Simple Methods for Catching Lake Trout
By Gord Bastable & Joe Moskal
Vermilion Bay Lodge, 2008
There is a myth that Lake Trout are both difficult to catch, and require specialized equipment to “get down deep”. Surprisingly, especially for those that have not tried fishing for trout, nothing is further from the truth! The average walleye angler likely already possesses most of the gear needed, and with a little helpful advice, can begin to catch lake trout throughout the season. Here are a few simple tips that have worked for us here at Vermilion Bay Lodge, and will work for you on your next Canadian fishing trip.
What you need to know about the fish:
Lake trout are a cold water fish that require deep, cold lakes that hold plenty of oxygen throughout the season. Maximum depths of 70 to 100 feet are common in trout lakes. After ice-out lakers can be scattered over much of the lake in shallow water and move gradually to the deeper water as the surface temperatures increase above 52 degrees Fahrenheit. During the warmest parts of the summer you will find the lake trout concentrating in the deepest sections of the lake. As the water temps decrease towards fall the trout will migrate towards boulder strew shorelines and reefs where they typically spawn during late September or early October. Lake trout are one of the few freshwater fish that are able to release air from their swim bladders and, with care, can be successfully released after being brought up from deep water. They are slow growing fish and care should be taken to release all but the smaller “eaters” to preserve a healthy spawning population.
Techniques that work:
Early spring: Before surface temperatures get above 52 degrees a simple method is to troll shorelines and islands with crank baits or spoons. Long lining with lures such as Rapala Husky Jerks, Shad Raps, Count -Down minnows will all produce trout. Color patterns in silver or silver/blue are time tested. Spoons such as the Doctor, Williams Wabler or Loco are excellent as well. Concentrate on the shallowest waters during low light conditions…..morning, evening or cloudy days. The fish may hang deeper during mid-day…try deeper diving crank baits such as such as the Hot-n-Tot, or Rapala Tail Dancer. Monofilament line (or leader) combined with a quality snap-swivel is advisable. Let out plenty of line and troll forward…..vary your speed till you have success.
Mid to Late Summer: Once the trout begin to move away from the shallows the most critical item in terms of being successful is knowing how to use your locator. Trying to fish without one is difficult for two reasons. The fish will be relating to the deepest water and structure……if you don’t where that is you are just guessing. Secondly the locator will show you that you are over fish and what depth they are at. Fishing at 80 feet when the fish are suspended at 50 feet is non-productive……..fishing areas that do not show fish is most likely a waste of time. Deep water trout can be caught using one of two simple methods…jigging or trolling.
Jigging for Trout: This technique works best when the fish are concentrated, and requires no special rod, reel or line. A basic light spinning rod with 6-8 pound mono and a ½ to ¾ oz jig will work just fine. White buck-tail jigs or white tube jigs are both deadly. Tipping the hook with a minnow, or piece of sucker meat, can improve your odds but is not normally necessary. Jigging spoons are also a highly productive method. Spoons such as the Little Cleo (blue/silver color) or Krocodile (silver) are both great lures. In the case of either a jig, or jigging spoon, the best approach is to start jigging on the very bottom and gradually work your way to the surface with pauses along the way. Trout will often follow your bait and be triggered to bite by the bait moving through the water column. Be alert for strikes, as trout will very often hit a bait that is fluttering back after being jigged. This is where many inexperienced anglers often miss catching a fish! One suggestion to increase your sensitivity to strikes is to use a super-line such as 10-12 pound test Spider-wire combined with a 3 ft. fluorocarbon leader. Covering ground by slowly drifting with the wind, or by using your motor, is very effective for locating fish.
Trolling for Trout: Trolling works best when the fish are scattered over large areas and covering ground is essential. In the absence of sophisticated down-riggers and such, a simple alternative involves the use of the 3-way swivel and 3 separate line components.
The first being the main line connecting the swivel to the rod and reel. For this we suggest a medium action rod with a reel spooled with plenty of 10-12 pound test super-line. When thinking about how much line just keep in mind you may have to let out 200 feet, or more, just to get you lure in the right position. The ultra thin diameter of the super-line means less resistance through the water column which means a more manageable amount of line, and sinker lead, being required to “get down there” while trolling. It also means less stretch when you go to set the hook, very important!
The second component is the “drop line” which connects the 3 way swivel to your sinker. A 3 foot section of 8 pound mono will work just fine. The amount of weight needed will be determined by the depth and speed of your troll. Generally for forward trolling at 45 feet you will need 4 ounces of lead, 6 ounces for 60 feet, and 8 ounces for 80 feet. Back trolling at a slower speed is an option that would require less weight to do the same job.
The third component that connects to the 3 way is the line attached to your lure. A 5 foot fluorocarbon leader with a quality ball bearing snap lock swivel is recommended. Lure choices are unlimited. Spoons such as the larger Doctor, Williams Wabbler and flutter spoons such as the Sutton all work well……….choose the silver color. When trolling these keep in mind that varying boat speeds and boat direction will often trigger fish. Also pumping the rod occasionally to create some erratic action will have the same effect. Try and maintain a 45 degree angle on your line from the rod tip to the water as you troll. Too much of an angle likely means you are going too fast for the depth of water, or a combination of too little weight, depth and speed. It is critical to maintain the “feel” for where you lure is in relation to the bottom to be successful.
Final Considerations: Catching lake trout can be a lot of fun and being properly prepared to successfully release them is very important. Here are a few suggestions. Flatten the barbs down on lures with multiple hooks……you won’t lose more fish and releasing them is so much simpler. If you plan on seriously pursuing these fish buy yourself a rubber net. Trout are notorious for tangling themselves in a regular mesh net. Don’t keep fish out of the water longer than you can hold your breath. This is particularly true with warm surface water temperatures…….a major cause of mortality to these cold water fish. They need to get back down as soon as possible. When reeling a fish in take your time and allow the fish to “decompress” on its way to the surface.
A recommended resource for further research into catching lake trout is the In-Fisherman DVD “Trophy Lake Trout” available online. Another suggestion is to join us here at Vermilion Bay Lodge and give lake trout fishing a try. We would be happy to get you started!