The Hunt for Hardwater Lakers
By: Jamie Bruce
Another winter season is upon us and the most exiting thing that comes to my mind is the thought of icing some big Lakers. However, a lot of fishermen are scared away from the thought of ice fishing for lake trout. They picture sitting there on a 5 gallon pail in the middle of the lake in freezing cold weather with a stick in their hand. They picture a jig and a piece of sucker meat attached to their line just waiting for the fish to come to them. This was 20 years ago, times have changed! Technology has advanced and so has the mobility of anglers. Why wait for the Lakers to come to you? What you should be doing is chasing them down and beating them in their own environment.
Now, it is well known that lake trout move around more than other freshwater fish in Northwestern Ontario, this is why people sit in the same spot all day waiting for the fish. They might get the odd few in a hard day’s sitting. Keeping mobile until you find the fish is key for consistent results. When Lakers are cruising around under the ice their mainly looking for food, so if you can find the baitfish, or whatever it may be they are feeding on, then chances are you will find the fish.
When looking for a good spot to start drilling holes use a topographic map and plan out a starting position. Look for humps, reefs, main lake points, steep drop offs, and long flats that eventually drop off. When you start drilling holes remember one thing; no depth is too shallow, and no depth is too deep. For example, if you are on a 12’ hump that drops into 100’ of water, put your first hole on the highest point of the hump and gradually drill them out deeper into the 100’ depth. Every day is different, you never know if the Lakers will be sticking to the bottom in 100’ of water, or if they are flying high in 15’ of water.
Once the holes are in I like to start at the deepest hole and gradually cover the entire water column, and then move shallower if there are no results. Lakers often suspend so you never know where they are going to be. I always drop the lure to the bottom, jig for a minute or two and then reel up about 5’ and repeat this step until there is no more line out. Flashers help a lot in seeing where the fish are in the water column, but if nothing shows upon the flasher right off the bat, do not eliminate this hole. Use the same previously mentioned technique. A lot of times Lakers will be beneath your feet but still out of the flashers range and when they see your lure slightly in the distance they will often rush from underneath it and appear on the flasher.
After the initial holes have been fished and covered thoroughly with no hits or fish, move on. Now when I say move on I don’t mean pack up the sleds and move half way across the lake. Keep around the structure you have chosen because if chosen properly it still has potential for fish and you could just be a little bit off. Once the area has been thoroughly covered with no results, then pack up the sleds, take a look at the map, and choose another area.
Keep moving throughout the day until you hit a Laker. When you get your first fish take note of everything. Depth of the water, time of day, where the fish was in the water column, what it hit on, how it hit, and finally watch the Laker and see if it spits anything up. The best tip you can get is what the fish spits up. This will give you a clear picture of what the fish is feeding on. If it spits up a 4” shiner then use a spoon or tube that matches the size, colour, and action of a 4” shiner. In some cases they will even spit out crawfish, when this happens rig up a 3.5” pumpkinseed tube and keep it around the bottom. Bottom line, match your lure to what the Lakers are eating and results will follow.
the “skunk” is off the ice try to revolve your
methods around the first
Run the same
depth, same lure,
If no results
follow within about
30 minutes or so then change things up a little bit, i.e. your
this doesn’t work and you have no results
within an hour or so, then keep moving on because chances are you hit a
So that’s how to find the fish, but another thing to consider which is equally important is your gear. You could be on top of the fish all day and not know it because you are simply using the wrong stuff. The following are some recommendations on what to use when fishin’ Lakers
Rods: A medium heavy / heavy rod is a must, preferably from 32” to 47” in length. Hi-Tech makes some very nice and affordable rods suitable for lake trout, as do Rapala and Berkley.
Reels: Reels play a very important factor in ice fishing lake trout. They have to hold up to the test of a lake trout peeling 50’ of line and they also have to hold up to the rugged conditions of a Canadian winter. Spinning reels are usually the favorite when it comes to Lakers in the winter. Infinite Anti-Reverse is, in my opinion, a must. As far as reels go there is a wide variety of options. I would recommend going with a reel directed towards ice fishing simply because of the rugged cold conditions you will be in. I would recommend something simple like a Hi-Tech masterpiece; just make sure the spool is big enough to hold at least 75 yards of your line of choice.
Line: The last situation you want to find yourself in is battling a 25 pound lake trout with old 6 pound monofilament line on. Line is extremely important when fishing lake trout. Make sure your using at least a 10 pound mono or fluorocarbon or at least an 8 pound braid. My line of choice for lake trout is 10 pound Fireline crystal with a 16” fluorocarbon leader when using spoons, and 8 pound Fireline crystal when using tubes and other jigs. Braided line is an excellent choice for winter Lakers because sometimes you will be fishing extreme depths and you will get the sensitivity at 80 feet down from a braid that you certainly won’t get from a mono or fluorocarbon.
Lures: One of the most important decisions you will face is your lure. There are so many options out there now that it is hard to make up your mind. Keep it simple. The basics for lake trout fishing are a 3.5”-5” white tube with silver or blue sparkles, various sizes of Williams Wabblers, Northland Airplane jigs, Rapala Jiggin’ Raps, and my personal favorite a 2/5 oz blue and silver Little Cleo. If you choose the live bait route common baits are large shiners, pieces of cisco, or sucker meat placed on a jig or treble hook. I would highly recommend not tipping spoons or jigging raps with live bait. It throws off the natural action of the lure.
Flashers: Flashers are not a necessity, but they are definitely valuable asset when fishing Lakers. Any Vexilar, Marcum, or Aqua Vu flasher/sonar should do the trick just fine.
So next time your heading out for a day of lake trout fishing, do a little bit of research on the lake of your choice and STAY MOBILE until you hit some Lakers. Please treat lake trout with delicacy and respect especially around the gill area. If you’re going to keep a couple, take the little ones and let the big ones go. Always check the ice conditions before heading out. Stay safe and have fun.