Fishing for Lake Trout on the Niagara River

Lake Trout are an Underrated Gamefish on Lake Ontario

If a lake trout could talk, it would probably sound a lot like Rodney Dangerfield – a fish deserving of more respect. Fishing for lake trout is usually at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to angler preference, at least from the standpoint of the diehard sport fishing enthusiast on Lake Ontario. When you look at the pros and cons, there are many more ayes than nays when it comes to fishing for lake trout.

A man kneeling with a large lake trout caught on the niagara bar while fishing for lake trout.
Fishing for lake trout has become a standard on the Niagara Bar. Successful spawning of lake trout in the river was documented by the Fish & Wildlife Service.

Big Lake Trout are Fun to Catch

For the charter captain or the recreational angler, fishing for lake trout can make or break a trip when other salmonid species contract a case of lock jaw. They can also grow to a very good size, providing challenging action for both young and old anglers alike. When it comes to reputation though, other species like the salmon, steelhead and brown trout lead the way – and not necessarily in that order.

Stocking Programs in the Great Lakes

Fishing for lake trout has become a standard on the Niagara Bar. Successful spawning of lake trout in the river has been documented by the Fish & Wildlife Service. Lake trout as a fish is helped along by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). These fish are stocked annually to help advance the cause of the agency – to create self-sustaining populations of lake trout in the Great Lakes. The group has already been deemed successful in Lake Superior, which makes fishing for lake trout all the sweeter.

Fishing on the Niagara River & Niagara Bar

One specific area that has helped to improve the reputation of fishing for lake trout is the Niagara River and the Niagara Bar, the latter being the outflow that extends out into the lake off Fort Niagara. One charter captain has also contributed handily to this char’s image – Capt. Matt Yablonsky of Youngstown.

A Charter Captain’s Take

”I’m one of the few area charter guys that key in on fishing for lake trout whenever they are in season,” says Yablonsky, a veteran of many seasons in the area. “I push them hard to customers and they really do enjoy them. They can also produce some big bucks when it comes to fishing derbies, too.”

Fish The Niagara Bar To Catch Big Trout

Yablonsky has been cashing in with lake trout for a number of years, primarily through the Lake Ontario Counties (LOC) Trout and Salmon Derbies held every spring, summer and fall ( As a result, he’s proven that you can cash in on these fork tailed wonders when you put a little extra effort into it. Of course, the area helps, too. It’s not uncommon to see the 20-fish leader board filled with Niagara Bar lakers – especially in the spring.

Tales of Fishing Derby’s Past

Christa Saunderson with a grand prize Niagara Bar lake trout.“Spending time on the water makes all the difference in the world,” says Yablonsky who owns and operates Wet Net Fishing Charters.

woman in front of a dock with a large fish caught while fishing for lake trout on the niagara bar.
Christa Saunderson with a grand prize Niagara Bar lake trout.

“When we are fishing a derby, we spend as much time fishing as we can. We’ll go so far as to order a pizza and have it delivered to the Fort Niagara launch ramp so we can keep fishing.” That actually happened, too, in 2011 – the year the Wet Net team won the $12,500 Spring Derby Grand Prize with a Wet Net best 27 pound, 14 ounce lake trout from the Niagara Bar. The fish, reeled in by Christa Saunderson of Ransomville, is a perfect example of what can happen when you put your time in … or not. It was Christa’s first derby ever. It helps to tip those odds in your favor.

The Perfect Setup

The Right Fishing Rod

It starts with the equipment. Yablonsky uses custom crafted eight and a half foot medium-heavy St. Croix rods that sports a softer tip for lake trout fishing. “I found out the hard way that lake trout have a bit softer mouths,” reflected Yablonsky who runs out of a 21 foot Lund Baron boat. “The softer tip won’t let me pull the hooks out of the lake trout’s mouth and the feature also allows me to run lighter fishing line.”

Reel and Fishing Line

Reel and line are as follows: Okuma Chromer 400 Series baitcast reels because they have a clicker on them allowing him to monitor the drag. The reel also has a bigger capacity for the line when he stumbles into a “mistake” – a king salmon or a lake sturgeon. He prefers 12 pound test fluorocarbon P-Line for his main line; 10 pound test of the same for his leader material.

Every Fishing Setup Needs a Hook

The hooks are important, too, and Yablonsky uses No. 4 Owner treble hooks on Kwikfish lures or black chrome No. 4 SSW Cutting Point hooks for live bait. All are fished as part of a three-way set-up that has a pencil lead (one ounce for every 10 feet of depth) a foot off the three-way swivel to maintain bottom contact. The leader is five to six feet in length depending on water clarity. “Replace the bottom hooks on your Kwikfish with these Owner trebles,” says Yablonsky “and remove the middle hooks completely. The heavier hooks on the bottom seem to give the lure a much better action.”

Winter Anglers’ Setup

Lake trout season opens on January 1, and fishing can be great on the Niagara Bar for anglers looking to reel in the New Year quite literally. “Early season action is normally with live bait, unless you have a south wind. If that happens, switch over to Kwikfish lures in size K9,”  advises Yablonsky. Best colors are either Grinch or Slammer patterns for the Kwikies. Both involve silver and green/chartreuse.

Spring Fishing in New York

As spring arrives, Yablonsky looks for the rainbow smelt to help trigger the big return of lake trout to the river and bar. “When the smelt show up, so do the lake trout in much bigger numbers. And even when the smelt depart, the lakers will hang around as long as water temperatures are favorable.”

Enjoy Fishing with a Pro

So how good can the lake trout fishing get?  According to Yablonsky, the average size fish that he hauls in is around 14 pounds. On a good day he can expect to fight 40 to 50 fish. His grand prize win in 2011 was no fluke. He also won the lake trout division in the Spring LOC of 2010 with a 27 pound, 11 ounce fish – his second biggest fish ever. The Wet Net Team has several other LOC Derby wins under their belt, in addition to many top 20 rankings.

Original Article By Bill Hilts, Jr.

About The Author

Bill Hilts, Jr. is Niagara County’s Sportfishing Promotion manager and Outdoor Sports Specialist for the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation. He is currently president of the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Council and the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. He is a member and past president of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association and Professional Outdoor Media Association.

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