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September 19, 2018

Browns Abound


By Spider Rybaak

Captain Lee holding Dave Rath’s first fish of the day.

May’s warmth in late February, winter winds in mid-April, robins and daffodils in early March…It’s enough to make self-respecting anglers wanna hang up their rods until June. Fortunately, Lake “O” is a huge pond and its fish don’t pay much attention to today’s screwy weather patterns. And its bread-and-butter  fishery, brown trout, proves it.

This year, the pack ice that normally encircles the big pond all winter long like a pie crust was gone in February. The unseasonably warm temperatures lured anglers to the lake’s banks and piers like Northern nightcrawlers draw robins from the South. The first-of-March bite was great, with more guys catching huge browns from the bank earlier than anyone can remember.

Gutsy charter boat operations like Good Times Sportfishing of Lake Ontario , LLC (607) 768-9121; www.goodtimessportfishing. net ) embraced the propitious weather as a rare opportunity to extend their fishing season by a couple weeks and launched their boats early. Captains Nick Lee and George Haskins invited me to go with them on April 4, this year’s maiden voyage.

As luck would have it, the weather reverted to more normal patterns that morning and when I left the house at 5:30 a.m., stiff northwesterlies greeted me at the door. I went back inside to get my Spey casting gear, half expecting to be fishing the Salmon River at 6:30 a.m. instead.

The 40 years of collective fishing experience the captains packed under their belts, combined with their 30’ long Sportcraft Express with a 10 –foot beam, gave them all the confidence they needed to cast off. I was skeptical but when I came aboard and felt how solid the craft was, I figured: hey, this might work.

We spent the first half-hour or so trolling around the mouth of the Salmon River looking for water with a little color. Slightly muddy water came into view south of the “Sticks” (lights on the jetty at the mouth of the Salmon River).  We ran through it half-heartedly because this color was caused by waves stirring up the sand on the beach—productive, on occasion, but not what we were looking for.

“We didn’t get much run-off this year,” explained Capt. Lee, a local science teacher. “So the insects, worms and other delights normally pumped into the lake this time of year are in short supply. But the unseasonably warm weather has compensated by causing insects to hatch and plankton to bloom early. Bait converges on these events and the browns are sure to be there, too, “ he continued.

“Without the normal run-off, we don’t have the numerous schools of browns that hang out in the shallows most years,” added Captain Haskins.  “But the schools we do locate are bigger and we catch 90% of our fish in 10% of the water.”

We changed course to a northern heading, hoping to find some pea-green water (the color of plankton) in the Salmon River’s plume. Before we got to the “Crab Legs” (secret charter captain’s code for a local landmark) less than a mile north of the river, a nice brown hit one of the Michigan Stingers we were flatlining off planer boards.

Dave Rath, a former Oswego County legislator, and member of the County’s Tourism Advisory Council, was on board. He expected me to take the first fish. Well, I thought he should be first. We didn’t come to blows, but by the time we hashed it out and he lifted the rod, the fish was off.

And that was all right because it only took about five minutes for another fish to hit, a nice five-pounder; and five minutes later, another hits…then another. The bite was steady for the next ¼-mile or so.

When we turned the boat to run back down, all hell breaks loose. We had doubles a couple times; and three on once. While several were small, running one to two pounds, the vast majority (I stopped counting after 15) were five pounds and a couple tipped the scales at 10 or better.

The browns should stay in the shallows into next month when warm temperatures will force them deeper.

So get out there at you’re earliest chance and catch browns so close to shore, you can skip a stone from the boat to the sand dunes.

Dave Rath fighting a brown while Captain Nick Lee tries unhooking one just landed.

Captains George Haskins (left) and Nick Lee holding a couple 10-pounders, the day’s best.

The good Captain’s performs the day’s final service.

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