The unofficial start of spring on Lake Ontario is the Lake Ontario Counties Trout and Salmon Derby, set for May 6-15 this year (www.loc.org). This is a big fish contest, focusing in on salmon, brown trout, lake trout and, as of May 7 when the walleye season opens in New York, walleye. More than 4,000 anglers will be hitting the waters of this Great Lake in pursuit of the biggest salmon for the 10 day contest – worth a check for $15,000! Not bad for doing something that you love.
Fishing contests are not for everyone, but if you are going to be on the water fishing anyway, it’s not a bad idea to ante up and take a chance. Like the state lottery, you have to be in it to win it. Every year when I write the press release for the LOC events (there is also a summer and fall contest), every single time there’s a story about the winning fisherman – or woman – who won the prize on their first derby ever, for first fish ever, or first time on Lake Ontario. The stories, and the memories, are priceless. There are also the stories of the fish that didn’t get away, but they weren’t in the derby; or not everyone on the boat was in the LOC. The fall contest Grand Prize is $25,000, pretty serious in the cash department! That could buy a new fishing boat and lots of tackle!!
Check out the leaderboard on the website to see where the best places to fish are in the spring. Based on previous success stories, the waters from the Niagara River and the Niagara Bar to 30 Mile Point east of Olcott, New York, affords your best opportunity to take home some cash – year after year. Part of the reason for the early season success is because of the Niagara River, the biggest flow of water coming into Lake Ontario. That water is also a bit warmer come May as the waters of a much-shallower Lake Erie funnel their way through the Niagara River system. These attract the baitfish – smelt and alewives at the top of the list – and in turn those tasty tidbits attract the predator fish. The predator fish attract the anglers from around the country. Last year some 40 different states were represented in the LOC events.
Before the spring LOC contest is over, the Wilson Harbor Invitational Tournament will see some 50 teams targeting spring salmon only. This year, the contest is set for May 7. The best six salmon will be brought to the scales for a one day event. Grand prize is $25,000. The competition is fierce as teams focus their energy on catching spring kings. The key is the size, because scoring is based on 10 points per fish and a point per pound. For information check out www.wilsonharborinvitational.com.
This is all a precursor to the granddaddy of tournaments, the Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament – the 32nd annual contest out of the ports of Wilson and Olcott. No tournament on the lake has been around longer or touched the lives of more fishermen and women. In the Pro Division, teams are serious when the contest is going on. Incentives are that more than 100 percent of the entry fee money goes back into the prize structure (unheard of) and an extra $20,000 in cash is being dangled out in front of the teams like a carrot in front of a donkey. Again, 10 points per fish and a point per pound is the scoring for the day, but there are tournament minimum sizes and, for the Classic Division, the first 12 legal salmon and trout is the goal each day – for three days in a row this year. Consistency combined with knowledge is needed to place high in this event. How serious is this tournament? Observers are provided by each team to go on another boat to make sure the rules are being followed!
In the Amateur Open, the tournament atmosphere is still present, but with a lot less pressure. No observers are needed. Each day is a separate contest; best three fish is the goal, a mix of salmon and trout. It’s a celebration of our fishery and a perfect way to rub elbows with fellow anglers from around the lake. Deadline to register is May 16. For more information, visit www.lakeontarioproam.net for rules and registration information.
Competition fishing is not for everyone and there’s still plenty of world class angling opportunities on the lake should you not want to be part of the contests going on. If the derby or tournament bug bites, though, you could become addicted!