Lake Trout Fishing: An Angler's Guide

Aug 25, 2021 | 7 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

Head out on a Lake Trout fishing trip and you’ll experience something that’s quite different from casting a line for any other Trout. The main reason is that, despite their misleading name, Lake Trout aren’t Trout at all! These fish actually belong to the Char family, and facing off against one is more likely to remind you of battling Salmon.

Two happy anglers aboard a charter boat holding a Lake Trout each.

The size of the current world-record Lake Trout reflects the fact that they’re the largest member of the Char family. Coming in at a whopping 72 pounds and measuring 59 inches, you can bet this fish was a hard fighter. And they all are! Though the average fish is much smaller, weighing between 15–40 pounds, they give a great fight – and they taste good, too.

Lake Trout go by a few different namesm so don’t be alarmed if you hear them referred to as Mackinaw, Namaycush, Lake Char, Grey Tongue, or Siscowet. You’ll always be able to recognize them by their bright-grey, sometimes olive coloring, and white bellies. Most recognizable, however, are the large light-colored spots that cover their bodies.

Dive into this guide and the next time you’re on the lake, you’ll be prepared to catch one of your very own!

Top Spots for Lake Trout Fishing

These freshwater fish prefer cold, dark, and deep waters. As such, native Lake Trout belong to the north. You’ll mainly find them in Canada and the northeastern United States. In fact, a whopping 25% of the world’s Lake Trout population resides in Canada’s second-largest province, Ontario.

Some artificial stocking also occurs in Europe, Asia, and South America but our focus today is on North America. Let’s dive into the top spots for Lake Trout fishing below.

Great Lakes

There’s no better home for freshwater game fish – including Lake Trout! You’ll find these fish in all five of the Great Lakes, though they may go by different names depending on where you’re fishing. Let’s take a look.

Lake Superior's northern shoreline as seen from above in Ontario, Canada
  • Lake Ontario: So you already know that a quarter of the Lake Trout population resides in Ontario. Now you also know where! The eastern basin of the lake is especially productive from May–October, thanks to plenty of deep structure.
  • Lake Superior: Here, Lake Trout are known as Siscowet, Paperbelly, and Lean. Siscowet is actually a strain of Lake Trout that’s much higher in fat and thus not great for eating. Lean, on the other hand, makes for excellent table fare. You can target them in the deepest Great Lake from winter through early fall.
  • Lake Erie: Unlike Lake Ontario and Superior, the Lake Trout here are stocked. However, they’ve taken to their environment very well, and Lake Erie boasts excellent numbers of big fish. You can fish for them all year, just bear in mind that they’ll move into deeper and deeper waters as it gets warmer. 
  • Lake Huron: Local stocking efforts have helped bring Lake Huron’s Lake Trout population back to healthy numbers after a near wipeout. Nine to ten-pound fish are most commonly caught. You might also encounter fish weighing up to 50 pounds in the lake’s deep pockets. 
  • Lake Michigan: We’re rounding off the list with the largest of the Great Lakes. These fish are found here both naturally and through stocking efforts. In your search for Lake Trout, you’ll explore varying depths (depending on the season) of Lake Michigan, as well as its inland lakes.

Canada

Though you can fish four of the Great Lakes while on Canadian territory, these aren’t the only waters that hold Lake Trout. Below, we highlight just a few of Canada’s many Lake Trout fisheries.

Fishes boats and lodges scattered across Great Slave Lake in Northwest Territories, Canada
  • Great Slave Lake: This is just one of the incredible Lake Trout fishing spots in the Northwest Territories. Some would argue it’s also the best in the world. The lake’s cold waters foster fish in the 50–60 pound range regularly. You’ll get to enjoy some of the finest fishing and beautiful scenery during the short season.
  • Great Bear Lake: Remember that record-holding 72 lb Lake Trout? It was pulled out of this lake in 1995. Also located in Northwest Territories, huge fish are reeled in regularly. The season is short, lasting only from mid-July to early September, but it’s the place to be for that fish of a lifetime. 
  • Wollaston Lake: If you’re looking for constant action, this is the spot. Wollaston Lake is located in the province of Saskatchewan and boasts huge numbers of fish. While you’re hunting for your trophy, plenty of smaller fish will keep your rods bending. 
  • Lake Simcoe: Beginners just getting into Lake Trout fishing shouldn’t miss a visit to Lake Simcoe. Located just over 50 miles from Toronto, you’ll mostly find Lakers in the 4–7 pound range here from May through September. The plus side to catching smaller fish? They’re the best for eating!
  • Nueltin Lake: Straddling the Manitoba-Nunavut border, it’s another excellent fishing spot for big Lake Trout. A 15-pounder is considered average here and in the hottest summer months, you’ll fish for them at depths as deep as 190 feet.

Northern US

Though Canada takes center stage, the northernmost reaches of the United States also harbor suitable conditions for Lake Trout. Below, you’ll find some of the best Lake Trout fishing spots on the US side of the border.

Flaming Gorge, Utah as seen from above.
  • Flaming Gorge, Utah: Aside from Lake Superior, it’s one of the best spots in the US to target large Lake Trout. The locals call them Mackinaw and they’re particularly popular with fly fishers in the spring and fall when the waters are colder.
  • Alaska: We kept this one intentionally vague, as there are several lakes and rivers in Alaska that hold Lakers. Head to the Kenai Peninsula and you can explore the deep waters of Hidden Lake and Skilak Lake. You’ll also find them in the clear mountain lakes of Northern Alaska, as well as in the Chugach Range.
  • Lake Tahoe: Bet you didn’t think you’d see a West Coast location on this list. It’s true that Lake Trout don’t occur naturally in the US west of the Rockies, but stocking efforts in Lake Tahoe have been more than successful. They call them Mackinaw here and you’ll find them from March–June.
  • Montana: This one’s also vague! But if you know about Trout fishing, you’ll know that the state of Montana is considered one of the best fisheries in the world. Lake Trout reach trophy sizes in places like Fort Peck Reservoir and Bighorn Reservoir. You can fish for them from spring through fall.

How to Catch Lake Trout

Because Lake Trout inhabit deep and cold waters, they’re sometimes an overlooked target. We can safely say those anglers are missing out. In most lakes, these fish are a top predator. As a result, they reach large sizes and fight hard. Below, we’ll look into how to gear up for your very own battle with a Laker.

Light tackle or heavy tackle?

A fully stocked fisherman's tackle box, with lures and light and heavy tackle.

It depends! A light tackle fishing rod with a 5–10 lb monofilament line does the trick for smaller Lake Trout. However, if you’re planning on targeting big fish in deep waters, you may need to move up to a 20–30 lb test line. You’ll also need to decide between live and artificial bait. If you’re using live bait, minnows tend to be the go-to option for most anglers. 

Lake Trout generally feed on medium-sized bait fish so nightcrawlers and worms are another good choice. If you’re using artificials, you have even more freedom. Vertical jigging is one of the most popular ways to go after these fish. Minnow-shaped jigs work well if you’re using this technique. Other popular artificials include spoons, bright jerkbaits, and spinners.

Ice Fishing for Lake Trout

Multiple anglers set up for ice fishing.

Winter anglers, this one’s for you. Lake Trout are coldwater fish, after all, making them a perfect target for ice fishing. They’ll be on the prowl for food, meaning if you’re in the right spot and present your bait well, it shouldn’t be hard to get a hookup. If you’re wondering how to find the right spot, follow the bait fish. Whitefish, smelt, and perch are what Lake Trout will be chasing.

These fish also gravitate towards structure. Spots containing boulders, sunken reefs, and rock walls should also help narrow down your search. If you’re using artificial baits, try white tube jigs, spoons, and crankbaits. For live bait, much like in the warmer months, minnows take the top spot.

Fly Fishing for Lake Trout

An angler fly fishing on the lake.

Finally, for those of you looking for an epic battle, try fly fishing for Lake Trout. You’ll want to practice this technique in the spring and fall, as this is when the fish are more likely to be feeding. Make sure you’re getting out either in the early morning or in the evening. The waters closer to shore will be colder at these times, causing the fish to move into shallower areas.

As for your gear, it depends on the size of the fish you’re targeting. A fly rod ranging from a 4–10 wt with moderate to fast action should do the trick. Your choice of fly will also depend on where you’re fishing. In deeper waters sinkers are essential to get your fly where it needs to be. If the fish are in shallower waters, streamers or floating lines with added weights keep you closer to the surface.

Lake Trout Fishing: Fast Freshwater Action

A happy couple holding a Lake Trout caught on Lake Superior.

Either you already know how great Lake Trout fishing is or we’ve just uncovered a whole new freshwater species for you to target. Either way, facing off against one of these predators is never boring. Not only do they reach large sizes and fight hard, but they’re also available year-round in some lakes. 

Next time you’re in Northern Ontario, the Northwest Territories, or the Northern United States, don’t miss out on an opportunity to target these incredible game fish!

What are your favorite Lake Trout fishing memories? Any must-have items in your tackle box you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below – we love to hear from you!

Comments (2)
  • Mark Watson

    Jul 29, 2021

    Lakers on Quabbin Reservoir, Mass!… No more beautiful a place on Earth… Have harvested fish in the 20# range with my equally beautiful wife… Have harvested 31 (can keep 2 a day) before noon on one occasion. 3-5# average. Nothing makes better chowder…

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      Vuk

      Jul 30, 2021

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for sharing your experience with us, sounds like you and your wife had a great time! Just goes to show there’s so much great Trout fishing in the US that it’s hard to fit it all in one blog post.

      Thanks again for sharing, and have a great day!

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