Lake Ontario Steelhead – When Lightning Strikes Twice

Lake Ontario SteelHead
Frank Milone from NJ and Capt. Bill Saiff with Franks 20 lb brown trout taken from just four feet of water!

Let’s start a story about Lake Ontario SteelHead fishing…In 33 years of professional fishing on Lake Ontario, the old girl never ceases to amaze me in its ability to produce giant fish!  When it comes to quality fishing Lake Ontario has few freshwater rivals. The spring of the year is a dynamic time to fish the “Big Pond” and anything can happen along the lake’s southern shore during the month of April.

April 2014

In April 2014, lightning struck twice for a long-time veteran of Lake Ontario fishing.  Frank Milone (NJ) has been plying the waters of Lake Ontario for 27 years.  When he was just a teenager, his parents brought him here for the first time for fishing in NY (because Ontario is bounded on the south and east by the U.S. state of New York).  Now at the ripe old age of 46, he is bringing his children to experience the fishing tradition that is so dear to his heart!

Unforgettable Fishing Memory

Here are the series of events that provided Frank and his whole family with a fishing memory they will never forget!

Late April Brown Trout

The time frame is late April and we are working the fabled Brown Trout waters just west of Pultneyville, NY.  Fishing during April 2014’ was epic along the south shore and the troll west towards Bear Creek had produced a mix of Browns and Cohos.  Some of the Browns had exceeded the 10 lb. mark but with fishing this good, we were selective about what was being put in the cooler. Temps were still cool along the shore so the boat was in 7 to 8 feet of water, with planer boards plying the skinny water towards shore.

Michigan stinger spoons were loaded on just 4 rods in a mix of fluorescent and gold patterns. Shoreline waters were perfectly colored from high winds the day before.  When south shore waters turn sea green, it’s a sure bet that Browns will be on the bite and today was no exception. With just 4 rods set, we had already experienced 3 sets of triples as we headed west.

At the Speed of 2.8 Knots…

The speed was set at 2.8 knots as we neared the estuary at Bear Creek.  Recent rains had swelled the small stream and we could see the chocolate plume spreading into the sea-green waters of the lake. The turbid waters ahead would surely hold some aggressive fish looking forward to our metallic offerings.  I had been videotaping fish fights all morning so the camera was at the ready as we slipped the inside board into the creek’s discolored waters.

The boat moved in and out of the plume and as the baits reached the discolored water, the inside planer rod laid over under the weight of a nice fish.  Frank was headed for the rod when the inside “weight rod” doubled under the weight of a punishing strike.  He quickly grabbed the “weight rod” instead as the big fish started to take the line.

I knew we were into an excellent fish and elected to let the planer rod hang in its holder. We would need to devote all of our attention to the fish on the “weight rod”, especially if he was as big as I thought.

The Fish Takes the Bait

The fish had taken a hammered 57 Chevy Michigan Stinger and trolled down the prop wash of the boat.  “Weight rods” are trolled as a flat line down each side of the boat.  We set it by first paying out 60ft. of line, pinching on a ¼ ounce split shot, then letting out another 60ft. of line. The disturbance of the prop wash seems to attract Browns and some of our biggest fish have been taken in this manner.

A sea-saw battle ensued over the next 15 minutes until we could finally see the deep golden color of the fish.  Frank deftly moved the fish up the starboard side of the boat and we dipped the behemoth ending an epic battle that was completely caught on tape.  The giant Brown weighed just over 20 lbs.

We took many photos of this once-in-a-lifetime fish.  We reveled in the fact that we were in just 4ft. of water when the big fish struck.

  • Generally when 20lb.+ Browns are taken, it’s in late May or June after the fish have a couple of months to feed on Alewives and Smelt.
  • A big Brown like this (during April), was rare indeed.  To capture it all on video—-even rarer!

Our Day Two

On day two, waters were still green along the shoreline of Lake Ontario so we set rods as soon as we left the Pultneyville Marina.  Veteran Saiff Charter mate David Wright joined me on the back deck of the Saiff Charter #5.

Dave is one of the best spring fishermen in our fleet and his help would be warranted before the day was through.  The day consisted of one long troll west to the Ginna nuclear plant and then a troll back east towards the marina.

The action was fast as we caught and released over 50 brown trout and coho salmon. We were burning more videotape and taking lots of photos of Frank’s two sons, Frank Jr. and TJ.  The boys were worn out from brown trout fishing on Lake Ontario – they had to catch fish and release it and we were nearing the end of our excursion.

Big Fishing On Lake Ontario

The Saiff Lightning 2
Frank’s 17lb 8 oz steelhead taken on an orange Michigan Stinger trolled at 2. 8 knots!

In the pocket just west of P-ville, an inside rod tipped over, with the fish taking an Orange Michigan Stinger with a Black/Glo ladderback.  The boys were worn out so they deferred to their father and Frank Sr. took the rod.  Dave hollered that the big fish was crossing from the starboard to the port, risking a tangle in our 8 lines. I quickly cleared the outside board giving this fish plenty of room to maneuver.  The fish spun back to the starboard side and flashed bright silver as it crossed the transom.

Frank bowed under the weight as the fish made run after run.  The big fish never jumped in the cold water but Dave claimed it was as big as Lake Ontario Steelhead or Atlantic Salmon.

When the fish came to the transom, the deep green back told the tale and we knew we were locked up with a dandy Steelhead. The Steelie darted up the side of the boat and Dave jammed the net into its path as it rocketed into the webbing.

Two Trophy Fish in Lake Ontario

Once on board, we weighed the jumbo Steelhead at 17 ½ lbs.— two trophy trout fish in two days’ time and both caught by the same angler! Smiles were wide at the end of this two-day event and Frank could not believe his good fortune.  Sharing the experience with his two sons made the event even more special!

The internet is playing a big part in Lake Ontario fishing and outdoor sports in general.  Tips and tactics are shared on websites and venues like  While there is no substitute for hands-on experience, the internet can help get you pointed in the right direction.

The Best Way to Know Everything About Lake Ontario Fishing Charters

Magazines like Lake Ontario Outdoors Magazine can now be found online and past articles can be read to help refine your techniques. The Bill Saiff channel on is loaded with videos explaining all types of Great Lake’s trolling techniques. By subscribing to this channel and others, anglers can get an e-mail notification every time a new video is posted. This is one way to stay current with everything that is happening on Lake Ontario.

I spoke with Lake Ontario Outdoors Magazine editor Troy Creasy about the two big fish taken in this article. As a fellow Charter Captain, he could appreciate how rare it was for the same person to take two trophy fish on the same trip.  What’s more rare is that it was a seasoned veteran, with countless trips under their belt.

How Big is That Fish?!

Usually when a big fish (for example, coho salmon) is taken, it’s by a customer that is here for the first time or that has no appreciation for HOW BIG THAT FISH REALLY IS!  The two fish made Frank smile but it warmed my heart as an outfitter to see a great client experience the best of what Lake Ontario has to offer.

Reproductions of both fish are being created by Charles Rawson of Charles’ Taxidermy in Dexter, NY.  You will also be able to see these fish on the wall of the Westview Lodge in Henderson Harbor, NY this summer.  Fish like these will be placed in a prominent location for all to see.

From now on when Frank hears the expression “When Lightning Strikes Twice”- he’ll know exactly what it means.

Original Article By Capt Bill Saiff III

About The Author

Capt. Bill Saiff III owns and operates the Saiff Charter Fleet in Henderson Harbor, NY. For more information, visit the team online at

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