Lake Ontario shines for family fishing fun

It was like the planets aligned perfectly for a truly magnificent outdoor experience to come together. It started with a family rendezvous in Lockport, with my wife’s siblings coming from Oregon and Virginia to convene for a holiday weekend of fun and feasting packed around the Fourth of July. When some of the Calvert Clan decided to head to the Southern Tier to visit some old haunts in Jamestown for a day, I reached out to Capt. Bob Cinelli of Newfane to see if he might be available for a morning just to get on the water.

Cinelli got right back to me to give me the bad news – he had a trip on the day in question … but he was open the following morning. We decided to jump on the opportunity, giving Joe and Laurie Calvert of Oregon City, Ore., and Tom and Kathy Calvert of Lynchburg, Va., an outdoor adventure that they’ve never been on before – Great Lakes salmon and trout fishing. My wife, Sandy, and I tagged along to take pictures and share the experience.

Our vessel for the morning was Cinelli’s 36-foot Tiara – a quality fishing boat if there ever was one. He brought along his wife, Karen, as well as Roy Letcher of Olcott to help rig in the back of the boat. I was hoping it wasn’t going to be overkill due to the fact that June had been a marginal month for fishing. Easterly winds were creating unstable conditions in this Great Lake and we really didn’t know what to expect. Our fingers were crossed…

The day before the trip, my conscience wrestled with whether I should enter everyone in the Lake Ontario Counties Trout and Salmon Summer Derby, an event that would be going on through July 26. Time and time again I tell tales of regret about the fish that didn’t get away for anglers not entered in the derby – fish that would have cashed in had they entered the contest. When the derby hit July, the salmon leaderboard was nearly barren. Only a few fish had been weighed in to date and weekly prizes were now up for grabs; at least until July 3 when the lake started to turn on. It was a dilemma for sure. We opted to abstain from entering.

As we motored out of the port, I had a feeling about catching a big fish. So did Cinelli. “You’re not in the derby, are you?” asked the veteran captain. 

“Of course I’m in the derby, Bob,” I replied. “No one else is.”

We fired the engines up and headed out into the lake at 7 a.m. As we traveled north, it was decided that the four Calverts would draw for who would be up first at the rods. It was also established that lottery scratch offs would be up for grabs for first fish, biggest fish, most fish, biggest lake trout and biggest steelhead. Letcher and Mrs. Cinelli masterfully started rigging the rods while we set up morning snacks and Bloody Caesars or selzers – depending on preference.

Joe was the first one up as luck would have it – hitting a spoon off the 300 copper line. Twenty minutes later he had his first salmon, a 23-and-a-half-pound kind that would have put him in second place in the salmon division on the LOC Derby leaderboard. Sure, it was still early, but seeing your name on a board like that gets the adrenaline pumping. The real joy, though, was the experience … and not just Joe’s. Next up to reel a fish in was Laurie, followed by Tom and Kathy in that order. Sandy was going to be fifth, but she traded her spot for – a scratch off lottery ticket, of course! 

Laurie hauled in a lake trout; Tom out-fought a nice steelhead (that probably would have made it onto the LOC leaderboard as well); Kathy hit a medium-sized salmon. Tom hit a salmon, too, which gave him another scratch off in the end for most fish. Sandy won $7 on the ticket from Tom; Tom won $2 for his win. For the morning we caught nearly a dozen fish in just four hours of fishing. The social media was on fire as they were posting catches on Facebook for family and friends. By the end of the trip, they were all talking about getting back into fishing back home, enjoying the outdoor experiences with family and friends and how lucky we are here in Western New York to be blessed with such an outstanding natural resource.

The experience wasn’t over – we needed to cook up our catch on the grill back home for dinner. After carefully taking out the bones and removing the skin, I apply some homemade blacken seasoning courtesy of my wife, who developed it for our personal taste. The recipe is as follows:

¼ Cup paprika

1 Tbsp. thyme

2 Tbsp. onion powder

2 Tbsp. garlic powder

¼ Cup brown sugar (although we use coconut sugar)

1 Tbsp. salt (we use sea salt)

1 Tbsp. pepper

1-1/2 Tbsp. Cayenne pepper (although I put 2 Tbsp. in the last batch)

1 Tbsp. oregano

2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg

1 Tbsp. cumin

I sprinkle on the spice concoction a few hours before I grill it – over charcoal, of course. Using a grilling basket to make things simple, I spray with a non-stick spray before I put the fish in (coconut spray is a favorite) and load the fish up. Depending on the thickness of the fillets, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes on each side. Don’t overcook the fish! The real test is how much of the fish is left over after cooking up the seafood. I also grilled up some Sahlen hotdogs to go with the summer surf and turf dinner special. In the end, the fish was gone; there were still two hotdogs left. 

While I regretted not getting everyone in the derby (something that Cinelli had a field day with), it proved to be an experience that everyone will remember for the rest of their lives … and quite possible rekindle a flame to spend more time outdoors and on the water. Next time, though, they will be signed up for the LOC or whatever derby is going on. I won’t take that chance again.

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