Superior’s Giant Lakers

Water Body

Some fish species, like Lakers, grow on you. The more you fish them, the more you want to fish them, until you find yourself a few miles out on Lake Superior in rough water braving sub-freezing temperatures to find them. Amidst winds, spray, and some good waves, an IDO crew of James Holst, Dave Koonce, Quintin Biermann, and myself headed out in two boats with Ben Brettingen and Ben Larson to capture some of the action. The ride out was a bit wet, meaning the rest of the day was cold, especially considering we got to lay our hands on some nice fish. But the craziest part of the whole thing is that despite how uncomfortable it was, I wish I was there right now.

The only fish I’ve fought in fresh-water that would compare to a giant laker is a salmon, and even then, it’s difficult to describe the way these pre-historic looking fish will slam a bait, then make you work like a dog just to touch the planer board, then slug it out down deep before they even consider coming un-glued from the bottom. The power they have is absolutely amazing, evidenced by the planer board that suspends in mid-air just behind the boat, with the fish unwilling to give an inch and the angler unable to bring it back to unclip. James said it best, “To land those great big ones, you don’t even have a prayer unless you get off that kicker a bit and give the angler a fighting chance.” Now, picture two, three, four, or even more rods going off all at once with fish this caliber? Fishing mayhem is about the only way to explain it. James and Quintin fished in an MX2025, while Dave and I co-captained a WX2190, being thankful to have the larger water boat. That said, James drove that 2025 like an experienced great lakes captain, proving its worth in bigger water than the average person would consider it useful for. They did take a wave over the front on the way out, which didn’t create any safety concerns for the craft or its cargo, but did take out the front windshield bubble. Skeeter Boat Center made sure everything was in good working order mechanically before we set off, and because the big lake can be unforgiving, it’s wise to travel in groups like we did. The best part about traveling in pairs like that? We get to fish side-by side and share in the big fish and photos together!

These lake trout set-up and fished like most generic angling situations. Watch graph, mark fish, put baits where fish are, catch fish. There are obviously some tweaks in there that make it a bit more complex, but ultimately, finding fish and presenting baits at the same depth level was truly the biggest key to catching them. One such detail was the use of leadcore on boards. The Sufix 832 Advanced is nice, especially when pulling planer boards, as you don’t need as much line back behind it in order to gain the same dive as standard leadcore. This allows for more space on the reel and the all important extra backing so crucial for fighting these pigs. More importantly to our presentation, we could push the boards out and away from the boat to ensure that if there was a spooking effect of the boat, we were mitigating it as best as we possibly could.

As for the fish, we landed primarily redfins, and large ones at that. Lots of upper 30” fish and beyond made this an incredible day on the water, and broke some personal bests for most of the crew. When properly handled, photographed quickly, and revived accordingly, these fish in the colder water released as well as any species. That said, these big lakers will literally fight themselves to death, so quick action after the net hits the fish is in order to ensure a successful release. I’m happy to say that while we kept a very few fish to eat, everything in the photographs made it back to the lake to fight another day. Speaking of, I’m already grinning just thinking of when that next day will come for this angler. Thank you to all I shared a boat with, and thank you to Ben Larson and Ben Brettingen for some stunning shots of these giant fish!


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Joel Nelson

From the big water of Chequamegon Bay in Northern Wisconsin, to the prairie ponds of the Ice Belt, to the streams of Yellowstone, Nelson has filled an enviable creel with experience, reeling in bluegills to lakers, walleyes to stream trout. Full Bio ›


  1. As the day grew older, the seas grew bigger and the weather got nastier. That didn’t stop us from putting big fish in the boat, though it truly was a team effort!

  2. Beautiful fish, great read and awesome photos. Yes, Lakers that big are absolute bull dogs that are so very hard to get to come up for netting requiring skill, patience and endurance.

    Grey Beard

  3. This trip was amazing. Ill admit when me and james took the wave over the bow in the dark that was quite the rush. Also it seemed once the boards started going back the bitter cold went away. Truly an amazing experience glad I could share it with my fellow staff. I have caught large fish of many calibers but hooking up with these giant lakers was like fighing a bulldozer, I referred to it as two steps forward one step back. Here is one more pick of a monster that hasnt been shown yet. This one was a beatiful red fin and like joel said she was in that upper 30s range almost to that beautiful 40 inch mark. Had a gut on her like she was really putting on the feedbag. Huge shout out to James for navigating the boat, and the Bens for amazing camera work. – QB

  4. I got to share the Skeeter with Joel and BFB…. Any time you can put Ben Brettingen aka BFB (big fish ben) in your boat…your odds extremely increase for catching Big Huge Fish !!!
    That was an incredible experience !!!

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