Lake trout spend most of the year in the deepest, darkest parts of large bodies of still water. To catch them, anglers with boats lean on downriggers, lead-core trolling lines, and weighted lures. But every spring, nature provides a brief window of opportunity for shore-bound fly and spin casters to tie into one of these line-peeling brutes. Here’s the drill.
1. The Breakup
During winter when there is ice on a lake, lake trout gravitate to the upper portion of the water column to feed. Ice fishermen routinely hook trophy specimens in as little as 4 feet of water. When the ice breaks up in spring, lake trout tend to mill around in the shallows just as they did under the ice for a fleeting few days or weeks. This window provides the best shot for shore-bound anglers to get a fly or lure in front of these fish.
2. The Hotspot
A good lake contour map comes in handy, as you want to identify any points where shallow flats butt up against slopes that drop off quickly into deep water. Lake trout will hold in the deep water but slide into the shallows to grab a quick meal.
Ideally, you want to wade to a spot that allows you to cast into deep water and draw the fly or lure back into the shallows.
3. The Meal Ticket
To entice these meat eaters, you want to present a big meal. Beef up to a 9- or 10-weight fly rod with an intermediate sinking line that can handle throwing double bunny-strip streamers measuring up to 10 inches long. On spinning gear, opt for 5- to 7-inch spoons or diving plugs. These mimic smaller trout, which are a favorite forage of big lakers.
4. The Time Crunch
While it’s possible to find early-spring lake trout feeding shallow at any time of day, low-light periods are prime. Since throwing the heavy flies and lures that entice these fish can be taxing, try not to burn yourself out at noon. Save your energy for the last few hours of daylight in the evening, or get up early and attack at dawn.
Photograph by Brian Grossenbacher