Throughout my years as an outdoor writer and avid tournament angler, I’ve fished and written about the great Lake George large and smallmouth bass fishing.
Boy, did I miss the boat! Last month, I joined fellow outdoor writer Dan Ladd of West Fort Ann aboard the Rod Bender Charters 28-foot Baha Sport Fisherman owned and operated by Capt. Jeffrey Johnson (JJ). A native of Lake George, JJ has spent quite a bit of time on the lake and has over 20 years of guiding for lake trout,
Atlantic salmon and large and smallmouth bass.
Our target that day was going to be lake trout. As soon as we boarded, I was impressed with the equipment I saw in the boat. First to catch my eye were the nine-foot, custom-made noodle rods we would be using. Each was matched with an Okuma line counter reel spooled with six-pound-test Maxima line. There were two LCD units, one on the dash, one on the stern, and three Scotty Downriggers.
I’ve been on a few salmon fishing boats on Lake Ontario, and the captain was always piloting the boat when trolling with the boat’s steering wheel, but JJ did his from the back by the downriggers. In the back, he had 9.9-hp Mercury outboard he used for trolling, and operated it with remote control TR-1 Gold Auto Pilot unit.
It was about a 20-minute ride from JJ’s home port in Diamond Point to where he said we would begin fishing in the Southern Basin. By 7:20 a.m., each of the three rods were bent in the ready trolling position in the downriggers’ rod holders, and each had a different colored 23⁄4- inch spoon running at 80 feet.
Almost immediately, we saw bait and bigger fish on the LCD units, and at 7:30, the port-side rod sprung up, began to bounce and Dan grabbed it and began to reel.
JJ said, “Don’t set the hook. Do a slow, steady retrieve.”
I knew when it was my turn, that slow retrieve and not setting the hook would be tough for this old bass angler who was taught to cross his eyes with the hook set and get ’em in the boat as quickly as possible. But Dan did it well, and soon, JJ slipped the net under a 20-inch lake trout; which we quickly photographed and released. Lake George lake trout must be 23 inches long to keep. The daily limit is two.
I was definitely anxious, and it was a long time — “10 minutes” — before I got my turn. It was on the rod I expected it would be, and I had to be reminded about no need to set the hook and the slow retrieve, but I got lucky and I was soon holding my first Lake George lake trout, 24 inches, and it went into the cooler of ice. Quite a thrill.
I don’t think JJ had even closed the cooler lid before Dan raced to the center rod, which had just been hit. It was a five- or 10-minute battle. Then there were two 24-inch trout in the cooler.
JJ noticed all the bites had come on the orange color, and put one on the starboard side. I don’t think it was all the way down before it snapped up. My turn again, and it was only 8 a.m. This one however, was just 21 inches, and back into the water it went.
Nine minutes later, Dan hooked up with a real fighter on the port-side rod, but despite the laker’s huge girth, it only measured 22 inches. It was during this measurement that JJ yelled, “Ed, center rod.” This was also a fighter, but not quite legal.
It was right after we released this 20-inch laker that I asked JJ why the fish are less active when first hooked and then at some point really start to battle. He told me it is actually the effect of the thermocline; which is the transition layer between the mixed layer at the surface and the deeper water, which have different temperatures. The thermocline on this day was around 26 feet.
When they reached this depth, that is when and angler/fish battles began.”
He told me it’s the effect of the thermocline. The thermocline at that particular time was about 24 feet down, and sure enough, when the fish reached that depth, the battle began. Unfortunately, we never got to see this one because he escaped.
At 8:15 a.m., Dan didn’t want to make me feel bad, so he purposely let his fish get off. Minutes later, we were back on track as I brought in another shorty.
Throughout the morning’s fishing, JJ would watch the aft LCD unit, and when he saw bait and/or fish markings at various depths, he quickly adjusted the downriggers to that depth. It was definitely a busy morning, and at about 9 a.m., he said we were going to work our way out into 120 feet of water. He also re-baited all three rods with flashy orange spoons.
At 9:20, when we entered the 120-foot range, it was only minutes before I was reeling in another fish.
“Don’t forget, go slow in the beginning,” JJ reminded me.
At 100 feet, the water pressure is four times greater than at the surface, so when you bring a fish up too quickly, it can cause excess air to enter the fish’s swim bladder. When the bladder expands, it increases the fish’s buoyancy, and if released that way, it will float belly-up and die. Because trout and salmon bladders are connected to their esophagus, it makes it possible to gently squeeze the excess air out, then release the fish.
I got to see how this worked first-hand because my 22-inch laker came aboard bloated. JJ quickly and gently “burped” it, and we watched it swim away.
In the next hour, we boated and released three short lake trout from 120 feet, and when the LCD was not showing much bait or larger fish activity, we headed for the 180- to 200-foot depths.
In addition to the downriggers, JJ put out a planer board on each side of the boat. Air temperature about this time was in the 90s and the humidity was very uncomfortable, but neither of us was complaining.
His planer boards are quite interesting. The rods and reels were the same, but to get the lures down, JJ used leadcore line and small, colorful crankbaits. He hadn’t finished rigging the second planer board when the first had one on.
I’d made about 10 to 15 turns of the reel handle when out of the water came a smallmouth bass, which shortly thereafter got off. Just minutes later, Dan followed with a 19-inch laker on the center downrigger rod. JJ had to gently burp it before releasing.
At 10:55, the port-side down rigger rod popped, and I quickly grabbed it and started reeling as I guided the fish up from 200 feet. It seemed like forever as I reeled and watched the line counter slowly moving. But when I got him to the thermocline, the fish came alive and I felt like I had a good one.
At about 25 feet from the boat, I saw the fish for the first time, and as I worked it into the net, I saw it had big girth. I was very pleased when it measured just a hair over 23 inches and I had what JJ estimated to be a healthy four- to five-pound laker. This one, after photos, went into the cooler and I had completed my first Lake George lake trout limit.
Ten minutes later, Dan was reeling in a fish on the leadcore line watching and getting comfortable on the cushioned and shaded seats when the center rod popped. There was little rest in the next hour as we hooked four more lakers, 21, 20, 22 and 221⁄2 inches. What a day! In just five hours, we caught 19 lake trout, three of which were on ice.
Now that is a great day!
The dark clouds we’d been watching coming over the mountains were now upon us, and it was definitely time to leave the water. It was just beginning to rain when JJ started the motor and headed for Diamond Point. I saw few lightning bolts, one of which we believed hit the water. It really got our attention. But we were docked before the serious stuff came.
For more information on fishing with Capt. JJ, go to his web site, www.captjj.com, or call 518-361-8417.
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