Lake Trout from Flathead Lake
Lake Trout Facts
|Science Name:||Salvelinus namaycush|
|Other Names:||Laker, Mackinaw, gray trout, togue|
|Ideal Temp:||50 to 57|
|World Record:||72 lbs NW Terr.|
|Techniques:||medium-tackle, bottom fishing, downrigger|
Fishing areas in Flathead Lake:
- Near Painted Rock
- Around Wild Horse Island
- Woods Bay – off the point
Flathead’s lake trout number in the hundreds of thousands but they are not native to these waters. In an attempt to reduce their population, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes sponsor a semi-annual fishing tournament called “Mac Days”.
Lake trout (or mackinaw) are primarily fish eaters. They prefer colder water and are usually found near the bottom although they can be found at all depths when the water is cold. Generally fish 30′-100′ deep for smaller (2-5 lb.) lakers and over 100′ deep for larger lake trout but expect lots of mixing of sizes. Generally, look for areas that will concentrate bait fish such as points, sloping areas of large rubble, or flats adjacent to drop-offs or steep slopes. Expansive flats may not hold many fish. A fish finder helps locate likely spots and may locate schools of bait fish or lake trout but lake trout can hold so tight to the bottom most fish finders won’t show them.
Lake trout prefer dim light so the best fishing is dawn to mid-morning with generally slow fishing at mid day and sometimes fishing picks up in the evening. Lake trout are generally easy to catch but they move a lot and action can turn on and off. If you’re not catching fish and can’t see them on the finder move to a
new location. If you think the fish are there, try different lures and colors and vary your techniques.
Lake trout up to 5 pounds eat lots of Mysis shrimp and can be delicious fried, baked, barbecued, or smoked. Fish from 5-10 pounds are much oilier and are best if skinned, trimmed, and cooked to allow juices to drain away. Macs over 10 pounds are very oily (see the consumption guide for eating lake trout included in this brochure).
Vertical Jigging for Lake Trout
This technique has really revolutionized lake trout fishing since it is simple, productive, and requires little gear. A medium weight spinning or baitcasting outfit with 10-lb. test line will work. Drop the lure to the bottom, reel up about a foot and jig the lure up sharply 1-3 feet and then let it free fall back. Jig every 10-20 seconds. Set the hook hard when you feel a tap or jerk. Often the fish will hit as the lure is dropping so if the line stays slack as the jig is sinking, reel up and strike.
Leadhead jigs with plastic “grub” or “Mr. Twister” style bodies are effective and inexpensive. Use 1/2 oz. to 2 oz. jigheads, going to larger heads as you fish deeper. Use 3″ bodies for 3-5 lb. macs and go to 5″ or larger bodies if you just want big fish. White, chartreuse, and glo-in-the dark are popular colors. You’ll increase bites if you tip the jig with a piece of fish (sucker, Norther pike minnow, or perch) or use scents. Salmonids (trout, salamon, whitefish) are illegal as bait.
Jigging spoons can be good for Lake Trout
Leadagators, Trilobites, Nordics, Crippled Herring, Kastmasters, and Buzz Bombs will all work. White, chartreuse or green, light blue, or glow are popular colors. Scents or tipping with a small piece of fish may help. Woods Bay, Yellow Bay, Blue Bay, and West Shore State Park are reasonably sheltered spots with deep water close to the ramp for smaller boats. Other productive jigging areas are the river mouth, Conrad Point, Painted Rocks/Cedar Island, Wildhorse Island, the Narrows, Finley Point, and Gravel Bay.
Trolling for Lake Trout
You can readily catch lake trout by trolling lures near the surface in April – June and October-November. Troll 3/8 oz. or larger spoons such as Krocodiles in silver/red or gold/red or minnow-imitation plugs such as Rebels or Rapalas in black/silver, black/gold or fluorescent orange. You can also troll plugs that will dive to 10′-20′. Drop the lure 100′-200′ behind the boat and troll parallel to the shore 50-100 yards out in 30′-200′ of water. Steeper shorelines such as most of the east shore, Conrad Point to Painted Rocks, Wild Horse Island and around the Narrows are good spots. Concentrate on spawning areas in the fall (points with rock or cobble) such as major points, Wild Horse Island, or around the Narrows.
Lead-core outfits such as those used for Kokanee can also be used on lake trout down to 50′ deep or more. Fish the same lures and locations as flatlining with 3-8 colors out. This is particularly good as lakers move deeper in summer.
Diving Planers and 3-way Rigs
Diving Planers are tied inline 4-6 feet ahead of the lure. They can dive 30-50 feet but will trip when a fish hits to allow a better fight. An angler can also tie up a rig with a 3-way swivel. The mainline ties to one swivel with a 4′-6′ leader off the opposite swivel to a lure. Tie a short leader off the bottom swivel to a banana sinker (2-12 oz.). Depending on the line, speed, lure, and sinker weight you can fish down to 100 feet or more.
Downriggers will cost $100-$500 but they allow you to fish at precise depths and into very deep water. They also allow you to fish with fairly light gear since the line releases from the heavy downrigger cable and ball when a fish hits. Used with a good fish finder you can target concentrations of fish and prime locations and precisely place your lure. The most common downrigger lure is a squid and dodger or flasher although a variety of lures can be used. Generally, place the squid 2 1/2 dodger lengths behind the dodger and drop the lures 10-50 feet behind the downrigger release. Use an 8″ or larger dodger. Silver and chartreuse are popular dodger colors and white, chartreuse, blue, and glow are popular squid colors. Scent or a piece of cut fish on the squid can help. Generally fish near the bottom but don’t be afraid to fish mid depths, particularly near the thermocline (40′-60′) in summer, or wherever you see the fish on the finder. If you’re not catching fish vary the
boat speed and vary the distance back from the downrigger release.
This method requires a heavier rod with a roller tip, and a large reel such as a Penn 49L with 1,000 feet or more of single strand or braided steel line in 20-40 lb. test. With this method you drag a lure (usually a Flatfish or Kwikfish) along the bottom. It takes 800 feet or more of line to reach bottom in 100 feet of water. This used to be the main method to fish for lake trout and its still one of the best ways to catch big trout but it’s physically demanding and requires some expertise. T-50 Flatfish are the most popular although the smaller M-2’s also work. Popular colors are blue/white, red/white, perch finish, or frog. Use similar sizes and colors in Kwikfish. To work, the lure has to be skipping on the bottom. Expect to hang up occasionally. These heavy rigs don’t give fish under 10 pounds much chance to fight. Usually look for mud/sand/small cobble bottom flats near slope changes or points. The Mid-lake Bar from Angel Point to Cedar Island, Mac Alley south of Wildhorse, and flats near any major points can be good spots.]
Shore Fishing for Lake Trout
Lake trout can be readily caught from shore in May-June and October-November when the water is cool and they’re in shallow to look for food (spring) or to spawn (fall). Generally look for steep to moderately sloping bottoms with lots of rubble. Good spots in the fall have been Wayfarers and West Shore State Parks, Polson City Docks, and the bridge in Polson. You can stillfish cutbait (fish) or worms on the bottom or cast 1/4 oz. to 1 oz. lures or jigs. Count down before starting your retrieve so the lure is near bottom. Use silver/red or gold/red lures. You’ll lose lures so use inexpensive ones. Most lakers will be 2-4 pounds but you may catch a larger one, particularly in fall.
Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks