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.