Restoring lake trout in Lake Ontario

Bill HiltzI received a phone call on the second Friday morning of November from Capt. Frank Campbell.

“What do you have going on today?” he asked.

“Working on travel guide stuff and updating the hotline. Why? What’s up?” I asked.

“Charter cancelled and fish are snapping at Artpark. Want to take some photos?” One hour later I was meeting him at Lewiston Landing for a quick photo session. I had hoped for a nice steelhead or brown trout in the soft light of an overcast sky, but instead it took us less than five minutes to catch our first trout – a laker.

The amazing thing was we were using a bare hook, with only a single trout bead on the line free-floating in front of it. This one was too small for any dramatic type pictures so back in the water it went. On the next drift, it was Frank’s turn to hook up but we never did see what it was. After a good run, it escaped his grasp.

The next drift I hooked into my second fish, a 10-pounder. After less than a minute of some quick photos, I put my offering back on the bottom as part of a three-way rig setup. Fish on! Two fish in one drift, another 8-pound fish and a quick photo of a fish in the net. Frank, using a traditional egg sac, had yet to boat a fish. He switched over to the single egg presentation with no bait on his hook.

On the next drift, Campbell hooked into a nice 14-pound lake trout, our biggest for the day. He recounted a fish he had earlier in the week, a 40-incher that topped the scales at nearly 30 pounds – a great catch. The day before, Campbell caught a half-dozen steelhead and a brown trout, as well as so many lakers they lost count.

On our last drift for the day, a quick trip that lasted less than two hours, I hit another 10-pound forktail. It put up a great fight, dropping eggs as we released the fish back into the water. Yes, these fish were attempting to perform their spawning rituals. It was from these very waters that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documented the first-ever spawning of lake trout in a river system in New York State in the spring of 2011 – and again in this year.

Seven miles downriver on the Niagara Bar, the area near the green buoy marker just off Fort Niagara – a famous landmark in the fishing world – USFWS personnel were drifting the waters actually trying to catch lake trout. Dimitry Gorsky and his crew at FWS were catching lakers to attach a floy tag in an effort to try and determine which strain of fish was making the run up the Niagara. They had hoped to tag at least 100 fish, something they had been doing for two weeks already. Campbell helped them out with six fish earlier in the week.

Gorsky will be looking for some help from local fishermen in the future when they'll be checking for the return of these tags when they are re-caught. Of course, you don’t have to harm the fish if you do catch one. Clip the tag and record the details of the catch – where, when and the length of the fish. It's hoped that they'll be able to determine a little bit more information that will help them understand what’s happening with these important fish.

Lake trout, part of a federal restoration effort, have not had a very good time of it in recent years. Disease at the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery in Warren, Pa., shut stocking down for several years. Disease in the replacement hatcheries used for Great Lakes stockings last year resulted in no lake trout being stocked at all in 2012. They have struggled to hit their target stocking levels every year. The good news is that the Allegheny facility is back online and will be stocking fish into Lake Ontario and Lake Erie in 2013. Let’s hope it goes without a hitch.

Categories: New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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