Lake Ontario Fishing With Copper Set-Ups

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I was first introduced to copper wire fishing over a decade ago by Capt. Ernie Lanteigne aka Fishdoctor. I was fortunate enough to be invited to join a group of a dozen or so of local captains from the Oswego/Mexico, NY area to make a journey to Lake Michigan to observe and participate in the how too’s of effectively fishing dodger fly presentations. This was my first exposure to fishing dodger and flies. What an experience it was. We got to meet Tim Dawidiuk, the then owner of Howie Flies, and got to tour his facility as well.

As a group we got to fish for two days and it was here that I first got to put my hands on and experience fishing with a copper set-up. Believe it or not, we didn’t catch any fish on those copper set-ups in our group. We fished a single copper set-up down the shoot with a dodger fly. Looking back I’m sure glad I didn’t form my opinion on the effectiveness of fishing copper based upon those results. Let’s fast forward to today!

Copper can be one of the hottest set-ups when it comes to catching nearly anything that swims in Lake Ontario, especially the salmonids. There have been days when the copper rods have produced the majority of fish that were caught aboard my charter boat. So how do we go about setting up and effectively fishing copper on Lake Ontario?

One of the biggest concerns with copper fishing is reel capacity. This has been discussed in the article “Importance of reel capacity”. Copper reels have to have adequate line capacity to carry sufficient backing to allow for the notoriously vicious runs that Lake Ontario king salmon are known for. It is common for mature kings to run out over 400ft or more of backing after striking! For this reason we use and highly recommend Fins Spectra Braid as our backing material. It is rated at 50lb test and only has a 10lb test diameter equivalent. By comparison, Power Pro, another popular alternative, has a 50lb rating with a 12lb test equivalent. Speaking from experience I can tell you that the Fins wears like iron. I have backing on my copper reels that are going into over a decade of service. The Fins might be a little pricier but it more than makes up for it in longevity.

The copper that we prefer and use exclusively is available from:

http://www.atommiktrollingflies.com/   It is 45lb test and has a diameter of .037”.  Atommik has even gone so far as to make available different makes of reels already filled with the right amount of backing and copper for the desired set-ups. This comes in very handy for those of you who don’t have the inclination to do it yourself.

A few of the particulars that are common to the majority of the coppers we use include the following:

Backings to copper connections are made using Spro power swivels. The backing is tied to the Spro with a double Palomar Knot. Notice I said “DOUBLE”!!!!!  This knot is also called a Nanofil knot.


Copper is connected to the Spro swivel with a Haywire twist. The copper is passed through the Spro swivel twice before it is wrapped back onto itself not once like shown in the picture above.. If you desire, a piece of shrink tubing can be applied over the copper side to dress it up. Be advised though that when a repair has to be made out on the water in rough seas applying shrink tube can be a daunting task. It looks pretty but it is not absolutely necessary to the connection to function properly. Years of running copper have indicated the need to have a swivel between the backing and the copper. It relieves the stress that is inherent in that connection and helps prevent that connection from breaking.


The Spro swivel model number is SHSB-03-5    Spro Heavy Swivel.


The copper to the leader is connected using an Albright knot. The key is to make sure that you trim it tight. I haven’t seen a difference in this area to warrant the use of a swivel over the Albright knot.

When it comes to leader lengths, this is where it can vary. For copper set-ups that are over 350ft in length, our leader lengths are in the 30ft range. For shorter coppers our leader lengths are elongated to around the 50ft length. A lot of this will depend on what we are running for baits and where in the water column they are running. One other important part of the equation is the depth per length of copper let out. We figure on about 22ft/100ft of copper let out.

Most of the time we make sure that all of our copper is deployed and fully submerged into the water. There is a theory that the copper partakes in electrolysis which I believe it does. The water acts as an electrolyte solution and allows the copper to shed ions giving off a slight electrical impulse which is said to attract salmon. Whether this “attraction “is a 100% true or not I’m not totally sure, but what I can tell you is that I have had salmon bite seconds after I have let out a little more backing into the water to totally submerge the copper under the water. Contrarily, I have also caught salmon with only partially submerged coppers down the chute, too!

As always, we encourage you to ask any questions that you may have about this article as we will be happy to answer them for you.  We also encourage you to sign up for our mailing list to receive future articles such as this.

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