Lake Trout in 2022

Along with the New Year comes one of the longest standing traditions for ice anglers in Northwest Ontario, the start of a new lake trout season. I have spent New Year’s Day on the ice many times over the years but with the brutal cold temperatures we’ve had over the past week I have to be honest, I didn’t rush out the door bright and early to hang out on the ice this past Saturday.  

Lake trout spawn in the fall and the season closes on October 1 to protect them during this process. The season opens back up January 1 and remains open until next fall. Ice anglers enjoy targeting lake trout for a variety of reasons. These fish love cold water and are active throughout the ice season, they can be found in some of the most beautiful waters around the region, they are great fighters, are fun to catch and they are good to eat.  

Obviously, with our current situation here, there are not a lot of anglers visiting but traditionally many anglers plan their ice fishing trips to Sunset Country to coincide with the opening day of trout season, for the reasons mentioned above. Over the years I have hosted a bunch of guide trips on the ice for lake trout and many of those would begin with me telling my guests about the general nature of these fish and a few tips on how to catch them.  

I compare lake trout to sharks under ice in that they are constantly on the move, looking for food. When it comes to choosing fishing locations, I like to focus on structure where trout can cover a variety of depths in their search for food. Sometimes they’ll be on the bottom but most often they’ll be suspended throughout the water column. Using a flasher or one of the newer live sonar units helps greatly for seeing where fish are located and how they react to your lure.  

Because of the clear water that they live in, lake trout feed primarily with their eyesight, so fishing with baits in aggressive colours like white or chartruese can help trout find your bait in the deep water that they prefer. Spoons, rattle baits, airplane jigs and soft plastics are proven, popular bait choices. Lakers do like meat in the form of a minnow or a strip of sucker belly meat where it is allowed but many of the best trout waters do not permit the use of meat for bait. A lot of the scented soft plastics available today work great for trout in these situations.

My top baits are actually a pair of bass baits, a four inch white tube jig, which has been popular the past couple of decades. More recently I have been using a four or five inch Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ rigged on a Smeltinator jig head from Lake of the Woods Sports Headquarters. This is one of the most popular bass baits in our part of the World because it does a great job of emulating the smelt and cisco that both smallmouth bass and lake trout like to eat. Whatever bait you choose, move it around in the water column because you never know where a lake trout is going to show up.

Dave Bennett with one of the largest Sunset Country lake trout I have seen, caught a few years back. These big trout are old fish so please take care of them and release them. – Submitted photo

Maybe I’m just getting soft as I get older but if the temperature is below -25 when I get up in the morning I’m probably not going to be that excited to spend the day on the ice. I have a portable shelter and the gear to spend the day in those harsh conditions but unless I’m guiding and have a commitment to people I’m probably going to wait until it warms up. If you hit the ice over this past opening weekend, you’re tougher than me and I hope you caught a big lake trout!