This is your chance to make the last days of summer your claim to fishing fame by hooking and landing one of Ontario’s monsters of the deep.
The trick to being successful is a mixture of preparation and basic knowledge of your quarry. The big four, when it comes to catching deep water giants, are landing muskie, northern pike, salmon and lake trout. All of these beasts are capable of growing well over 35 pounds and are certainly capable of testing any angler‘s metal. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
One particular commonality amongst the giants is their love for cooler water temperatures, ranging from the mid-40s up to the low-60s. So finding the haunts of the deep is as simple as using a sonar device, like a Humminbird 788CI, that will show you the thermocline. To clarify, the thermocline is where warmer surface water and cold lake bottom water meet. The temperature here is usually around 50°F.
As for the gear you’ll need, it’s pretty universal so we’ll keep it simple and break it down for each species: Muskie
If you want to catch a trophy muskie, late summer early fall is the time to do it. Most seasoned muskie guides agree that September and October are the peak months to catch a true trophy. The water temperature drops to the mid-sixties, and the muskies start putting on fat for the upcoming winter. Weed beds near deep water are best. Fish that hang out in deeper water will head to the weed beds to feed. On larger weed beds, work the outside edges first (especially the inside turns) before heading towards the centre.
Speed up your presentation at this time of year to the ideal speed for your lures. Large swim baits like the Berkley hollow body minnow get the aggressive fish, but full-sized wooden baits like Lucky Strike’s Ol’ Wooden Plug are also a good bet. Heavy-duty muskie tackle is a must. Wire or fluorocarbon leaders, Berkley Big Game Monofilament and a heavy duty Shimano Compre Muskie Rod can handle anything a big “skee” might throw at you.
Mornings and evenings are your prime times. On hot days the fish will suspend in deeper water. Trolling with large, deep running plugs is the best way to cover a lot of water as effectively as possible. Troll with a long line and troll fast. Troll tight to weed lines and then move further out and try again. Locate sunken islands and shoals, and work these areas as well. Steep drops, islands and of course mid-lake weed beds are the key, so get searching and use your electronics. Best bets for hooking up are Lake Nippissing and Lake of the Woods.
Lake trout grow to immense proportions, and Ontario is home to more lake trout waters than anywhere else in the world. The fish typically seek a constant water temperature between 40°F and 52°F. During summer, you will likely find the fish anywhere between 50 and 100 feet. Lake trout primarily eat other small fish, but in some lakes “the laker” has been known to feed almost exclusively on insects and crustaceans. These lake trout do not reach the same size as “lakers” that feed on fish.
Many trout are caught by trolling with large spoons attached to wire lines or downriggers. They can also be taken by bottom-fishing with heavy jigs or cut bait. However, the use of sonar has made laker fishing sort of like fishing in the proverbial barrel. By locating lakers suspended in deep water, you can fool them into biting by keeping your boat right over top of them and lowering a five inch minnow imitating bait like a Berkley Jerk Shad on 30-pound braided line and a medium heavy Shimano casting rod like the indestructible Voltaeus models. Simply watch your bait sink to the depth and hold on tight, as they will snatch it and head for deeper water when you set the hook. Note a strong back is required for hauling these brutes. Hotspots are the lower Niagara river and Lake Simcoe.
Salmon are true giants, and although the chinook is king, don’t overlook the opportunity of hooking into one of the recently stocked leaping Atlantics. The O.F.A.H/OPG Bring Back the Salmon project just released its three millionth fish into Lake Ontario and there are reports of fish in the 20 pound class being caught.
In most Great Lakes, you will find salmon that are feeding tend to live near the thermocline at about 53°F. Basically, you just have to mark fish on your sonar and set your downriggers at different depths within 15 feet of where you are marking the majority of the fish. In the heat of summer, they can be found down over 100 feet deep. In late summer and early fall, salmon start staying at river mouths in water closer to 50 and 60 feet. They are waiting for rain to make the water level high enough for them to swim upstream and spawn. Flat lining without any riggers or using a three-way sinker rig to get baits down is simple for anyone in any size boat. Troll a big Lucky Strike spoon behind a one ounce sinker or troll a deep diving crank bait on a three-way rig in the 50-foot mark and hold on tight. Giant salmon will leap in the air to shake lures loose and give anglers good reason to wear adult diapers. Hotspots are Lake Ontario and Lake Huron.
Northern pike are amongst the most vicious freshwater leviathans and when hooked make heart stopping runs for open water. A fully fed late summer/early fall water wolf can weigh well over 30 pounds and fight like it’s three times that weight.
Pike become feeding machines at this time of year to fatten up for the cold winter ahead. Many giants are caught by accident during walleye fishing near deep weed beds. Big pike seem to be attracted to the same deep water structure as walleyes. It’s probably due to the high population of baitfish, plus pike love a good feed of walleye as much as you and I. Casting larger lures in deeper weed beds and along shorelines with boulders is an excellent way to bring in the big ones. A word to the wise here, keep a close eye on your bait as you get close to the boat, big pike are curious and will often follow baits right to the side of your boat then disappear back to the depths in a flash.
A Berkley hollow body swimbait or a devil spoon are sure bets. Try stopping your bait just before it comes into sight and pausing for about five or six seconds. Chances are if you don’t have a tight grip on your stick you’ll be fishing for another rod and reel. Hotspots are Rainy lake and Lake Georgian Bay.
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