“Junk rods are basically any presentation not connected to a downrigger,” Oravec said. We first began describing “junk” decades ago, when Oravec first noticed less was becoming more with respect to downrigger cables and cannonballs."
“In stable weather, you can’t keep two J-Plugs or spoons down there without getting blasted,” says Captain John Oravec. “Fish are concentrated and aggressive. But after a storm, big wind, or dramatic front, trout and salmon scatter and become a lot more cautious. Time to thin the spread and work hard making incremental depth changes because fish won’t rise or drop to chase nearly as much.”
Captain John Oravec has been called the Prince of Kings. Well, by me, actually. “Do you realize a lot of the guys out here trolling for kings weren’t even born yet when you wrote that?” Oravec asked. (Nice to be reminded now and then that you’re older than dirt.)
Over the years, Oravec (Troutman Charters, 585/590-2045, captjohno@netzero. net)”aka Troutman, T-Man, or O-Man” has constructed his own salmon-fishing lexicon, peppered with colorful words and phrases describing every nuance of the trolling game for kings and trout. Examples pertinent to this discussion include chicklets, tail gunners, three-card Monte, and junk stealth.
“Junk rods are basically any presentation not connected to a downrigger,” Oravec said. We first began describing “junk” decades ago, when Oravec first noticed less was becoming more with respect to downrigger cables and cannonballs. “Anything being pulled away from the boat path is junk,” he said. “Often looked at as ‘bonus rods,’ junk has a general reputation for producing kings when downriggers can’t. Big old wary browns and big mature kings are especially vulnerable in clear water with lots of boat traffic. When fish are spooky, junk shines. Stealth tactics are old hat for captains and old salts, but I see a lot of new big-water anglers out here that don’t have a handle on it yet.”
Stealth rigs and rods can make it happen when it’s tough and almost everybody else has a dry net.”
The fleet of charters on Lake Ontario, where T-Man plies his trade, began to realize over 20 years ago that kings respond better to fewer lines and rigs in certain conditions. “Cables and weights had to come out of the water to set up a sparse spread,” Oravec said. “The earliest stealth mode involved reducing the number of riggers. Cables sing, cannonballs displace water—it’s a spook factor when you have an entire orchestra of cables down there. I used to run 7, and everybody had at least 5 ‘riggers deployed every day for a long time. Then they dropped down to 3-card Monte with cutbait rigs. When that got stale we went to 2 ‘riggers and kept adding junk lines—copper on boards, leadcore, outrig-gers, wire lines and long lines. But now it’s a whole different program. Wire has been relegated to the Dipsy Divers, flatline trolling has been relegated to copper lines, and the big lead ball is beginning to disappear, especially in certain conditions.”
Storms and big winds produce upwellings, driving cold water to the surface and to the beaches on all the Great Lakes, and every large body of water, for that matter. Upwellings tend to precipitate changes in water clarity—usually from green to super clear. But perhaps the least understood aspect of that dynamic is current, which is difficult to measure. Sometimes currents down where the fish are run in a different direction than those on the surface. Captains often observe which way currents are moving by the reaction of the rigging. Cables sing louder and rod tips throb harder when moving into currents.
“When the water clears after an up-welling, fish are always scattered, but they can be monsters,” Oravec said. “They’re milling around, they’re spooky, and they thin out. You get fish up near the top. Scattered, picky, choosy fish as opposed to tightly schooled feeding fish. All we’re trying to do is catch a 20-pound king once in a while—not fill the box in one pass. I’ll put copper lines back 200 feet and try to intercept those fish moving up in the water column in unstable conditions. That’s why everybody goes out to the middle of the lake after an upwelling. It’s more stable out there.”
Captain John Oravec: “Keep your junk reels topped off, measure your coppers, keep 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders full length (30 feet), knots fresh, splices coated, and wire reels full. It all matters when the bite thins out! To success-fully find the hot lure color and size programs you must be tackled to run a spread at the right depth first.”
Patterns with lures always matter, but this isn’t about identifying specific baits. “I don’t even want to talk about lures much,” Oravec said. “Whatever the program is—cutbait, spoons, sticks, dodgers—you have to find the fish. That means finding the key depth, and a few feet of line can make a huge difference. Even the usually suicidal coho is a wily fish after an upwelling. In the summer, in these conditions, it’s a mixed bag—mature kings can be scattered. If you get boat traffic, everything jumps on the long leads. The slide divers going down and out with the lure 20 to 50 feet from the diver becomes a key example.”
Currents during an upwelling can be vertical for a time in places and horizontal in others, making depth control difficult. “Fine tuning with depth is critical,” Oravec said. “A lot of guys are running copper on big boards with masts these days. I rarely do that anymore. Once you’ve clipped the line into the release and sent it out toward the board, you can only adjust depth with speed. I’m either running it on a Dipsy Diver, an outrigger, or long lining so I can constantly adjust distance and depth by letting line out or reeling line in. I use Shimano Tekota 800 LCs (line counters) and pay attention. Twenty feet of line, one way or another, can make a big difference. Big planer board people are locked in to a cer-tain depth. What this has taught me is, take copper and swing in shallow and back out deep with adjustable rigs like that to see where, when and how rigs make contact with bottom. The rule of thumb is 20 feet down for every hundred feet of copper. But if you put out 500 feet of copper and you think you’re down 100 feet, think again. Especially after an upwelling. I was running 300 feet of copper in 70 feet of water one day without hitting bottom. Sometimes it’s only down 40 feet. Currents. If everything’s tied to releases and you’re over 500 feet of water, there’s no way to check how deep it is. Being able to let out line or bring in line and keep checking is critical. And the only way you know what you’re doing is to play with line lengths and rigging in shallower water and correlate it with boat direction.”
Some people don’t have line-counter reels. “If you’re one who marks copper line with bits of shrink tubing, I’d mark it every 25 feet, not every 100 feet,” Oravec said. “It can matter. When you start popping sharks right and left it matters. What’s inherent to the technique is not having a fixed length of line. And, unlike running rigs behind cannonballs, the true running depth of junk lines changes with every change in presentation. You need to develop a mental checklist of adjustments for every type of lure and rig. Depth numbers change when going from a spoon to a spinner—fly or flasher—cutbait rig. They all pull different! I’m a fanatic about having the precise amount of line out. It’s less work than using boards and masts. My program is easier. It all works, but the long junk isn’t always where you think it is. Being able to adjust line length is critical. Always experiment with incremental line lengths until the rigs draw strikes.”
Copper is more popular now than ever. “Copper has its following and the reels have come along so well,” Oravec said. “The bigger Daiwa and Shimano LCs hold a lot of line and I fill them with copper or lead core and control depth by length of line out. I don’t have 30 feet on one reel and 500 feet on the next. A lot of people experience copper snapping off from the backing. I can’t have that. It’s $40 for a new spool of copper line. So I just run the length of copper or leadcore necessary to reach the right zone and never break off. I use 30-pound Seaguar STS or Ande fluorocarbon leaders a lot. Lots of good lines out there now. My leaders are 30 feet to begin with and when it’s gets cut back to 20 feet or so, I cut it off and start over. I just use a SPRO Power Swivel that slips through rollers and guides, as opposed to shrink tube or Albright knots. I use a standard wire twist to connect copper to the swivel and cover it with liquid rubber. Easier to change leaders that way.”
Fishing with Oravec, it’s amazing how many times other captains call to report they can’t get anything going on copper when he’s catching everything on it. “You’re trying to hit different levels of the water column,” he said. “I’m just trying to catch one at a time. I hunt for sharks—mature kings. During upwellings the water clarity changes, and the temrpature changes, the currents go crazy, and the density of the water changes. All of that effects the running depth of copper lines and leadcore. You can run the same things with the same amount of line out as a boat 60 miles away when the thermocline is stable. You can run 5 downriggers and make a haul. When everything’s stable, everybody’s happy. But I go from 5 to 3 ‘riggers after a front or a storm—and if that isn’t work-ing I go to 2 downriggers and 2 leadcores and no wire Dipsys. Savvy anglers don’t put ‘out and downs’ next to a ‘rigger that’s working. If you have a wire Dipsy out there, you don’t get fish attacking from the side because it’s spooking them.”
Chicklets, Snacks And Candy
Clockwise from top left: J-9 Rapala, Mooselook 1/3-oz. Mooselook 1/3-oz. Savant, Worden’s Spin-N-Glow, Yakima Wobble Glo
There are many facets to stealth trolling, and one of them is downsizing. A standard salmon spoon is 5 or 6 inches long. A “chicklet” is 2 to 3.5 inches. A standard stickbait (Rapala Original Floater, Bagley Bang-O-Lure, etc.) is 5 inches long. A large stickbait is over 7 inches. Candy sticks run 3 to 4 inches. Peanuts are things like Worden’s Spin-N-Glow and the Yakima Wobble Glo—without a flasher. “Many days on the water are saved by chicklets,” says Oravec. “When you open fish at the cleaning table and bellies are packed sardine-wise with popper alewives, ‘tie-tack’ smelt, or bitty shiners, it’s time to deploy a baby bait set. Changing size is my first move in a tough bite.”
One way to ace out a big mature is with a tail-gunner running way behind the set. “The slider is a stealth rig, running 6- to 10-feet back, putting two rigs on the same downrigger rod,” Oravec said. “Turn it into a tail-gunner with its own rod with a good old fashioned Roemer Release. Any-body with a spoon program knows, sliders get hit. You can run six spoons on 3 riggers. It’s away from the cannonball, it’s a 6-foot fluorocarbon leader, it’s up there in the middle of nowhere. When things get weird, go to two riggers, get them halfway down and clip on a 6- to 10-foot fluorocarbon leader with a smaller spoon and send it down. But the tailgunner can be back there way behind the spread—150 feet if you want. You’ve got to get that line in, though, if a king takes the lure off the cannonball. I put different colored pieces of tape on the rod holder so I can tell clients just grab the orange one and reel it in.
A Trip to Becharof Lodge with the Boys:
“I’m an outrigger man these days,” Oravec added. “I run copper on the outriggers. I use copper most every day, more than wire divers now. The one trick with copper rigs—what I hear around the harbor—there can be a certain length of line that works. But that’s just an indicator. When the fleet is calling saying they have copper out 300, nothing, went to 400 nothing, 500 nothing—watch your speeds. Raise and lower the lure with line length by increments—not 100 feet at a time. Change things up and pay attention. Currents and boat speeds can increase and many times decrease running depth of standard rigs at standard line outlengths.”
Slide divers on braid, copper lines on outriggers, leadcore long lines, tailgunners, and drop weights on mono are Oravec’s go-to stealth-junk programs these days. “Take time every day on the Great Lakes salmon grounds to adapt rigs to get more hits from bigger fish,” Oravec says. “Stealth pays dividends in shark poundage. Learn to release immature fish and when you can find matures stay on ‘em and rig to get ‘em. We’re all trying to trick wily game fish. Stealth rigs and rods can make it happen when it’s tough and almost everybody else has a dry net.”
Junk thins the spread and stretches it out. Which probably explains why junk rods have an uncanny knack for fooling monster sharks. Most of the real wall benders Oravec boated last year came on junk—a substantial portion on chicklets. So run junk and talk trash this year.