Lake Trout Season Ontario

March 10, 2015
In-Fisherman television s Doug

Photo of an angler holding a steelhead in front of downriggers.First a quick word about safety. Lake Ontario is a huge lake, so safety should always be your number one concern. A boat that is capable of handling the big water conditions is a must. There are certain times of the year, however, such as early spring, late summer and early fall, when trout or salmon are near shore and are accessible to anglers with smaller boats. Good sonar (depth finder, fish locator, etc.) is a must for safe trolling and navigation. A global positioning system (GPS) is also highly recommended for safety. It will help you find your home port and to also help you find your way back to a productive fishing area. A marine radio is also a must for safety, weather reports and fishing information from fellow anglers.

Use temperature as a starting point,

A key factor to consider for successful trout and salmon fishing is water temperature. Each salmonid species has a preferred temperature range as well as an optimum water temperature where they will prefer to stay. Locating these areas and concentrating your fishing effort in them will greatly increase your chance of catching your target fish. Most lakes, including Lake Ontario, thermally stratify during the summer. This means there is an upper warm surface layer, called the epilimnion, with temperatures ranging from 62 - 80 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Immediately below the epilimnion is the thermocline. The thermocline is a narrow band, often only 5 to 15 feet, where there is a rapidly decreasing temperature zone. Below the thermocline is the hypolimnion, or the cold water zone where the temperature ranges from 39 - 52 F. Luckily there are temperature probes available that allow you to easily take water temperatures down to 100 feet or more. These thermometers are either hand held and lowered on a cable, or connect to your downrigger system. You can also often see the thermocline on your depth finder by turning the gain or sensitivity up. The thermocline will show as a narrow, fuzzy line.Photo of angler with Chinook salmon You can also use your depth finder to see at what depths the most fish are located and begin fishing there. A quick stop at a local bait shop or a visit to our Fishing Hotline Page will also help get you started at the right depth. Below is a chart showing the preferred and optimum temperature ranges for the trout and salmon found in Lake Ontario. This table is just meant to be a starting point; salmonids will venture out of these temperature zones.

Preferred and Optimum Temperature Ranges for Trout and Salmon
Species Preferred Temperature (F) Optimum Temperature (F)
Atlantic Salmon 55 - 65 Picture of waterfleas60
Brown Trout 54 - 63 58
Rainbow Trout/Steelhead 60
Lake Trout 42 - 52 48
Coho Salmon 52 - 58 53
Chinook Salmon

Add in some bait fish,

Along with the preferred water temperature, the presence of forage, bait fish in this case, must also be present or nearby. The main forage for trout and salmon in Lake Ontario are the alewife and rainbow smelt. Like the trout and salmon, smelt and alewives also have a preferred temperature zone and are usually found in and around the thermocline. Round gobies are also becoming a prey item for brown trout and lake trout during the portion of the year when the near shore water is cool enough for the trout to access the bottom hugging gobies.

And get your lures to the right depth!

Now that we know the preferred water temperature of the salmonid we want to catch, how do we get our lure down to that depth? Each year there are popular trends for trolling; these may include new techniques or lures, or old methods re-introduced. Some of the current popular methods are the use of downriggers, divers, wire line, copper line, and lead core line. From day to day the "hot" or productive method seems to vary, with one method out producing the other. What many trollers do is to put a few lures out with different methods of getting them down, and then adjust as one seems to be getting more hits that day. Overviews of some methods of getting your lure down are as follows:


Downriggers allow fishing at a precise depth. They are basically a heavy weight (often called a ball) attached to a steel cable that is released and retrieved by a winch and pulley system. Downriggers come in a variety of styles from clamp-on models to mounted models, and are either hand operated by cranks or run with electric motors. A release mechanism is attached to the ball, and an angler attaches his fishing line to the release. When a fish strikes the lure, the release mechanism releases the fishing line, so the fish may be fought and landed without the distraction of any additional weight.

Generally level wind or baitcasting reels are used when trolling, but spinning reels can also be used. Line capacity is important as you may be fishing 150 to 200 feet down and for fish, such as Chinook salmon, that may peel 100s of feet off the reel when they make a run. Therefore you need a reel that can handle 250 to 400 yards of 15 pound test monofilament line. Most downrigger rods for trout and salmon are 8 ½ to 10 ½ feet long and are medium to medium-heavy. They need to have a long enough butt section to fit in the rod holder without the reel hitting.

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