• Outdoors Column for Aug 28, 2013

    The halfway point of the 2013 Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular has passed and anglers continue to flood the bay in hope of landing the winning salmon before the derby wraps up on Sunday. Clark Green of Owen Sound still holds the overall lead with a Chinook that tipped the scales at 22.60lbs. Boat launch talk suggests the fishing has been somewhat slow for many anglers who are plying the waters of the Sound. Regardless, salmon will continue to be caught in the remaining days, and there is a good chance someone will top Green’s salmon before the event ends.

    The “derby” has always been a hotbed for excuses to fly and misinformation to be passed around. Anglers tend to look for excuses to make sense of poor fishing. Plenty of those who do not land fish on regular basis tend to chalk it up to a force or variable outside of their control. This is not always the case however. Critical thinking, and an understanding of salmon go a long way in putting fish in the boat. Yes I said critical thinking….smart anglers catch the majority of the fish.

    Here are some tips, and facts in regards to catching salmon in Owen Sound during derby time.

    Josh Choronzey hoists a large Chinook taken in Owen Sound Bay.  The fish was caught on a Spin Doctor and Anchovy combo in 90 feet of water.Lures and baits. Salmon are opportunistic feeders. There is not an overwhelming amount of baitfish in Georgian Bay and the salmon know this. Therefore, lure choice is not the “end all” when it comes to catching fish. A properly presented lure is more important than having the hot bait trolled improperly. Trolling speed is the greatest factor in triggering a salmon to bite your offering. Spoons, Lyman plugs, flashers and anchovies all have an optimal speed range at which they should be trolled. If you go beyond those parameters and troll too fast or too slow, the fish catching abilities of your chosen lure diminish. Most proven salmon baits have a trolling speed range between 2 and 3 mph. Keep your speed in that range and you are on the right track. Use a speed/temperature probe to know exactly what speed your lures are doing at the cannon ball. Surface/GPS speed is not the most accurate indication of actual lure speed due to currents that influence water coming in and out of the bay. Salmon that are no longer feeding still have the instinct and aggressive nature to strike a lure, the greatest reason why so many lures seem to catch fish this time of year. Take your pick because they all catch fish: Silver Fox, Lyman Lures, Flasher+Anchovies, Hotfish Spoons, J-Plugs, Northern Kings and the list goes on.

    Location. The vast majority of Salmon Spectacular winners over the years have been caught in “The Hole” or along the inner west side of Owen Sound Bay. Why? The mature salmon that enter the bay in late summer have one thing on their mind, and that is reaching the Sydenham River to spawn. The west shore acts as a guardrail for the migrating fish, and the “The Hole” is the last bastion of deep water before the salmon enter the shallows of the channel and harbor. Salmon stack up in “The Hole” but so do the anglers. When the majority of anglers fish the west shore and “The Hole” there is a good possibility that is where the winner will be caught. Remember, every salmon that enters Owen Sound Bay has arrived from somewhere else. A 20lb fish caught this morning in front of Balmy Beach likely swam past Presquile or White Cloud Island within the past few days. Don’t be afraid to fish away from the crowds. Salmon in the inner bay become shy from angler traffic and as the derby progresses, and anglers often find they are taking less bites per trip in the more popular areas. Break away; find fish that have not been pressured time and time again and you will get bit more often.

    Baitfish. Anglers are often confused with the role baitfish play in the behavior of late summer salmon. The most important factor is that mature salmon STOP FEEDING. Biologically speaking, all mature salmon stop feeding while they “stage” before the spawn. Their stomachs and esophagus literally close shut as they prepare to reproduce. Cleaning station chit-chat often sounds like “none of the salmon I caught have baitfish in their stomachs”, yes correct, because they cannot physically do so! Salmon still strike lures out of instinct and aggression this time of year, however, they are not actually feeding. Immature 2yr old Chinooks, and trout in the bay will most definitely be on the continual quest to feed, but the mature, derby-winning fish are not.

    Water Temperature. Popular literature and thought suggests that salmon like to feed and spend time in a specific range of water temperature. This range is often referred to as “temp” in the salmon world and can be located with a temperature probe attached to a downrigger. Ideal “temp” for salmon falls between 49F and 55F. Here is a news flash you can take to the bank, or the weigh scale…. preferred temperature means nothing once the salmon start to stage in Owen Sound. That magical temperature range that so many salmon anglers are hung up on goes out the window come late summer. Salmon are biologically DONE FEEDING; therefore they have no reason to follow a temperature range. Also, this range of temperature is structured around available and preferred baitfish stocks. Since the alewife crash of the late 90’s, salmon have concentrated their feeding habits on a variety of different baitfish. These food sources do not inhabit the same preferred temperature range of salmon. This causes salmon to search and feed outside of the magical range on a regular basis. These staging salmon are preparing to enter warm river water in the weeks to come, far outside their comfort range. As the days pass, every salmon in the bay will be found outside of that preconceived magical temperature range. Want to catch more salmon? Fish outside the “temp” this time of year.

    Owen Sound area local Adam Pettengill with a fine salmon caught in Owen Sound Bay.  Pettengill caught the fish on a Spin Doctor Flasher and brined anchovy combo.

    Graph/Fish Finder. As a little boy I can remember sitting in my father’s boat staring at the contraption that has become a mainstay for anglers looking to find fish. The fish finder is an incredible invention. Technology has come leaps and bounds from the days of the early “flasher” and paper graphs. Today, companies have so many options and features on a fish finder that it can become very intimidating for the average angler to use. A fish finder is your primary tool for locating salmon. Successful anglers know how to use the options on their graphs. Settings such as sensitivity, ping speed, and manual operation are all areas options an angler should know and understand. Do not use the Fish ID option many graphs have, instead switch the machine to manual mode. Also, understand that a good quality fish finder can mark far more than just fish. Every evening during the derby the radio chat turns to the same topic. “Right at dark my screen lit up with marks of fish”, is often the same remark I hear again and again. A good fish finder will mark concentrations of plankton, differences in water temperature and suspended weeds and debris that are common when plenty of boats are on the water. The fish finder records these “other things” in a similar way it would a salmon. Learn to differentiate between fish and the non-important marks and you will not be left scratching your head as to why you are marking “so many fish” that are not actually fish. Graphs do not lie; they just do not always provide you a clear answer. Learn how to properly use the fish finder to the greatest ability and you will be ahead of the vast majority of anglers.

    Catching salmon from a boat with downriggers is not rocket science. Catching one big salmon is not a hard task. Often, the winning salmon is caught by an angler who has relatively poor luck during the derby overall. Anglers have little control over what size of salmon bites their lure. Tricking the largest salmon into biting is very much like playing the lottery. The only the difference is the ability to get more strikes and land more fish. Approach salmon fishing with an open mind and some critical thinking and you can but the odds in your favor. Good luck to all the anglers in the remaining days of the derby. Hopefully a few of the tips covered above will help you land on the top of the leaderboard.