout on the surface while Steelhead fishing on the temperature breaks.  We can also target them on the bottom with downriggers during June.  Once we start king salmon fishing in July, Lake trout are typically overlooked as a sportfish out of the Port of Oswego.  Lake trout certainly receive more fishing pressure when other sportfish are scarce or from Lake Ontario ports that do not encounter salmon as early as Oswego.

Lake Ontario Tributary Fishing