Survey Confirms What We Already Knew – 2012 Was a Phenomenal Season for Lake Ontario Anglers!

By Spider Rybaak


Loyal customers Bobby and Kelsey Ostman (left) and Jessica and Zach Leclair return to Oswego County year after year to fish Lake Ontario for king salmon with Capt. Ed Monette of Cannonball Runner Charters, Oswego. King salmon dominated the Lake Ontario catch in the summer of 2012, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. (Photo courtesy of Capt. Ed Monette.)

OSWEGO COUNTY, N.Y. – With Christmas just around the corner, and the New Year a week after that, a lot of us are faced with having to buy gifts or plan vacations. And, according to Dave Turner, Oswego County’s director of Community Development, Tourism and Planning, “a fishing trip to the trophy-packed waters off Oswego County fits both bills.”

The “1985-2012 Lake Ontario Fishing Boat Survey: Preliminary Summary for April 15-September 30, 2012,” just released by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, shows that the tiniest Great Lake’s world-class fishery is getting better from year to year.

Specifically, the survey claims, “Lake Ontario anglers experienced the fourth consecutive year of the best total trout and salmon fishing (i.e. 10th consecutive year of the highest Chinook salmon catch rates, 5th consecutive year of the highest rainbow trout catch rates, the 2nd and 3rd best years for brown trout and coho salmon fishing, and the 2nd consecutive year of lake trout catch rates comparable to those observed through much of the 1990s).”

What makes these highly desirable results especially noteworthy is they come at a time when angler fishing effort is down considerably, “a 19.4 percent decrease compared to the previous five year average,” according to the report.

Estimating the total off-shore fishing effort from mid-April through September at only “56,182 boat trips”, the survey breaks down the figures to 46,059 (82 percent) “targeting trout and salmon, which was the lowest estimated in the data series,…” and “6,203 boat trips targeting bass (11 percent of all fishing trips), the 2nd lowest on record.” The remainder of time was devoted to perch and other species.

The results are impressive:  “…estimated trout and salmon catch (196,625 fish) and harvest (107,456 fish) were comparable to previous five year averages.”

King salmon dominated (42 percent of the catch); brown trout came next (20.1 percent), followed by rainbow trout (16.8 percent), lake trout (11.3 percent), coho salmon (6.4 percent) and Atlantic salmon (0.3 percent).

The smallmouth bass catch actually increased more than 80 percent over 2010’s record lows.

On the other hand, perch numbers dropped over 50 percent “from the highs observed from 2007 to 2011.” There’s no reason to worry, however. The report explains, “Yellow perch estimates in this survey are highly variable because relatively few boats target yellow perch, catch and harvest among these boats is highly variable, and the probability of interviewing perch anglers is low.”

The report only speculates on the growing figures for two species, attributing the spike in the lake trout catch “to an increase in lake trout population;” and the jump in Atlantic salmon numbers to “recent natural reproduction occurring in the Salmon River and increased stocking levels by Canada…”

Whatever the case may be, the survey’s results bode well for the Lake Ontario fishery off Oswego County. The Oswego River, Lake Ontario’s second largest tributary, runs through it, the Salmon River, the most productive salmonid stream in the lower 48 states, is spawned and pours into the lake in the northeastern corner, and several skinny creeks like Grindstone and Little Sandy water the lake all along the edges.

And all of that water pouring in from Oswego County’s fertile landscape pierces deep into the heart of the lake, hooking the appetites of the pond’s largest denizens, drawing massive quantities into territorial waters from all points of the compass to bask, feed, spawn and hit the baits that anglers run through Oswego County’s fishermen-friendly waves.

For visitor information and year-round fishing conditions in Oswego County, call 1-800-248-4FUN (4386) or go to


Spider Rybaak is an award-winning outdoor writer who has been published in more than 20 periodicals. He is the author of “Fishing Eastern New York” and “Fishing Western New York” guide books that cover 429 streams and lakes in New York State. Contact him at Check out his blog at