Lake trout, you have to love them. The early mornings and late evenings spent chasing these fish can be as tough as they are enjoyable and rewarding.
What works today, may not work tomorrow. The wind, weather, and ice structure changes will all affect the way lake trout move and feed.
Knowing how to read these conditions and the situations they present is key to finding the fishing and catching them as well as staying safe out there.
Keeping our approach basic and as simple as possible, we will break down what to fish, when, and why. Lake trout are extremely challenging to catch, but all the hard work will be worth it when you hook one.
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Tips on How to Catch Lake Trout with the Fly Rod
Below I will run through my approach to catching lake trout. Yes, there are many ways to do this, and many anglers have their own ways of doing things which is great.
This is just what has worked for me over the years, and I am happy to share the information to get you catching trout in no time.
What is a Lake Trout?
Not actually a trout species at all but rather the largest species of freshwater Char. These fish are native to the Great Lakes, Canada, and the Northern US.
These fish are extremely slow-growing but reach massive sizes. Fish have been recorded over 100 lbs, with your average fish being between the 5-30lbs range.
Understanding your species and how they act is the first and most important thing when targeting a fish on a fly.
When is Best to Fish for Lake Trout?
There are two options when it comes to when targeting lake trout. The autumn, pre-spawn period, or the early spring ice-out period.
Both periods have their own set of challenges but are equally rewarding.
Pre- Spawn Autumn – can be a very productive time to fish for lake trout. This can be a debatable time to focus on lake trout as they are just about to spawn, but it is amazing if you catch them early.
The fish come out of the depths onto the shallow shelves to feed and then spawn. They feed aggressively, and for a very short period, once you see the females fat with eggs, it’s best to leave them and let them do their thing.
Early Spring Ice-Out – is my favorite time to target these fish. The trout are up in the shallows chasing the whitefish and other baitfish. The ice-out period is when the frozen lake tops start to break and drift. The lakers use these structures to ambush their prey in the shallows.
It’s not uncommon to see the trout shoot out from under the ice slab and chase a shoal of baitfish. This is where you need to be in position and get that cast out.
For a more in-depth look at when to catch lake trout, please read the Best Time to Catch Lake Trout.
Where to Find Them?
As with any species doing your homework is essential to ensure success, and it is no different with lake trout.
In the autumn, pre-spawn and pre-ice over, the fish will be up in the shallows, getting ready for the spawn and colder months. Focus on the deep drop-offs and ledges, the fish move in and out of the shallows.
Ice-out, early spring, focus on the shallows where the ice pieces are drifting around. The fish won’t be deep at all, and they will be patrolling the edges concentrating on the baitfish in the shallows. Eddies and inlets are a great place to start as the bait will use the warmer water and attract the trout.
What Part of the Lake Should Focus on?
The lakes up north can be pretty intimidating, to say the least. It often feels like you are searching for a needle in a haystack at times.
It’s good to get a bathymetric map of the lake you intend to fish in. This allows you to see the different shelves and depths and give you a good idea of where to start and concentrate your efforts.
Plot the areas where the shelf shallows out rapidly and drops off quickly again. These are key zones for the fish to patrol and hold. Any underwater structures you can see from the bank or boat are also worth working on.
Rocky outcrops are a great area to focus on as well. The baitfish hold here for protection, and thus, the lakers also patrol these areas.
What Gear Do I Need?
A fly rod in the 7-10wt range will be ample. A medium to fast action rod is my preferred choice for two reasons.
Firstly the conditions in which we fish, especially autumn, have some strong winds to contend with. Secondly, the flies used for lakers are big and need a strong rod to help them punch the wind.
My current rod choice is the Snowbee Spectre 8wt 9’. I love this fast-action rod, and it is great value for money in my mind.
Lake trout, hit hard and often make a screaming first run. You need a reel that can handle this force and provide a smooth drag resistance for the run.
Make sure you have at least 100 yards of 30lbs backing as well for when they take you down to the depths. For a better understanding of your needs and what to look for, please read the article on the best trout fly reels.
Your choice of lines is dependent on the type of water you fish. I tend to start off with a floating rocket taper cold water line.
But it does help to carry a few sink tip options and an intermediate line should you need to switch suddenly. This article will explain your options better.
I use fluorocarbon leaders to keep it simple with the most direct contact with the fly. 10-15 ft in length, depending on the wind and depth at which I need to fish.
This setup style allows me to fish up to 10ft in depth when needed, especially on those autumn days when the fish are a little deeper. 9-10’ leaders are ample in the spring as you won’t be fishing deeper than 6ft with the fish coming in ankle-deep at times.
These are a given, well, at least in my mind. I hate getting cold, and a good pair of waders just makes my day on the water more comfortable.
Big baitfish and attractor patterns are the way to go for these fish. They hit hard and have boney, almost prehistoric mouths. So the strip strike is the way to set the hook. Think tarpon in the ice, haha.
What are the Best Flies for Lake Trout?
As mentioned earlier, lake trout love baitfish patterns, and they eat them with such aggression and vigor. It’s always handy to have a few leech patterns in your fly box as well for those slower days.
I am particularly fond of the jig-style baitfish patterns. The added motion on a floating line is deadly in the springtime.
Vary your retrieves from slow and steady to short and erratic. Think of fleeing baitfish in the shallows and bank sides. You want to spark interest, but be ready as lake trout don’t always take the fly very hard, and they can sometimes very gently nibble the fly without you even knowing it.
On the Boat
Many anglers choose to fish for lake trout from a float tube or paddleboat. This method can be very effective in the spring and summer times.
Being able to move out on the water gives you a key access point that you would otherwise be unable to reach from the bank.
Learning to fish from a float tube or paddleboat is pretty straightforward, but I would recommend a few practice rounds in a more controlled environment.
Learning to drift over the key areas with the wind and using the boat to fish a swing style method and a washing line method are all things that you can learnt to better your chances.
Please check out this to learn more about Float Tubing 101.
So there you have it. Whether you are chasing lakers in the bone-chilling autumn or on a warmer spring afternoon, they will have their challenges, but all your efforts should be duly rewarded.
Remember to do your research, plan properly, and use the above information to better your chances on the day. If there is something you would like to add or a question you need to have answered, please feel free to comment in the comments section below.
The last and most important thing is always to remember to have fun while in outdoors with friends and family.