There is one fish in Sunset Country that, as soon as the ice leaves, is hot!
Lake trout love cold water and they need it to survive. As water starts to warm, lake trout must move deeper to stay with the cold water.
So early in the season, when all the water within a lake is cold, “lakers” get on the prowl—eating anything they can get their fins on.
There are a variety of waters in Northwestern Ontario that hold lake trout. Some of the smaller bodies are home to large numbers of smaller fish, which predominately feed on invertebrates and the occasional baitfish.
Some the bigger waters, however, have bigger fish that feed exclusively on pelagic baitfish like smelt, ciscoes, and whitefish.
Knowing what trout feed on in the body of water you are fishing will help in determining the type of presentation to use.
There are a few techniques that excel on early-season lakers. Trolling, jigging, and shore fishing are the three most commonly-used tactics by anglers in this area—and all produce plenty of fish each year.
The biggest lake trout I’ve ever had my hands on was a 43-inch tanker I caught on Lake of Woods when I was 15 years old. I caught it trolling a large Williams spoon way behind the boat, without any weight.
Spoons obviously are good trolling baits; match the size of the spoon to the size of the fish you are catching. For instance, if you are catching three- to six-pound fish, then try spoons in the three- to five-inch range.
If you are targeting fish more than 10 pounds, then use five- to seven-inch spoons.
Sometimes weight is needed to fish deeper water or to troll faster and still keep the spoon down. In-line sinkers work, or else try snap weights, which actually “snap” onto your line ahead of your bait.
Crankbaits work great for trolling, as well. Rapala Taildancers and Shad Raps are good options.
I like to use natural colours, like chrome and white, but sometimes oddballs like chartreuse and firetiger crack ’em, too.
The best thing about trolling is it allows anglers to cover a lot of water to connect with fish. Notice where you get bites (i.e., are they coming when you go over a point, off an irregularity along the shoreline, on an inside turn or over a sharp drop-off).
Try to define a pattern and fish more spots just like these.
If, by trolling, you have found out where the fish are positioned, then you can attack with jigs. I also use jigs on some of my favourite spots, which I know are likely to be holding fish from past experience.
Tube jigs, bucktail jigs, or a jig-and-fluke combination all are proven fish catchers.
Once fish get a little deeper, later in the spring, sometimes marking fish on your electronics and then dropping a jig down on them will produce violent strikes.
I have some of my best fishing memories of when I was a little kid fishing on Williams Lake, north of Kenora. It was small lake we used to portage into annually and the fishing was fantastic.
They were not big lake trout, but the numbers were excellent.
We used to do a lot of shore fishing, or “beer-canning.” A piece of belly meat from a sucker, hooked on a treble hook and laid on bottom, was all we used.
My dad used to bring me and a couple of the neighbourhood kids, and we had a lot of fun running around on shore—waiting for the can to get pulled over.
This method should not be used on big fish, since many of the trout will swallow the sucker meat pretty quick, so only use it on fish you intend to keep.