Lake trout fishing can be a fun and relaxing experience. It’s a great sport to enjoy on your own or with family and friends. However, many people find that even the most well-planned lake trout fishing excursion can be nothing more than a peaceful jaunt on a quiet lake because they never actually catch any fish. A few simple lake trout fishing tips can change all that! While these pointers don’t guarantee you’ll land a lake trout, they’ll greatly improve your chances.
KNOW YOUR FISH
Lake trout are the largest of the trout species. They range greatly in size and weight but generally weigh anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds. There are exceptions, however, and it is not unheard of for anglers to pull up a lake trout weighing close to 60 or 70 pounds. In fact, the largest catch on record is a whopping 102 pounds. But again, this is the exception, not the rule. Lake trout are typically brownish grey in color and have cream-colored spots on their bodies that become more prominent during spawning. They are normally found in cold, freshwater lakes that have well oxygenated water. Known by a variety of names including grey trout, paperbellies and salmon trout, they are quite popular in Canada and the Northern United States. They feed on a variety of critters, including minnows, insects, crustaceans, and even small sunfish.
THE BEST EQUIPMENT
Rods and reels are largely a matter of taste for any fisherman and the choice is very subjective. That being said, when jigging for lake trout, you will probably want to use a baitcast reel rather than a spinner, mainly because the baitcast will drop the lure more quickly than the spinner. For trolling, some anglers prefer to use a spinning rod/reel because they believe the sensitive touch and feel give them an advantage. Lake trout have a lot of fight in them, so a medium action rod is recommended, unless you are planning on finding the 60-pounders, in which case you may want to consider using a heavy action rod. Give yourself at least 300 feet of line so that you don’t get caught short when you hook a fighter. Lake trout have very keen eyesight, so you might consider a fluorocarbon line rather than a monofilament since it sinks more quickly and is less visible under water. If you are using lures for jigging, try the lighter ones, especially gold and silver spoons, which work very well when coupled with live bait. Plastic-tipped and pink jigs also work well. Some time-tested favorites include Little Cleos, William’s Warblers, and the Johnson Silver Minnow. If you’re trolling, you’ll also want a three way swivel so that your line won’t get tangled. Also, for either trolling or jigging, a gang hook, size 8 or 10, works quite well, especially if you’re using live bait. If you intend on trolling you’ll also find a downrigger helpful for securing your rod to the boat. Finally, if you’re fishing in unfamiliar waters and are serious about finding lake trout, you may want to invest in a depth finder, especially if you are doing late season fishing, when the lake trout retreat to lower depths.
As mentioned above, lake trout prefer the cold northern waters. They also thrive in water that is well oxygenated, so look for lakes that are spring fed and not stagnant. Most of the time, you won’t find lake trout too close to shore so plan to spend your time fishing from a boat. Of course, if your trolling you’ll probably want a motor boat but otherwise, for jigging, a standard row boat will do just fine. Lake trout are adaptive eaters, meaning that they will tend to adjust their diet according to the available food sources. With that in mind, to increase your chances of landing a catch, know your lake. Observe the food sources that abound in the area—minnows, insects, crustaceans, suckers, etc.—and choose your bait accordingly. Choose lakes that have some depth to them. During the warmer months, lake trout have been known to sit at around 100 feet. Also, opt for locations that are sheltered and not susceptible to windy conditions; lake trout prefer still waters.
TIMING AND WEATHER CONDITIONS
In the early spring, after the thaw when the water is the coldest, you will find lake trout swimming relatively close to the surface. If the lake recently lost ice, the fish will be hungry and less discriminating in their choice of meals. Hungry fish lurking close to the surface makes for some excellent fishing. In the warmer summer months, the lake trout tend to swim at deeper depths and are generally less active. They still need to eat, though, but if you’re going to catch them, you will have to send your lure deeper and have a bit more patience. In many areas, lake trout season ends in mid-September, but in areas where the temperature drops in early fall, you can still get those lake trout and, since the water is cooler, you’ll probably find them closer to the surface again. October is spawning season and in many areas fishing for lake trout is not permitted or is on a catch and release basis only.
In any season, but especially in the spring, opt for overcast days since the lake trout sometimes shy away from the sun. Fish between dawn and mid-morning or at twilight, when feeding is most active. A gentle rain can actually help draw the fish to the surface because the rain will bring down tasty insects that will in turn draw out minnows and other small fish. This banquet will serve to tempt the lake trout out for a meal. However, since the trout generally prefer calm waters, stormy, windy conditions that churn up the water will have the opposite effect.
Jigging for lake trout means using a lure in the water and maneuvering it in such a way that it mimics the actions an injured fish—easy prey for the lake trout. The types of lures you might consider are mentioned above, but regardless of which type you use, you need to get involved in making it work. While the water currents will give the lure some life, once you cast your lure onto the bottom, don’t just let it rest there. Using slow, random movements, raise and lower your rod or sway it from side to side. It is important that you vary the movement so that your lure will take on the erratic motion of injured prey. Your lure will work even better if you attach live bait such as minnows, crayfish or smelts. Even worms will do, although opt for manure worms over nightcrawlers.
For trolling, anglers will toss their line in the water and slowly motor their boat along, pulling the line behind them. This process works well for lake trout during the summer months when they are swimming at lower depths and hiding among natural barriers such as roots, rocks or lake scrub. The faster the boat goes, the higher the hook and lure will ride in the water, so if you are fishing for deep trout, it is best to keep your troll at a slow and leisurely pace. A two to three ounce weight attached to your three-way swivel will produce good results. To set up the troll, let the line out a few feet at a time until you feel the weight hit bottom, then take it up a foot or two and begin to troll. Make sure you leave a lot of line between the motor and the lure (at least 20 to 40 feet). Lake trout will get spooked by the motor, no matter how quiet it is, and the space between the boat and the lure will give them a chance to regroup. Again, as with jigging, your lure will be even more attractive with live bait or a small piece of fish attached.
LANDING YOUR CATCH
Smaller lake trout tend to hit and run with the lure, but larger ones take their time. They may follow your bait for a while on a troll, then take it and swim off at a leisurely pace. Consequently, if you feel a snag on your line as your trolling, it might not be a tree stump but rather a nice big lake trout. Be prepared, though, because even if you begin to bring in your catch without much of a fight, when the trout gets sick of the hook in its mouth, you’re in for a battle. Lake trout are notorious for turning and diving and will often deep dive several times before they tire out. Wait the fish out and don’t reel it in until some of its fight is spent. When it gets close enough to the boat, net the fish and bring it in. Handle with care, though, because lake trout have sharp teeth and are not fond of being handled.