Helpful Tips for Landlocked Chinook Salmon Fishing

Man poses on a boat with catch while fishing for landlocked chinook salmon.
Mike Hamilton of Ohio has fished with Bob Stevens for 27 years. While chinook salmon fishing, he secured this landlocked chinook salmon on a diver with spinner and fly in early September.

Landlocked Chinook Salmon Fishing on Lake Ontario

They cruise the depths of Lake Ontario fearing no one. The landlocked Chinook salmon is the mighty “king” of this Great Lake, setting a pace for size and catch rate other bodies of fresh water strive for. This year we may see another phenomenal year for big chinook salmon fishing on Lake Ontario and the Lake Ontario tributaries – what a fantastic salmon fishery!

Summer Chinook Fishing

“The summertime – July and August – is a great time of year to fish for big kings,” says Capt. Bob Cinelli of Newfane. He operates two Tiaras out of his home port of Olcott, the 31-foot “Hotline” and the 36-foot “White Mule.” This is Cinelli’s home away from home, a passion that has driven him the better part of three decades. The king salmon is at the top of his fishing priority list, as it is on of the lake’s main fish species.

Prepare for the Fall Spawning Run

“This is the time of year when the salmon really put the feed bag on heavy,” says Cinelli, a student of lake fishing tactics and a teacher willing to share with his fellow anglers. “Typically, this is when these fish will cycle back and forth through feeding and rest throughout the day. The mature fish have their metabolism jacked right up as they try to put weight on in preparation for their spawning run in the fall. And this year, with the extra long growing season, we should be seeing bigger salmon on the average.”

Preferred Temperature Range

Angler poses with his 42lb catch, while chinook salmon fishing.
Captain Bob Stevens likes to go chinook salmon fishing out of Point Breeze and shows his king salmon that tipped the scales at 41 lb., 15 oz.

Cinelli wants to cover as much water as possible, generally fishing a thermocline-type setup that staggers baits based on temperature zones in the water, since chinook prefer colder temperatures. “I want to make sure I have something in that dense, cold 39-40 degree water for starters. I’ll place other baits in different temperate zones all the way up to 60 degree water. Big kings are known for cruising out of temp this time of year and you have to be ready for it. I’m not really sure why they will move out of temperature like that, but it seems to be while they are traveling or roaming in the early to mid-August time frame.”

Best bait for Chinook Salmon

As far as preferred the best bait for chinook salmon, this time of year has several options. One of the best bait for chinook salmon is a flasher-fly combination that seems to entice the big salmon to become more aggressive. And when a salmon gets mad, look out! Not far behind are the tried-and-true flutter spoons, one of the best chinook salmon lures . Cinelli prefers a medium-sized spoon like a Northern King 28, but sometimes you may have to match spoon size with the bait that’s present in your trolling waters. From time to time, magnum-sized spoons can get hot on the water. Michigan Stinger and Dreamweaver are spoons he regularly uses, too.

“When I’m setting up my program, I’ll put some spoons on my downriggers and flasher-fly on a ‘junk’ rod using copper or lead core. They are some of the best chinook salmon lures. If the fish are showing a preference for one or the other, I’ll immediately get some more of those baits on my diver rods.”

How to Catch an Easily Spooked Salmon

Man smiles with big king salmon while chinook salmon fishing in early august.
Jamie Wu caught this 33 lb. king salmon in early August while landlocked chinook salmon fishing with Captain Bob Cinelli.

For most anglers who specifically target big fish, there are several schools of thought. One is that these fish are spookier (more wary) than other fish – so less is more when it comes to focusing on big fish while chinook salmon fishing. Cinelli places fewer rods in the water, sometimes as few as just four rods – even if he’s running a charter trip.  By placing less hardware in the water, they create less vibration or noise to tip the fish off. When something unsuspecting invades the king’s space, it attacks with a vengeance.

Location Matters

Mid-Water Area

Location is another factor according to Cinelli. “Typically, these fish will be in a few specific spots this time of year. One is in the mid-water area, say 150 to 350 feet of water, shifting in and out with the current. For us, the Niagara River current plays a huge role in determining where fish end up. And they want to be around bait pods.”

The Middle of Lake Ontario – Deep Waters

Man on a boat with his brown trout, caught while chinook salmon fishing.
A big brown trout can be a nice reward or bonus while chinook salmon fishing on the bottom.

“The other area is out in the middle of the lake. They seem to be on either side of the steelhead schools that cruise the thermal bars over deep water. That’s where my biggest king came off my boat – a monster that was pushing 39 pounds. I’ve never caught one over 40 pounds but I’ve seen them and they are monsters … eating machines. You don’t see a lot of 40 pound fish when you’re chinook salmon fishing.”

Every Year the Water Temperature is Different

That could change from year to year “This year, I feel that the opportunity for these fish to reach 40 pounds will be one of the best ever because of the length of the growing season. There were only two months where the surface temperatures were below 39 degrees on Lake Ontario this winter, which tells me that those kings will be putting on additional poundage. With the combination of a late start to the winter and the early start to spring, it’s given the salmon an opportunity for another six or seven weeks to grow. Getting those fish to hit your bait will be another story.”

Follow the Bait Fish

Based on the fact that the total allotment of salmon and trout being stocked into Lake Ontario has not been met for several years, Cinelli feels strongly that this has allowed baitfish populations to rise. And when there’s more bait around, it makes it much more difficult to catch the big fish, so most anglers will want to adjust their landlocked chinook salmon fishing methods.

Healthy Salmon Fishery

Another limiting factor for big fish is that a bi-product of a healthy fishery is that some of the salmon will mature early. “Most fish over 40 pounds are usually five year old fish,” says Cinelli, “staying out an extra year. How big those four year olds will be remains to be seen while Chinook Salmon fishing.”

Prepare Your Gear for Big Fish on Lake Ontario

Man poses with derby record winning fish while chinook salmon fishing on the Niagara River
Tony Mang of Youngstown set a spring LOC Derby record in 2010 with a 32 lb., 15 oz. king on the Niagara River.

Cinelli prepares for the bigger fish by outfitting his reels with 20 pound test Ande fishing line, but bulking his leaders with up to 40 pound test Seagar fluorocarbon line – especially with his flash-fly set-ups. “I also like to use the new pre-cut leaders that Cajun line has come out with for tying flies. It’s a great option and very convenient for landlocked Chinook Salmon fishing.”

Original Article By Bill Hilts, Jr.

About the Author

Bill Hilts, Jr is Niagara County Sportfishing Promotions 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 an active member and past president of the New York State Outdoor Writers’ Association and the Outdoor Writers Association of America. 

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