Tips for Catching The Elusive Lake Trout
Early spring is here, mild temperatures are in the air, lakes are starting to thaw, and excitement is building with anticipation of the open water fishing season. Spring has always provided great opportunities for ice-out lake trout, and this year will be no different in Northeastern Ontario. Canoe portage trips, spinning tackle and a box full of spoons, inline spinner baits, and shallow crank baits or plugs should be prepared and ready to hit the water at a moment’s notice.
Lake trout can be considered Canada’s fish as they are mainly found in Canadian waters, including some of the northern States. Northeastern Ontario is home to stories of legendary fish roaming our pristine waters growing to enormous proportions. The deep shield lakes scattered throughout which include the likes of Lake Temagami, Lake Temiskaming, and Lake Panache all offering world class lake trout fishing along with the MANY inland lakes waiting to be explored.
Year-round lake trout opportunities are available in the region and many different techniques and approaches are required as the seasons and water temperatures change. Trout are very temperature-associated fish and prefer cold, well-oxygenated water throughout the entire year. Some tried and true techniques include long lining, lead core, down rigging, casting and vertical jigging. Successful seasonal techniques and structure breakdowns that have been used to target lake trout are provided in the following.
With the ice melting and surface water temperatures being the coldest they will be throughout the entire year, this makes conditions ideal to target lake trout in shallow water. Trout can be found aggressively feeding in the shallow water on emerging insects and schools of baitfish. Spring is one of the easiest times throughout the year to target lake trout. If you’re a multi species angler then this is the time of year to really try and key in on ‘lakers’.
In the spring, trout are found relating to points, islands and underwater reefs. River mouths can also be ideal during ice-out conditions due to the warmer inflow of water delivering a smorgasbord of insects and other food, which in turn attract baitfish, making these ideal spots to target hungry predatory lakers.
The most common techniques during the spring include long line trolling and casting techniques. Planer boards and lead core can also be used to move the bait away from the boat and to a deeper controlled depth. Some favourite baits to use this time of year include Little Cleo’s, Bomber Long A’s, and Mepp’s in-line spinners.
This is a great time of year to cover a lot of water searching for new structure and trying new baits while trying to locate schools of fish. Once you find one, break down that location as more bites will surely come on similar areas.
The summer months create warmer surface temperatures and push the thermocline deeper in many of our wonder trophy lakes. This also moves the trout deeper and forces anglers to seek deeper water when targeting lakers. This can be used to your advantage and help you find more and higher quality fish. Just because the air and water temperatures are warm doesn’t make the lake trout stop feeding.
Lake trout prefer the colder water temperatures found below the thermocline in the summer months. This is the zone where water temperature drops and oxygen increases, making a preferred habitat for forage fish like cisco (whitefish). Hint: lake trout like cisco! Higher end electronics can show the thermocline as a dark, hazy band on the screen about 10 feet thick in the 20-35 foot depth. Once the thermocline is identified you have a very good method of finding the trout in your lake.
Searching points, shoals, and reefs where the structure coincides with the bottom of the thermocline is a great place to start your search. Due to the temperature change and higher oxygen this layer holds many microscopic plants and animals (zooplankton) which are the main food source for deep water baitfish and where there is bait … there are usually predatory fish.
Once you have located your preferred structure and the thermocline, many options can be chosen from to target your trophy species. Down rigging is most common as your depth is controlled and your baits track true with the boat. If down rigging is your preferred choice, start with your bait just below or in the thermocline and your other line 15-20 feet below. Keep an eye on your graph, looking for pinch points and areas with congregated bait. This is a great location to try vertical jigging, using very similar baits as during the winter months.
Summer trolling baits include Williams Wobbler Spoons, J-Plugs, and floating body baits such as Husky Jerks and Jointed Rapala’s. Many jigging lures are available such as tubes, swimbaits, blade baits, lipless crank baits, and Swedish pimple jigging spoons.
Lake trout spawn in the fall and opportunities are limited if not closed throughout the entire region. Check the regulations for lake trout opportunities before heading out in the fall. Lake trout seasons close on Labour Day and September 30th throughout the region with select stocked lakes open for angling.
Fall is the season that almost all species put on the feedbag, the winter months are coming, the days are getting shorter and cooler water temperatures are beginning to mix throughout the water column creating more habitats for these cold water fish. Opportunities can still be had on stocked lakes where many numbers can be achieved. Think back to your spring locations as lake trout will be staging for the spawn on the rocky shorelines and shoals. Most of the stocked lakes that remain open throughout the year are widely considered ‘Put, Grow, and Take’ fisheries. They are stocked to create angling opportunities and to take pressure off the wild lake trout lakes, giving anglers a better opportunity to catch these excellent game fish.
Trolling and casting techniques are very effective along with vertical jigging a school of lake trout preparing for the spawn. If you can locate the thermocline before the lakes turnover you will be sure to find quality numbers. Fish responsibly and release the larger females back into the system to complete the spawn.
Winter is the time of year when lake trout are most sought after. Conditions are much like the spring; the entire water column is filled with the ideal colder water conditions and lake trout roam freely utilizing the shallow ambush points from which they are restricted throughout the warmer summer months. Winter conditions are excellent for everyone to access lake trout waters as a boat is not required. Northeastern Ontario is filled with many accessible lakes. Lake trout roam shorelines, initial breaks, deep underwater points, shoals, and reefs in the pursuit of a meal. Set up on these ambush points and your success rates will increase.
Winter ice fishing techniques are limited to vertical presentations through jigging and still line techniques. The biggest advantage you can give yourself while ice fishing is to obtain electronics with ice fishing capabilities. Many different brands are available including real time flashers made by Vexilar, Marcum and Hummingbird and multi season sonar units from Lowrance, Hummingbird and Garmin. Electronics will assist you in locating where the fish are in the water column. Lake trout roam the entire water column and can even be found in the upper 10 feet of water.
Tried and tested baits to use include a wide variety of spoons (William’s ice spoons and wobblers, Swedish pimples, Little Cleo’s, etc.), Rattling Baits (Rapala Rippin’ Rap, Rat-L-Trap’s, and Kamooki Smartfish), Soft Plastic Baits (Tubes and Swimbaits) and last but definitely not least live bait (chubs, shiners, and suckers). This wide selection of baits can all be used to complement one another to generate a fish catching pattern. Start with search/attraction bait (Spoon, Rattling or Swimbait) at the deeper section of the water column, working the bait to the surface, and giving each 10 feet interval the same amount of attention. While searching the water column place a still line (Tube or live bait) at the mid-section of the water column. Once you have located active fish you can narrow down your focus to this depth and really dial the bite in.
Lake trout fight like freight trains and can humble the best of us. This can make them some of the most rewarding fish to catch. Their sheer beauty, size, and composition leave anglers in astonishment each and every time they make it in the boat. Trout fishing isn’t for the passive angler as hard work, countless hours, endless hikes, and portages lead to the great rewards awaiting the next bite.
Don’t forget – check the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry Fishing Regulations prior to hitting the water for seasonal opportunities in your area; not all Zones are the same. Now head out into BIG Northeastern Ontario to test your skills and luck against one of Canada’s true blessings–the lake trout. Trust us, and you can thank us later.