Many of our guests tell us that they are interested catching big lake trout while they are here in Ontario and want to know how to do that. Our answer is that lake trout fishing is a process that can be broken down into steps. Here is one method to catch big lake trout.
1. Know your prey
Understand their life cycle, habitat, preferred protective cover, and feeding habits. Then you can develop a strategy to catch them.
The life cycle of lake trout is as follows:
- The Spawn.
Lake trout spawn in shallow water when the water temperature reaches 48oF to 57oFbetween September and December. The spawn sites are rocky shoals or rubble bottoms.
After 105 days to 147 days the eggs hatch as fry. Fry stay in shallow water and move into deeper water as they grow into juveniles.
- Growth and Longevity
Lake trout grow slowly and travel and feed as individuals. Some are more successful at finding food so they grow faster, get bigger, and live longer.
Lake trout typically live for 10 to 20 years but can reach 60 years! They average 10 pounds but can reach more than 30 pounds! The record is 72 pounds!
The habitatof lake trout is:
- Lakes and rivers in North America north of a line from the Columbia River in Washington State to New York City.
- Cold Clear Water
Lake trout like the cool clear water of the deeper parts of the lake or river.
- Below the Thermocline
- A thermocline occurs in a lake during the summer, when the water warms unevenly into layers of different temperatures. Warm water is on the top and gets progressively cooler in layers as depth increases. The water layer at about 50oF where temperature decreases very rapidly is the thermocline. It is between, and separates, the warm water above and much cooler water below.
- Lake trout will stay below the thermocline all summer at depths from 40 to 100 feet or more.
- Colder fall weather cools the surface water making the thermocline disappear. Lake trout will then prowl all depths of the lake.
The preferred protective cover:
- Cover in the spring and fall will be logs, stumps, rocks and boulders near river and stream inlets. Also, rocky points, shallow reefs, gently sloping drop-offs near islands, and near aquatic vegetation.
- Cover in the summer is depth. Lake trout are often found 10 to 15 feet from the lake bottom. They also can be on the move anywhere below the thermocline. Mid-lake humps and steep drops along shore are key feeding places for lake trout in summer.
- Cover in the winter is just the ice, they are often at 10 feet below the ice. They still like to hang out near aquatic vegetation and submerged structures.
The feeding habits of lake trout:
Availability determines the diet of lake trout rather than specific preference.
- In the spring after ice-out, lake trout feed at all depths of the lake. Lake trout are easiest to catch in shallow water while feeding on perch, smaller trout, herring, fresh water shrimp, suckers, insects, and minnows.
- In the summer,lake trout dive to deep water, below 40 feet.
- In the fall they move to shallower water again.
- In the winter lake trout cruise at all depths of the lake below 10 feet.
2. Choose your Tackle
For the trolling technique we recommend:
- An 8’6” trolling rod with medium power and medium/fast action.
- Load your reel with 65 lb. Power Pro.
- For a reel, we like the Daiwa Accudepth Plus 47 LC with line counter, but a usable reel would have these capabilities: line counter, bronze gears, Teflon/felt drag washers, automatic clutch engagement, and spool click.
- When trolling, use a 3-way 75 lb. swivel. Off the swivel, use 3 ft of 25 lb. fluoro carbon line to a 1 oz. to 16 oz. sinker weight to help your lure reach the desired depth. Then off the other part of the swivel attach another piece of 25 fluorocarbon line with a snap swivel at the end to attach your lure- usually a spoon.
For the verticaljigging technique, we recommend:
- A medium to medium/heavy spinning rod.
- 20 lb. braided fishing line.
- This will enable you to feel your lake trout hit your bait.
For bait, we recommend:
- The new Savant Spoon, developed by an angler who loves Lake Savant.
- The Sutton Spoon.
- Deep diving crank baits.
- Big rapalas, shad raps, rat-L-traps, red eyes.
- 1 oz. to 2 oz. bucktail jigs for vertical jigging.
- Live bait we offer at our camp store.
These are our recommendations. If your favorite gear exceeds these capabilities, bring that.
3. Choose your Season
Lake trout open season on Lake Savant is January 1 (though our resort opens the 3rd Saturday in May due to winter conditions) to September 30. The dates may be different at other lakes in Ontario. For open season on other Ontario lakes, check here. Decide what type of fishing experience you want and pick the time of year that lake trout are behaving that way.
4. Use a Depth Finder
To catch lake trout, you absolutely must know what depth they are in. The weather determines water temperature and their feeding habits.
- In the early spring and fall lake trout cruise at 10 to 45 feet.
- In the spring and in the summer, they cruise at 40 to 65 feet.
- In the winterlake trout can be anywhere from right below the ice to as deep as the bottom of the lake.
5. Choose your Technique
Watch your line continuously. You will have to feel and watch the line to know when you have a bite. Jerk the rod up 1 to 2 feet to hook the fish once it has bitten. Keep pressure on the line and keep your rod tip up to keep the hard-mouthed trout from shaking your hook free.
Casting is a great way to catch lake trout in early spring and in fall when they are more likely to be in shallow water. Using casting spoons, crankbaits, or your other favorite lures to cast up in to shallow rocky areas with quick access to deep water is a great technique.
- Ice fishing
You may need to search a bit to find your lake trout. Remember that your prey are feeding on small fish at this time of year, so present your bait and lures to match their prey. Try lake basins where they feed on baitfish in open water. And try near shoals, reefs, and under water structures. Try jigging with 3 inch to 4 inch softbaits. Usecurlytailgrubs, or something similar, on ¼ to ¾ ounce jigheads. The colors should be natural, like silver, pearl, or white. Using dead bait, like a large cisco or sucker, with a quickset harness off of a tip up or jig rod and letting it lay right on the bottom can be a deadly technique to catch a monster laker under the ice.
Trolling is great because lake trout tend to cruise about the lake individually instead of in schools and trolling allows you to cover more water. A depth finder will be useful here. To troll, do this:
- Try weighting your line so it drags at a good depth or use dipsy divers or downriggers to target a specific depth. Set your lure up so it runs at the depth you are marking the trout or slightly above them. Use lures or spoons to match lake trout prey by the season; small in the spring, bigger as the season progresses. A live minnow that’s hooked through the lips is also great. Trolling deep diving crankbaits is an easy way to catch lake trout since the lures typically have a predictable diving depth.
- Use a lake map to find structure in the appropriate depth range for the time of year you are fishing. Start with a very slow troll and fluctuate your speeds to see what troll speeds the trout respond to. Try making wide sweeping turns with the boat to get your lure in different depth ranges and keep your lure from being directly behind the boat, where lake trout may have been spooked from the noise of the motor.
- Vertical Jigging
This technique is the best where lake trout are concentrated. It does not require any special rod or reel. Do this from a boat, not from the shore.
- The jig should be 1 ounce to 2 ounces.
- Use a white or glow bucktail jig, a jigging spoon and bait with a minnow or sucker meat.
- Drop your line near the bottom of the lake and slowly work your way up, jiggling the line to present your bait as a wounded baitfish to attractlake trout. Try a faster presentation and even just letting the bait lie still to gauge how aggressive the trout are.
6. Keep or Catch & Release?
You have catch limits for the lake trout you want to keep, usually a possession limit of 2. Trout are a fragile fish and catching them induces a lot of stress. If you know you are not going to keep a trout, don’t remove it from the water if possible and release it as soon as possible. It is best to keep smaller fish for eating and release the big ones to be caught again another day.
7. Packing Fish
- You may not transport live fish (except baitfish). They must be dead.
- All fish you catch must be cleaned in such a way that each fish:
- can be counted.
- still has a patch of skin attached to aid species identification.
- You must have your license and coolers accessible.
- If you have packed fish improperly or are transporting them improperly, you may have your catch seized, be fined, and must appear in court near where you caught the fish and not near your home.
- You can see examples of the right way and wrong way to pack fish here, pages 14 and 15.
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