When it comes to battling big fish, few destinations have the allure of New York's Lake Ontario, an impressive body of water that's known for its trophy-sized trout and salmon.
While there are many towns and cities along the lake's shoreline that offer great angling, one locale that's definitely worth exploring, especially if a person is looking for an experience off the beaten path, is Sodus Point in rural Wayne County. A four-hour drive from this region, this waterfront hamlet of 900 people is known for its sensational springtime angling just minutes off shore, with opportunities to target everything from football-sized brown trout to hard fighting steelhead and lunker lake trout.
"Shallower water and big football browns - that's pretty much what we're known for," says Chris Kenyon, outdoor recreation coordinator for the Wayne County tourism office. "All along Wayne County waters it's shallower.
"The water warms up faster here, which means it brings in bait fish closer to shore and the browns follow. We have a very exciting brown trout fishery in the spring."
Dane Brown, a charter captain who has been leading anglers to big fish on Lake Ontario for nearly three decades, said that charter guides usually start fishing for browns the first week in April.
"I would say the average brown - we call them cookie cutters – is 3-4 pounds, but we get them up into the teens. It's not uncommon to get a 12 or 13-pounder," says Brown, who operates Get-A-Way Fishing Charters out of Sodus Point. "We'll stay on the browns through the middle of June. From the middle of May to the middle of June, that's when the bigger ones are usually there."
While browns are the featured attraction in spring, one of the other draws as summer nears is the opportunity to catch a mixed bag that also includes lake trout, rainbow trout and more. Come mid-May, fishermen can target both browns and acrobatic steelhead, making for an exciting outing that's hard to beat.
Last spring, anglers got an added bonus when Chinook salmon, commonly called kings, moved into the area earlier than normal, likely due to the mild winter that kept water temperatures well above normal.
"It was probably the best fishing we've seen in a long, long time," Brown said. "We always have a real good spring fishery in Sodus for browns and rainbows, but with the addition of the kings, it was crazy."
The charter captain's assessment was recently confirmed by data from the New York Department of Conservation's annual Lake Ontario Fishing Boat Survey, which showed that Lake Ontario anglers had their best year of combined trout and salmon fishing ever in 2012. Chinook salmon catches have been on a steady rise for the past decade, while last year's brown trout fishing was the second-best since records started being kept in 1985. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that the number of boat trips was down almost 20 percent from the previous five-year average, which means anglers were actually more successful than ever.
According to Kenyon, sport fishing is also a big economic driver in Wayne County, with anglers spending an average of more than $400 per person on top of the fees for guides and charters. While the county's quality fishing experience attracts anglers from throughout the Northeast, the majority come from Pennsylvania, followed by New Jersey and Massachusetts.
"A lot of guys come here for the brown trout because the action is a little faster and it's close to shore," Kenyon said. "With the salmon you're going after the 25 pounders, but you're trolling longer times for them.
"With the browns, you're 10 minutes out of port and you're setting up when they're around. It all depends on what you want to catch, but pretty much late spring, you can get the whole mix of species the lake has to offer."
For information on Wayne County fishing, stop by the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council booth at the Greater Philadelphia Outdoor Sportshow, Oaks, Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 14-17, or visit www.waynecountytourism.com. For details on Lake Ontario fishing charters with Get-A-Way Fishing Charters contact Capt. Dane Brown at 585-217-3033 or www.getawayfishingcharters.com.