Each winter when I get tired of reeling in small perch and bluegills, I get the itch to fish for bigger, stronger fish. Since fishing in Sitka is still months away, I make an annual fishing trip to Nestor Falls, Ontario to fish for lake trout through the ice. This year, three friends and I stayed at Muskie Bay Resort and fished Crow Lake and Lake of the Woods.
Lake trout share many similarities to their salmon cousins. Ice fishing for lake trout with light gear can result in some of best battles by rod and reel while ice fishing. They can be very rewarding for anglers given the amount of work it takes to find and land these fish through the ice. This particular trip challenged our patience and physical strength in a few ways.
I’ve made this trip before and never had I seen snow levels like this. Most parts of the lake were covered in two feet of snow. Under the snow was about six inches of water. We had two snowmobiles for four people. The amount of weight on each sled and the snow levels made it extremely difficult to be mobile. It was slow travels and when we would run into deep, slushy snow, most of the time one of the snowmobile would get stuck. That resulted in 10-15 minutes of lifting and digging to get us back on trail. This overall process left us exhausted and hampered our ability to move from spot to spot to find fish.
With our knowledge of salmon fishing, we were able to apply this to ice fishing for lake trout which helped us find and land a few lakers. Lakers tend to use the entire water column in their hunt for food. They like to corral baitfish in breaks in depth and rock structures. Similar to mooching, you want to be moving your bait through the water column to attract fish. We quickly picked up on their behavior during the first few hours of fishing – fish on the bottom were not aggressively feeding, but fish midway up the water column or higher were on the hunt for food.
The fish that we marked on our sonars appeared 10-20 feet below our bait, but once they appeared, we couldn’t react fast enough before they were attacking the bait. Most of the fish we found in the days we fished behaved this way. The problem was we couldn’t find many fish. In the two and a half days we fished, we fished close to 10 spots. Only two of these spots were holding bait. In the two spots that held bait, we caught fish. That was not a coincidence.
Given the conditions, we were able to have relative success because we used these five keys for fishing lake trout. If the snow level wasn’t so deep, we may have had more success, because we could have been more mobile.
Keys to targeting Lake Trout:
• Fish points, saddles, sunken islands, and sharp drop-offs
• Find baitfish
• Fish middle depths of water column
• Be mobile
• Drill and fish holes in 30-60 feet of water
Southwest Ontario has some of the best lake trout fishing in Canada. From the Twin Cities, it was only a seven hour drive to the lakes we fished. The ideal lakes for lake trout are deep, clear lakes that reach 100+ feet in depth. When fishing for trout, match their food source. White tube jigs, silver and white spoons, jigging raps and airplane jigs are all effective lures. The key is to imitate ciscoes, which are lake trout’s main food source. Lakers are attracted by the movement and vibration in the water, so when lakers are aggressive, the more obnoxious the lure, the better.
Winters in the upper Midwest can leave you longing for the time when you can get back to mooching for salmon, but if you need to fill your fix, a good option I recommend is battling a lake trout through the ice.