Big blips on the sonar confirmed fish below us, but we could not get them to bite no matter what we threw at them. We trolled, jigged and used bait to try to entice a bite. It was a hot summer day and the lakers were fat, lazy and finicky about what was on the lunch menu. I was fishing with friends at Lloyd Lake Lodge on one of their outpost lakes and knew it was time to change things. The fish are always biting; you just need to figure out the presentation.
One of the other boats from our crew had managed to catch a trout destined for shore lunch. When the fillet knives came out, I immediately started an autopsy to determine what the trout had eaten. The fish’s stomach proved that they were eating, since I found several large ciscoes about six inches long looking as fresh as if just caught. The scales on the fish were interesting, with hints of blue, silver and purple hues. I dug through my tackle box and found a hair jig that was a darn close representation of the fish’s meal.
After lunch, we headed back to the deep water, and once we started to graph fish, we cut the engine for a slow drift. I lowered my jig, tipped with bait, and put a stinger hook to the depth where the fish were located. I could watch my hook descend on the sonar and confirm the exact placement. Having tried all other techniques, I remembered fishing big trout at Iskwatikan Lake Lodge, where the bait had to be offered as still as possible. The trick was feeling for the bite. The fish were bait thieves, and so were hard to detect.
I watched my rod tip with a keen eye and held my rod as motionless as possible. It was essential to feel the weight of the hook since trout often swim up to the bait, and when they inhale the hook, some pressure comes off the line. The bait wasn’t down as long as 10 minutes when I sensed a slight pressure change and immediately set the hook. After a short battle, a fat, sassy 10-pound trout was dipped into the landing net.
Fishing big lakes can be daunting when locating lake trout with consistency. Angling for lazy, big fish requires special techniques that can be slow or fast with aggressive presentations to draw out the predator in lake trout. The trick is to be willing to switch up your presentation until you find what works. Every day is different, and having several tricks up your sleeve can ensure tight lines and big smiles.
Fishing at Ena Lake Lodge, we trolled long lines with inline weights and big flatfish. The large lures dig deep and provide lots of action and vibration to attract and elicit a strike. The weights ensure you get to the correct depth. When the plug is working in the strike zone, you can feel it digging mud or sand on the bottom. Adjustments can be made with changing depths to stay in productive water and ensure no hookups with hazards.
We had tremendous luck with long-line trolling and we boated fish consistently. Fishing for lakers is really hunting for big fish. Finding the sweet spots means paying attention to the bottom structure and prime spots that big hens occupy. It is often described as looking for the spot on the spot. We found a sharp inside turn off the end of a rocky island and knew it likely held trout and trolled it aggressively, turning the boat sharply to try to make our flatfish dig hard around the corners of the lake’s substrate. On our third pass, my line tightened, and I held steady pressure until I could feel the head shakes of a big fish below.
Trolling monofilament long lines can have its advantages if you exploit the stretch in the line. Understanding how a fish gets hooked is part of the equation. A fish inhales a lure and closes its mouth without getting a hook set in its jaw. When the fish opens its mouth to let the lure out, it can get a hook to pierce the jaw or mouth. The trick is to let your rod load up with tension and stretch the monofilament line as much as possible. When the fish tries to expel the lure, the hooks have so much pressure that they immediately catch the fish. To understand the concept, hold a crankbait attached to a fishing line in your hand and have a buddy put tension on the rod. The hooks will not pierce our hand while holding tight, but do not try to let go of the hook while under pressure, or it will sink into your skin immediately.
The battle was more defined than others during the week, and steady pressure on the rod eventually brought the biggest lake trout of the trip to the surface. That’s when cheers erupted from the boat. After a few quick photos, the fish was returned to the depths to fight another day.
During the same trip to Ena, we aggressively targeted fish with giant baits. Bondy Baits are big, soft plastics with a wire running through them full length to add stability and durability. They hold multiple treble hooks and spinner blades. Think like a musky fisherman and use big baits with flash, vibration and color. Bondy Baits are made in Wisconsin to target musky but have become a go-to for avid lake trout hunters. The baits are fished aggressively with big lifts, and when the lure drops back toward the bottom, it drifts and wobbles. On the upswing, the blades kick in, and you can feel them grinding water through the length of your heavy-action rod.
Fishing big baits is a good reminder that lake trout are at the top of their food chain. Strikes are brutal and aggressive, and a quick hookset initiates the battle. Even smaller trout will hammer the big baits, looking for the most calories possible and they are fearless to tackle meals half their size. When we saw fish on the bottom, we often sat on them and bounced a Bondy off the bottom until it generated a strike. Several big fish were taken with the aggressive presentation.
Get Jigging With It
One of my all-time favorite lake trout experiences was with buddies in northern Saskatchewan. We trolled with little success. Having marked suitable concentrations of fish off a rocky shoreline, we stopped to jig. The slow and methodical approach was used, but the fish were timid and uninterested. I reeled my jig up quickly to make a color change and had a trout hammer the bait a couple of feet below the boat. It was a game-changer. We dropped jigs to the bottom, bounced them a few times, and reeled like mad to bring them quickly through the water column. The action seemed to attract more fish and generate a feeding frenzy. We often had multiple fish chasing our jigs.
Big fish were also showing up on the bottom to watch the action. Several times we would drop the jig and by the time we closed the bail and reeled the line, you could feel the slight tension of a fish. We missed a few before changing tactics once again so we started dropping the jig to the bottom, immediately locking the line on the reel, and following that with a sharp rod lift. We stuck serval fish immediately. The highlight was when my buddy Brooks hooked a colossal trout that felt like the hook was caught on the bottom of the lake. It was the best battle of the trip, and when the fish appeared in the clear water, we all clamored to the edge of the boat to watch the action.
It was a great learning day for lakers, with different techniques for fishing the same jig with success. The same techniques have been used successfully since then. They prove that you can generate a strike out of aggression or by appealing to a fish’s predatory instinct.
Downriggers and Diving Blades
Lake trout like deep water and often hang out at the thermocline, where there are ideal water temperatures. The lake trout on the thermocline are almost always feeding, making it a great transition zone to target. Most baitfish are also concentrated by the water temperature and draw big fish off the bottom when it is time to feed.
The baitfish are easy to find on the sonar to show the thermocline’s location. Fishing a specific depth is easy with a downrigger. Diving blades are also precise instruments to control the depth you run your lure. Summer lakers are often concentrated in deeper portions of a lake, making them easier to target. Running a downrigger at 40 to 100 feet is common and almost always produces fish.
Remember that lakers are aggressive feeders, so trolling at fast speeds is often the best way to entice fish to strike hard and fast. Fishing a big lake in the Yukon, my friend was trolling so fast that I questioned if a fish could catch the spoon fluttering below. The answer came with a rod-popping strike that brought a 12-pound trout to the boat. There is no such thing as too fast; if you aren’t catching fish, try more speed.
A reminder of the effectiveness of a fast approach came while fishing with a friend and his dog. We waited too long to give our four-legged friend a shore break. As he danced, trying not to have an accident, my buddy throttled up before I had my spoon retrieved. A laker smoked my spoon with vicious strength when we were approaching speeds to throw a significant wake off the freighter canoe. We landed the fish and rushed the dog to shore but talked about the exciting events for the rest of the day. We have trolled faster ever since.
Lake trout are part of the char family and make incredible table fare. A lake trout shore lunch is a favorite, and we target specific fish for the feast. Fish under five pounds are best, as they have less fat than the big ones and don’t depopulate prime breeders. Lake trout are extremely slow-growing fish, partly due to the cold waters they inhabit. Most populations are in the far north, where the growing season is short.
Put the big ones back if you want to keep catching big lake trout. For these old-timers, the thrill is in the catching, not the keeping. Big fish usually release well. The cold water helps with quick recovery and the less handling, the better. Keep your fingers out of the gills. When you land a fish, support it by the tail and under the throat with the other hand. If the fish has some fight left in it, turn it upside down for 10 seconds, and when you turn it upright, it will hold still. The upside-down trick is a great technique to keep the fish safe and ensure a safe return to the water without injury.