Mat Urbanski from Bite Me Too Sportfishing fishes out of Bronte Harbor, just west of Toronto on Lake Ontario. He has an unorthodox West Coast style of fishing that incorporates whole baits, hoochies, and mooching rods & reels. We visited with Mat on the Great Lakes Fishing Podcast. We discussed his style of fishing and much more. You can click the player to listen or keep scrolling to read.
What is the structure like around Bronte Harbor? What does your program look like when you're out there?
Mat Urbanski: Unlike popular locations like Bluffers, we don't have an enormous drop. We're miles offshore before you can find anything close to a blue zone. So, the majority of our fishing is done between 50 and 140 feet. We have a flat bottom structure, which is great for spring fishing, for lake trout, et cetera, and very good for salmon throughout the entire season. Spreads for us start from anything in the spring from shallow planer board programs to junk and long lines, and downriggers and dipsies.
You have a unique fishing style that's similar to what you would see in the Pacific Northwest. How would you describe it?
Mat Urbanski: I've tried to adopt that Western philosophy and program. A lot of what we like to run here, the bait and tackle philosophy would be the three points; I'll start with bait. I like to run a lot of whole baits. I know strips are really popular in the Great Lakes. I like running eight-inch whole herring and five-and-a-half-inch plus anchovies. We run them with a head, either clean or with a Twinkie rig. As far as paddles and tackle, we use a lot of Kingfisher II, which are popular from Gibbs Delta and OKI Big Shooters. Something similar to this would be a Super Betsy with chrome and a glowing flash on the back. Aside from the meat program, we've adopted a lot of what they do out west with their hardware as well.
Something really popular out west is called the Skinny G. It's a quarter-ounce spoon. It's very light. Probably the same weight as a trolling fly. Gives you lots of flexibility for speed behind a paddle at a variety of distances. I run anywhere from three feet to 12 feet and some guys look at me strangely when my Twinkie rigs are 14 feet. It makes it very difficult to net, but sometimes it makes the difference for me. With long lines, we adapt a lot of what they use out west with their G-Force program. They make these spoons in three, four, and six inches. I like them, and anything from a Trailhead to the Herring Aid, which is probably the most popular pattern out west. That's been very dominant on the Great Lakes. Hoochies are also something that I like to play around with. That's very popular out west. It’s a little heavier than our traditional trolling fly and gives you a little more flexibility in current, with speed, and with running a variety of spreads where you don't have to be 2, 2.1, or 2.2. You can run faster.
The other part would be the tackle. We run a lot of mooching outfits on all of our riggers. 10-foot-six rods, which would seem long to the traditional Great Lakes fishermen. Lots of playability, lots of leverage, and lots of fun. You can still control a fish and pull them up the runway behind the boat without a problem. We pair those with a mooching reel. For those that aren't familiar with them, they’re very similar to a center pin with a one-to-one ratio. So, as opposed to a level wind, where one crank equals six turns of the reel, every rotation is one rotation. When that fish runs at the boat, you gotta crank to keep up with them. He takes off, he takes off. I attribute it a lot to driving stick versus an automatic. I'd say a level wind is more like an automatic. And a mooching outfit would be like driving stick.
You do have a drag. You have the ability to play a fish, which gives you that direct connection with the fish. The fight is fantastic. I mean that in itself is probably one of the biggest attributes we've adopted from out west. But a lot of how they fish is very similar to us. Although in the Great Lakes, we predominantly focus on speed and temperature. I mean, you can correct me if I'm wrong, but that's a big one for us. Out west, I'd say more tide and structure. Tide isn't something we deal with here. We have water levels that change throughout the season, but not the same way that the tide does throughout the day. And structure-wise, and again, unless we're fishing staging fish and we're bumping bottom with cannonballs and divers, I'm flat bottom here in the west end of the lake. But I mean I guess they both applied to both scenarios.
Where did you learn all these techniques? These are things that you don't see in a lot of places on the Great Lakes. So, how did you pick up on these things and run with them?
Mat Urbanski: A lot of it has been researched, oddly enough. I guess it all started with a prize package that was awarded to my grandfather back in the nineties where he got a Mitchell center-pin mooching reel outfit. It was always something that I played around with and I was fascinated with. I guess if you go back to the beginning here, we've essentially just replicated the west coast fishery here. I mean, it's different, obviously, freshwater, et cetera. But we've taken an alien species from out west and planted it here. So, we have Pacific salmon here, so why not try some Pacific techniques? They've perfected it out west. I consider the West to be the mecca as far as salmon fishing is concerned. So, employing some of their tactics and techniques only seemed like the right thing to try. Again, it's all personal preference. Some guys will swear by hardware, and some guys will swear by meat programs. To each their own. But I implore people to try something new. If something's not working constantly switch it up and try something new.
You love to fish with whole baits. What is it about meat fishing that makes it so effective for salmon fishing?
Mat Urbanski: For me, a whole bait gives me the opportunity to tune my roll much more than just a standard bait head. Although there's a time and place. Bait heads with a strip is a proven tactic here as well. To each their own, there's no right or wrong, but an eight-inch herring in a Rhys Davis Anchovy Bait Head with a tandem hook rig allows me to tune and bend that fish to whatever degree I want to ultimately get my roll. I always check my roll before I go down. So, run it beside the boat, run it behind on the downrigger, and make sure you have that rotation at least at your surface speed because then you can tailor it with your Fish Hawk on the down speed. I’m trying to replicate kind of the real thing and what looks more like the real thing than a whole bait. There is no replacement for Mother Nature. That scale and shine is something that everyone tries to preserve and replicate during the brining process or the production process of strips. So, for me, a whole bait just really kind of stands out and seems to work on a daily basis for me. If it works, it works.
That brining process is something that probably scares a lot of people away from doing this and fishing with whole baits. That's something that you do yourself. Tell us about your brining process and how it works and why you should do it.
Mat Urbanski: So, your whole baits will come frozen. They're flash-frozen alive when they're collected on the west coast. That is the process by which they preserve them. It keeps the scales and the liveliness of the bait itself. I always like to defrost baits fully so that they saturate with whatever brine you're using. In this case, I use a product called Pautzke Fire Brine. It works well for me. It's an all-in-one. It gives you rigidity, toughness, shine, durability, et cetera, without having to concoct your own salt and distilled water process. It's an all-in-one process. You put your defrosted bait in a Tupperware or a bag, you add the brine and you let it sit from anywhere between eight to 12 hours before you fish and you're good to go.
Meat traditionally scares guys off. You know, if, if you're just getting into salmon fishing, you tend to stick to what you know, trolling flies and spoons. Guys start looking at flashers and get confused. Which one do I use? How long do I run them, what do I do? I think the brining process, especially with that particular product, takes all the guesswork out of it. You buy the bait, you defrost it, you add the brine, you let it sit, you take it out, you put it in the water and it works.
You brought up hoochies earlier, and I wanted to get into that versus just your traditional standard fly that pretty much everybody's using. What are the advantages of going that route as far as you're concerned?
Mat Urbanski: I'll be honest, I run both. The hoochie for me is, a little more flexible. You can run it at a higher speed. So, if I'm running a spoon program on my long lines and I want to run a hoochie down deep on my rigger, I know that it is still working at that speed. I troll fast. I mean, a lot of guys like 1.8 to 2.1. You'll see me out there going by at three, and guys will be shaking their heads. But again, to each their own. The hoochie gives me that flexibility. The other thing that I do with hoochie and something to try and not be afraid of, I use them for teaser rigs. So, for guys that tie their teaser rigs traditionally known as Twinkie rigs here on the Great Lakes, try it with teasers or with hoochies as opposed to just flies. You get different actions in the water, and you get a different reaction from your bait at the tail end of the line. But hoochies give you flexibility and allow you to run a variety of speeds in your program and different baits.
What is it about mooching reels that draws you to them?
Mat Urbanski: I think it's starting to catch on here. Out west you won't find a single charter boat that's running a level wind unless it's for halibut. Everything they run for trolling is a mooching-style outfit. Islander MR3s or TR3s are popular. I think the big thing here is that direct connection with the fish. I mean, we fish because we love it. We all love the thrill of that experience, the tug of the pole, the reel screaming, the whole experience. And those outfits put you in that direct connection with the fish. Again, you know those long rods, if you're a river guy, you're accustomed to a 14 plus three-piece and you can lean back and leverage that fish. You have that same playability. You have the backbone you want out of a 10’6” rod, but you still get the playability.
I love my wire diver, but when my 10-foot wire diver goes off, it's a telephone pole. You know, the fight is not the same. So, on a 10-foot-six mooching outfit, you get that playability, and again, as I said before, I'm going to attribute it back to driving a stick. It's got its sealed drag system, but it also allows you to palm to add extra drag if you want. Gives you that feeling. It's something you got to experience. When I get guys out on charter, I got guys who call that want those outfits, want to go on a charter because they want to try out these outfits. They never had the opportunity. Or I get someone new who says, I'm worried I'm scared to try it. You get them on a fish, they love it now, and they don't want to touch the other.
It's more of a purist method to fishing. I mean, I love it. I'm, I'm running them wherever I can. Last year we had Steve from Islander out and we even had him on our dipsies. We were running Depth Hunter braid because they don't have a counter on them. So, we could tell our depths. We ran MR2s on our dipsies and it was a blast. If you haven't tried it, I implore you to try it. Just give it a shot.
You and your father are both captains. You're the second generation. Tell us a little bit about the relationship that you have with your father when it comes to fishing.
Mat Urbanski: My grandfather kind of gave my dad the bug and I grew up fishing with both my grandfather, my uncle, and my father. We've been fishing the tournaments here and fishing for fun since I was seven or eight. It was just something that we did. I don't get to fish as often with my father now as I used to. I wish I did. Fishing with family and friends is a special thing. Having the time out on the water with the people that you're closest with, it's an experience. That serene time you have out on the water with that sunset, that sunrise, whether you have fish or not, it's special.
Those trips, especially with family, are even more special. Back to my father from a bobber and worm at Rice Lake to trolling paddles for big kings on Lake Ontario. He's always been there to kind of introduce me to that, and he's kind of the reason that I now guide. I mean, getting to introduce other people to the sport that we love is so important. I guess my third point on the West Coast would be philosophy. So, that kind of ties in here. I think the stewardship of the fishery is so important. In the same way that my father educated me and introduced me to this industry, I think it's very important for us to do that for others. Every angler's responsibility to educate the general public because most people that surround this lake have no idea. The salmon fishing that's out here and as far as conservation, education, preservation, it all goes hand in hand. But the time spent with friends and family on the water is precious. Growing up fishing with family and my father has always been great. I wish I could do more of it now, but I think it ties into our kind of paying it forward to the next generation of anglers too.
Your charter is called Bite Me Too Sportfishing. Tell us a bit about your charter.
Mat Urbanski: Bite Me Too Sportfishing is a guided operation by yours, truly out of Oakville, Ontario’s beautiful Bronte Harbor. We do groups of two to three. I don't cater to larger groups. I cater more to the angler that is, is serious. We operate out here starting in April and run right through till the end of September for the staging fish. It's a bit of a dream come true. To share what you love to do with other people and get to introduce them to what you're passionate about, that's what guiding is for me. You know, it helps subsidize costs, but it's not a money maker and never will be. It's more of a passion and a love.
You have a fantastic Instagram account. How did you get started with that?
Mat Urbanski: Well, I appreciate that very much. It's a bit of a labor of love. It's a challenge, especially when fishing solo or with a group to document while you're trying to perform and fish at the same time. It started early, with photography and a little bit of video, and has kind of adapted to this. For the average person who's not aware of what's out there, it kind of gives them a looking glass in. We run everything from DSLRs to Go Pros and the iPhone now takes photos that are just phenomenal too. But we’re always trying to get that little bit of an edge, that different angle, that view that someone's not accustomed to seeing. I added a drone to the army this year. I'm still getting used to flying it over open water, but it will be out there shortly. So, hope to have some different footage for you guys soon. But the Instagram account is a bit of a labor of love and, it's like a photo album too. At the end of the year, you get to look back and remember some of the memories with the different guests and people and the fish. And every day on the water is unique. So, it goes by in a flash. You leave in the dark, you get home at either high sun or in the dark, and memories are made. But to be able to sit there and kind of recapture it later is it's cool too.
Is there anything that I didn't ask you about today that you wanted to talk about?
Mat Urbanski: I think I’d like to touch base back on the whole stewardship of the fishery. I think it's really important for people to get involved. We have local clubs here. We have the Halton Salmon & Trout Association. I'm also part of the Port Credit one and over in St. Catherine's, the Game and Fish Association, they're all around the lake. They're doing really good things from pen programs to education programs. We do penning here every spring. We take 10,000 chinooks annually, raise them to a juvenile age, and then they're released out in the lake. The philosophy there is a two-to-one return rate. So we're trying to give a bit of a push back and give back to the fishery that, you know, honestly has given us so much. If I sit here and think about everything fishing has done for me, it's wild.
So, I implore people to get involved. Clubs welcome new people and volunteers. Whether it's cleaning up, we do a cleanup of Bronte Creek every year for garbage. Anything you can do that way is great. Someone that wants to get involved in fishing out here might not have the resources for the boat. Look into charter captains. There's a wide variety of them across the lake. Good people, lots of knowledge, lots of experience. Great way to learn. Don't be afraid to get out there and ask questions. I love when people get on board and say, Matt, how do you do this? How does this work? How do I do that? Because we all started in the same place at some point. You know, I didn't know where to start either. I mean, I started out with a 9.9 and a 14-foot tin. So, we all start somewhere. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and ask questions because anyone else out there who's doing this is doing it because it's a labor of love. So, I'll be more than happy to answer any questions.
To see the entire interview, click on the play button below.