One of the things I like most about fishing on the Great Lakes is the wide open spaces. For the angler who loves to be the only boat on the horizon, Stannard Rock in the middle of Lake Superior is one of those “bucket list” fishing destinations.
Stannard Rock is a reef complex that is approximately two miles wide and five miles long located about 50 miles northwest of Marquette, Michigan. Legendary for producing trophy size lake trout, Stannard Rock is also unique in that weather conditions on Lake Superior make just getting there the biggest challenge!
Travis White is a charter captain based out of the Upper Peninsula’s Keweenaw Peninsula who fishes Stannard Rock as often as possible with his clients. “On the average year we might have weather conditions suitable for fishing Stannard Rock only about 30 times a year!” explains White.
White runs his charters out of Lac La Belle, which cuts the running distance to Stannard Rock down to size. At just over 30 miles, this run is reasonable when weather conditions permit a visit to the “rock.”
“The best times to plan a trip to Stannard Rock are late June, July, August and early September,” says White. “Outside of this narrow window, prevailing winds and weather conditions rarely make it practical or possible to fish Stannard Rock.”
What attracts most anglers to this remote region of Lake Superior is the opportunity to target wild and native lake trout using light tackle. Some anglers troll at Stannard Rock, but the majority are targeting trout by casting and vertical jigging.
Lake Superior is not only the deepest of the Great Lakes, the water temperature remains icy cold much of the year. When the surface water is less than 45 degrees, most of the trout are going to be found in the deeper portions of the reef. Once the surface water creeps to that magical 50 degree threshold, trout slide up onto the reef top and can be caught in surprisingly shallow water by casting spoons, jigs and even using fly fishing tactics.
White is an avid fly fisherman and takes great pride in being able to catch lake trout on the fly at Stannard Rock. Clearly, fly fishing is not the most efficient way to catch a “rock” laker, but when conditions are right it can be one of the most exciting and unique ways to fish.
When lake trout move shallow it is to feed, and these fish can be amazingly aggressive. Casting jigs dressed with swimbait bodies, spinners and spoons ranks among the best way to catch these fish that travel in pods. “It’s common to be fighting one fish and have a dozen others trying to get the lure away from the hooked fish!” explains White.
As the trout of Stannard Rock move into deeper water, casting tactics become useless and anglers are forced to vertical jig in deeper water. Lead head jigs ranging in size from one, two and even three ounces in size are standard equipment among avid jig fishermen.
Some anglers swear by bucktail jigs as the best approach. Others favor a jig dressed with a soft plastic paddle tail. A third option is larger jigging spoons like the popular Swedish Pimple produced by Bay de Noc Lure Company based out of Gladstone, Michigan.
All three of these jigging lure choices are vastly improved when tipped with a chunk of sucker or smelt meat. Lake trout are aggressive feeders that thrive on the fatty and protein rich flesh of lake herring or ciscoes. Using a chunk of meat on the jig just about doubles the chances of getting bit regularly!
Other jigging lure options to consider are swimming jigs like the Jigging Rapala and the Shiver Minnow by Moonshine Lures. The largest sizes of these baits are about one ounce in size, making them useful for jigging in depths up to about 100 feet.
Braid is Best
When casting in shallow water, rods and reels equipped with monofilament line work well at Stannard Rock. However, when the fish move into deeper water super braid lines are the only practical way to jig effectively.
“Because we’re jigging in open water and the fish have little cover to tangle in, I set up my jigging rods with 10 pound test super braid,” advises White. “Using 10 pound test braid to target fish that might weigh in at 30 pounds may seem a little light, but the strength of these super braids is exceptional, and there is no need to use heavier lines.”
Because the water in Lake Superior is gin clear, it’s a good idea to tie in a 24 to 36 inch length of 15 pound test fluorocarbon leader on jigging set ups. A small ball bearing swivel can be used to attach the braid to the fluorocarbon. Another option is to use the double uni knot when connecting fluorocarbon to braided lines.
Spinning or Baitcast Gear?
Both spinning and baitcasting gear can be used effectively to jig for lake trout. Most anglers are more comfortable with spinning tackle. A medium to medium/heavy action rod about seven to seven-foot, six-inches in length is ideal for jigging up lakers.
With both spinning and baitcasting gear, it’s a good idea to first spool on monofilament line as a backing material and then top dress the reel with about 100 yards of premium super braid line. Because super braids are soft, filling the entire reel with this line creates a situation that allows the line on the spool to crush down and cut into itself making it difficult for the reel drag to function properly.
Top dressing braid over a backing of monofilament solves this problem and allows the drag system on reels to function as designed. This rigging method also makes it possible to cast effectively with super braids when targeting fish in shallow water.
Lakers are much easier to fool into biting artificial baits when these lures are doused in natural fish oils and gel based scents. Even when using live bait or cut-bait it helps to refreshen the scent trail by adding a popular fishing scent like Pro Cure Super Gel.
Pro Cure’s herring, smelt and alewife Super Gel formulas are made using the exact forage fish Lake Superior trout routinely feed upon. Another good choice for creating a scent trail is the pure fish oil products that can be injected into live baits and cut-baits.
When the Wind Blows
Because getting to Stannard Rock requires near perfect weather conditions, anglers are going to find themselves facing the dilemma of what to do when the wind blows and a trip to the “rock” is out of the question. The near shore lake trout and salmon fishing opportunities of Lake Superior provide anglers with a viable fall back plan should the weather make it impossible to fish Stannard Rock.
Also, this region of the Upper Peninsula features lots of inland lakes that provide good pike, walleye and panfish action.
If You Go…
For those who have never been to Stannard Rock, it’s a good idea to make the first adventure with a seasoned guide and charter captain like Travis White. Not only is it safer to make this trek with a licensed captain, the fishing tactics shared will prove invaluable for future trips.
To contact Travis White visit his web page at https://www.keweenawcharters.com/ or check out his Facebook page and send a private message. Prime dates book up quickly so it’s best to lock down a trip at your earliest convenience.
For those adventure seeking anglers who want to make the run to Stannard Rock in their own boat, the best approach is to team up with two or three boats so if one breaks down there will be help nearby. Each boat will need to be equipped with a VHF marine radio because there is no dependable cell phone coverage at Stannard Rock.
Stannard Rock is arguably the “last frontier” when it comes to targeting native lake trout in the Great Lakes. Anyone who has made the trek to Stannard Rock will testify the fishing is out of this world and the adventure is worth the price of admission.