Late last week as I made final preparations for a trip to Lake Superior in Michigan waters for a shot at some late season lake trout I was all but out of my mind with excitement over “what might be?!” Our timing was right. We’d done our research. Water temps looked to be right where we needed them to be for a successful trip and the near shore wind forecast predicted calm to 3 foot waves during our stay. The timing looked “just right” for a legit shot at a 25+ pound lake trout!
Grant, as many of you already know, fishes Lake Superior in the Duluth area relentlessly throughout the spring and summer. Herb, despite living within miles of the big lake his entire life, had only been on the lake chasing lakers one time in 67 years.
Lake trout season in Michigan waters remains open until the end of October and as the water temps on the big lake cool in advance of winter lake trout start to accumulate in large numbers around in-shore reefs and islands in preparation for the spawn.
Whereas some fish species turn up their noses at all but the most carefully presented baits and lures during their spawning rituals lake trout seemingly lose their minds with aggression making them overly willing to strike out at an angler’s offerings. And many of these fish run big. Really big!! And it is this “perfect storm” of conditions that had us targeting lake trout when most had already put their big lake boats up for the season.
Of course not everything worked as planned. In all honesty our original plan was to jig fish for these lake trout but that just didn’t come together for us on this trip. When the lake was calm enough to fish jigs the fish were inactive. When the clouds rolled in and the fish got active, the winds kicked up making our attempts to fish jigs utterly futile.
The solution? Fire up the kicker and break out the trolling gear. The fish were up feeding in the top half of the water column so we didn’t need anything too fancy to get the job done. Actually, in all honesty, the crankbaits used would have looked right at home tied to a crankbait rod being run by a Mille Lacs Lake walleye guy fishing at night right now. Shallow diving stickbaits worked the best with #13 jointed raps, 900 series reef runners and Bomber Long A’s taking most of our crankbait fish.
We rounded out our presentation by fishing two of our allowed 9 rods (3 per person in MI) on downriggers. 4 – 6 inch spoons with BRIGHT contrasting patterns worked very well trolled at 2 – 2.2 MPH. Depths fished were 21′ – 31′ feet down over 40′ – 60′ of water. Our most productive areas were narrow rock spines that topped out around 35 feet with deep water on all sides. Our most productive spines were miles in length and would alternately rise toward the surface and drop back down to 50′ of water or so along the entire length creating perfect spawning habitat and structure to hold the lakers.
Early in the morning, later in the afternoon or any time the winds kicked up the cranbaits would produce. If the winds laid back down or the sun popped out the fish would forgo the boards and crankbaits and focus their attentions on our spoon rods. When the conditions were right… MAN, YOU BETTER BE READY TO WORK! We would hit 2 or 3 fish at a time which meant we had to fly into action clearing boards, fight fish and reset rods to keep everything working smoothly.
One thing we picked up on that really paid huge dividends for us was to resist the urge to fish baits just above any lakers shown on our electronics. These fish wanted to come up and ambush baits from below and they’re willing to come a long way in the water column to do it! Most of the time we fished in 50′ – 60′ of water and we regularly marked fish within 2′ of the bottom. Drop lures on downriggers just a couple feet above those fish you say? We found that to be a complete waste of time. Now, brings those baits up in the water column, WAY UP, and the fish would rise to the baits and crush them. With 35+ foot water clarity fish can see baits from a LONG way off and we found that by positioning our spoons 19′ – 31′ feet down and our crankbaits 7′ – 15′ down our catch rates jumped dramatically and any time we messed with deep diving crankbaits or deeper downrigger sets the fish all but dried up.
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