It's interesting how individual perspective sometimes varies from the data based on personal experience. MarkNY...sounds like you have been having some fun with the chrome lately which is great! But believe it or not, it is actually the Steelhead fishery that is in significant decline in Lake Ontario and it has been for probably the last 10 - 15 years. Check out the LOSA website for the link to presentations that the DEC put together for the state of the lake this year and for more info on the subject.
Lots of data has been generated over the last 15 years and the fact that the steelhead numbers are significantly down is impossible to argue at this point. Salmon River returns have actually been declining to the point where the state is starting to get anxious about having enough returning “Washington State” fish to supply the egg demand. In addition, returns for Ganny Strain fish on the Canadian side are also way down from historical highs in the mid 90's. These are all wild fish so some of the problem has to do with the liberal creel limits set buy the Canadians at 5 fish per day but if you talk to the Biologists who have the creel data etc. they feel that there is more to it than that. It’s a very complex problem and nobody to this point really knows exactly what the issue of Steelhead survival is other than the fact that the fish are not surviving to adulthood in the Lake. Most biologists feel that the decline is related to the exotic zebra/quagga infestations that began in the early 90's as this is when the steelhead decline started. Diporia (shrimplike invertebrates)...a staple food for young Steelhead have virtually dissapeared in the lake, and this is again probably linked to the mussels.
I have seen no data that suggests that the Chinook fishery is depressed from a numbers standpoint at this time. In fact last season was probably the best season that the lake boys had with chinooks since the halcyon days of the mid 80's. I would agree that you wouldn’t get too much of an argument that the chinooks are recently trending smaller on average than they used to and the DEC feels that this is likely due to a decrease in Alewife fitness. The wild card in all of this is that there are very significant numbers of wild chinook that are produced in the Salmon river each year now ever since the new water licensing agreement went into effect in the mid 90's. That is well documented but what is not known at this time is how many are surviving to adulthood. So another theory is that the steelhead are now expensive fish food for chinooks who key on the steelhead more because of less forage is available in general. I have not seen any data to support this but it seems plausible.
Finally, I just read a summary of a summit that was held regarding EMS (Early Mortality syndrome...the thiamine deficiency problem that is plaguing Great Lakes salmonids among other fish populations). It appears that chinooks need less thiamine to survive relative to the other species so a diet on Thiaminase rich Alewives isn’t as problematic for them. In addition there is evidence that the changing structure of the food web out in the lakes is making the problem worse becaue the fish are lacking certain specififc lipids (I believe) that theye are not getting now and are related to the problem from a biochemisrty standpoint. So that may have something to do with the decline.
Because many of our rivers are tailwater fisheries we still get Steelhead that “Stack” up in the rivers and fishing can still be unbelievable at times but the data does not lie. I also believe that most fisherman that were around in the 80's had much more productive Steelhead fishing than they do now...at least that is the case with the fisherman that I run with.
Sorry to be so long winded but this is an important issue that has been much politicized lately. South shore steelhead trib fisherman (who have one fish limits and who creel data shows are virtually all C&R with Steelhead now anyway) are attempting to reduce the liberal creel limits that the charter boys enjoy out on the lake in an attempt to spread the wealth. As you can imagine they want nothing to do with it and they are well organized and connected in Albany. Anyway, there is a ton more information out there on the subject...just Google a bit and you will stumble across it.
Tight Lines and I hope you are into all the chrome you can handle come fall.