Size Matters – Use A Small Fishing Boat

Hilts jr – Yablonsky bar laker in a small fishing boat
Captain Matt Yablonsky shows a huge lake trout taken off the Niagara Bar.

Size Can Matter For Spring Trolling Tactics

We’ve all heard the saying that size does matter. With fishing, that’s absolutely true. However, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better – especially when it comes to boat size. Small fishing boats can lead to a sweet situation on the water in the spring when early spring bass fishing action is starting to turn on with warming waters.

Gas Consumption

At the top of the list of reasons to use a smaller fishing boat instead of a large boat like a pontoon boat, is gas consumption. With escalating fuel costs, less is more when it comes to being economical with your fishing budget. Capt. Matt Yablonsky of Youngstown, owner of Wet Net Charters, knows that first hand all too well.

With as much time as he spends on the water, it helps to save a few bucks by running his 9.9 horsepower Yamaha four-stroke outboard kicker motor as often as possible. When he is running really tight to shore in shallow waters or when fish might be wary due to boat pressure, he’ll even use his Minn Kota trolling motor for forward movement.

“A stealthy approach is always better,” says Yablonsky, a regular in the Lake Ontario Counties winner circles every spring. “Running a smaller fishing boat has its advantages from being quieter to saving gas money. Stealth is important to spring bass fishing success, and that helps create repeat clientele.”

Yablonsky is a Fisherman in the Western Basin

Hilts jr – lake trout Carl Brueger
Carl Brueger hefts a 32 lb. lake trout taken while trolling from a small boat.

Yablonsky is a Western Basin angler all the way. His focus is from the Niagara Bar to Olcott, a 20-mile stretch of water that is known for its spring salmon and trout fishing. While his forte might be spring salmon and lake trout, he also does very well with brown trout and steelhead.

“Starting in late March and early April, we’ll catch a mixed bag of fish by trolling the shoreline. I like to go light on my gear, using eight and a half foot medium action custom made S.H. Fishin’ Sticks or Wright and McGill rods, outfitted with Shimano Tekota 300 LC levelwind reels – line counters that keep things consistent as far as my program is concerned.” His fishing line is 12 pound test P-Line, 100 percent fluorocarbon that’s perfect for this early season fishing.

Some Interesting Information about Challenger Stickbaits

His preferred baits are usually Challenger stickbaits.

“The Juniors are my favorites, and my best color patterns are emerald shiner, rainbow and brown trout in the spring. When I am running extremely tight to the shoreline, the J-11 Jointed Rapalas work best with the old tried and true black-silver color combo. They’ll only drop down about three feet which is great for the shallow waters.”

When the water is on the clear side, Yablonsky will run more natural colors. When it’s stained, fluorescent colors like chartreuse and fire tiger work best.

Spring Fishing Tips

Hilts jr – trolling Dan Kruth spring brown
Big browns like this one taken by Dan Kruth often prowl the shallow water in spring time.

Warm waters are the key to early spring season fishing, so Yablonsky will target the mouths of creeks where warmer waters will likely be flowing out into the lake. That water is generally off-color, too, and the darker water will heat up quicker on warm spring days. “I like to put my boat right in the transition areas on the edge of the dirty and clean water,” insists Yablonsky, who won the Trophy Division of the Niagara County Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament in 2012 out of his 21-foot Lund Baron aptly named Wet Net.

Rule of Three

“I’ll run three lures in the clean water and three lures in the dirty water, trying to keep my boat in about eight feet of water. I’m not seeking out structure, but I will remember holes, dips or depressions that have held fish for anglers before me in the past.”

Side Planers for Your Early Spring Fishing Trip

For early spring action, in-line Off Shore side planers are incorporated, using flags to help see his program – both for himself and customers, as well as for other boaters. He tries to keep each planer about 50 feet apart in shallow water, staggering his distance from the boat at 125 feet, 175 feet and 225 feet. Lead length behind the planer depends directly on water clarity, ranging from 50 to 150 feet back.

“I’m looking to create a pattern while trying to cover as much water as possible,” says Yablonsky. “Having a small boat allows for much better maneuverability, especially on turns when the waves are kicking up a bit. We can pull the rods from one side of the boat rather quickly to make our turn and then get them back out and working for you in short time.”

Trolling speed

Trolling speed is important and it can vary from day to day. Some days the Niagara River current can come into play. He will start at 1.5 mile per hour to see what the fish want on any given day. His top end is usually around 2.5 miles per hour.

Adjusting Your Technique for Warming Water Temperatures

As waters start to warm, Yablonsky adjusts his program accordingly by sliding out to slightly deeper water. As temperatures hit the mid 40 degree range, he’ll pull out the two inside planer boards and run two downriggers, using a deep diving Challenger or other body bait on the planer boards and Michigan Stinger spoons off the downriggers. The result will be more of a mixed bag that will include browns, steelhead, lakers and Coho salmon. Even the occasional king will grab hold and take off.

The Salmon Program

By the end of the month, the salmon program will start to kick in. Yablonsky will head straight to the drop off near the red buoy marker on the Niagara Bar as a starting point. The key is the river water coming out of the mighty Niagara. The green water is the warmer water coming from Lake Erie attracting baitfish like smelt and emerald shiners.

Here in deep water, he will find king salmon starting to concentrate in the 60 to 80 foot depths at the drop off, a huge ledge that extends for miles. It can drop off from 60 feet to over 200 feet in a short surface area.

“Weather conditions, mainly wind, are a huge factor when it comes to where that river water will flow,” says Yablonsky. “It’s also one of the reasons that small fishing boats can get on the water day in and day out here in the spring. Prevailing winds are out of the west or southwest, which are off shore breezes for us. And even if it gets too rough on the lake, you can always fish the lower Niagara River for trout to get out of the wind.

Drift Fishing Tactics in the Lower River

Hilts jr – typical spring brown
Small boats are more effective in trolling shallow water along the shoreline where brown trout like this one often feed.

I’d recommend taking a charter to learn the drift fishing tactics in the lower river for trout that will stay in the river until the end of May as well as learning the lakeshore trolling techniques for the early spring. There are some rocks and other obstacles that small boaters still need to be aware of. It will also help with the geography of the area to identify where the creek mouths are or where the other fishing landmarks are located.”

More Tips for Salmon

Getting back to the salmon program, Yablonsky starts out running two wire divers off each side, a high and a low. The inside divers are the deep ones, set back at 150 and 180 feet. The outside (or high) divers are set at 90 and 120 feet – keeping his low and high baits about 60 feet apart.

Off the downriggers he’ll run baits at the ball and also run stackers to have two spoons on each downrigger.

  • His preference is Silver Streaks or Michigan Stingers – anything light and thin that will still give good action when he slows down.
  • He doesn’t run any other lines in the spring. He doesn’t need to.

“Less can be more in the spring, whether you are talking tackle or fishing boat size,” insists Yablonsky. Based on his success on the water after 14 years of fishing, he’s usually right.


For more information on Yablonsky (especially about fishing boats), check out his website at or call him at 716-550-0413.

Original Article By Bill Hilts, Jr

About The Author

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

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