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What's your opinion of the current state of our fishery?


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Only a dozen years ago teams averaged 25.5lb Salmon to win a North shore event. I remember tossing back 22/23lb fish that day becasue they wouldn't help our box. 10th place had a 23.5lb average!
 
Fast forward to today and it's taking 15-18lb averages to win Salmon tourneys. According to everyone's social media the fishing we're experiencing is awesome. Me, however, I'd just like the opportunity to get spooled again.
 
Oh ya, check out that margin of victory from 1st-3rd, and check out the all-star team we brought over. We were .22 ounces away from a $25,000 check!
 
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I've been a river fisherman for over 30 years now turned lake fisherman in the last 7 years. So I can't speak for the lake 20 years ago but I will say they were way bigger in the river back then. Now I don't really fish the river unless my brother makes me. I remember one fall fishing in Oswego river they were loaded in there and I caught a bunch. One king was a little bigger than the others so I figured I'd weigh it and it was 36 pounds. Never crossed my mind to put it on the wall because it was just a spawning fish and lots more that I would catch in the future.

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The numbers of fish is awesome but I would like to see a happy medium.  The opportunity to catch a 30+ lb king and numbers of kings.  Lake Michigan cut stocking and saw an increase in king size.  We cut stocking and the size didn't change.  We were force fed that the king size was down due to the bait levels.  The bait biomass is way up yet size hasn't increased.  Didn't the DEC stock some sterile kings that were supposed to get to 50lbs years ago?  If so, lets pen rear some those fish and get some pigs swimming in Lake Ontario again!   

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I can't remember the last time we had to spin on a fish, nor the last time we had 700+ feet ripped off in a heartbeat. But much as it pains me to admit it, my body's been knocked about enough to be satisfied with a dozen teenagers and the occasional low-20s fish, like this morning. I'm not sure that the fight is actually proportional to the size, anyway. Some of those teenagers tear it up right in your face. Exciting stuff. And once they're done running and you're dragging in a fish on a wire diver, those last 200 feet are much easier these days.

 

But then I'm also satisfied to cast to sub-100 lb bluefin on topwater, with no interest whatsoever in winching in an 800 lb giant. 

 

In short, IMHO the fishery is more accessible to anglers of all skill levels and ages, so I'm not complaining. If they were giving away youth, I'd take a few decades - and maybe sing a different tune.

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The bait biomass is up but it isn't nearly what it was years ago . I don't even think it is 50 % of what it was . 

 

Mich cut stocking way down to let the self inflicted over stocking that crashed the bait there rebound and now they are getting bigger kings .After many years of dinks .  And according to DEC , those Mich kings are the same stocks as LO has . And DEC , after my correspondence with them , are sure that size  is directly related to amount of available bait . 

 

If it is truly genetics , which I don't totally disagree with, then at least some of the fish of a certain age should be bigger . 

 

The fishing is great , so I'm happy.  A 20# king is a nice fish . 

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1 hour ago, HB2 said:

The bait biomass is up but it isn't nearly what it was years ago . I don't even think it is 50 % of what it was . 

 

Mich cut stocking way down to let the self inflicted over stocking that crashed the bait there rebound and now they are getting bigger kings .After many years of dinks .  And according to DEC , those Mich kings are the same stocks as LO has . And DEC , after my correspondence with them , are sure that size  is directly related to amount of available bait . 

 

If it is truly genetics , which I don't totally disagree with, then at least some of the fish of a certain age should be bigger . 

 

The fishing is great , so I'm happy.  A 20# king is a nice fish . 

WeidelEtal_2023LkOntario_AprilPreyfishAlewifeReport.pdf (glfc.org)

 

You may want to read page 6 of the alewife trawl report from last year.  

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16 of the top 20 fish in the Fall 2001 Derby were over 40lbs. Back then mid 20’s to upper 20’s were the norm. I for one miss those fish. It’s not like the number of fish caught were much less than today either. I for one believe genetics are the reason. 

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9 minutes ago, GAMBLER said:

WeidelEtal_2023LkOntario_AprilPreyfishAlewifeReport.pdf (glfc.org)

 

You may want to read page 6 of the alewife trawl report from last year.  

 

Modern time means if they brought the 70's, 80's, and early 90's numbers back todays numbers are a fraction. That being said some of best big fish seasons were at the tail end of the 90's and early 2000's.

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There is just way to many fish in the lake. Period. The north shore streams are choked in the fall. 80-90% of those fish are natural and New York increased the number of chinook planted. The shear amount of bites should have everyone concerned. 30, 40, 50 bites in a morning is just stupid. The big head, slender body, and thin caudal peduncles are signs of the fish not getting enough to eat. 

It is way past time to have a serious conversation about large reductions in the plant numbers. The fish are showing it.

And all those lake trout that nobody targets need to find their way to the landfill and not into the lake. Love the indigenous fish huggers. The cisco reintroduction program will also further the strain on the alewife stock. 

 

Kisutch 

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42 minutes ago, Yankee Troller said:

 

Modern time means if they brought the 70's, 80's, and early 90's numbers back todays numbers are a fraction. That being said some of best big fish seasons were at the tail end of the 90's and early 2000's.

Like Billy said, the early 2000's king weights were heavy.  That was after the big cut.  Alewife numbers were lower than the 70's, 80's and 90's in the early 2000's.  The current bait biomass is way up compared to 2016-2019 yet those fish were bigger.  Remember those two missing year classes of alewife?  It's not a bait problem.  In the last five years, we have had good to record hatches in a row.  

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I’m a weekend fishing guy who grew up on the lake and catches a few every year.  If I put 5-6 in the frig that’s all I need.  I see a lot of fish go in boxes on this website and see posts of guys catching them for friends and relatives.  I don’t follow the DEC number reports closely, but from a weekender’s point of view it seems like the fishing is good.  Lots of respect to the charters but you seem to do well on numbers.  Could we not be letting as many go to grow?

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The fact that the LO chinook salmon are staging and entering the rivers to spawn at two years old instead of the three and four year old fish we had back in the 80’s and 90’s has to have a major impact on the size of the fish in the lake   Taking a whole year of growth out of the population will make a huge difference in size and weight 

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I'd love the opportunity at some bigger fish.  A 15#er on 20#+ gear really isnt much of a match.

 

That said, Im not sure Id trade the current state of things at a chance at some big uns.  Last couple of times I have been out this year we caught a lot of nice fish and didnt have to work very hard for them.  We didnt do nearly as well "back in the day" but my electronics, gear and knowledge is way ahead of what we had back then.

 

What we really need is lots of really big fish!  Really like the idea of putting a few 50#ers out there.  Sure be a good excuse when something goes wrong! 

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19 minutes ago, Luke510 said:

I’m a weekend fishing guy who grew up on the lake and catches a few every year.  If I put 5-6 in the frig that’s all I need.  I see a lot of fish go in boxes on this website and see posts of guys catching them for friends and relatives.  I don’t follow the DEC number reports closely, but from a weekender’s point of view it seems like the fishing is good.  Lots of respect to the charters but you seem to do well on numbers.  Could we not be letting as many go to grow?

Less charters out today than then. Less rec guys too. 

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19 minutes ago, 13owhunter said:

I'd love the opportunity at some bigger fish.  A 15#er on 20#+ gear really isnt much of a match.

 

That said, Im not sure Id trade the current state of things at a chance at some big uns.  Last couple of times I have been out this year we caught a lot of nice fish and didnt have to work very hard for them.  We didnt do nearly as well "back in the day" but my electronics, gear and knowledge is way ahead of what we had back then.

 

What we really need is lots of really big fish!  Really like the idea of putting a few 50#ers out there.  Sure be a good excuse when something goes wrong! 

We didn’t work hard back in the day. We drove out to fish 5 days every July from Chicago in the 90’s. 4 downriggers with 12lb mono for spoons, 17lb for dodger /fly and limits of big kings and steelhead. 
today there is wire, copper, fleas…..different game.

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Its kind of like shooting a big buck, you get a couple and then you want more and bigger ones.

If your not enjoying the fishing now, your crazy, its awesome!

Sure a monster would be great but i appreciate those high teen, low twenties every trip just fine!

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I think it is perfectly fine to say the fishery is great, but let us see if we can improve upon its greatness. By their own mission statement about how to treat the fishery, the lake managers are to manage Lake Ontario for a trophy fishery. 

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26 minutes ago, Gill-T said:

I think it is perfectly fine to say the fishery is great, but let us see if we can improve upon its greatness. By their own mission statement about how to treat the fishery, the lake managers are to manage Lake Ontario for a trophy fishery. 

Bingo!  Why not strive for better no matter how great it is!  

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There is something a large king brings that prompted a guy I know to proclaim it is better than fun loving. Mid teen fish don’t do that. Fishing is fun, catching a mature king is different. I think it is probably cyclical and good days are ahead. For the next few years I am taking the shorter drive to WI. We have teenage fish pretty close in Lake Oahe to Colorado. 
 

I have the greatest memories of Lake O when a rod released you had no idea how big the fish might be. Now you probably know how big it is at the end of a 400 copper.

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5 hours ago, kisutch said:

There is just way to many fish in the lake. Period. The north shore streams are choked in the fall. 80-90% of those fish are natural and New York increased the number of chinook planted. The shear amount of bites should have everyone concerned. 30, 40, 50 bites in a morning is just stupid. The big head, slender body, and thin caudal peduncles are signs of the fish not getting enough to eat. 

It is way past time to have a serious conversation about large reductions in the plant numbers. The fish are showing it.

And all those lake trout that nobody targets need to find their way to the landfill and not into the lake. Love the indigenous fish huggers. The cisco reintroduction program will also further the strain on the alewife stock. 

 

Kisutch 


Different lake. The lake was almost brown in the 80’s. The amount of fish that were near your lures while trolling was double what it is now based on stocking numbers. The problem is those fish couldn’t see your baits during the dirty water decades so 30-50 hit days were not an option. The issue is more complex than the blanket statement “we have too many fish”. Water quality means predators have less cover to be successful in catching their prey. The food web has also dropped towards the bottom from the invading mussels. Kings coming out of winter into spring look like crap and seemingly always have empty stomachs. Are fish losing three months per year of feeding and therefore growth because they have difficulty feeding on the bottom at 400’ of depth where alewives are wintering?  Before the mussels the epilimnion had all the productivity and lots of fatty Daphnia. The food web has shifted the deep chlorophyll layer into the metalimnion and the plankton is now less fatty spiny fleas. Fish will have to evolve to hunt at depth. With fish living only two or three years, I am not sure how much kings are going to learn/evolve new feeding tactics. Tough to compare Lake Michigan. Those fish can travel to three lakes to find bait and have a more diverse diet of whitefish and bloaters. Lake Michigan fish may just be further along in adapting to the changed environment. For example, with ultra clear water, Michigan fish are feeding more at night. Charters often have to leave the dock at 4:30 am because the bite is over by 8:30. For sure the right formula of stocking numbers vs alewife numbers needs to be gotten right by trial and error plus data modeling but it still might not fix the problem. I think this thread was started as a call to action that we need this subject studied. Is the problem environmental (fish maturing faster)?  Is the problem man-made (hatchery process)?  Is it just the new reality?  

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Great discussion and while I have not fished LO as yet (my refitting project is running longer than planned😫😫), I grew up on one of the world premier Rainbow streams in the US…Catherine Creek (a major Seneca Lake tributary) during the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  In those days the spring Rainbow spawn was a thing of absolute beauty.  You could not navigate Rt 14 between Horseheads and Watkins during the first week of April let alone find a parking spot.  The early versions of food trucks dotted every few miles and the fishing was world class. Then on June 18, 1972 Mother Nature delivered a life and fishery altering blow known as Hurricane Agnes the Southern Tier Region of New York and neighboring Pennsylvania experienced a rain and flood event not seen in modern history of the region.  Catherine Creek’s natural habitat was permanently altered by both the flooding and the subsequent flood control efforts by NYS to modify the creek’s banks and channel.  Gone were those wonderful pools with deep eddies and overhanging tree roots that provide great hidey holes for those big trout.   Yes the spring run still occurs but nothing like in the days of my youth.  Seneca Lake has too gone through some tectonic shift in its own ecological habitat. I am not a marine biologist, but things have changed to alter the  life cycle of the fishery.  Gone are the big schools of smelt and saw bellies that the salmon and trout foraged on…the invasion of the zebra mussels and introduction of other invasive (fleas) have created demonstrative impact to both the quantity and size of the fish.  That said, I not sure what if anything can be done to restore or replace the fisheries without everyone first coming to a common understanding of the status quo.  Similarly, I think it’s the same situation with LO.  The big dilemma is as it usually is: quality versus quantity.  In fishing terms bigger fish vs smaller more plentiful fish.  Recreational sport fishing is a business and the market forces that drive that economy and experience will tend to dictate the equilibrium.

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After reading a bunch regarding naturalization, I'm a fan of the genetics theory. I'm sure bait plays a role, too, but in terms of adaptation as well as abundance. Organisms will shift toward their niche so as to remain viable. Earlier spawning, energy redirected to eggs rather than growth, these are all classic cues. We see exactly the same thing happening in the lab (we study metabolic plasticity and aging's effect on neurologic disease). 

 

When our models start showing signs of genetic drift, we backcross them onto an ancestral stock. What's the word on reintroducing some of that Pacific heritage? Natural reproduction isn't doing us any favors in terms of size at sexual maturity. Maybe it's time for an infusion of "new blood". Thoughts? 

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