From Jefferson Journal—Summer Edition 2014
Ron Ditch, Henderson Harbor Charter Guide Celebrates 60 Years as a Fishing Guide
Ron Ditch, Henderson Harbor started as a Lake Ontario fishing guide when he was 12 years old. His dad, Ruddy
Ditch, a licensed charter captain, had a party one day and was too sick to take them out on the lake. The party knew
Ron as he had accompanied his father on many trips, and they asked if he could take them out. That might have
been when he knew he would follow his father’s footsteps. Later on an older Ron Ditch would officially get his charter
license in 1954. This year he celebrates his 60th year as a licensed charter guide.
Ron was born and lived in Rochester and moved to Henderson Harbor in 1950 at age 12. His father Ruddy had been
guiding since 1934. Ron says he got $29.50 a day back then, and his father’s first boat was a St. Lawrence guide
boat (popularly called “skiffs”, one of which may be viewed at the Henderson Historical Society’s Stevens Boat Annex
in Henderson). Ron says his father Ruddy was a contractor in Rochester and came to the eastern end of Lake
Ontario to fish and guide. On one of his trips he discovered a marina for sale in Henderson Harbor. Being a little
short on money because of the great depression. He told his good friend Charlie Henchen of it and told him it would
be an excellent buy. Charlie owned a bowling alley in Rochester and was also a plumber. He had the money, and
Ruddy advised him to buy it. That today is Henchen Marina. Ruddy ended up with land at the end of the harbor and
built their first Ruddy’s Fishing Camp in 1950, which started as rental cabins which he built for $50 each. .
Ron is the proprietor today of Ruddy’s Fishing Camp, Ron Ditch & Sons. The camp is his home which overlooks
Henderson Bay, and Ron has his living room adorned with lots of wildlife art. Because he couldn’t fish in the winter,
and hunting was his other passion, he started carving duck hunting decoys. That eventually led to the creation of
Ontario Decoys Inc. Ron and his partner, Paul Read sold literally thousands of decoys and decorative carvings to
such people as Abercrombie & Fitch, The Orvis Company, Eddie Bauer and scores of other sporting goods stores
around the country. A full sized cormorant carving can be seen at the same Historical Society Museum in Henderson.
He graduated from Henderson Central School where he met his wife of 59 years, Ora Ross, in 9th grade. Ron built
today’s camp which includes lodging, a bait shop and a marina, and guide service. Ron and Ora have four sons,
Andrew, David, Thomas and Mark, with all but Mark, also charter guides.
Ron is one of the most senior charter guides on the entire lake, and commands respect for his knowledge and
experience in the fishing world. Henderson Harbor Charter Guide Dave McCrea says, “I remember him and his father
when I was a little kid. My grandfather Lyle and Ruddy chartered the same time. Ron’s family represents 3rd
generation guides like we are.” “I’ve know him all my life, we’ve traded a lot of secrets and lies together”, says Dave.
“He has a very broad knowledge of the fishery and chartering. He’s expanded that with the new species introduced,
and has seen the highs and lows”, Dave says. “It’s exceptional that at his age, he’s still doing it. It’s quite an
accomplishment”, Dave adds.
Listening to Ron talk about the guiding business over his 60 plus years on the lake, it is very evident that there are
two distinct phases or eras of guiding and fishing in general, on the Great Lakes. They are pre and post trout and
salmon stocking. Salmonoids he reminds people, disappeared in 1940, and there were no salmon or other trout
species that could be fished with prominence. That left the 50’ and 60’s for guides to take a party out, with
smallmouth black bass, pike and perch. “Henderson Harbor has quite a reputation for black bass”, Ron says. Ron
said his first boat back in the 50’s when he started guiding was a Dodge Utility day cruiser that had belonged to his
Dad. He’s had many since with his current one a 27 ft Sportcraft. With sons David and Andrew still in the guide
business with Ron, that allows them to take a 3 boat group charter out.
Back in the bass and pike days, Ron says there weren’t that many guides out of Henderson Harbor. Some he recalls,
besides himself and his father were; Bob Hubbard, Jim Geiger, Dutch Howing, Bob McCrea, Lyle McCrea, Gib Gertner,
Royce Irwin, Jim Ramsdell, Howard Sheppard, Art & Earl Frasier. Only about half were full time, Ron says. “Bob
McCrea was a fireman in Watertown who would work all night and fish all day”, Ron recalls. Ron says that the eastern
end of Lake Ontario was tremendous bass fishing due to the shallow shores and numerous shoals that make a great
spawning area. “This end of the lake is number one for black bass”, Ron says. He also notes that today there are a
lot more guides but he expects that only 7 or 8 are good bass fishermen. “You have to know the bottom of the lake”,
Ron explains. “Years ago you didn’t even have a depth finder. Today you have everything to aid fishing” says Ron.
“I think I had the first Echo White depth finder on the lake”, he says. “I’m a hands on type of fisherman. I want my
charters to feel the bite and land the fish. You don’t get that with trolling”, he adds. “Live bait, casting and jigging –
the best methods for smallmouth bass”, Ron explains. Shore dinners were a favorite back then, more so than today,
according to Ron. He said he leased the North Pond on Galloo Island where shore dinners were performed. “I used
to take Ora and the kids, and they would stay in the ice house that we remodeled into a camp, sometimes for 3 to 5
days at a time”, he remembers.
Today’s fishing brings many species to the angler that weren’t available in the 50’s and 60’s. Lake trout, Chinook,
coho, and atlantic salmon, brown trout, steelhead, and walleye have made Lake Ontario a hotbed for fishermen from
all over. Ron said he had to adapt to the new techniques for these fish, and studied up on them. Now he says you
don’t have to know anything about bass fishing, just how to troll. “In 1969 I met Bill Pearce, “the father of Great Lakes
fishing. I helped drop the first bucket of Chinook salmon in the Redfield Reservoir for experimental stocking. Three
years later at the weir 20 adult salmon were sampled out of the 25,000 stocked. They averaged 14 lamprey scars per
fish, so they knew they had to control lampreys”, Ron recalls. “I caught my first lake trout in 1972, and John Dunk got
one that same day”, Ron remembers. He said he experimented with everything and taught himself how to fish for
them. “It was all brand new. I did take a trip to Lake Michigan with Alan Erickson, and hired a guide. They were 14
years ahead of us”, Ron said. “By the way, that’s good advice for anyone, investing a lot in equipment. Hire a guide
to show you how to properly use it”, he explains.
“They used to stock two strains of lake trout, the Seneca strain from Seneca Lake, and the Lake Clearwater strain
from Canada. The Clearwater strain was preferred by fishermen because they provided a close to shore fishery.
Then they became unavailable, so now you have to fish in 80 to 160 ft of water, and need specialized equipment”,
Ron says. He claims that the brown trout stockings which are “put and take”, are a big boon to fishermen, as they are
available in close in spring and summer.
Ron says that today’s charter guide business is a lot more competitive with the implementation of trout and salmon.
“The pie is only so large”, he says noting that he used to fish 140 to 150 days a year, and now mainly due to
competition, he only fishes about 50. He points out that there is more business to be had with the excellent fishery,
but there are 4 or 5 times more boats with the charter guides and friends taking out parties. “I wish we could go back
to just bass and northern”, Ron emphatically states.
It is evident listening to Ron, that he romances about the old days and strongly prefers bass fishing to trolling. It is
more evident that Henderson Harbor and Lake Ontario are firmly in planted in his blood. Aside from his family, it is
hard to think that he would have ever wanted to do anything else for these last 60 years.