• Derby days in Owen Sound

    Dan Gravel of Owen Sound hoists a 12 lb Chinook caught on Sunday in Owen Sound Bay.  Gravel's salmon just missed the top ten daily leader board.  The fish was caught on a rotating flasher and fly combo trolled in 120 feet of water.With the 27th annual Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular more than half-way complete, plenty of anglers have been left scratching their heads as they troll the bay in search of salmon. It has been no secret to the anglers in the derby that 2014 has been a tough year on the water. Daily fish entries are down from last year, and observant anglers have noticed less fish on their sonar, and ultimately on the end of their line.

    Regardless of how many fish are out there in the local bays, a derby is still underway, and 10 big salmon will be awarded prizes each day with one lucky angler pulling in the grand-prize winner. I have personally spent time on the water over three derby days now, completing a total of six trips. In those six trips only five salmon have found the floor of the boat with none of the fish making the daily top ten. Knowing that one big bite can change the outcome of my derby quest, I will be sure to put a few more hours in before the event comes to an end.

    Derby days in Owen Sound bring all of the armchair professionals to our local waters. I could write a book on bizarre and off the wall salmon tactics by just listening in to some of the banter at the derby tent. Some anglers claim they have the secret scent to add to their lures, while others claim to have the secret bait that no one else has heard about. Some have a lucky charm, or maybe only choose to hit the bay when the winds are just right according to the fish gods. Fact remains, the derby winner is almost always caught on a known/popular lure, from a known hotspot such as “The Hole”, “Cobble Beach” or Hibou”. Lets take a moment to look at some of the finer aspects of salmon trolling Owen Sound, and maybe tilt the odds in your favor.

    Lure choice for salmon fishing is pretty simple this time of year. I asked over two- dozen anglers what they have been trolling during the early days of this year’s derby at local boat launches and the replies were pretty similar. Lyman plugs, Northern King spoons, Silver Fox spoons, Hotfish spoons, Hotfish flies, anchovies and herring strips are by far the most popular picks. These are proven baits which box salmon for anglers all over the Great Lakes throughout the summer. I would wager that this year’s winner comes on one of the above baits, for the simple reason that they work well and are a staple among the masses trolling local waters. The winner could be caught on a pop can if every boat out there was using one! The right lure goes much further than just buying a popular bait and tying it on.

    Trolling speed trumps all when it comes to lures and catching fish. I cannot stress this enough. You can buy the hottest lure on the bay, but if you do not troll it at the right speed it will not catch fish. Local lure maker and long time charter captain Tony Degasperis is by far the number one salmon ace in our local region. The man has made a living by putting clients on good numbers of salmon for well over two decades. He has taken his experience and knowledge to the lure making business with his line of spoons, and flies. His baits are top notch, but he will be the first to tell you that they only catch fish when trolled at the right speed. “Controlling boat speed is everything” notes Mr. Hotfish. “Control your boat speed 100% of the time and your lures will be working correctly 100% of the time, it is simple. Anglers need to own and know how to use a speed probe to be able to tell what speed the lures are travelling at the cannon ball”, says Degasperis. “Lake currents can drastically change based on trolling direction and that can have an overwhelming effect on speed on the surface of the lake versus down deep”. For anglers without speed and temperature probes the captain gives the following advice, “pick a presentation that is not overly speed dependent, such as a rotating flasher/fly set up which is effective in a wide speed range from 1.5 to 3.5mph”. Take this information to the bank because it is rock solid. Learn the optimum speed range for the lures you troll and learn how to keep your speed in that range. It will start to answer questions like “why do I only hook fish trolling in a certain direction?”

    Far too many anglers rely on locating and catching salmon based on water temperature. Radio chatter during the derby is often filled with anglers quizzing each other about the location of preferred water temperature each day on the bay. It is true that salmon and trout have a preferred water temperature range that they feel comfortable feeding in (45-55F). But what many anglers neglect to acknowledge is that the majority of fish in Owen Sound bay are NOT feeding. Salmon biologically stop feeding in late summer in preparation for the spawning ritual. Most Chinooks caught in the bay are already off the feed by the time the annual derby rolls around. They still strike lures based on instinct during the former feeding windows of sunrise and sunset, and they often strike out of sheer aggression. But, these fish no longer follow the rules of water temperature and can often be located outside of this imaginary boundary. Anglers catching salmon off the harbor wall can attest to this fact as they are pulling fish from water which is well into the upper 60F range. Spend more time trolling around the fish you are marking on the graph and less time relying on water temperature to tell you where to fish. In the case of staging salmon, you will do better to throw the rules of temperature out the window.

    So where will the winning fish be caught? Chances are a heavy wind or rain event will draw more salmon into the heart of the bay. Shorebound anglers will be doing the rain dance with hopes that a freshet of river water will spark the migration of fish that are already staging from the harbor to “The Hole”. All the popular locations will produce fish and your odds of trolling the “right” spot is like playing the lottery. Ultimately, the majority of salmon in Owen Sound Bay have the Sydenham River as their final destination. Feeding has stopped for the most part and the most popular staging area for big salmon is Thompson’s Hole. If I was a betting man (I am as I bought a derby ticket) I would guess the winner will come from “The Hole” or close by over the next few days. The old adage “stick and stay make it pay” reigns true for those looking to score on a big King that is sulking in the final retreat of deep water before heading up river. Then again, maybe the big one will come from Colpoys Bay where the fish are still feeding on the small schools of smelt in the area, or maybe lawnchair Bob will battle the giant from the harbor wall late Saturday night after a sprinkling of rain. If picking the right spot to catch the winning fish was that easy then there would be repeat winners and the same anglers landing top ten fish each day……and there isn’t.

    Good luck to the anglers fishing the remaining days of the 27th annual Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular. I do not have the magical answer for those who seek the big salmon that will win the event. My best advice is to fish smart. That is simple advice that makes a lot of sense in the long run. Put your time in on the water and good things will happen if you can control the variables within reach. Enjoy the festivities under the Big Tent at derby headquarters and be safe on the water.
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