How To Fish For Lake Trout

Lake trout, also known as Salvelinus namaycush, is a freshwater char living mainly in lakes in northern North America. They prefer colder, deep lake environments, often found at depths that provide a temperature range of 40-52 degrees Fahrenheit (4-11 degrees Celsius), which is crucial for their survival and growth.

Lake trout are not only a favorite among anglers for their fight but also for their size, with some reaching over 30 pounds. This guide will cover the essentials of lake trout fishing, including the optimal setup, bait, techniques, best times and places to fish, and tips for beginners, along with the necessary gear and tools.

Lake Trout Fishing Setup

The best setup for lake trout fishing typically involves a medium-heavy to heavy action rod, around 7 to 9 feet in length, paired with a baitcasting or trolling reel capable of holding a substantial amount of heavy line, often 10 to 20-pound test for monofilament and 20 to 30-pound test for braided lines. This setup ensures the angler can handle the size and strength of lake trout, which can reach substantial weights and are known for their powerful runs.

For targeting lake trout, the best rig is often a downrigger setup, which allows anglers to precisely control the depth at which their lure or bait is presented. This is crucial because lake trout tend to inhabit deep, cold water, especially in the summer months. A typical downrigger rig would consist of a 6 to 8-foot leader of 10 to 20-pound test fluorocarbon, attached to a heavier main line. At the business end of the rig, spoons and minnow-like plugs are the most effective lures, with bright or natural fish colors being the most productive. Additionally, a flasher or dodger can be added above the lure to attract fish from a greater distance by mimicking the reflective flash of baitfish.

Best Bait For Lake trout

Lake trout have a diverse diet that includes smaller fish, crustaceans, and insects. Their preference for certain types of prey makes selecting the best bait for lake trout fishing crucial for success.

The best live bait for lake trout includes smaller fish such as minnows, smelt, or suckers, reflecting their natural predatory tendencies. When using live bait, it’s effective to rig them on a size 6 to 10 hook and present them just off the bottom or suspended in the water column over deep structures where lake trout are known to feed. This can be achieved through the use of slip sinker rigs to allow the live bait to move naturally, attracting the attention of nearby lake trout.

For lures, the best options for lake trout include spoons, spinnerbaits, and soft plastic baits that mimic the appearance and movement of their prey. Brightly colored or metallic spoons that produce a lot of flash and vibrations are particularly effective, as they can attract lake trout from a distance. Soft plastics, such as tubes or swimbaits, should be rigged to mimic the movement of fish or small crustaceans. These lures can be used effectively by trolling or jigging, techniques that allow the angler to cover a lot of water and target the depths where lake trout are most likely to be found.

diy spoon lure
diy spoon lure

Lake Trout Fishing Techniques


Trolling is one of the most common and effective techniques for catching lake trout. This method involves moving the boat at a slow pace to drag lures or bait through the water, covering a vast area to locate and attract fish. The setup typically includes a medium-heavy to heavy action rod, with a baitcasting or trolling reel spooled with 10 to 20-pound test line for monofilament or 20 to 30-pound test for braided lines. Downriggers or weighted lines help in reaching the desired depth where lake trout are found, usually in deeper, colder water. Trolling is most effective during the early morning or late evening hours when lake trout are actively feeding. Using a variety of lures, such as spoons, deep-diving plugs, or live bait rigs, can increase your chances of success.


Jigging is another effective technique for targeting lake trout, especially useful when fish are located but not actively feeding in open waters. This method involves using a vertical motion to make the lure or bait mimic an injured fish, an irresistible target for predatory lake trout. The setup for jigging includes a 6 to 8-foot medium-heavy rod with a fast action tip, paired with a reel spooled with 10 to 20-pound test line. Heavier jigs are preferred for reaching the depths where lake trout reside, with soft plastic or rubber lures attached to mimic the lake trout’s natural prey. Jigging is particularly effective in areas with known lake trout habitats, such as near underwater structures or drop-offs. The key is to vary the speed and rhythm of your jigging motion to find what triggers strikes from the fish.

Ice Fishing

Ice fishing for lake trout is a popular technique in colder climates where lakes freeze over in the winter. This technique requires drilling a hole through the ice and fishing directly through it. The setup often includes a shorter, medium-heavy rod or ice fishing rod and reel combo, with 10 to 20-pound test line. Live bait like minnows, or jigs tipped with bait, are lowered to the depths where lake trout are found. Ice fishing is most effective when targeting lake trout in their deep winter habitats, often in and around underwater structures or shallower areas during early ice when oxygen levels are higher. Using sonar or ice fishing flashers to locate lake trout beneath the ice significantly enhances success rates.

Best Time To Catch Lake Trout

Lake trout spawn in the fall, usually from September to November, depending on the water body’s geographical location. This period is crucial for understanding their patterns and behavior. The best time of year to catch lake trout is late spring through early fall, as they move to shallower waters to feed after the ice melts and before they retreat to deeper, colder waters in the summer. This movement makes them more accessible and aggressive towards bait and lures.


In spring, the best time of day to catch lake trout is early morning or late afternoon. As the ice thaws, lake trout move into shallower areas to feed on newly hatched baitfish. Trolling with minnow-like plugs or spoons near the surface or just below is an effective technique during this season. The cooler water temperatures of morning and late afternoon encourage lake trout to be more active in these areas.


During the summer, early morning is the prime time to target lake trout. As the day progresses and the sun heats the surface water, lake trout tend to move to deeper, cooler waters. Trolling or jigging in deeper areas where the water remains cold can be highly effective. Utilizing downriggers to reach depths where the lake trout are most comfortable will increase your chances of success.


Fall offers a unique opportunity as lake trout prepare for spawning. Early morning and late evening remain the best times to fish, but as the water cools, lake trout can be found closer to shore and at various depths throughout the day. This is the season to use larger lures and bait to mimic the increased forage fish size. Trolling and jigging near spawning areas can be particularly rewarding.


For those who ice fish, lake trout can be caught throughout the day in winter, though dawn and dusk remain optimal times as lake trout are known to feed more aggressively. Techniques such as jigging with brightly colored jigs or live bait can be effective when fishing through ice, especially near underwater structures or in areas known to hold fish.

Where To Catch Lake Trout

Lake trout thrive in the colder, freshwater lakes of North America, with some of the best locations for catching these magnificent fish found in the United States. Renowned spots include the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron, as well as other notable lakes such as Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada, and Flathead Lake in Montana. These locations offer ample opportunities for anglers to target lake trout in their preferred cold-water habitats.

Great Lakes

The Great Lakes (Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron) are prime destinations for lake trout fishing, with Lake Superior standing out due to its size and depth, providing an ideal cold-water habitat. Trolling is the most effective technique here, utilizing deep-diving lures and spoons that mimic the lake trout’s natural prey. The vastness of these lakes means that finding the right depth and temperature where lake trout are most active is key to a successful catch.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, straddling the border between California and Nevada, is another excellent location for lake trout. Known for its clarity and depth, the lake supports a healthy population of large lake trout. Jigging is particularly effective in Lake Tahoe, targeting the deep-water areas where these fish are often found. Using heavy jigs to reach the bottom and then varying the retrieval speed can entice lake trout to bite.

Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake in Montana is known for its large lake trout, making it a favorite among anglers looking to catch trophy-sized fish. Trolling with large, brightly colored lures or using live bait like whitefish or suckers can be very effective. The lake’s diverse structure, including drop-offs and deep trenches, provides ideal habitats for lake trout, making knowledge of the lake’s topography crucial for locating them.

Tips To Catch Lake Trout for Beginners

  • Start with a medium-heavy to heavy action rod, around 7 to 9 feet long, to handle the size and fight of lake trout.
  • Pair your rod with a baitcasting or spinning reel loaded with 10 to 20-pound test monofilament or 15 to 30-pound test braided line for deeper water fishing.
  • For a simple and effective setup, use a basic slip sinker rig: thread a sliding weight onto your main line, then tie a swivel to prevent the weight from sliding down to the hook. Attach a 2 to 3-foot leader of 10 to 20-pound test fluorocarbon to the swivel and tie on a size 6 to 8 single hook.
  • The best bait for beginners is live bait, such as minnows or small sucker fish, as lake trout are predatory and attracted to live, moving prey.
  • Hook live bait through the back or lips to ensure it remains alive and swims naturally, attracting lake trout.
  • If using lures, spoons, and small swimbaits are effective and easy to use. Choose ones that mimic the natural prey of lake trout in size and color.
  • Fish in the right location and depth, focusing on colder, deeper water areas during summer and shallower regions near shorelines in the spring and fall.
  • Early morning or late evening are the best times to fish for lake trout, as they are more active and feeding during these periods.
  • Pay attention to the water temperature and structure, using sonar if available, to locate the optimal spots where lake trout might be holding.

Best Lake Trout Fishing Gear And Tools

Selecting the best fishing gear is crucial for targeting lake trout, a species known for its size, strength, and preference for deep, cold water habitats. The right combination of rod, line, reel, and fish finder can significantly enhance your chances of a successful catch.

Fishing Rod

The ideal fishing rod for lake trout should be a medium-heavy to heavy action rod, ranging from 7 to 9 feet in length. This provides the necessary strength and flexibility to handle the fight of a large lake trout while allowing for precision in casting and control during the retrieve. A longer rod also aids in managing the line when fishing in deeper water, ensuring that you can maintain the right lure depth and respond effectively to bites.

Fishing Line

For lake trout fishing, the line choice depends on the fishing technique and water depth. A 10 to 20-pound test monofilament line is suitable for most lake trout fishing situations, offering a good balance of strength and stretch, which is beneficial during the fight. For deeper water applications or when clarity is paramount, a 15 to 30-pound test braided line is preferred due to its thinner diameter and lack of stretch, providing better sensitivity to bites and more precise lure control.

Fishing Reel

A baitcasting or trolling reel is the best choice for lake trout fishing, especially when targeting deep waters. These reels should have a robust drag system capable of handling the powerful runs of lake trout and sufficient line capacity to reach the depths where these fish are often found. Look for a reel that can hold at least 200 yards of the line weight you plan to use, ensuring you’re prepared for any situation on the water.

Fish Finder

A fish finder is an invaluable tool for locating lake trout, particularly in vast and deep lakes where these fish reside. The ideal fish finder for lake trout fishing should offer high-resolution imaging and the ability to differentiate between fish, structure, and bottom composition. Look for models with GPS mapping capabilities, allowing you to mark productive spots and navigate back to them. DownScan and SideScan technologies are also beneficial, providing detailed views of the water column and areas adjacent to your boat, helping you locate schools of lake trout or their preferred habitats.

Fish Species Similar to Lake Trout

Fish species similar to lake trout, primarily in terms of habitat preferences, appearance, or belonging to the same family (Salmonidae), include:

  1. Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). Also a member of the char family, brook trout prefer cold, clear, oxygen-rich streams and lakes. They are smaller than lake trout, with distinctive coloring, including a dark green to brown body with a speckled pattern and white edges on the fins.
  2. Arctic Char (Salvelinus alpinus). This species is closely related to both lake trout and brook trout, inhabiting arctic and subarctic waters. Arctic char can vary in color, often depending on their environment, and can be found in both freshwater and saltwater.
  3. Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus). Another char species, bull trout are native to northwestern North America. They require very cold, clear waters and are known for their migratory behavior. Their appearance is similar to that of the Dolly Varden, with a more elongated body and lighter spots.
  4. Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma). Found in cold water streams and coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean in North America and Asia, Dolly Varden are similar to bull trout. They have a silvery body with a pinkish hue and are spotted with pale spots.
  5. Brown Trout (Salmo trutta). Though not a char, brown trout are related to lake trout as part of the Salmonidae family. They have been widely introduced and are known for their adaptability to various environments, preferring cooler waters. Their coloring can range from light brown or tan with darker spots.
  6. Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Also a member of the Salmonidae family, rainbow trout are known for their striking pink stripe along their sides. Rainbow trout are found in cold, clear rivers and lakes and are popular among anglers for their fighting ability.
  7. Splake (Salvelinus namaycush x Salvelinus fontinalis). A hybrid between lake trout and brook trout, splake combine characteristics of both parents. They are stocked in some lakes to provide angling opportunities and control certain fish populations.