Spring Brown Trout: a Lake Ontario Staple

Chris Kenyon

Spring Brown Trout: a Lake Ontario Staple

Picture the southern shores of Lake Ontario during early spring:  cold northeast wind dominating the weather patterns, late winter lake effect snow, thirty seven degree water spraying in your face, mini ice bergs still floating around the lake. Yes indeed, great stuff for seals and Eskimos. However, it’s also great stuff for anglers!

Spring brown trout fishing occurs along the entire shoreline of Lake Ontario, but the action is a tad more intense from Fair Haven west to the Genesee River. Shallower water, conducive to this section of Lake Ontario, warms earlier. Fish prefer the warmer water--trout and alewives anyway. Warmer water holds more nutrients for the bait fish. Bait fish eat the nutrients and browns eat the bait fish.

This region has some nice flowing streams which pump warmer water into the lake. The bays in Wayne and one in Cayuga County also contribute to that warm water influx. These embayments have a fairly steady outlet flow, and when that warmer water drains into the lake, bait fish school to the higher temperature.  Following the bait is the hungry brown.

The bluffs lining the perimeter of this region create mud lines. This phenomenon is when the mud erosion colors the water a murky brown. This “stained water” is a great hiding place for skittish shallow water browns. They like to remain in seclusion, especially from anglers. That’s a brief synopsis where the browns are located. Now how do you catch them?

Fishing close to shore during the spring months is how you put browns in the box. Planer boards are used to accomplish this presentation. Originally used on the Pacific coast, the boards achieve two purposes for Great Lakes anglers. They put your lure in close to shore where prop driven boats can’t safely troll and they keep your presentation away from the noise and visibility of your vessel. The boards can actually maneuver a stickbait into water two feet deep or less. 

There are no perfect lures that attract browns. Many local anglers choose stickbaits because they are fishing close to shore. Brand names vary; Yo-zuri, Rapala, Thunderstiks, Bombers, and AC Shiners seem to be the choices used. Sometimes spoons will be running off the planer boards; however, they tend to snag in a shallow water situation.

Brown trout have the reputation for "spitting hooks," so a heavy- handed method of fighting this fish is not the way to go. Keeping a tight line is imperative; but if you yank the fish too hard, you'll not be cleaning brown trout for supper.

Charter Captain Dane Brown has been plying Lake Ontario’s water for over 35 years and during that time has seen little change in the technique for bringing brown trout to the boat. “Salmon fishing has changed and evolved, not browns.” he said. “Targeting salmon started with spoons, then cut bait, and now flasher flies. Fishing for browns has remained the same. We are still fishing with stickbaits looking for the higher

temperatures close to shore. Lure choice has always been to copy the bait.” Brown said his only change for fishing spring browns has been the use of Fluorocarbon for leaders.
It’s still all about water temperature. Fish will be holding in the warmest water. Fishing an area with a temperature variation of just one degree might produce a trophy. Water clarity should also be a part of your game plan. In recent years the lake has become very clear with visibility close to 25 feet. The fish are easily spooked so it is necessary to run your bait between 80 and 100 feet behind your boat. 

If you want to find browns look for the mud lines. This phenomenon is stained water created by erosion from high water or heavy rainfall. When you fish the line, you should zigzag in and out. Don’t follow the line down the lake.

You will receive more strikes if you cross in and out of the mud line. However, Dane Brown’s advice for fishing the mud is to stay away from the real dirty water. “The trout will not be in the dense stained water,” he said. “If it’s too thick they can’t breathe, so they won’t be there. That’s the time to fish the line between the heavy and clear water.”
Spring brown trout fishing has an excellent reputation for action-packed angling. “Some guys love the fast action of brown trout fishing,” Brown said. Other clients don’t mind waiting five hours for a trophy salmon. Spring brown trout fishing is a very exhilarating fishing experience.”

Last year a few of us were fishing on charter boats trolling the mouth of Maxwell Creek in Wayne County. As soon as the water temperatures changed a few degrees, the trout slammed our presentations. You could actually count down the seconds before the frenzy began. The conversation on the boat was--“The outside Thunderstik is back 100 feet. It should be passing through the temperature break right about now….bam... Fish on… Everyone grab a rod!”

That’s how the action usually is if you’re fishing for brown trout on Lake Ontario during the spring season.

Chris Kenyon is an outdoor columnist for the Sodus Record-Sun and the Finger Lakes Times and freelances for several publications.  He is a member of NYSOWA and AGLOW.  He is also the Outdoor Recreational Coordinator for Wayne County Tourism.

For more information contact:

Captain Dane Brown
Get-a-Way Charters

Wayne County Tourism
(800) 527-6510

Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotional Council

Cayuga County Tourism
(800) 499-9615

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