Memorial Day Annual Lake Trout Derby Report 5/25 – 5/27


Legendary Angler and Angler Educator Buck Perry talking to a packed room of skeptical fishermen:

“I can go to any lake – anywhere around the world, and tell you, just bylooking at the lake, exactly where the fish are going to be.”

Audience – “Yeah right. No way.”

“Deep, shallow or somewhere in-between” – Buck Perry

Laughter would then erupt and the seminar would start.

That quote or something similar to it is how Buck would start his seminars he conducted in the late 1960s – early 1970s. At least that’s what I’ve heard. That’s kind of how things played out during this past weekend’s Memorial Day Lake Trout Derby.

I don’t think any complete “play by play rundown” is necessary here, but here’s a little backstory and “modern Finger Lake Jigging history” as it relates to me. I first fished the Seneca Derby around the year 2003 if I remember correctly. At this point in time I’d owned my first boat for a little over a year and a half. I’d bought it in the Fall of 2001 and prior to that time the only boat fishing I did was with boater friends of mine -mostly my buddy Terry, but sometimes with a few other people. Things were really falling into place quickly for me. I was patterning fish (mainly lakers, salmon, pike and bass) on Cayuga, Seneca, Skaneateles and Owasco Lakes more or less simultaneously. I stumbled onto a laker jig bite that correlated with all of these lakes. I would wait for the lake temps to hit around 48 to 56 or so on the surface, then cast alewife tube jigs or hair jigs with my spinning rod on secondary shelves and occasionally primary ones. It worked all over the place and I was excited about it and had just discovered the internet and would post a few reports about it. On a good day I’d catch 4 or 5 lakers, but that was rare. Most of the time it was one or two. But they were usually good fish.

In the past, we’d stumble onto an occasional big laker while perch fishing Seneca Lake in the late 1980s/early 1990s. And we’d vertically jig in October around the points of Taughannock Park in the late 1990s. The only other serious vertical jigging for lakers I’d done was in Irondequoit Bay around November of 1988 or so. We’d catch them on white tubes or Mr. Twisters down around 17′ to 25′ FOW with our spinning rods.

I’d done a couple fishing excursions with a guy named Steve, who I’d met while I was fruitlessly trying to fly-fish Kings at night off of the Summerville pier in Rochester. He felt I was living in the stone age not having a computer and I finally did get one and discovered the Lake Ontario Fishing Forum. Anyways, lo and behold after I’d been posting my reports, this guy named Toby Wood started posting reports about jigging lakers and he wasn’t just getting one or two. He was getting more like 8 to 20 or more – per evening. Turns out Toby was a buddy of Steve’s and we wound up chatting and I learned the basics and some of the not-so basics from Toby. Toby was a complex guy – to put it in a respectful way and we had some ups and downs. I encouraged him to get his Captain’s License and also gave him the bug to hit Lake Ontario for Kings. But he, without a doubt is the father of this modern jigging style we do today. He never took me out and showed me how to do it – he’d just answer some of my questions and he more or less let me figure things out on myown withsome tutelage. Eventually we did fish togethera few times. He absolutely LOVED the north end of Seneca. He passed away some years ago, but the impact he made still reverberates every timea “jigger” catches a fish somewhere in the Finger Lakes or beyond on a fluke or other plastic. Since the “Toby days” the pattern has expanded a lot and with modifications we’re jigging deeper than ever before and targeting different salmonids with success.

Anyways, I fished the derby around 2004 doing the vertical style we do now, and in 2003 casting jigs for lakers. We caught fish both times, but the crowds at Sampson were insane and the long days really took a toll on me. Over the past two years the only reason I fished the derby was because I guided it with Ed and John and I’d fish after our trip was over and when they were turkey hunting in the AM. This year Ed took a vacation elsewhere and I called my buddy Jarrod to see if he was interested in joining me. The Red Cross Derby is no longer being done, and I’d like to do one big derby a year, so this is it. Jarrod’s a great guy and he’s been super busy over the past few years with a new family, new house and new job. But his zest for fishing hasn’t waned and he’s a monster angler.

I decided we needed to fish with 100% effort, but not beat ourselves down to where we weren’t thinking straight. I knew the weather would impact things a bit and conditions would improve by the day (at least that was the theory!) So we fished from 6:15 am to noon Saturday; 5:30 am till 1 pm Sunday and around 5:30 am till 11 am on Monday.

We found scattered fish from shallow to deep on Saturday and the shallow bite was good enough to keep us there. I think we landed 4 fish up to around 27″ with me getting the lion’s share. One was in 50′, two in around 65′ to 85′ and one (the last one) around 135′. That last one came later in the AM when the shallow bite was nil. So that pointed us in the right direction for Sunday.

On Sunday the shallow waters really were devoid of fish. We probably spent 20 minutes looking, before moving deep. My friend Mike was fishing the derby in another boat, so I had a contact working different water and we kept each other updated. Same story there. We made a run south looking for warmer water with nothing. My FishHawk showed 42 degrees on top in 130′ and 40 degrees on bottom. So temperature was not going to play much of a role, except for keeping fish out of the shallows!

We found some fish out from around 120′ to 160′ as we motored north. Jarrod had one around 27″ just gobble a jig and we knew we were in business. Then I nailed one around 22″. Then he got what appeared to be a potential board fish – one around 9lbs+. Then he got one at least a pound bigger. We moved again and he hooked one that was a good class or two up from the bigger one. It was business as usual and we were very workman-like in our approach. That was it for Day 2.

Day 3 yielded more deep fish for us but nothing board-worthy. I think we caught two 29″ers. We probably landed 15 to 17 fish all weekend long. We took it easy at the end of the derby and kept our fingers crossed.

When I netted the big one, I thought 10lbs+. Maybe 11 or 12, but we didn’t talk about it much. We were both surprised to see it go 14lbs. And it was huge – around 34.5″ long at least. All the fish were just netted without much hoopla and went right into the livewell.

Some people might hear about the derby results and think – “well John is basically guiding Jarrod (or Mike when we won Red Cross) or what have you.” The truth of the matter is I generally provide overall direction/strategy and  advice. And then we play a lot of verbal tennis. Major moves aren’t made without serious reasoning backing them. And the dialogue with Jarrod frankly is intense. But I wouldn’t trade these fishing buddies for the world, and these guys make stuff happen. They balance me out perfectly. Jarrod has won or placed in numerous ice-fishing derbies, he won a Bass Federation Tournament as a non-boater AND got lunker and he just makes things happen, whether in his career or elsewhere. He did some unorthodox stuff during this derby and those things got us on the board. And those things we’ll keep to ourselves. But overall it’s the same thing with Mike during the last Red Cross Derby we fished and a lot of his personal fishing. He nailed a 39″ Tiger on Otisco Lake last year and this year he landed a 29″+ landlocked salmon fly-fishing from shore on Seneca Lake! These guys aren’t just great anglers, they’re even better friends. And that comradery and the memories are what these derbies are all about to me, whether we place or we don’t.

Favorite conversation had at the derby:

Angler in large trolling vessel at weigh-in to me and Jarrod,

“Didn’t one of you guys work at Bass Pro Shops?”

Jarrod: “Yes, we both did.”

Guy looks at me: “I remember you gave me some flukes years ago at Dean’s Cove.”

Jarrod: “Then why the hell are you trolling?!”

Last thought: We played by the rules. We started past 6 am on Saturday. Why is it there were already about 20+ boats out fishing at the north end alone at 5:30am Saturday morning? I’m really happy the way things turned out and during the polygraph they did ask Jarrod if he understood and followed the rules. For those of you who start the derby on your own schedule, keep that in mind. Thanks.