a.k.a. Great grey trout, Great Lakes char, Great Lakes trout, grey trout, laker, landlocked salmon, mackinaw trout, masamacush, mountain trout, namaycush, salmon trout, taque, togue
Ice-out means lake trout in—in your hand, net and boat, that is. If there’s a time of year when lake trout fishing can be considered easy, it’s definitely just after the ice leaves. That’s when they’re found in more shallow water, where they can be caught fairly readily without using lead-core line and downriggers.
Okay, maybe “easy” is a bit of an overstatement. “Although fishing for lakers at season opener is never downright easy, there can be easy times,” says laker guide Kraig Coulter, 25. One thing’s for sure: it’ll certainly help if you follow Coulter’s advice. He has the luck-and skill-to be able to experience early laker fishing in two distinctly different regions of Canada.
Coulter starts the season haunting smaller lakes around his home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, then heads north to guide on the Northwest Territories portion of Kasba Lake, where early season gets underway when the opener is but a distant memory in his home waters.
Because ice-out occurs sooner in Ontario than in the Far North, lakers in the south can be found at different depths by the time the season opens. Coulter finds most of his early-season lakers off points, islands and underwater reefs. Rivermouths can also be prime spots at ice-out, where the warmer inflow of water delivers insects and other food, which in turn attract a smorgasbord of baitfish for hungry lakers to chow down on. At Kasba, Coulter regularly finds lakers of up to 15 pounds in shallow bays that seem more suited to northern pike.
Once you start finding lake trout, it’s likely many are congregated in that one spot. But don’t stay with it for hours on end. If you leave after landing several fish, chances are you can return the next day for a repeat performance.
Coulter likes to slow-troll with Flatfish T-60 and T-55 in pearl, glow-in-the-dark and chartreuse patterns; gold and silver Williams Wablers; Len Thompson Five-of-Diamonds spoons; black and white J-Plugs, Lyman Plugs; Little Cleos and Rapalas. For jigging, he prefers white tube jigs, silver Swedish Pimples, Abu Kosters and bucktail jigs. He chooses larger lures and jigs in the N.W.T.
Although he never uses bait at Kasba Lake, Coulter notes that shiners, dace minnows, sucker minnows and smelts can be highly effective for early-season lake trout in southern lakes. For fly fishermen, he recommends large nymph patterns and streamers, including Deceivers in white and red patterns.
The key for all early-season situations, says Coulter, is to “never give up” and to keep changing locations and baits until you find something that works.
Trout tip: Wading
If you’re a wading angler, you should really watch your step—literally—in springtime. That’s because spring is spawning season for three popular species—steelhead, cutthroats and rainbows-and anglers should be careful they don’t disrupt spawning beds, or redds, in rivers and creeks.
Redds are easy to identify. Look for bathtub-sized areas covered in gravel, or small stones, that appear shiny or lighter in colour. Trout and steelhead turn over small rocks when laying and fertilizing eggs, exposing the algae-free undersides. Redds can appear polished from being rubbed by fanning fins.
If the water is running cloudy or dirty during spring runoff, however, it can be difficult to spot redds. In that case, it’s best to keep your wading to a minimum, or avoid it altogether. Waders should also steer clear of soft-bottom areas where mud and silt can wash downstream and cover the eggs, possibly harming them.
How harmful can wading be to your local trout population? Former Trout Unlimited Canada biologist Kerry Brewin points to a Montana State University study that examined the impact of anglers on trout redds. It found that wading on redds twice daily during the incubation period killed up to 96 per cent of the eggs and pre-emergent fry. Wading on a redd once just prior to hatching killed 43 per cent of the fry.