Lamenting over LAKE TROUT?

For the better part of my writing career I’ve been listening to other fishermen as they lament over the lake trout they catch. It seems the lake trout has a nasty habit of getting caught on lures and presentations intended for other more desirable species. Imagine the horror of catching a lake trout with a lure intended for a king salmon? Stories like that make a guy just want to give up fishing all together. What’s the world coming to when undesirable fish bite and the good ones don’t?

The lowly lake trout is the Rodney Dangerfield of sport fish. It seems that lakers get “no respect” even from the most forgiving soles among us. The nicknames this species has attracted tell the story. Names like “greaser” or “pig” paint a picture of a fish that must be horrendous to look at, a lousy fighter and a fish that’s next to inedible.

Ironically the lake trout is none of these things. Lake trout are actually a hansom fish decked out in a deep green base coat, accented with bright white blotches and striking orange fins. The lake trout is also a stubborn fighter and on the table the lake trout holds it own against any of the trout and char species.

So the question remains; why do so many fishermen look down upon the lake trout? Honestly, I don’t know and if you’re one of those anglers who avoids the lake trout, now would be a good time to stop reading. The “rest of the story” is going to paint a more realistic picture of lake trout fishing in the Great Lakes region.

Indigenous Predator

In the Great Lakes it’s the lake trout that was here first, not those silver fish that routinely gobble up all the headlines. Lake trout are the indigenous predatory species of the Great Lakes. The lake trout was king at a time before the sea lamprey, the alewife, the smelt, the goby and about a hundred other evasive species changed the Great Lakes forever. Species including the king, coho and pink salmon or the brown trout and steelhead are the “Johnny Come Lately” in the world of cold water species.

The sea lamprey has taken a heavy toll on a number of Great Lakes fish, but none have been hit harder than the lake trout. Biologists believe that predation from sea lamprey has seriously hurt the lake trout’s ability to naturally reproduce.

Stocking efforts undertaken by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, coupled with special fishing regulations and fish sanctuaries have helped the lake trout hold it’s own. In most Great Lakes waters the lake trout population is on the decline or stable. In a few areas such as Lake Huron and Lake Superior, lake trout numbers are at record levels.

Lower sport harvest numbers have helped the lake trout flourish in Lake Huron and in Lake Superior it seems the sea lamprey isn’t as big a problem as it is on other Great Lakes waters.

Trout Specific Presentations

Lake trout are often caught on presentations intended for other species, but the best way to catch lake trout is to target them with lures and presentations designed to catch lake trout. Hands down, the most popular “lake trout” lure on the Great Lakes is the popular Spin-n-Glo produced by Yakima Bait Company. Produced in a multitude of sizes and hundreds of color combinations, the Spin-n-Glo is a foam float with a set of soft plastic wings that allow the bait to spin in the water. This bait is normally rigged on a 20-30 pound test leader of fluorocarbon line starting with a 1/0 round bend treble hook, followed by a couple colorful beads, then the Spin-n-Glo is threaded onto the leader and the leader tied off using a loop knot. The most common leader lengths for fishing Spin-N-Glo bodies is 18-24 inches. Many anglers suggest fishing the leader 2.5 times the length of the dodger, which happens to be about 18 inches.

The Spin-n-Glo is most deadly when fished in combination with a size “0” dodger. A number of dodger colors are productive, but died in the wool lake trout fishermen are going to fish the Silver Frost, Chartreuse/Green and Chartreuse/Silver Flash patterns most often.

This whole rig is fished 10-15 feet behind the ball on a downrigger, set so the downrigger weight is just ticking the bottom. To set this rig, lower the downrigger weight until it hits bottom. Pause for a few seconds to allow for sway back on the downrigger ball and then let the ball down one more time until it touches bottom.

This rather unique set up keeps the dodger and trailing Spin-N-Glo in occasional contact with bottom and works magic on trout that seem to strike immediately after the ball hits the bottom and churns up a puff of sediment.

The best way to monitor a downrigger set up like this is by watching the rod tips. When the weight hits the bottom the rod tip will telegraph the contact by moving up and then down.

If a fish grabs the Spin-n-Glo the rod tip will telegraph the strike by jabbing downward and then up. With a little practice anyone can learn to fish a downrigger on bottom for lake trout.

The Spin-n-Glo is king when it comes to catching lake trout, but this same dodger rig is also effective when a Wobble Glo, squid body or trolling fly is employed.

Wire Line Trolling

Besides bumping bottom with a downrigger, wire line trolling is the next most effective way of targeting lake trout. This style of fishing requires a roller style diver rod and a levelwind reel capable of handling 300 yards of 30 pound test stainless steel wire. The wire is terminated using a heavy snap swivel attached to the wire with soft crimping sleeves.

At the business end a lead weight ranging from 16-24 ounces is attached to the terminal snap swivel. Next a two foot leader of 50 pound test monofilament is tied to the snap and then to the swivel on the front of a “0” dodger. To the back of the dodger a 12-18 inch leader with a Spin-N-Glo, Wobble Glo, squid body or trolling fly completes the rig.

Wire line trolling is about letting out enough line so the lead weight comes in occasional contact with bottom. Not unlike fishing a bottom bouncer sinker for walleye, the key is not to drag the weight, but rather to have the weight skipping along touching the bottom every few feet.

Wire line set ups can be fished easily in combination with downrigger set ups because they are fishing much further behind the boat than the downrigger weights are fishing. This deadly duo sets up a trout fishing boat with four lines (a downrigger and wire line rod on each side) that are all skipping the bottom, churning up sediment and attracting feeding lake trout.

A Word On Speed

Anytime dodgers are used in trolling, speed becomes a critical issue. Dodgers have their best action when fished from 1.8 to 2.2 MPH. This narrow trolling speed range is much slower than is normally used to troll other popular lures like spoons. As a result, bumping bottom for trout is a game best played by one set of rules.

Mixing presentations other than those commonly fished with a dodger isn’t likely to yield desirable results. The moral of the story is when fishing trout, fish at trout speeds and use trout presentations. The good news is you won’t have to worry about being plagued with accidental hook ups on salmon and other less desirable species.