Now for something completely different…or not

20 07 2013
Lake Ontario - Luke Tiller

Lake Ontario – Luke Tiller

So with my time running out at Braddock Bay I finally got around to doing some real fishing out on Lake Ontario. I had been promising our neighbor Ron that I would try to make it out with him a number of times and yet we’d only once really found time to hang out on his deck and put a couple of lines in. When I woke up I actually wasn’t feeling 100% but I had had to bail a couple of times on doing some fishing before and didn’t want to be flaky again. When Ron said we were going to head out on a friends boat and try for some Salmon instead of messing around on his dock I was excited but also a little nervous that I might not be holding onto my breakfast.

When we got out on the lake however I was relieved to see that it was pretty much flat as a pancake and shrouded in clouds, with just a little breaking sun it made for some great photography. It was something of a surprise to me that we were heading out on the lake but thanks to Ron, local charter captain Terry Dingee had let us come join him whilst he marked a few Salmon for some forthcoming charters (I hope any terms I am using are correct here – birding not fishing is my area of expertise). To be honest I wasn’t expecting us to run into any fish as it was early in the season and the generally cool water wasn’t concentrating our quarry.

Still it was fun to be sat out early morning on a boat enjoying the scenery as well as getting to talk to Captain Terry Dingee about Salmon fishing on the lake. As a birder I love to talk to people who have a similarly passionate interest in something, especially if it involves nature. It soon became obvious that Terry both knew and loved his fish but also had a intimate knowledge of the lake itself.

Ron Logory and Terry Dingee - Luke Tiller

Ron Logory and Terry Dingee – Luke Tiller

Now you’ll have to excuse any technical errors here (as I said, I’m not a fishing expert) but we essentially were trolling using downriggers, dipsy divers and spoons. As well as Ron’s local expertise, his expertise on how exactly to present the bait, which baits to use and where to try there were an incredible number of fantastic and expensive electronic bells and whistles on the boat to help us locate fish and measure water temperature amongst a myriad of other things.

The King or Chinook Salmon  that we were looking for are native to the Pacific and are stocked in the lake. For me fishing is really all about relaxation, even more so than birding, it’s a way to just be somewhere pretty and relaxing and turn your mind off for a while. Plus you can bird while you do it – note my Swaros in the pics. I wasn’t really expecting for us to hit any fish so was really just enjoying being out on the boat and taking in the atmosphere and good company, so when the first fish hit the bait it was pretty exhilarating. Fishing with a downrigger a bite is detected when the taught rod and line suddenly springs back as line breaks free from the rig and starts to roll off of the reel.  As I was just the guest on the boat I didn’t realize that I was going to be first up on the rod once we had a bite, but I didn’t take much convincing to give it a try. With Terry and Ron providing expert guidance on the technique required to fight the salmon I was soon well into the fight. My only experience like this thus far was movies or TV. Anyway nothing had quite prepared me for how tiring hauling in a few hundred feet of line might be with a strong fish on the end of the line. The general technique is to pull up the rod into a vertical position and then lower it to the horizontal, all the while trying to reel as quickly as possible in order to gain line. The first fish was very nice, hardly a monster, but I think I was exercising muscles that I hadn’t given a workout in a good number of years.

King Salmon - Luke Tiller

King Salmon – Luke Tiller

After what felt like ages, the fish broke the surface and I could see the tail out back behind the boat. Now I at least  had an idea of how far I had to reel the fish in. I guess it was probably just another few minutes and the fish was right out the back of the boat, though the fight was grueling enough that it felt much longer. Having fished before I knew that the old saying: ‘there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’ held true and that the netting is often one of the parts most fraught with danger. With some clear directions from Terry though we soon had the fish in the net and swiftly it was on board.

Personally this was the biggest fish I have ever caught and in fact at about 14lbs was about 6 times bigger than anything I have ever landed before. Before I have always caught and released fish, but this guy was destined for the fridge freezer. I have to say that there was a little tinge of sadness as he met his maker, I kind of perhaps momentarily had a wish to send him back of into the wild blue yonder with a pat on the back as a reward for a noble fight, however the fact that Ron was going to put him to good use felt equally gratifying. Unless you are a vegetarian you can’t really get moralistic about taking your meat straight from the wild.

King Salmon - Luke Tiller

King Salmon – Luke Tiller

We only had a couple of hours on the lake thanks to my busy schedule that day and I imagined that the first fish was probably going to be it for the day. However much to my surprise as we took another run, the rod pinged again and we were into another fish. Now the description of screaming reels feels like something of a cliche but that is literally what happened as the second fish of the day bit. As the fish hit it started to run and the line was disappearing off the reel at a very rapid rate and Terry’s expert experience already had him pegging this one as a good one. Thanks to all the gizmos on the downrigger and reel we could tell that the salmons first run had eaten up about the length of a football field – pretty stunning.

This fish wasn’t going to be brow beaten quite the same way that the first was and it seemed to be much more reluctant to let us gain line, let alone be brought to the surface. Gaining line initially seemed pretty tough and with my muscles still aching from the first fight Ron and I took turns to tag team this fish to the boat. It was clear when it broke to the surface that this was a much more impressive fish overall. After a bicep and extensor busting battle and another nervy approach to the net the fish was again on board. It was immediately obvious that this was a much better fish, in fact it was double the size of our first. I was so exhausted by the time we got it on board I could barely hold it up for pictures. It was an incredible feeling. Again I could’t help but feel a little sorry for the fish, just because it had provided such a challenge. Still at this rate Ron was going to have a pretty stocked freezer and probably had his allotment of Salmon for the year. I guess the one good sign is that the NY DEC now consider that one meal a month of these lake caught fish is OK – it used to be that the lake was so polluted that it was advised that these fish shouldn’t be eaten at all.

King Salmon - Luke Tiller

King Salmon – Luke Tiller

It was a great way to finish off my time along Lake Ontario and one I would heartily recommend. Terry was a great captain and his enthusiasm and knowledge really added to the fun of it all. Just another reason to go to Braddock Bay – great birding, great people and great fishing – the good life! If you want to contact Terry about charters you can contact On-Terry-Oh! Charters at onterryoh@yahoo.com He’s old school and busy enough that he relies solely on word of mouth – so I’m happy to be part of that. Thanks to Terry and Ron Logory for a great start to my last day at Braddock Bay.

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