Can an old dog teach a young dog new tricks?
You bet your last fishing rod he can.
I’ve known Randy Scott for more than 40 years and it seems that every time I get out on the water with him I learn something new.
We’d only settled into a trolling pattern, the cannonball and lure had just been lowered to the desired depth and a big, brawling steelhead was already tail-walking a few yards behind our boat.
Randy was just finishing up cocking the second rod into the holder as I jumped to grab the pulsating graphite with fish number one screaming out monofilament.
“Fight that mother, before she heads home to Oswego with my lure in her jaws” was all I heard from Scott.
At the same moment rod number two buckled down under the angry protests of another startled steelhead attempting to break away for the freedom of open water.
For the next ten minutes the back of the Red Dog was pure pandemonium.
Both fish seemed to be spending more time out of water than in it. True to their reputations these big square-tailed rainbow gave no quarter and obviously expected none in return.
Both reels continued to scream in unison as two ‘old’ boys tried to keep lines from tangling. The sight must have been hilarious to behold if anyone would have been around to witness it. Two old fishermen getting a workout as we tried to pass over and under each others rods as the fish went wild in attempts to dislodge the trebles from their jaws.
Once my fish was hauled near the boat, it became even more humorous as Randy tried to one hand the landing net and at the same time keep pressure on the brute he was battling.
Experience can pay dividends though, as Scott made a graceful scoop, lift and drop maneuver and at the same time keeping the line taut between himself and his own tail-walking trout. But the old boys prevailed. Two almost identical ten pounders were safely resting on ice and we’d only been fishing for less than thirty minutes.
For the next six hours it was non-stop action.
Two rods per angler is the rule on the Canadian side of the international line, but we seldom had the opportunity to put four lines into play.
For the rest of the day it was non-stop action. We seldom had the time to rest. The downriggers would be lowered, the lines would be wound taught, and almost immediately the graphite rods would be triggered with another angry steelhead to be fought.
By the time the two ancient ones were ready to throw in the towel, twenty-five big bows had been brought to the boat and another dozen or more had tossed spoons back in our faces.
The trout we were able to defeat averaged between 7 and 12 pounds, but more than a few were silver warriors that were estimated at heavier than 15 pounds. As for those ones that got away, I would harbour a guess that one or even two was nudging close to the 20-pound mark.
Randy noted, it was just a typical day out in Lake Ontario’s Blue Zone. Anglers almost always gave up before the fish. We had started the morning being greeted with immediate hook-ups and finished the day on the same note. Non-stop hook ups from start to finish. You just had to love it.
Now before I get in to particulars of the fabled Lake Ontario Blue Zone and the techniques and baits to use, let me first explain a little history on my fishing companion on this outing.
Scott has been guiding on Lake Ontario since the summer of 1978. We’ve been good friends since that first summer. I’ve studied this professional over the years, his behavior, his methods and his successes. In my opinion, he’s one the best, if not the best charter skipper on any or all of the Great Lakes.
Besides putting fish on ice for his customers, I’ve never come across another angler that keeps a more accurate record on just about every trip he’s made out on the lake and every fish he’s caught. This guide is as much statistician, as angler and I believe his keeping of records is as much responsible for his success, as is his angling skills.
Even more important, Scott was one of the first to discover the fabled Blue Zone and develop techniques to succeed out on the Blue Zone when he was one of the few out in mid-lake on a blue expanse by himself. Yes, he chases chinook and coho in shallower water during those months of spring and fall, but his true passion is chasing the steelhead of the Blue Zone during the warmer months of summer.
For starters, there are many perceptions just where the Blue Zone is. In fact, theories persist just where it begins and where it ends. Every one of the Great Lakes might have a Blue Zone, but the Blue Zone of Lake Ontario is without a doubt one of the biggest and without a doubt the best.
It’s a summer troller’s paradise. Under calm water conditions it’s a guaranteed outing of limits and much more.
Just how much more depends on a little technical know how. On an average six-hour charter Scott can count on putting a minimum of six silver-sided trout in the cooler for his customers. Often trips will mean as many as twenty steelhead or more.
His best trip to date related in ninety hook-ups, with fifty-eight trout being brought to the net.
There are many misconceptions on just what the Blue Zone is and just where the Blue Zone is actually located. The Lake Ontario Blue Zone is a large expanse of deep water situated in the middle of the lake.
Some refer to this zone as anything deeper than 200 feet, but Scott classes the start of the Blue Zone as 300 feet and deeper. The zone is longer running from the west to the east, than north to south.
Due to its location down the middle of Lake Ontario, its depth, and the fact that much of the zone is 10 miles or more from any shoreline, summer water temperatures are seldom influenced by prevailing winds.
Preferred surface temperatures ranging from 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit will often set up as early as June on the American portion of the lake and July on the Canadian side. These water temperatures stabilize and make for a perfect feeding grounds, especially for open water steelhead. Just as important is the fact that the big trout are opportunistic feeders. Prowling close to the surface, the trout find an abundance of baitfish and also aquatic and terrestrials that are carried out into the zone by the outflowing current created by the mighty Niagara River.
Randy starts a typical day running south out of Toronto.
The screen on his Garmin 7012 is inked over with trails and waypoints, but also he’s always on the alert for tell-tale edges of the Niagara current, signs of bait schools on the graph and that all important 60 to 65 water temperature on the surface. Once he’s where he wants to be on the Zone, the lines go out.
Spoons produce more than 90 percent of his success.
That success in the past was almost always reliant on Northport Kaleidoscopes and Warrior Spoons. Various color names include blackberry glow, greenberry glow, blueberry glow, lemon ice, green Easter egg glow and firecracker. Spoon length is important. The Northports range from 3 ¼ and 3 ¾ inches, while the Warrior Spoons often targeted for deeper water chinook are upped in length to 4 and 4 ¾ size.
It’s interesting to note that for over a year this author and Scott have been tinkering with other spoons and custom colors to experiment on the steelhead of the Blue Zone. This past summer the folks at Brecks Canada, who manufacture the famous line of Williams spoons, produced a new line of HQ Series spoons carrying most of the color combinations we were tinkering with. The Blue Zone steelhead took an automatic liking to our choices. Give the Black Sheep, Candied Ice, Cajun Orange, Green Monkey and Orange Monkey a try. You won’t be disappointed.
When it comes to trolling depth, Randy plays in a range from 48 degrees to 55 degrees.
Remember again the water is stable out in those deep depths.
Often the fish are only a few feet below your boat. As a matter of fact, the steelhead can often be seen fining and feeding right on the surface. For trout, Scott may have his leads as short as 8 feet from the cannonball and seldom stretches any out more 15 to 30 feet in length.
As can be expected the kings and coho converged on the Blue Zone as well.
They tend to prowl a little lower in the water column, but action can be non-stop for these finned torpedoes as well. While juvenile salmon occasional are feeding together with steelhead closer to the surface, Scott firmly believes the mature Chinook and coho are content to fill their bellies in deeper water, often as cold as 40 degrees.
This article shouldn’t be printed without giving the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation a tip of our angling caps for creating this dynamic Blue Zone steelhead fishery.
Every year the state stocks an average of 500,000 Chambers Creek strain steelhead yearlings to sustain this dynamic sport fishery.
New York State and its staff have set a goal of creating a world class fishery for anglers and increased tourism revenue for the government. They’ve certainly achieved these goals.
Play safe on the deep, far from shore waters of the Blue Zone. Practical boating sense is as important as proper fishing knowledge.
No matter which way I look at it, in half a century of pulling spoons on the Great Lakes and out on the Pacific. I’ve never witnessed quite the open water steelhead fishery that can be found in Lake Ontario’s Blue Zone. It’s the best of the best. Don’t pass it up.
Randy Scott (Red Dog Sportfishing) http://www.reddogsportfishing.ca/index_files/Page455.htm