A day on the water with Capt. John Oravec
Like the saying goes, what goes around comes around. As I stepped into the Lund boat of Capt. John Oravec of Lyndonville (aptly named the Johnny O) during a recent fishing trip, he immediately informed me that he had taken my father (Bill Hilts, Sr.) out fishing some 45 years earlier during a writer outing on Canandaigua Lake, when he first started chartering.
“We’ve come full circle and I’m glad you are finally coming out to fish with me,” said Oravec, a charter skipper who has been taking people out on the water for four and a half decades. “I started working in the medical industry early on and found out that I could not work inside. I had to be outside.” A fishing legend was born.
Oravec started fishing in the Finger Lakes when his family moved to Rochester from Ohio. His father (who worked for Xerox) was a big influence, even though he did not fish. It was not long before John was one of the young guns that was breaking on the fishing scene, and in short order he found consistent ways to catch fish. A weekly “catch board” was erected by Clark’s Boat Livery in Woodville on Canandaigua Lake and the Oravec name slowly climbed the ranks filled with names of the old timer fishing clique.
Eventually he became recognized by the local “trout men” in the Finger Lakes Region as an up and comer. Oravec was soon positioned consistently at the top. After a while, one of the locals finally came up to him and said “John, I would say that you are finally a ‘trout man.’” The name of his Lake Ontario trout and salmon boat was born – Troutman.
Oravec grew up with the Lake Ontario salmon and trout fishery, from the 1970s through today and he has seen tremendous changes through the years. It did not take long for him to earn a solid reputation for Great Lakes fishing, too, and he contributed numerous articles to In-Fisherman magazine, one of the top angling publications in the country.
“In the early 1980s, an advertising client sent Al and the late Ron Lindner to me,” reflected Oravec. “We ended up doing an April Coho salmon TV show with cutting-edge planer board tactics that turned into an article for In-Fisherman, a magazine started by the Lindner’s. Our relationship spanned 30 years and I became the Great Lakes go-to guy for dozens of tactical articles on salmon and trout fishing, as well as the point person for many Great Lakes TV fishing shows.”
Oravec was a fishing pioneer, Pro-Staffing for many companies for downriggers, rods, reels, and other water-breaking equipment through the years. He was one of the first to use a large trolling vessel that would change ports with the seasonal migration of the fish. He would also get his clients involved with the fishing trips, giving them on-water experience to learn how to do things on their own – whether they had their own boat or fished with someone else. It was time on the water that benefitted everyone. It was all about education.
“I never forgot how it felt and how frustrating it was to have other captains and fishermen keep their information close to the vest for current knowledge on the water,” remembered Oravec. “I have always made it known that you can always come down to my dock and talk tactics. I will share fishing locations. If you have equipment issues, even need spare parts, I will do my best to assist. It’s the bomb when someone comes up to me and says they read one of my In Fisherman articles and used a particular set-up or tactic to catch their biggest fish.” Again, you could say what goes around comes around.
“One of the biggest things I notice today is the fact we are losing many of our long-standing old-time captains,” says Oravec. “It’s sad to see them go. And we are not replacing them with new and younger captains at the same rate.”
“It’s not easy getting into this business,” he says. “I would say that it’s important to keep clean and don’t over-extend yourself. Make sure you get plenty of sleep and don’t burn the candle at both ends.”
He also shared some other insights into the tactical approach to fishing, too. Do not be afraid to slow your program down and figure out what the fish want. Study the older programs for lure and speed and incorporate them into your wheelhouse when the need arises to make you a more-consistent producer on the water.
Oravec grew up fishing spoons and bigger is not always better. “I like running smaller spoons from time to time like the Northern King C-5 spoons. Back in the day, I used to run a lot of Sutton or EvilEye spoons. They work, it is just figuring out how to run them properly at the right time of year under the right conditions. Fishing schools of fish is different than when fish are scattered.”
For the lake, Oravec runs a 10 Meter Trojan (Troutman) for taking care of customers comfortably. His base of operation is Point Breeze and the Oak Orchard River in Orleans County, but he will move his boat to fish tournaments or if a bite is hot in a particular area.
For our recent trip, arranged by Wade and Vic Rowcliffe from the Rochester area, Oravec would be focusing on the Niagara River. He runs the river in the winter and early spring for a mixed-bag target of trout, salmon, bass, and walleye until he switches over to his lake boat.
Paying close attention to his electronics, he pointed out that the trout and salmon were hanging around a certain ledge in 30 to 40 feet of water. “We’ll start in 50 to 60 feet of water with our minnows and shiners on 3-way set-ups,” he said. “Let your sinker drop quickly until it hits bottom and then be ready. This is a good brown trout spot.”
It was not long before each of us caught a brown trout.
“There are some salmon swimming around in here, too,” said Oravec. The next drift I had a salmon on for at least 5 minutes, but the line was cut by something sharp – a gill place or a set of teeth in the mouth of the king. Nothing fights like a king and there was no question what it was. Oravec was right.
We also caught bass and lake trout as he methodically worked the area in front of the green buoy marker, and area referred to by locals as “the green can.”
Oravec is a student of fishing. He pays attention to detail. He is always learning. At the same time, he is sharing his knowledge and expertise with others to make them better anglers. That is why the Rowcliffe brothers were out with Oravec on this day, extending me a last-minute invite.
“I always have fun with the Troutman, and I always learn something new every time I am out with him,” says Wade Rowcliffe. “We try and book at least one trip a year with him to help us when we fish out of our own boat.”
Oravec is also open to new ideas, too, especially with some of the new charter captains arriving on the scene. “Just because you are older doesn’t mean that new ideas won’t work,” says Oravec. “Pay attention to what some of the new guys are doing and see whether different tactics will work for you. It might even be someone who you have helped along the way.”
Yes, what goes around comes around. If you would like to find out more information about Oravec, call him at 585-590-2045 or visit www.captjohnoravec.com.