By: Gary Buchannan
Posted On: 2009-01-24
The Lake Trout has several qualities that make him a fish you'll like to catch. First is his size. A 5-pounder is an infant; 20-pounders are common. The world record Laker taken on hook-and-line was 63 pounds, 2 ounces, and almost 4 feet long. Specimens weighing over 100 pounds have been netted by commercial fishermen. Second is his tremendous appetite that usually prompts him to gobble just about anything that comes his way, including your lures, as long as they look reasonably edible. Third is the fact that he's no weakling. As you might expect, he's a heavyweight slugger who hits hard enough to tear the rod out of your hands, and then he takes off, daring you to try to hold him. Finally, when you take him from the frying pan or oven, he's a feast for a king—usually enough for a dozen kings.
Because the Lake Trout is a "charr," not a true Trout, his closest relative is the Brook Trout. And he likes water that's even colder than does the Brookie—40 to 50 degrees. Therefore you'll seldom find him in water south of the Great Lakes. He's numerous in Alaska and Canada, where he's referred to as the Mackinaw Trout, and he's a favorite in Maine where they call him by the Indian name "togue." The Canadian Indians called him "namaycush" which means "dweller of the deep," a name that fits him exactly because he's rarely found in lakes less than 40 feet deep. He prefers them much deeper; in some waters you'll have to fish 800 feet down to reach him! And then when you finally haul him to the surface after he's given up the fight, his mouth will be open and his gills spread wide. He has died from a condition similar to the "bends" which endangers the lives of deep-sea divers when they ascend to the surface too quickly.
The color of the Lake Trout is primarily gray, the shade darkening with the fish's age and depth of water and sometimes taking on an olive cast. His deep-bellied body is covered with small light spots and in large fish the jaws become hooked, giving them a vicious appearance. The Lake Trout's diet consists mainly of other fish, especially fresh-water Smelt, without which it is doubtful that many Lakers would survive. Every Lake Trout water has been found to contain hordes of these small silver fish. And because of them, once a year the Lake Trout will provide you with excellent fly fishing—immediately after the ice leaves the lakes in the early spring. It is then that the Smelt crowd into the mouths of the streams to spawn and the smaller Lake Trout (up to 10 or 15 pounds) follow them into this shallow water to feed on them. Then the Lakers can be taken on fly tackle: a heavy glass (because it's more durable than bamboo) fly rod of 6 ounces or more, a 10-pound-test untapered leader, and a large streamer fly that resembles a Smelt, such as a Grey Ghost. But the accepted method of using this fly tackle is trolling, not casting. Troll your streamer on the surface along the shoreline on about 100 feet of fishline behind an outboard motor.
This fishing lasts only a few weeks; then the Smelt return to deep water with the Lake Trout chasing them. But there's one more period when you can take Lake Trout on flies: in the late fall when they come to the mouths of the streams to do their own spawning. And at this time you're more likely to snag a monster because they all make the trip. The same streamer-trolling method is best.
The majority of Lake Trout, however, are taken by trolling during spring and summer with large silver spoons or strings of large spinners. These are trolled behind a motorboat through the deepest holes in the lake. Ask the local guides, fishermen or game warden where these holes are, and when you have chosen one to try, test its depth with a sinker tied to your line.
You'll have to fish your spoon down to within 10 feet of the bottom, so troll with a heavy nylon line (at least 25-pound-test) weighted with heavy sinkers tied above the lure. For very deep water you'll need a line made of monel metal or copper wire to sink the lure deep enough. A short stiff glass rod and a surf-casting type of reel will handle the nylon line with its sinkers for semi-deep trolling. For the metal line you'll need a special windlass-type reel and a special 2-foot-long rod that's mostly handle and reel-seat. Once you've gotten a fish, keep trolling over the same spot and the chances are you'll pick up another on each pass because Lakers frequently remain in schools.
The Indians, using lures made of shells, had a method of catching Lakers when they weren't biting and it still works for anglers who are familiar with it. Anchor your boat directly over the deep Trout hole, put a slice of panfish on the hook of your spoon and lower the lure until it rests on the bottom. Let it rest a few seconds, then raise it a few feet with a hard, fast jerk. Let it settle back, jerk it up again and repeat. On one of these jerks: you'll feel a fish. Why? Your fluttering lure attracts the school of Lake Trout and they cluster over it, sniffing it in curiosity. One of them eventually might grab it. Even if he doesn't, it won't be long before one will get in the way of the hook when you jerk it upward—and you'll have Lake Trout for dinner!