Just when the ice finally disappears from our lakes and reservoirs, that’s the time to hit the water for spring lake-trout fishing. And you don’t always have to go really deep to find the fish. That’s because the water is still a bit cool for lakers, which prefer a comfort zone of around 50°F. As a result, you’ll find them closer to the surface, where the sun’s rays have slightly warmed up the water. All you have to do is locate their food sources, and you’re in business. With that in mind, here are some of my favourite tips for putting spring lakers in the boat.
In the spring, many species of small fish will head to creeks and rivers to spawn. That means you can often find hungry lake trout lying in wait, right where the inlet creeks and rivers connect to the main lake. Slowly and quietly approach such hot spots using your electric trolling motor. Along the first drop-off adjacent to the creek mouth, cast a crankbait that dives to 12 to 15 feet; Down Deep Husky Jerks, Shad Raps and Deep ThunderSticks are all good choices. Jigging with tubes or grubs is another option for these deeper fish. If the trout aren’t there, head for shallower water near the spawning sites and throw cranks such as the Tail Dancer, Jointed Rapala and ThunderCrank, or spoons such as the Williams Wabler W50, Syclops and Mooselook Wobbler.
Anglers typically use gang trolls—also known as cowbells—attached to leadcore line to go deep in the water column. But you can use them to great effect in relatively shallow water, too, especially along the drop-offs adjacent to river and creek inlets. I prefer to use a 48-inch-long gang troll with three silver willowleaf blades and four brass Colorado blades. Where regulations allow, I attach a frozen minnow 12 inches behind the last blade; otherwise, I use a Rapala. The idea is to imitate a school of baitfish and attract the lake trout with all the reflection and vibration of the blades. Keep in mind that when you troll at a speed of around one to two miles an hour, your gang troll and lure will sink two yards for every 10 yards of lead-core line you let out (the line is colour-coded in 10-yard increments). To keep your bait in the productive area, then, make sure your presentation is no farther than 15 to 20 yards behind the boat.
Look for rocky underwater points connected to shore, or submerged humps that come up shallow. The rock will retain heat from the sun, warming up the immediate area and attracting the trout. Once you find such an area (a map and a GPS can help in your search if you’re fishing a new lake), use your sonar to locate the edge of the structure. Now troll along the edge using a spoon or crankbait, without going over top of the point or hump itself. If that doesn’t produce any fish, try trolling back and forth over top of the structure in a zigzag pattern using spoons that imitate minnows, such as a Williams Dartee or Mooselook Thinfish. I start from the deepest area, pass over the structure and troll along for a minute or two through the deep water on the side. After that, I usually try jigging tubes or spoons over top of the structure.
Again with the help of a map, GPS and sonar, look for drop-offs that are no deeper than 15 yards. Lake trout will travel along the contours of these drop-offs, searching for food or more comfortable water temperatures. The easiest way to catch these fish is to troll alongside the drop-offs using your favourite bait (to get your lure down to the right depth, you may need to use lead-core or steel line, a downrigger or a three-way rig and heavy sinker). I find that small baits such as Original Floater Rapalas usually work wonders. Just be sure to present your lure close to the edge of the drop-off.
Finally, if ciscoes are the prime food source for the trout in your lake or reservoir, your range of options will expand. Because ciscoes spawn in the fall, they have no parental chores in the spring and will instead feed intensively. Immediately after ice-out, they’ll flood the shallows gorging on crustaceans, emerging insects and plankton, while taking advantage of ideal water temperatures. As the water continues warming, however, ciscoes will seek deeper water-and the lake trout will follow. By late spring and early summer, you may have to target deeper structures and drop-offs, possibly employing the steel line, lead-core and downrigger tricks mentioned earlier. In some lakes in Quebec, I even find them deep early in the spring. Whatever the case, when I find a school of lakers close to deep structure or bottom, I especially like to jig a four-inch, white Power Grub on a 1/4-, 3/8- or 1/2-ounce jig head; the results are often phenomenal. Remember, whenever you find ciscoes and lake trout sharing a lake or reservoir, regardless of its geographic location, the trick is to locate the 48 to 52°F zone. The trout will never be far away.