Successful King Salmon Fishing on Lake Ontario

Man and young girl posing after being sucessful at salmon fishing on Lake Ontario.
A big silver E chip with a 35 inch fly was perfect for catching king salmon for Rocky Saiff.

The Best Salmon Fishing on Lake Ontario

We had been trolling all morning with standard flasher/fly combinations, and the action had been reasonably fast until about 9 am.  The entire fleet was running 8 inch flashers with flies that were trolled 21 inches behind.  Basic White/Glow E-chips and Silver/Herring Bone E-chips were what the king salmon had been hitting for a week straight.  Pro-Am and Mooneye flies were taking the bites and there had been no reason to adjust the pattern.

Limited Luck on Lake Ontario

We had now been trolling for over an hour without a single bite, even though Lake Ontairo is know for having some of the best salmon fishing in NY. The sun was high and the lake was calm as I pulled the #1 rigger to change the bait.  Silver had been working all week, and I had no reason to doubt this part of the pattern.  I grabbed the 11 inch version of the silver E-chip, we call it “Big Silver”, and loaded it right back at the very depth the smaller salmon baits had been trolling. 

Changing Up your Techniques 

The only variation was that now I had the same fly trolling at 35 inches behind the big plate.  No more than two minutes had passed when the rod pounded under the violent attack of a big staging king.  That fish weighed 27 lbs. and smiles were wide as we shared the information throughout the fleet.  Soon the radio lit up with similar tales of kings back on the bite.

The Best Bait For Chinook Season

There are variations in the attitude of Chinook salmon during the staging process that directly impacts the success of certain techniques while you are salmon fishing on Lake Ontario.  The best bait for chinook salmon changes depending on how advanced these fish are.  The Saiff Fleet has standardized it’s presentations to eliminate too many variables in our fishing patterns.  This is the basic breakdown that we use to for successful king salmon fishing on Lake Ontario between mid-August and mid-September.

The Best Bait, Lures, Patterns and Leads

these three 11 inch pro troll flashers are great to catch king salmon
These big white, big silver, and the Fruit Basket – all 11 inch Pro Troll flashers- are among the best chinook salmon lures for salmon fishing on lake ontario.

Early in the staging process kings are still silver and the nature of their bite is still quite aggressive.  When these fish are just beginning to stage, we prefer to run 8 inch Pro Troll E-chip flashers.  Colors will vary by region of the lake, and there will always be a hot color combination that fishermen must have.  The small E-chip will tolerate a wider range of speeds, and aggressive kings will take a lure that’s trolled faster when salmon fishing on Lake Ontairo.

Fly Fishing Lead Length

The aspect of the presentation that remains the same is the length of lead on the fly.  The fly length behind these small flashers is 21 inches.  Once these offerings have been duplicated throughout the fleet, the only variables are speed and position in the pattern.  Highly aggressive kings will assault a tightly run pattern, while less aggressive fish may need salmon baits that are trolled further behind in a tail gunning position.

Different Fly Fishing Setup

In late August, fishermen will encounter a mix of Chinook salmon.  The fish that arrived mid-month will be changing color and attitude.  These fish often hold deeper in the water column than the new arrivals.  When these fish go deep, anglers will benefit from the attributes of the 11 inch E-chip.  This is a bigger, more attractive flasher and consequently the fly length will change accordingly.  

Getting a Lethargic Salmon to Bite

The second lead length that we standardize for salmon fishing on Lake Ontario is also for a fly.  We use 35 inches as the lead length for flies that are trolled with the 11 inch flasher.  The oversized flasher will excite more lethargic fish, and it can be trolled at slightly slower speeds with good performance from 35 inch flies.  During late August, it’s not uncommon to find us running a mix of both size flashers.  The varying lengths of lead will appeal to a variety of staging fish.

The “Fruit Basket”

The third standardized length of lead that we use is 41 inches.  The 41 inch lead is used for trolling bait harnesses with cut herring.  This set-up is designed to run behind the 11 inch E-Chip flasher.  In 2011, Pro Troll came out with a classic color combination on a flasher that we call the “Fruit Basket”. 

 The “Fruit Basket” sports orange and yellow stripes over a glow flasher.  This has long been the go-to bait for kings in late August through early September for anglers salmon fishing on Lake Ontario.  This combination is generally run on the deepest rig in the pattern.  We refer to this as the bottom tracker, and it’s what we use to get things started each morning.  

The Best Bait is Different for Older Kings

Older kings are now dominating the staging area and scent will begin to play a more critical role.  Bait harnesses are one way to introduce natural live salmon baits like plug cut herring to these fish.  Experience has shown that a 41 inch lead on these bait harnesses works best to for success while king salmon fishing on Lake Ontario.  

Bending the Bait Head

When fish activity is high, we put a more dominant bend on the bait head to catch king salmon.  This causes the salmon baits harnesses to rotate more quickly.  When fish are off the hit, we utilize a more subtle bend in the bait head.  The 41 inch lead keeps everybody on the same page when presenting to catch king salmon. 

Trimming Your Baits to Catch Kings

I would like to relay one tip: to truly access some of the best salmon fishing in NY, we trim our bait so that it can be front end loaded into the bait head.  We like to jam as much of the bait into the head as we can before we pin it with the toothpick.  We believe that this weight forward balance allows the head to rotate more consistently at a variety of speeds.

Extend the Lead

Woman on boat holding a large fishing after a successful trip to catch king salmon
Cindy Stratton from Blossvale holds a king salmon that hit a small white E Chip flasher with a Mooneye fly while salmon fishing on lake ontario.

Many years ago towards mid-September, Captain Mitch Franz of Mit-She Charters was having his way with the kings in the “Trench” off Henderson Harbor.  Mitch landed king after king while others simply watched dead rods.  I finally trolled by close enough to see the extended leads that he was running on his bait harnesses.  

Be Adaptable

While Mitch feverishly cleared rods to make way for more salmon on the line, I was making some quick computations based on the length of his fishing rods and how his bait harnesses were hooked on them.  To my surprise the measurements came out to be over 60 inches.  After some additional dockside analysis, we determined that the lead was in fact 62 inches.  

Since that day, that measurement has remained on the transom of my boat as a quick reference for late season mid-day kings.  When the action slows, we drop extra sea bags in the water and slow our boats to a crawl to catch king salmon.  We put big E-Chips on with bait harnesses and the extra long lead.  

Lazy Salmon Love a Slow Presentation

Generally fish are compressed on the bottom and we beat them over the head until they bite!  These lazy fish love the slow presentation, and there is something about the 62 inch lead that gets them to bite when nothing else will work.  Thanks Mitch:  that’s a great technique to catch king salmon!

The Search for New TechniquesWoman smiling on a boat with a big king salmon.

Robin holds a big male king that hit a silver-green 8 inch E Chip with a 21 inch Pro Am fly, one of the best chinook salmon lures out there to use while salmon fishing on lake ontario.Through 30+ years of professional charter fishing in a place with best salmon fishing in NY, these are the staging set-ups that have proven themselves time and time again.  The length of lead gives us the proper presentation behind the Pro-Troll flashers that have revolutionized salmon fishing on Lake Ontrario.  But even the most veteran fishermen should keep looking for new fishing tips and tricks to catch king salmon and keep their fishing skills sharp. Consult on-line forums, current report pages and local bait shops for the best colors and selection of baits for the area that you will be trolling. Then utilize these 4 lead lengths to standardize your presentation to the fish.  

Also try new gear as it comes out. For instance Pro-Troll’s Laser (no tape) series of flashers.  With color combinations of green, chartreuse, black, blue and silver scale patterns over silver flashers.  I’ve seen the prototypes and they look great.  Examples of these will be headed to a tackle shop near you!

Original Article By Captain Bill Saiff III

About The Author

Capt. Bill Saiff III owns the Saiff Charter Fishing Fleet.  The Saiff Fleet operates from Henderson Harbor, NY. 

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