Rennells with chinook
Credit: Patrick Walsh

A reel contest

What's better for slamming Lake Ontario's chinook, level-wind or single-action reels?

Under rain-threatening skies at the end of July 2017, Outdoor Canada editor Patrick Walsh and managing editor Bob Sexton hit the water with Islander Precision Reels' Steve Rennalls (above) and charter captain Scott Richardson to fish for chunky chinook in a deep trough off Bluffer's Park Marina in Scarborough. The goal was to try out Islander Reels' new single-action TR3 trolling reel, and see how it compares with level-winds, which are much more common among Lake Ontario salmon anglers.

Heading out from the BluffsBob SextonThe best times to fish chinook are early in the morning as the sun rises and then again in the evening as it sets. On our trip, we headed out from Bluffers Park Marina in Scarborough for the afternoon-evening bite on Richardson's 24-foot, 1987 Limestone named Hammer (below), which he says he named because that's what people call him on the golf course. HammerScott Richardson

Richardson prepping baitBob Sexton

For bait, Richardson uses herring that he orders from B.C. and preserves using a combination of brine, powdered milk and borax. The brine stiffens the bait, improving its roll and making it more tear-resistant. Here, he's trimming the herring with scissors so it fits it into the bait sleeve (on transom) and then secures it with a toothpick, below. The goal, Richardson says, is to have the bait run as naturally as possible, and he always tests the cut-plug before dropping it down on the downrigger (below, at right of photo). On the day we went out, Richardson was running the downrigger ball at 100 feet.ToothpickBob Sexton

Two different reelsBob Sexton

With the Toronto skyline in the distance, two reels sit at the ready. On the left is a Shimano Tekota connected to a Dipsy diver, which brought the bait down to roughly 60 feet. On the right is the Islander TR3 connected to a downrigger. One of the big differences between a level-wind and a single-action trolling reel is the amount of line you can retrieve with each turn of the handle. With the former, it's usually 5, 6 or 7 to 1 ratio. With a single-action reel, it's a 1:1 ratio, as the name implies. As well, single-actions have the drag and paddle handles on the side, which can translate into some serious knuckle busting if you're not paying attention when a fish takes off on a run.

Walsh with chinookBob Sexton

The key to trolling is to keep a keen eye on the rods, jumping on one if it pops and setting the hook (unless you're using steel line, with which you let the fish set the hook). Here, editor Patrick Walsh hoists a thick 12- to 14-pound chinook, typical of the many fish caught on the trip. 

LampreyPatrick Walsh

We lost count of the number of fish we boated. This one was one of the most unique catches, as it came with a passenger—a lamprey, which we killed before releasing the fish. While we kept a couple of chinook to take home for dinner, we safely released 90 per cent of the fish we caught.

Rennells with chinookPatrick Walsh

Mississauga-native Steve Rennalls, now living in Victoria, B.C., and working as brand manager for Islander Precision Reels, caught this hefty chinook, also known as a king salmon, on an Islander TR3. 

Sexton with chinookPatrick Walsh

While there were scattered and occasionally heavy showers during the first part of the trip, the skies cleared by early evening. Managing editor Bob Sexton caught this beauty chinook as the sun began to set. Thanks again to Steve Rennalls and Scott Richardson for getting us out of the office and onto some great fish. And our verdict as to which style of reel fared better? Let's just say that any Lake Ontario angler who tries out a single-action reel may never go back to a level-wind.