I remember when I was a kid only 11 years old I caught my biggest and most memorable Splake Trout of my lifetime. (Here is a description and picts to see what they look like)
I did a lot of bumming with my good buddy Porky and his dad who brought us places that were otherwise almost un-reachable on our own. I spent more time with Porky and his dad than I spent with my own brothers OR my own dad. My father was a busy guy who was reared as the youngest in a large and poor family and learned the value of hard work through-out his life. I was somewhere in the middle of 4 brothers and 4 sisters, so my dad was busy doing what he had to do to support our family. As a carpenter and a jack of all trades, everything he had, he earned or made himself, so he had little time to spend with us boys outside of the house. It was not a problem for me, it was just the way it was and we accepted it as such with no hard feelings. As a result, I spent a good part of my growing up years with Porky and his dad. I will call Porkies dad my “dad2” since I spent so much time with him and he treated me as his son.
Porky and I, along with some other boys played hockey together, hunted, biked, swam, hiked, camped and fished (and did a little work too), so many of my childhood memories are with my dad2. Every year on Memorial weekend, Porky and dad2 and some other of their relatives, would take his truck up to the Keweenaw as far as he could drive on Smiths Fishery road. At that time, the road was gated off a ways in from the paved road, so we would hike the remaining 5 miles to the mouth of the Montreal River with fishing rods, backpack, tent, food and sleeping bags to spend the next 2 or 3 nights at what is now my most favorite place on the face of this earth. Some of these weekends were cold and others were comfortable, but on the cold ones, we had their enormous black dog, Tanya, in our little pup tent to keep us warm.
On one of these occasions, I was fishing at the mouth of the river with a full night crawler on a single hook with a small split shot lead weight about 6 inches up from the hook when I got the bite of a lifetime! It’s a good thing I had my drag set properly, or if not properly, at least it was not too tight, because the fish on the other end would have broken my line immediately if he did not get some line. My cheap little 6 foot Ace Hardware rod with its closed face Zebco reel seemed to be no match for the fight from this monster on the other end, but eventually he tired and I was able to get him in close enough for dad2 to scoop him up with an old dry-rotted net.
We didn’t know it was dry-rotted though, until dad2 started to walk up the bank with the catch slung over his shoulder, with me close behind, and the net broke. The 5 pound Splake Trout still had lots of life left in him and he started to flip and flop, still much too close to the water for my comfort, and I threw my rod aside and pounced on him just as he was about to flip back into the water. After a fight like that, I was not about to let him get away.
That night we had Splake fried over the fire, the most tasty fish ever in the memory of a young boy. To this day, the love of fishing is in my blood so much that I have made it my career, thanks to my dad2 for instilling it in my young mind.
Here’s the way I see it: As adults we should not let the many distractions of todays fast-paced world get in the way of taking a kid fishing, whether it be your own child or someone else’s. Make it a point to make memories that the kids will remember.
When trolling for trout and salmon, especially in deeper water and when fishing is slow, it’s a good idea to cover the whole water column in order to maximize your catch rate and find the fish more quickly. In fact it gives you and your partners something to do when things are slow until you start catching fish.
Here are some of the ways to do it:
(6) Side planer lines (These could be in-line boards such as the Off Shore brand or a large cable connected planer like the Riviera with fishing lines slid down the cable on a release) We generally use 3 in-line boards on each side, starboard and port (6 lines total) with the closest ones on a shorter lead with a clip-on weight in order to get it a little deaper. The 2 centermost (closest to the boat) ones with a shorter lead and a slightly heavier clip weight and the center ones with a medium length lead and light clip weight and the outer ones with the longest lead and no weight so that they are covering the surface a great distance back. If targeting browns it’s crucial to be far out and far back, as they are very boat shy and will not hit anywhere near the boat.
(3) to (5) Dipsy Divers Run one starboard and one Port with the rods almost horizontal out of the sides and the 3rd one straight off the stern. Set each of the side ones to 1, 2 or 3 left for the port side and 1, 2, or 3 on the starboard side. You may add 2 more on the sides if you put one deep (the heavier weighted ones) on each side with a .5 or 1 setting and one smaller diver on a higher setting (2 to 3 setting) on each side. If running planer boards at the same time, though, be sure that you have some spread between the outer dipsies and the inner planer boards. The stern dipsy line should also be a smaller, non-weighted one so that it does not interfere with the downrigger line straight off the stern.
2 or 3 Downriggers. One on each side, deep down and one straight off the stern with on the middle one. The 2 on the sides will have 8 lb balls and fished lower down, sometimes on the bottom and the center one will have a 10 or 12 lb weight and fished at a shallower depth than the outer ones. With a wider beam boat, you can even use more, but vary the depth of them so that there is less chance of tangling lines. I’ve seen as many as 5 downriggers used at the same time with good success on a wider boat. Also, the 2 outer downrigger weights could be directional ones that pull out from the boat, in order to give them even more spread. (Click here to see Cabela’s directional weight)
(2) surface lines. One short, in the prop-wash and one long. The longer one should be a little closer than the outer side planers to prevent tangles when turning. The prop-wash line is used if targeting coho or other fish that like to hang in the moving water and are not boat shy.
2 or 3 Sliders. These do not count as additional lines, because it’s just a 6 to 8 foot leader line with a snap swivel on one end and lure on the other that is clipped on and slid down each of the downrigger lines (not down the cable). It will slide down to the middle of the “bow” in the line so that it ends up about ½ way down to your ball. When a fish hits it and the line releases from the downrigger, there is lots of slack to wind up, so wind fast to get the slack out as fast as possible. You may not feel a fish on at first when beginning to wind in, as there is so much slack line, so don’t stop pulling too soon, you could lose a fish.
Of course there are other ways to get more lines out, but the idea is to get them spread out as much as possible so that when turning the lines do not tangle. The spread should be horizontal in order to cover a wide swath of water and vertical in order to cover all depths from the surface to the bottom. Here is an article on downrigger fishing that explains it more thouroughly.
Here’s a nice laker that Leo caught at Isle Royale last summer with a hand line, jigging the bottom in 130 feet of water.
Here is my best advice on maximizing catch rates of lake trout in order of importance:
1. Get your bait where the fish are. You may think this goes without saying, because it applies to any outdoor fishing (or hunting) venture, but the fact is, there are countless hours wasted by in-experience. Ok, maybe not wasted, because any time spent outdoors is quality time. As they say “the worst day of fishing always beats the best day at work.” (As one who works on the water as a fishing charter captain, I say “the worst day of fishing is the worst day of work, but it’s still pretty fun.”)
Depending on the season… mostly depending on the water temperatures and where the bait fish are… fish move around. One week (or day, sometimes) fish may be in shallow water near the shore and the next week they are in deep water.
Lake Trout will ALWAYS be in colder water. They will always be in water temp at or below 55 F, so if the near-shore water is cold enough, they could be there, but if the winds shift and move warm water in, they will move out. Even 55 degree water is too warm for lakers, but they WILL spend short spurts in water up to 55 or so, but spend MOST of their time in water 52 and less.
The same applies to off-shore. In the late spring and early summer you may find them just about anywhere, but as the water warms they move off-shore and deeper. Mid-summer on Lake Superior, they may be near the surface where the water changes real fast over a short distance. We call them thermoclines, but I’m not sure it’s the proper term for it. See: Sample for an example of a thermo near Isle Royale last summer. Along the northwest shore, where the temperature lines are close together, the fish will be on the colder side of the thermo in this case, about 45 to 50 degrees. You may have to use a gps to find the approximate area, then look for a “scum-line” on the surface and troll in and around the scum-line until you locate fish.
2. Slow Speed. The bigger the lake trout the lazier they get, so slower speeds are better. You can catch lakers anywhere from .5 mph up to about 2.5, but the optimum speed is around 1.5.
When fishing the thermoclines (scum-line) we will run around 2.5 mph, but when fishing the bottom in deep water (100 to 200 feet) we run slower. (in the 1.5 to 2mph range)
3. Attractive acting bait/lure. There are so many lures and/or baits that will catch lake trout and so many opinions about it, that I cannot cover them. Here are a few that we use: Plain spoons such as Silver Streak, Diamond King, or Finn Spoons. Bay De Noc Lure Company: (BayDeNocLureCo) also has a good line of “Laker Takers.” For good action a real slow speeds, Sutton has a good line of spoons. Also, herring dodgers with a light weight spoon, bait rig or fly works well.
There you have it… the most important things to know about catching lake trout. It’s good to have a speed and temperature probe so you know when you’re in good fishing grounds and presenting the right speed. With water currents affecting your lure speed you could be going to fast or too slow if you don’t know your lure speed through water.
Also, check the action of your lures often in case they get bent and do not act right.
It also applies, in general, to most fishing, although speeds and water temps vary with different species. King Salmon, Coho Salmon, Steelhead and Brown Trout also have their own prefered water temp, speed and action. Lure colors also come into play when trying to imitate their bait at any one time.
For more information and data on actual lake trout studies see: Lake Trout Survey Data. (This is a large file and may take a while to download and display)
I lost the Diamond King spoon on the right this past summer, but caught MANY fish on it. I think it had a special bend on it that gave it good action whether it was going fast or slow.
If you are looking for that perfect gift for someone who love to fish or just to sightsee, here is a deal for you!
I can take up to 6 people on my boat and your trip is somewhat customizable, but see my “Rates” page for some ideas. It still has last years’ rates listed, but they will be going up some time after the 1st of the year. If you book before December 25, I will lock in the 2010 rate for your trip or a gifted trip. All I need is a $100 deposit and we can take care of the details later. At this point I don’t have to know how many people or even exactly when you want to go, since my schedule book is just beginning to fill up. July is the busiest month, so if you want a time slot in July let me know soon.