When do Lake Trout Spawn? (US State-by-State Spawning Calendar & Things to Know)

Of course, most fisher-folks would agree, the possibility of landing a massive fish is a major draw for lake trout fishing! The sheer size can be almost unreal. It can, however, be difficult finding them in the big waters that they typically dwell.

But it doesn’t have to be!

Understanding their movements and seasonalities is key to success. Knowing where they will be and when helps improve your success rate dramatically.

In this article, we’ll focus on the question: “When do lake trout spawn?”

For those who wish to get straight to the point:

When do lake trout spawn?

Lake trout are a fall-spawning species. When water temps begin to drop, lake trout migrate to shallow near-shore or shoal areas to prepare beds. They prefer clean cobble, gravel or small rock to lay and fertilize their eggs. A typical spawning bed will be between 4 and 20 feet in depth, though shallower and deeper beds are very possible.

man fishing trout in lake

Lake trout are an unbelievably cool species to fish for and to study. Although referred to as a “trout,” lake trout are actually a trout cousin called a char.

What do you mean it’s not a trout!?

Well, the distinctions may be more subtle unless you’ve studied the topic. Trout and char are both in the salmonid family along with…you guessed it….salmon! Trout and char are very closely related but there’s an easy way to distinguish.

Here’s the 411…

Trout have lighter bodies with dark spots and char have dark bodies with light spots!

  • Types of (actual) trout: rainbow, brown, cutthroat
  • Types of char: lake trout, brook trout, bull trout, arctic char

As if that’s not confusing enough, lake trout go by many names depending on the local culture: mackinaw, namaycush (from the scientific name Salvelinus namaycush), lake char, and gray trout. Some places even call them paperbelly, or siscowets.

And that’s not all!

Lake trout, in the north where food competition might be more intense, can morph into two distinct types (“morphotypes”)

  • Lean morphs (“leans”) – prefer shallower water and tend to be thinner/leaner
  • Fat morphs (siscowets) – prefer deeper water and can become quite large

fly fisherman in brown jacket standing on river with fly rod

Lake Trout Spawning Season

Lake trout are a fall-spawning species of char. Typically, lake trout spawning season lands somewhere between mid-September and mid-December. Of course exactly when depends on a few things:

  • Water temperature – lake trout spawning temperature is around 53-45 degrees Fahrenheit (12-7.2 celsius). As the cooler weather begins to set in, the water temp will drop with it. This decline lets the lake trout know that spawning season is nearing. When the surface temp is near the 53f/12c threshold, (meaning the depths will generally be cooler) this signals the fish to begin.
  • Altitude – water bodies at a higher elevation will generally cool faster than lower elevation lakes. Fall comes earlier at altitude, meaning the cool weather, rain, and possibly snow will cool the water sooner.
  • Latitude – the higher the latitude (the farther north you are), the sooner the colder weather comes. As the northern hemisphere starts to lean away from the sun, the higher latitudes are affected sooner and more dramatically.

What does this mean?

A lake at high altitude in the north of the continent (northern Montana or even British Columbia) will cool faster. In this instance, lake trout spawning season starts earlier… probably in September.

A lake in lower altitudes and farther south, say New Mexico, will cool later. Here, lake trout spawning season will most likely be November (if it’s higher in the mountains) or December (if it’s at a lower altitude).

*Brook trout (char) also spawn in the fall and can cross-breed with lake trout to form a hybrid called a splake.

fisherman angler on lake shore fly fishing for trout

Spawning Cycle

What time of year do lake trout spawn?

As the heat of summer begins to taper off and cooler fall weather dominates, the water temperatures begin to drop. Cooler weather patterns are helped by the shorter days and longer nights of autumn.

Longer nights mean more time for water to cool off without the heat of the sun.

At what depth do lake trout spawn?

When the spawning temperature threshold of 53f/12c (or thereabout) is reached, lake trout will begin moving into near-shore and shoal areas in search of possible spawning beds. Most research shows that depths of more than 4 ft and less than 20 ft are typically preferred.

Of course, outliers do exist. Some lakes will see lake trout spawn in as little as 1 ft of water!

Certain lakes like Lake Superior appear to be an anomaly. Scientists have discovered lake trout spawning at 300 ft deep! This is definitely not typical.

What about the habitat?

These shallow in-shore or shoal spots generally consist of small, firm structures like pea gravel or small, angular rock. Clean, meaning free from algae or grasses, exposed gravel/rock holds the eggs well and provides an easier working place for deposit and fertilization.

While lakes/still water is generally preferred for spawning, some populations of lake trout will move into shallow feeder streams to lay their eggs. This is not typical but does happen in certain areas.

Wherever the chosen spawning bed lays, it’s usually going to be situated near a shelf…a place where the shallows drop off into deeper water. This is most likely to allow for easy escape if spawning fish become threatened and easy access from and back to their preferred deeper habitat.

Research shows that lake trout display homing tendencies and return to spawn in the same or similar areas year after year.

How many eggs do females lay?

Females typically lay 400-1200 eggs per pound of body weight. This number can vary greatly, of course. A typical 8lb fish might lay 6000 to 7000 eggs while a 16lb fish might lay closer to 12,000 eggs.

Lake trout are also nocturnal spawners. It seems because they’re more comfortable in mid-column deeper water or along the bottom of a deep lake, lake trout enter shallow water to spawn under cover of darkness.

What does wind have to do with anything?

Research also shows that lake trout prefer shoals and shallows that face prevailing winds. This is unique as river dwelling trout, char and salmon don’t consider wind during spawning.

fly fishing rod and trout in fishing landing net


What is the Range of Lake Trout?

The range of lake trout is generally the northern part of North America:

  • Alaska, Washington, Montana, and the Great Lakes Region from Minnesota to Maine.
  • Much of eastern Canada, British Columbia, western and northern Alberta, NW Territory, Yukon Territory, northern Saskatchewan. Higher elevation throughout the Rocky Mountain West.
  • Idaho, western Wyoming, Colorado, northern New Mexico.

Are Lake Trout Stocked Too?

Many of these waterways were native habitats and many were introduced. Lake trout were introduced, for instance, to Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park.

While adding sport and recreational opportunities, the introduced lake trout and their voracious appetites have decimated native cutthroat trout populations!

Lake trout have also been introduced to many waters in Europe, South America, New Zealand and even Asia.

Lake Trout Spawning by State/Province

  • Alaska – September to October
  • Alberta – Late September to early December
  • British Columbia – September to November
  • Colorado – late October to late November
  • Idaho – October to November
  • Ontario – Late September to early December
  • Maine – October to early November
  • Manitoba – Late September to early December
  • Michigan – October to November
  • Minnesota – October to November
  • Montana – October to November
  • New Brunswick – October to early November
  • New Hampshire – late October to early November
  • New Mexico – November to December
  • Newfoundland/Labrador – September to October
  • Ohio – October to November
  • Quebec – Late September to late October
  • New York – October to November
  • Nova Scotia – October to November
  • Northwest Territory – September or October
  • Pennsylvania – October to November
  • Yukon Territory – September or October
  • Saskatchewan – Late September to early December
  • Vermont – October to November
  • Washington – October or November
  • Wisconsin – October to November
  • Wyoming – October or November

It is important to remember that this table is an area generalization. All factors must be included in your calculation. Weather for that year, elevation, windage, local fish preferences and tendencies, etc must all be considered.

It would be impossible to say that “at _______ lake, the lake trout spawn at exactly 11:05 pm on October 12th for 9 days.”

brown trout in fly fishing net


How do you fish for lake trout?

There are a variety of ways to fish for lake trout. Bait fishing, trolling with lures, and jigging are the most popular.

Because of the depth at which lake trout generally reside, fly fishing is less popular. Fly fishing can be done, however, and is most popular in the spring and fall when lake trout are in shallower water and more aggressive.

Check out this video on fishing for lake trout:

Check out this video on fly fishing for lake trout:

How many eggs do lake trout lay?

Females typically lay 400-1200 eggs per pound of body weight. This number can vary greatly, of course. A typical 8lb fish might lay 6000 to 7000 eggs while a 16lb fish might lay closer to 12,000 eggs.

What is the best time to catch lake trout?

Spring or Fall. The changing water temps are key…cold to warm or warm to cold. Both times will have hungry lake trout cruising shallower water making them easier to find. Fall spawning season has more fish entering and holding in the shallows.

How long does spawning last for lake trout?

Spawning season is from September to December depending. The farther north, the earlier it starts. Farther south, the later.

Spawning pairs move into shallow areas to spawn for around 10 days. Some studies have shown fish in the shallows in a spawning pattern from 7 days to 2 weeks.

How often do lake trout spawn?

Lake trout as a species spawn every fall. Individual fish, however, may spawn yearly or every other year.

Can you catch lake trout during the spawning season?

Yes, the fall spawning season is one of the easiest times to catch lake trout. They leave deep, open water the rest of the year but group up in the shallows to spawn.

What type of bottom do lake trout use for spawning?

Clean (free of algae, silt, debris), firm structure like pea gravel, small sharp rocks, or cobble.

What depth do lake trout spawn at?

Generally, lake trout spawn anywhere from 4 ft to 20 ft in depth but can often be found in water down to 1 ft deep. There have also been recent studies showing lake trout spawning up to 300 feet deep in specific water bodies like Lake Superior!

Is it ethical to target spawning lake trout?

To target or not to target spawning fish is the great debate! The short answer is… for lake trout… it depends.

Any time you’re interrupting spawning behavior, there is a chance that potential fish numbers can be reduced. Some studies in some places show healthier populations when spawners are left alone. River-dwelling trout are often such instances.

Other studies, ie bass populations, show no effect (positive or negative) when targeting spawners or leaving them be. Most bass anglers heavily target spawning bass.

Regarding lake trout, generally, populations are strong and stable enough to not be affected. Targeting spawning fish doesn’t seem to reduce future populations enough to be measurable. Also, because of the depth of spawning beds, walking on redds (spawning beds) and killing lake trout eggs is generally not an issue.

In the end, the answer is up to the individual. Those who wish to make lake trout fishing more “sporty” will choose to leave spawners alone. Those who wish to target spawners may do so as long as local regulations allow.


Even though it goes by many names, lake trout is a trophy worth pursuing! Understanding behavioral patterns, especially seasonal behavior, is key to success.

While lake trout can be found and caught year-round, the spring and fall present the most readily available opportunities to all fisherfolk.

Instead of patrolling the huge expanses of the lake, one can target shallower water with more concentrated populations. This is great news to those who wish to wade fish or don’t have a boat!

If you are fishing from a boat, you don’t have to search huge expanses of water. Instead, you can focus your efforts on shallower water with a clean gravel or small rock bed.

When do lake trout spawn?

September through December is when lake trout spawn. Generally earlier (September or October) in the northern reaches and later (November or December) in the southern reaches of their range. This will help you plan your trip accordingly. Check with local fly and tackle shops or guide services to get a better idea of fishing in a specific water body.

If you’re able to, keep an eye on the water temperature. A fishing thermometer or water data website are both great ways to do this. When the surface temp drops to 53 degrees, watch for fish to move into spawning areas! The lake has now reached lake trout spawning temperature. It’s time to grab your gear and head out!

Please comment below and tell us about your experience with spawning Lake Trout.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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