"Little is King" for July Chinook Salmon
Ideas to put more Lake Ontario Black Jaws in your boat.

By Shane Thombs
Often it's the little things that keep your attention. Nothing more annoying then big flashy and distracting billboards, an overplayed song on the radio or the how the volume suddenly elevates on those TV commercials. The old saying of "Go Big or Go Home" really means "Go Big and Go Home Skunked" when it comes to today's Lake Ontario July salmon. Since the Late nineties, salmon hunters are discovering that "Little is King" and I'm not talking little Kings.


Patrick Stewart try's to lift his July King caught on Mini Dipsy and Northern King Monkey Puke.

It's no News Flash that the forage base for Lake Ontario salmon has changed drastically. The advent of  zebra mussels and reduced pollution has diminished plankton levels, at the base of the food chain. Where once plankton was numerous in depths as deep as the mid summer thermalcline, it is now only the warmer upper layers of the water column that contains food chain supporting plankton. 

In the mid nineties the word was a depleted Alwife population and hence, a starving salmon and trout fishery. Weak salmon were dying off from Bacterial Kidney Disease and the fishery was on a turn downwards. With every action, there's a reaction, so the dynamics of the fishery changed. Forage fish species such as emerald shiners, sticklebacks and young alewife populations increased dramatically. Warmer, near surface depths were their new domain and the rich surface plankton levels were all their own to feed upon.

These are small fish, not much larger then your index finger, but they became the new diet of hungry salmon and trout. Last year we opened up a 6 pound rainbow and pulled out 24 sticklebacks! It's common to see trout as well as salmon chasing bait to the surface. So how do we catch them?

It's back to the word "little"; little baits, little strike zones, and little stuff in the water. Less stuff in the water means more fish and smaller baits get bit more often by opportunistic feeding salmon.

Little Stuff in the Water

A trolling spread is like a game of chest, the placement and selection of your lures in the spread have a detrimental effect on your success. The spread is like feeling out your opponent, how they react to curtain moves. The pawn makes the first move of the match, salmon are shy and taking baits on long leads behind the boat. Or to the other extreme- Attacking the queen for a check , the salmon are coming on short leads behind the cannonball.

Over the past few years it has been observed that less stuff in the water equates to more bites. Less stuff meaning less clutter of baits grouped together in the spread. You're imitating the sparse appearance of today's baitfish schools, and mimicking a few straggler weak minnows falling behind the school.

Charter captains are now resorting to a spread-out spread. Dipsies, wire line /drop weights, leadcore line and longer leads off the riggers are getting better hook-up percentages. 2001 was recorded the best year ever seen, surpassing even the mid eighties, on the New York side. 35 fish days were common and more then half were taken on the leadcore and dipsies in July.

Don't forget to try the various sizes of dipsy divers. The smaller #0 or the #3/0 mini dipsy are great producers when the larger size isn't catching. The mini dipsy can run to 30 feet on super-line, and is great off the boards for kings, rainbows and the odd coho.


Dipsy Divers of all three sizes catch July Kings. From Left to Right you have size #3/0 mini Dipsy, #0 and the #1. Paint and tape to the dipsy can make a bad day turn good.

Rarely can you run two or more riggers at the same depth and catch shy kings. Keep in mind that if a particular depth becomes hot, don't hesitate to move another rigger to that depth. If that kind of crowding turns off the fish, then reverse your move with the second rigger and then think of other methods that are less intrusive-but still run that depth. Dipsies are the next good move, and/or a wire line with a 8-12oz lead ball to run behind the boat a little ways. Lastly, leadcore is your most non-intrusive technique and can run a bait at a target depth, but many yards from the boat and the rigger turbulence. Try to get to the queen early in the chest game and work the pawns when nothing else gets a checkmate .

An excellent tip is to parade those baits at the same depth that has been marking fish. Often the turbulence of the boat and the riggers can pull curious salmon into the spread. If they don't like the rigger line, then the dipsies may be better, maybe the wire line / drop weight is appealing as it trails behind. No, well then the leadcore tail gunner should finish the job. Each bait that goes by the fish, is less intrusive, while at the same time the fish becomes more excited by the commotion.

During the 2001 Salmon Dance our team tried the leadcore for the first time. Eight rods in our spread and the one 27 pound test leadcore rod was set up to run "straight down the shoot" behind the boat at the six colour mark (60 yards). Out of 12 fish we hooked up on, 5 were from the leadcore. It took longer to fight the fish to the boat and resend the leadcore back out, then it did to hook up with another fish.

Little Baits

Little spoons have been shinning over the past few years. Largely due to matching the hatch to the baitfish most preyed upon by today's Kings. Northern King 28 and C5, Pirate 44, Michigan Stinger Scorpion, Wasp Prizm mini, and the Northern Dancer mini have been popular salmon catchers last year. Watch out for the Northport Nailer's Kaleidoscope Nailer to be buzzing on the VHF in 2002. They come in 3 3/4 inches as well as 3 1/4 inches long. www.northportnailer.com

Metallic, and natural finishes are top picks in July. Don't hesitate to add a little tape and don't forget to add an eye to the hook end of the spoon. That's the killing target to a hungry salmon, so put the eye at the business end of the spoon. Of course sharp hooks are a must.


Click on the image for a closer look and colour reference

Little Strike Zones

Timing is everything, being in the right place at the right time to get bit. Today's salmon are aggressive less often because they got to go out of there way, in less comfortable water for a worthy meal. So the majority of the time you will be faced with shrinking strike zones and fish unlikely to chase down a bait.

It may be tough for a while, but when you're on them during peek feeding times, hold on to your hats. Try to focus your trips early and late in the day or during overcast or choppy seas. Remember that most of the bait is located near the surface. Low light conditions make it comfortable for kings to venture to shallower and warmer depths. When that sun rides high in the sky you can bet the surface isn't where the salmon play.

In July the thermocline will run between 20-50 feet down. As a general rule, that is too shallow to run flasher/cutbait, but don't put it back in the box just yet. Get a rigger down below the thermolcline in say 43-47 degree water and let the flasher do it's thing. Many negative Kings during a sunny mid July afternoon can be hoaxed into taking meat. The use of the whole water column becomes important in catching July salmon. Up high spoons as well as down deep cutbait can be catching kings all at the same time.

Successful salmon hunting starts with a good network of fisherman working together to track them down and produce patterns together. A good network expands out beyond your home port, to other locations around the lake. The salmon of today are very mobile and rarely stay in the section of the lake by your home port for a whole season. You got to move with them or loss out. If a port is recording good catches and your home port is dry-you got to move to the fish-they will not come to you! The fish are almost always biting somewhere in the lake.

Have fun this July for some of the best salmon fishing you have ever experienced. The little things make a big difference.

Fish-U-Later