Fishing Flasher Flies

Fishing flasher flies on Lake Ontario can be deadly! Some of the most frequently asked questions about trolling flasher fly combinations for Lake Ontario salmon fishing include: what kind, what color combinations, what leader lengths, what speeds, how many, and on what apparatus should they be run? In this article I will attempt to explain how we deploy and successfully fish attractor flies on a near daily basis on our Lake Ontario fishing charters.

One of my best Lake Ontario fishing buddies Big Gene Delicatti aka Big Fin would always say,” Ace buddy! It all comes down to presentation, presentation, presentation!!!” Oh was he so right. So what makes a good presentation? There are a lot of little things that can make a difference but of course not as much as the bigger things. Perhaps the most important thing of all is being able to key in on a salmon’s Achilles Heel which is its lateral line. This is where the attractor flies can really shine. Let me explain!

Fishing flasher flies imitates Alewives doing a dead bait roll.

King salmon in Lake Ontario feed primarily by either sensing vibration or by sight. They can and do use combinations of both to varying degrees from time to time. Keying in on a salmon’s lateral line has many advantages to a Lake Ontario boat that is trolling.  Studies have shown that king salmon can detect disturbances and vibrations in the water from great distances. This is where running flasher and flies can be advantageous as it can “call” fish into your trolling spread instead of you having to go to them. As you cover water while trolling not only will you come across fish in the process of moving but you have the added advantage of letting them know where your baits are.

The Dead Bait Roll

Alewives being the primary forage base for salmon in Lake Ontario, exhibit what we call a “dead bait roll” when they are injured during a salmon feeding attack. A king salmon will slash through a school of bait slapping the baitfish with their tail injuring or stunning them when they attack the school. During this process many baitfish will be knocked silly by the salmon’s tail and become disoriented. A salmon will then come back through and fill up on the easy pickings that have been stranded by the initial attack. Flasher fly combinations are designed to represent a salmon going through a school of baitfish attacking the school and leaving a wounded baitfish in its path.

Walker Strike Vision Camera The flasher ahead of the fly creates vibration as well as a vortex disturbance as it’s pulled through the water. The fly that is behind the flasher exhibits a dead bait roll and represents the injured and disoriented baitfish as it’s dying. Back in the dodger fly days we used to tune our down speed by watching live action dodger fly presentations on underwater Walker Strikevision Cameras. You would be surprised to see just how fast you really had to go to get the right action on the fly to trigger strikes from the kings. This whole ordeal is designed to draw in and exploit the salmon’s feeding instincts.

Low Visibility Is Key

Thermocline BandAnother big part of the overall presentation of successfully fishing attractor flies is to position them in the water column so that a salmon has to use it lateral line up to the very last second to commit to striking the bait. Typically, this is usually in low light conditions and deeper in the water column, but there can be exceptions. One scenario is when the temperatures are higher in the water column say like 50-60 ft. down. Flasher fly combinations can be effectively fished at these depths if they are placed “smack dab” in the middle of the thermocline and here’s why.

A good fishing buddy of mine once told me that a scuba diving friend of his told him that visibility in the thermocline can be very poor at times. Seeing how the thermocline occurs where the warm and cold water meet and it includes lots of debris, vertebrates, and invertebrates, it makes sense that it could be hard to see while in it.. Watching my fishfinder on the way out onto the lake in the dark also bears this out. You can literally see the thermocline with all the clutter that it contains on the graph.  It shows up as a thick red horizontal fuzzy bar. Remember that  one of the main ingredients in getting a Lake Ontario king salmon to  attack and commit to a flasher fly is to have the fish rely almost totally on its lateral line to find and hone in on the bait. Having it hid in the thermocline is of utmost importance to success.

How we construct our fishing presentations can and do change not only on a daily basis but also on as little as less than an hourly one. When the winds blow the temperatures can and do move both horizontally and vertically in the water column. Being able to adjust accordingly is paramount to achieving success. Years of running attractor flies we have been able to generalize what kinds of patterns to run as we begin the day depending on where the temperature is.

Salmon Schools

First off, when the temperatures are deep or deeper than 80 ft., we will almost exclusively run an all attractor fly program. Our typical spread will include three riggers, two/four dipseys, and three coppers. If the temperatures are higher in the column, then we will mix in spoons and pull some of the attractors out of the spread. The reason we do this is because if you put too much commotion in the narrow band of the thermocline it can actually have an adverse effect and scare or confuse the fish as they are drawn into the spread.  Spoons, being more of a sight feeding attraction, typically do much better in clearer water as the fish is being triggered more by sight to feed. Spoons appeal to a fish’s site by “looking” more natural.

Not to disappoint but if you are looking for a one size, one color fits all recipe to catch king salmon on Lake Ontario; it’s probably not going to happen. What I can tell you is that if you have your attractor flies running in the right location so that the fish have to rely upon their lateral lines to feed, you are well on your way to becoming a successful Lake Ontario salmon troller. I can also tell you that even when fishing deep down in the column color can matter. To make matters even more challenging, color can be more important on some days and on other days not seem to matter at all!  I can also tell you that I would rather be out on the lake with a whole bunch of different colors to run and not need them than to be out there, need them, and not have ‘em!!!  Having the right color at the right speed at the right depth can make or break a day of salmon fishing on Lake Ontario. Remember what Big Fin said,” Presentation, presentation, presentation!”

The way we troll:

Spin doctors, Becholds, and Pro troll e-chips for attractors with many assorted colors

Attomik trolling flies with many assorted colors both stock and custom pro staff

Leads on flies from 18”-30”

Speed at the ball 2.2/2.4 on a Cannon Snt and yes we will adjust up or down to get bites

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A lot of info here! Thanks! I’ll be purchasing Spin Doctors And Pro Trolls and need a starting point. I’m disabled and am going to try for the LOTSA show….Hoping to get at least 20 to 30 attractor/fly combos, to start with. Any additional help appreciated.   Steve


Hi Steve. Thanks for posting. I’m planning on attending the Lotsa show this year. If you have any specific questions you can feel free to post them here or in my blog. Capt. Jimmy

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Nice Fat King Salmon

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