• Outdoors August 20, 2014

    Tom Hamilton of London Ontario landed this big Chinook last week while trolling near Owen Sound Bay.  Hamilton will be on the water again during derby, looking for the "big one".The largest municipality in Grey/Bruce is about to be transformed into salmon city over the next ten days. The 27th Annual Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular is about to kick off. Once again the hard-working volunteers have erected the big tent, readied the weigh-scales, and lined up an extensive schedule of daily entertainment, all in the name of our Chinook salmon fishery.

    For the past three years I’ve taken the opportunity that this column affords to highlight the dedicated volunteer work of Sydenham Sportsman Association members who raise salmon in their local hatchery, conduct conservation projects, and host this one of a kind event. The Salmon Spectacular is an event that showcases all of their hard work come to fruition. Without these selfless acts there would likely be no salmon fishery, habitable stream environments, or derby to enjoy. The City of Owen Sound and the surrounding area would go without the huge economic spin-off these volunteers ultimately produce. Local business, anglers, and revelers all undoubtedly appreciate the SSA’s hard work and commitment.

    That being said, I’d like to approach this year’s derby column on a different note. Everyone who buys a derby ticket enters the event with the hope of landing that big salmon. The whole idea of the salmon derby is competition and everybody wants to win. This is made evident by the remarks from anglers I speak to over the course of the event. Whether by friends or by complete strangers overheard at local boat launches, “I’m going to win the derby this year” has been muttered by dozens of anglers, all with an air of conviction. I may not have the answer to winning the derby, but I have fished the very first one, will fish this one, and I will undoubtedly fish many in the years to come, and I’ve come up with a few tips to make the odds fall in your favour… they certainly cant’ hurt.

    Boat Launches. Even if the derby is the only time during the entire year that you launch your boat, make sure you do it efficiently and properly. Nothing starts the day off worse than jackknifing your trailer in the dark of early morning while an anxious line up of waiting anglers heckle you from their trucks. I worked at the marina as a launch attendant in the glory days of local salmon fishing, and while I may have been too young to drive myself, I nonetheless understood what I was seeing when poor boat launch etiquette turned to fisticuffs. Make sure you know what you’re doing, the launches are incredibly busy in the dark before dawn and everyone has to wait their turn, best be quick about your business. Also, if the navigational lights on your boat don’t work, don’t bother launching your boat at all, safety trumps salmon.

    Trolling. There are some unwritten rules to trolling the waters of Owen Sound Bay. First and foremost, considerate anglers follow the depth contours of the bay. The majority of salmon targeted by downrigger fishermen are staging in the deep confines of Thompson’s Hole and along the west shore. In order to maintain consistent trolling depths between 70 and 120 feet of water, anglers troll up and down in a north-south direction. When the bay is busy, trolling across the bay results in a mess of boats resorting to evasive maneuvers to avoid collisions, crossed lines, and heated tempers. Remember, each popular salmon lure has an optimal speed range at which the bait is most productive. Don’t cut-off neighbouring anglers, they might have to change speed to avoid you - it just isn’t courteous.

    Electronics. Modern fish finders are a technological marvel. New advancements in the industry have created an age in which the savviest of anglers rely on these specialized units to fill their boats with fish. “Side-imaging”, “down-imaging”, “structure scan”, and “high definition” are all now part of a common terminology for techy anglers. Good sonar units come equipped with high-detail GPS maps of the entire lake bottom. It is a wonder we don’t catch them all. Luckily for the salmon, most anglers do not take advantage of modern technology to its fullest. Invest in a quality fish-finder and GPS system and learn how to use it. Understand how to read the information the unit is showing you, if this means sitting down with the manual for a few hours, I can assure you, its time well spent. If you believe that your fish-finder is marking hundreds of salmon during an evening on the bay, then you are likely not ready your graph properly. Concentrations of plankton, water temperature changes and debris are all recorded by high-detail sonar and are often mistaken for fish. When used properly, a quality graph is more than just a depth finder; it is one of the most useful tools in your boat.

    Lures. Salmon anglers are often devoted lure collectors. No Great Lakes troller can have enough spoons, plugs, flashers, flies, or bait-rigs. There will be plenty of anglers on the water with more weight in lures aboard their boat than they weigh themselves. We are all looking for the special bait that will catch the winner. The fact is, you only need a handful of lures. Hardcore salmon anglers often share the same tried, tested, and reliable lures when quizzed about what they’re using. A box consisting of Lyman plugs, Hotfish spoons, flashers, flies, and maybe a few anchovies will provide you with all of the staples. Understand the optimal trolling speeds of each bait, send it to the right depth with sharp hooks and cross your fingers.

    Luck. It is hard to argue what role luck plays in winning the Salmon Spectacular. History has proven that relatively unskilled, casual anglers can win the derby. One would agree that dumb luck obviously plays a role. Then again, past winners have also included die-hard anglers who put in their time to finally catch the big one. A perfect example is last year’s winner, Steve Busey, a hard-core local whose 26.24 lb. chinook took home top honours. You can put the odds in your favour to boat more fish but ultimately it is pretty tough to make the big one bite. With thousands of returning salmon holed up in the bay ranging from 10 to 20 some pounds, the angler must take what he gets in terms of the size of salmon that strikes his bait. I know, I’ve been trying for 26 years. A great many salmon have found their way to my cleaning board, but only a very few have found a place on the leader board. For a skilled angler, entering the derby provides them with a ticket to the lottery, one in which they can manipulate the odds, not by cheating, but by fishing smart.

    Sharpen your hooks, add fresh line to your reels, change the oil in your outboard, and set your coffee maker. The 27th Annual Salmon Spectacular begins. To those non-angling readers, please excuse me, and a few thousand friends, as we turn Owen Sound into Salmon City once again. See you in the fish tent!
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