How To Catch A Big Fish on Lake Ontario

These three anglers show they know how ot catch a big fish by following expert fishing tips.
Catching BIG salmon and trout in Lake Ontario consistently is not an easy proposition. Time on the water is certainly a piece of the formula for success as well as a lot of luck!

Fishing Tips for Beginners From Experienced Anglers

Fishing in a contest like the Lake Ontario Counties Trout and Salmon Derby spring, summer or fall, every year we see absolute novices winning the big prizes – usually with a little bit of luck. More often than not, they have a good charter captain or an experienced fisherman who spends a lot of time on the water to show them how to catch a big fish on Lake Ontario.

Here are some fishing tips for beginners from professional anglers who have consistently placed well in big water competitions.

Beginners Fishing Tips

“I wish I could say there was a secret lure or special presentation to tell you exactly how to catch a big fish, but there isn’t,” insists Capt. Matt Yablonsky of Youngstown, great fisherman and operator of Wet Net Charters on the Niagara River and the Niagara Bar (; 716-550-0413).  These are some of the most important things he’s learned to do while fishing to consistently catch huge fish:

The Details Matter for Successful Fishing

Always pay attention to the details.  Everything is important from knots to swivels; line and water temperature to GPS speed and more.  If Matt ties a knot and it doesn’t look right he re-ties it. If his swivel looks worn, Matt changes it.  If the line has a bad spot in it, he cuts it out.  These little things are often over looked by new anglers, and when that trophy fish does hit you want to be ready.

Two men pose with a trophy winning fish.
Capt. Matt Yablonsky holds up one of his many LOC Derby-winning fish.

Follow The Fish

Who hasn’t heard the old fishing tip “never leave fish to find fish!”  “I like to turn it around,” says Yablonsky. “Once you find the fish don’t leave them!  What I mean by this is watch the water currents, surface temperatures, wind direction, temperature and speed at the lure.  If you figure out a pattern it will help you locate the same school of fish throughout the day and on days that follow.  This is most important during the spring and early summer when the schools of fish are tight and pockets of warm water are small.”

Keep Quality Tackle In Your Box

Just to get to the water you need quite a few expensive items: Boat, motor, trailer, electronics, downriggers and a truck to tow all of it.  It’s already cost a pile of money just to get to the water.  “Don’t go cheap when it’s time to buy fishing tackle to fill your tackle box.  Most of the time it’s the least expensive items that are most important such as hooks, line and swivels. When the fish hit, these are the items that are most likely to fail.  You get what you pay for!”

Hard Work and Persistence

Once you have the right gear (spinning reel, fishing pole, lures, soft baits, terminal tackle, live baits, or whatever you are using)and have found the fish and stayed on them, anglers need to pay attention to angling details.

Begin your search early for that trophy salmon or trout.  Don’t miss the morning bite and, more importantly, pack an extra sandwich (and maybe some rain gear!) so you won’t miss the early afternoon bite.  This is where the law of averages takes over.  The more fish you catch, the better your chances are that you are going to catch the BIG one while lake fishing.

“Put your time in and get the net wet,” emphasizes Yablonsky, who has won the Grand Prize in several of the LOC Derbies numerous times with both salmon and lake trout. It’s a numbers game for him, especially with lake trout. “During the spring derby I’ll catch 500-plus lake trout in 10 days. Out of those 500 fish, we catch three to five fish over 20 pounds on average.  That’s less than one percent.”

To check LOC Derby dates for this year, and for details on weigh stations and registration outlets check out

Fish Doctor Offers Big Fishing Tips for Beginners

At the extreme eastern end of Lake Ontario, one of the most consistent performers in competition fishing is Capt. Ernie Lantiegne of Oswego, operator of Fish Doctor Charters (; 315-963-8403). Erinie offers beginners fishing tips for curious anglers of all experience levels.

Some might say he has an inside track on salmon and trout fishing tips – he was a Department of Environmental Conservation fisheries biologist for 22 years. He also spends a tremendous amount of time on the water and some would even claim he thinks like a fish. He is, as the name implies, a doctor of fish so to speak.

Preparation Makes You A Better Fisher

Like Yablonsky, his work starts well before there’s any derby or tournament. “Preparation, homework and laying out an effective strategy are vital,” says Lantiegne. “When you finally make it on the water, commitment and confidence are important as you adapt to changing conditions. Sometimes it’s just plain old instinct that takes over on a fishing trip.”

Check out the leaderboard and the press releases on the LOC Derby website. You don’t need a big expensive boat to get it done. Time and time again, anglers with small boats and less equipment find their way to the winners circle each and every event. However, being prepared with the appropriate gear and lures in your tackle box for that trophy fish when it decides to rock your world is an important part of that winning philosophy when it comes to tackling trophy salmon and trout.

“Don’t leave anything to chance, be it your vehicle, boat and motor, electronics or your fishing equipment.” There is no room for excuses and these bruiser fish have a great knack for finding those inferior links to your fishing approach.

Lantiegne relies heavily on his previous fishing experience. He has either a mental or written diary of every spring king he’s caught over 25 pounds and every summer king over 30 pounds. ‘I know where it was caught, what it was caught on and what the conditions were,” says Lantiegne. “Start keeping records if you don’t already. Check out the leaderboards of the derbies because certain areas of the lake hold bigger fish at certain times of the year.”

If big kings are what you’re after, Lantiegne’s approach is relatively simple. “Location is crucial for catching big kings,” says the Oswego captain. “Big king salmon usually avoid the heavier fishing pressure. I have never caught a king over 35 pounds in a pack of boats. Seek out quieter waters.”

Fishing Gear for Lake Fishing Big Kings

He also will focus on certain baits like a flasher-fly combination. His favorite flasher is a ProChip or HotChip flasher in an eight inch size. Leader length is critical, too – between 23 and 30 inches from flasher to fly. He fishes slower and deeper than normal, as well, targeting a speed between 2.1 and 2.5 miles per hour.

“Big male Chinooks spend much of their lives in 40 to 43 degree water,” says Lantiegne. “They love the deep freeze so don’t be afraid to go down after them. Ignore the larger bait concentrations that attract smaller kings. Big boys can’t compete with the small fish for food, smaller salmon are faster and more aggressive fish.”

Just a Few Copper Lines to Catch Fish

With the popularity of copper lines increasing in recent years, this is a perfect way to get your bait offering out away from the boat. “Copper lines run from a planer board or down the chute consistently catch my biggest kings every year. I’ve also found that running fewer lines in the water can lead you to catching bigger fish in the long run.”

No Flopping Fish

When you finally do land that big boy, treat that fish with care. Don’t do anything to that fish that will cause it to lose weight, such as causing the fish to bleed from the gills. Keep the fish wet and get it to the scales as soon as possible. Don’t throw that fish on the scale until the weigh master is ready for it, too. An ounce can mean a difference between a grand prize fish and a divisional winner.

Go All In

This charter captain shows he knows how to catch a big fish with this big king salmon.
Capt. Ernie Lantiegne holds up a big king that could have won it all … but they weren’t entered into the derby! Knowing how to catch a big fish only counts if you enter!

You also have to be in it to win it. Every year there are heart-breaking stories of derby winning fish that never made it to the scales because someone decided that they would never be able to compete against diehard anglers or didn’t want to spend the money. If there’s a derby going on, take the time to enter … follow these expert fishing tips and cash in!

Keep all these fishing tips in mind when you are heading out on the water. For most anglers, catching fish isn’t just luck, it’s about following tried and true methods and keeping track of what works for them and what doesn’t on each and every fishing trip. Follow theses fishing tips for beginners and you’ll be catching fish in just a few casts, proving you know how to catch a big fish!

Original Article By Bill Hilts Jr.

About The Author

Bill Hilts, Jr. has been Niagara County’s Sportfishing Promotion Person and Outdoor Sports Specialist for Niagara County Tourism and Convention Corporation. He has also been the president of the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Council.

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