Many anglers come to northern Minnesota specifically for lake trout. While many lakes in the state have walleye, bass, and pike, lake trout are only home in the deep, clear, clean, well oxygenated lakes of northern Minnesota. The average size is 1 to 3 pounds but monsters are down there to be caught! The state record is 43 pounds caught right here in Cook County in Lake Superior! If your goal is to catch a lake trout on your next trip, it pays to do your research. While native, these fish are harder to find, so targeting the correct lakes helps to minimize time wasted. An excellent resource for that is the MN DNR’s Trout Lakes list.
Lake trout are usually found in the deepest lakes in the area. The area around Tuscarora Lodge and the Gunflint Trail boasts some of the best lake trout fishing in the BWCA. Lakes to the west of us such as Tuscarora, Gillis, and Little Saganaga are fantastic destination lakes with healthy populations of lake trout. Once you are at your targeted lake trout lake, finding the fish has a lot to do with water temps. Before your trip, be sure to ask us where the lakers are currently hanging out and what they are biting on.
Any time you are fishing on a designated trout lake or if you are actively fishing for any species of trout on any lake, a trout stamp is required on your fishing license.
In early spring, the week or two after the ice is out is a fantastic time to catch lakers. At this time of year, the lakers are looking for water temps in the 40s, so start around 10 feet and work your way deeper to 40 feet. In the spring, lakers are hunting in the shallows along shorelines and reefs that are rocky. Cast or troll in waters less than 30 feet deep especially close to sharp drop offs.
During the summer months, lakers move deeper and deeper as water temps increase. They prefer to be in water that is between 40 and 50 degrees. In early to mid summer this typically translates to 20 – 50 feet. As summer wears on, lakers keep searching out cooler water in even deeper holes and trenches. Lakers at this time are hunting around similar structures as in the spring but at deeper depths. Finding fish this time of year can be a little more challenging but with time and enough weight it is still possible to catch them.
In the fall, lake trout begin to move back into the shallower waters as they cool. This is the time of year that lake trout spawn, typically late September to early October. They seek out clean, rocky shorelines to lay their eggs in the rubble which will not hatch until the spring. This is a vulnerable time of year for lakers which is why the fishing season closes except for careful catch and release. Be sure to check out when the season switches to catch and release before starting your fall trip.
Lake trout eat ciscoe (tullibee), sucker, whitefish, shiners, and freshwater shrimp. Lakers are typically most active at dawn and dusk. Lake trout prefer live bait over artificial most of the time so plan on packing some in with you (live bait prohibited in Quetico). Frozen ciscoes or live minnows work well (just remember to pack out all leftover bait at the end of your trip!).
Trolling is the best way to catch a lake trout’s eye in the summer. Yes it is possible to troll a canoe, especially if the wind is in your favor! Remember to paddle slowly and quietly over areas of the lake at your targeted depth especially if they are close to deep drop offs. Taking breaks every once in a while will allow your lure to sink back to the bottom. Give your lure a bit of action by moving your rod tip back and forth or up and down every once in a while. Once you get a hit, work over the same area. Continue to troll or do a little vertical jigging. Lakers spook easily so give your lures time to settle before continuing to troll or jig.
- Live bait such as shiners, frozen ciscoes, and minnows.
- Flashy spoons tipped with live bait – casting spoons (DareDevil, Doctor, Red Eye) and light trolling/flutter spoons (Sutton)
- Medium-weight spinners tipped with live bait such as Mepps.
- Jigging lures such as Swedish pimples.
- Crank baits especially those that mimic minnows.
- Trolling sinkers in the 1 to 2 oz range such as banana weights, bead chain sinkers, etc.
- Swivels to keep your line from tangling from trolling.