By Rick Kubb
In Gordon Lightfoot’s timeless ballad, the Wreck of the Edmund
Fitzgerald, he sings "…and further below Lake Ontario takes in what
Lake Erie can send her". These two wonderful
Lakes are connected together via the Great Niagara Falls. Both Erie and
Ontario offer fantastic sport fisheries. Erie is a warm water fishery
with walleye, smallmouth bass and yellow perch being the primary
targeted fish with the more recently introduced steelhead trout in the
deeper central and eastern basins of Lake Erie.
In contrast Lake Ontario is a ‘cold water’ fishery, dominated by
steelhead trout, brown trout, coho salmon and king (Chinook) salmon.
Combined, these two lakes offer a tremendous diversity of fishing
opportunities for anglers to enjoy within a very reasonable driving
distance. One day you can be getting your limit of walleye and/or perch
on Erie as well as fun fishing with catch & release smallmouth bass,
then drive a few short hours and get hooked up with a monster King
Salmon on the deep cold water Lake Ontario.
There are a few Charter captains that take advantage of the diversity
of these two lakes by running charters on both Erie and Ontario. Captain
Frank Godina of Top Gun Charters is one of those
Captain Frank starts his season in April on Western Lake Erie for the
spring and early summer walleyes. He fishes there until the end of June.
In early July he trailers his 28 foot Rampage to Olcott, NY, docks at
the New Fane Marina and fishes Lake Ontario up till the end of
Recently, Captain Frank invited my wife Karen and I to join him for
some fun fishing for King Salmon. We jumped at the chance and planned to
meet up with the captain during the first week in September. This was
going to be a fun-filled and hopefully fish-filled weekend. On Friday
morning we caught an early bird flight from St. Louis (yes, I’m still
land-locked here) to Cleveland, where we keep a 24’ Bayliner docked at
Fairport Harbor, OH (the family boat). On Saturday, we fished Erie and
were successful in limiting out on perch. Later that day we got the
perch cleaned and frozen in freezer bags of water for the return trip
home and stored ‘em in the freezer.
With no time to rest, we got in the car and headed East, destination
Olcott, NY. Olcott is a small fishing village located about an hours
drive from Buffalo, on the southwest shoreline of Lake Ontario. Total
driving time from the Cleveland area is about 4 hours.
We had to be at the dock at 6am to meet up with Captain Frank so we
decided to drive up that evening and stay overnight at the local
"Lighthouse Motel", located just a stones throw from the Marina Saturday
evening. The motel was clean and very affordable. The motel owners have
signs everywhere instructing their guests NOT TO BRING FISH INTO THE
ROOMS. Those that do pay a hefty cleaning fee. Most of the rooms are set
up to sleep 6 fishermen.
After a good nights sleep we were up early to meet our captain. We
stopped by a local café to grab a cup of ‘coffee to go’ and then met
Captain Frank at the Dock. Although I’ve known Captain Frank for several
years (he was one of the first captains to advertise in Lake Erie
Walleye Magazine and on the www.walleye.com web site), this
was my first opportunity to meet him. It’s always nice to match the name
with the face and shake hands, in person.
We boarded "Top Gun" and a few minutes later we were headed
out of the harbor, along with 4-5 other captains. Captain Frank
explained to us that all of the captains from Olcott ‘work together’ and
share information each day. They are a very closeknit group of captains.
As we headed out Captain Frank explained the days plan for fishing.
We would start out doing ‘In-Shore’ fishing for mature King Salmon. If
the lake was right and not too rough we would then head ‘Off-Shore’ to
fish for Cohos, Steelhead and immature Kings.
He mentioned that the inshore Big King fishing was excellent up until
a few days earlier when a large front blew over the lake causing it to
‘turn over’. With the lake turn over the water temperature
stratification all but disappeared and the Big Kings had scattered.
The water temperature was at 68 degrees, pretty much from top to bottom.
Nonetheless we set up and began a slow troll east in about 90 feet
of water. We set up with four lines out on the Big John downriggers
using spoons at depths ranging from 60-80 foot. We also put out three Dipsy rods, again using spoons at the same depth ranges.
Captain Frank uses all Daiwa reels and Browning Rods. He uses 9-10
foot rods on the dipsy’s and shorter 8 foot rods on the down riggers. He
uses wire line on the dipsy’s and 30 pound test monofilament line on the
Wasn’t long till we had our first hook up. I reeled in a first year
king (called a Shaker), about 15 inches long which we released. The
pretty, silvery colored fish fought well but will be someone else’s
trophy in a couple of more years.
Looking at the Captain’s Furuno color depth finder, we were marking
some big kings, although as the captain reminded us, they were scattered
about and not in the numbers of just a week ago. It is impressive though
to see a big king on the color fish-finder as they really stand out
among the bait and other markings on the screen.
Captain Frank received a call from another captain who hooked up a
big king with cut-bait. So, we changed up and put a couple of ‘flasher’
rigs together with cut-bait to replace a couple of the spoons we were
running. Captain Frank uses pre-packaged neatly shaped cut herring and
slides it into a rigbehind
a ‘flasher’ The ‘flasher’ is a rectangular shaped (4"x 8") board that
twirls in the water in a 5 foot circle and really moves the bait around.
This is effective for mature Kings that have moved In-shore and are not
as active as are the Kings of early summer when they are Off-shore and
feeding more heavily.
About an hour later we had another hook-up. This was a big king.
After about a half hour or so of fighting this one we almost had it to
the boat when it released. Captain Frank gave me some encouragement by
saying that on average only about 50% of big kings are landed in the
As we continued our troll Captain Frank explained to me the
differences in In-shore vs Off-shore fishing in Western Lake Ontario.
In the summer months, beginning in July, almost all of the fishing is
‘Off-shore’. That is, about 10-20 miles offshore where the right
temperatures and the bait are found. During the summer months the fish
are in a feeding frenzy looking for large schools of bait. There is a
real mix of fish caught including steelhead and brown trout, coho
salmon, and king salmon, both the immature kings (also called teenagers)
as well as the mature kings.
As fall approaches in late August and early September the mature
Kings begin a migration to shallower waters In-Shore. They begin to
stage or school together for a run up one of the rivers. There is a
period of a few weeks before the lake turns over when the Big King
fishing is excellent and most of the captains fish In-Shore during this
As we were talking fishing, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a
downrigger release and BANG, we had another Big King ON! This one we did
land, a 20+ pounder. I took my good old time with this fish, taking only
the line the fish would give me. It seemed like more than an hour before
I had the fish to the boat. My wife Karen kept the actual time at about
20 minutes. The strength of these fish is amazing. I would bring in
about 10-20 cranks on the reel then the fish would dive down and take
out another 50-100 feet of line with it. This pattern repeated itself
several times, till the fish tired. Captain Frank netted the fish and it
was ‘in the box’.
Earlier, one of the other captains headed offshore and reported a
building sea and conditions weren’t very good so we decided to stay
inshore. We trolled for another hour or so then decided to call it a
As we headed to the dock, Captain Frank explained his operation to
His boat "Top Gun" is a 28’ Rampage with twin 360 Chryslers and
plenty of room in the cockpit for a group up to six fishermen. The
electronics on the boat include a Furuno color depth finder and Lowrance
GPS map system. The captain uses a Big John multi-troll system which
gives speed and temperature both at the surface and at the cannon-ball
at the depth fished. He uses a Raytheon auto-pilot with remote control
allowing the captain to steer the boat from the back of the cockpit.
Captain Frank begins his season on Lake Erie in April for walleyes.
In July, he moves to Olcott, NY for the Salmon fishing on Lake Ontario.
He runs about 55 charters a year. He would like to (and could) do more
charters but he is not yet retired from his day job.
Captain Frank has been chartering for 7 years but has been fishing
with the professional-type rigging for close to 20 years. Frank
explained to me that over the years he got to know and become close
friends with several of the charter captains on both Erie and Ontario.
After a while he was running with the same type of boat and rigging and
was catching as many fish as his captain friends. He eventually decided
to get his captains license and begin his own charter.
Many of Captain Frank’s customers are ‘repeats’ and several of them
fish with him on Lake Erie in the spring, then come to Lake Ontario for
the summer and fall fishing for salmon.
A good number of his clients find "Top Gun" over the INTERNET
where he advertises on the
www.walleye.com web site as well as other web sites. He
receives enough business from the INTERNET that combined with his repeat
customers he really doesn’t need to advertise elsewhere and he doesn't
do the ‘Sport Shows’ as they are too expensive with travel, hotel and
booth costs and everything else that goes along with it.
Our day on the lake with Captain Frank came to an end as we headed
back into the harbor and to the dock. We had our fish cleaned by one of
the mates from another charter boat. He neatly dressed the 20 pound King
and bagged our fillets for us. We put the fish in the cooler and after
thanking Captain Frank for a wonderful day on the lake we headed back to
our home port, Lake Erie, where we would again fish for perch the next
day. This was a fun trip as we experienced the best of both worlds, Erie
and Ontario for all they had to offer!