By Spider Rybaak
OSWEGO, NY – Released late this spring, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s study, “Lake Ontario Fishing Boat Survey: Preliminary Summary for April through May, 1985-2012,” showed the open water salmon and trout fishery in the tiniest Great Lake was on a roll.
Still, even the rosiest prognosticators weren’t prepared for what the tiniest Great Lake has been dishing out lately; causing some to predict this year will be one for the record books.
Started in 1985, the preliminary (April 15 – May) summary’s primary mission is to conduct “counts and interviews of fishing boats” and use the data–ranging from stuff like fishing effort, trout and salmon catch, harvest, and fishing quality–to manage Lake Ontario’s multi-million dollar salmonid fishery. About as boring as any official report, it tests the waters, so to speak, and releases the early season statistics to the public so people with a stake in the fishery can get a feel for the state of their investment and plan accordingly.
This year’s study shows everything’s up from a year ago. Fishing effort increased by 7.3 percent; salmonid catch and harvest were up 9.3 percent and 8 percent respectively; and fishing quality (5.3 fish per boat trip) and harvest (2.4 fish per boat trip) reached their highest averages in the survey’s 28-year history.
The survey contains loads of other, more specific statistics like the coho salmon “catch rate was comparable to recent years but was 2.8 times higher than the 1985-2005 average; and “During April 15-April 30, brown trout catch rate was the highest observed (4.5 caught per boat trip) and 2.8 times higher than the 1985-2011 average.” And best of all, the Chinook salmon harvest rate of 0.7 fish per boat was among the highest observed in the 28-year data series; and “During April 15-30 anglers caught an average of 1.6 Chinook salmon per boat trip, the highest rate on record and 10 times greater than the 1985-2011 average for the same time period.”
Unfortunately, the study didn’t delve into the improvement in the overall size of the beasts. For that we have to look at the LOC spring derby results. The leaderboard carries 20 fish weighing over 25 pounds, including a monster caught on May 5 that crushed the scale to an unbelievable 31.06 pounds. Oh sure, kings get a lot bigger than that– in late August and September, just before spawning…But in May!!!???
Things just keep getting better. Troy Creasy, operator of Oswego’s High Adventure Sportfishing (www.highadventurefishing.com; 315-243-2389), netted a 36.1-pound king on July 28, in Oswego County’s territorial waters. “This salmon is one of the largest documented fish in the eastern basin this season but expect to see many more before the year is out,” said Creasy. “We have a good year-class of fish and we should see some extraordinary fish in August and September.”
Considering salmon get an instinctual order to feed like they’re on steroids the last few weeks of their lives in order to fatten up before their spawning ordeal (upon entering their natal stream, they stop feeding and need strong reserves to carry them to the mating game), a fish the size of Creasy’s indicates there’s gonna be some record breakers swimming out there soon, maybe even a 50-pounder.
“I can’t wait to see what the next two months will bring,” said Captain Dick of Oswego’s Stanton Charter Service (www.stantoncharters.com; 315-685-0651). “At the end of summer, we have waves of mature salmon sweeping into the area and the females are especially heavy.”
“What we face is the perfect storm in salmon fishing,” continued Stanton. “The fish are in spawning mode: strong, excited and aggressive. They’ll literally strike anything that gets in their way.”
“Do the math,” he challenged. “A great year class of fish, each individual vying to be the biggest kid on the block. It’s the perfect combination for my favorite phrase: fish on!”
For Oswego County fishing conditions and visitor information, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com, or call 800-248-4FUN.