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Water temperatures in the days, weeks, and even months following ice-out let lake trout occupy basically any depth or structure zone they want. After a lake stratifies in summer, these fish are locked out of huge portions of water, simply because of the dramatic change in temperature from shallow to deep. Shoals or other structures will only hold fish at certain depths, and this can make finding fish fairly easy in summer, with so much water already eliminated for you.  Early in the season, a big reality is that lake trout can be anywhere and everywhere. On bigger bodies of water especially, this can make consistent fishing a little more time consuming to find. I’ve been lucky enough to spend my life on very good lake trout water. There’s a handful of areas and spot-types that draw fish pretty consistently.

Feeding dominates a lake trout’s little brain in spring. These fish are classic opportunists, much like pike or muskie. If an abundant food source exists, expect lakers to exploit it. One of the most consistent zones for easy feeding is shallow water. The shallows come in many flavours, and depending on local weather, they can morph and change as spring rolls along. Closer to ice-out, winter-killed baitfish like panfish or herring can be available along shorelines or in shallow bays. Most fishermen assume that pike are the only ones taking advantage here. Lake trout are not above sucking up dead prey in shallow water. Deadbaiting with a float and thawed herring or smelt in very shallow water is a regional favorite in many parts of Ontario.

As the days get warmer and longer, insect hatches explode. Bottoms ranging from pure sand or mud to tiny pebbles and large boulders all hold food. Nymphs from mayflies, caddis flies and a host of other bugs are a major food source in the shallow zone. Dragon fly nymphs are particularly attractive. As far as insects go, they’re huge. Slow-moving and highly abundant, too. Big, shallow bays, river mouths and long sections of shoreline are all worth checking. In each case, the more ‘character’ these spots have, the better. Lots of variety in terms of bottom content and depth ranges. Cuts, coves and points. Things like downed trees, rock piles and old weed beds are what give shallow water its personality.


Nothing is as appealing or abundant in most systems as baitfish. At this time of year, things are constantly in bloom and changing. Wherever smelts are available, these little fish can drive the entire food chain all by themselves. Smelts waiting to run up tributaries at night will hang out in basin-type areas or on dominant structures during the day. Always be willing to look deeper, around spots you’d more commonly associate with summer. You don’t necessarily have to fish deeper. Just focus your efforts in and around these types of zones. Ledges or lips along islands and shorelines that dump quickly into fifty, seventy, even eighty feet of water are one of my favorites. Put this type of spot in the vicinity of a smelt creek and they’re even better. Some form of food shelf or ledge is important.


Lake trout will hang near the edges, usually down twenty or thirty feet, and wait for the giant masses of smelts to slip past. The vertical ‘fence’ created by the lip naturally guides the food along, and trout can move out and back, feeding efficiently. Lake trout will loosely suspend a lot in these zones, too. I’ve had great success fishing nowhere close to structure at times. For bouncing structure and checking the surrounding open water, inline diving devices are very effective. Remember, even though the overall depth here may be quite deep, don’t automatically think you need to fish deep. Lake trout love spoons or jointed minnowbaits pulled well over their heads at any time of year. Lots of turns and pauses give lures extra action and gives fish extra time to rush up. Most years, trolling down fifteen to twenty five feet over water in the seventy to eight-foot range is productive. Leadcore line works just as well as diving devices.




"A typical and productive spring area with lots of personality. The inflowing creek and shallows draw spawning baitfish as well as emerging insects. Out in front, notice the pods of deep water, sharp contours, food shelves and isolated shoal. Anytime smelts are present, check on mid-depth structures as well as over open water. Lake trout using spots like this can feed for weeks on end in a range of habitats."

If there aren’t any smelts in the water you fish, lake trout will still be responding to baitfish. Current, in all its forms, is another solid option. Inflowing or outflowing water will draw spawning suckers when conditions line up for their annual run. If I was parachuted onto a foreign lake and had to find lake trout this time of year, I’d look for a tributary. They carry warmer water and automatically kick-start the lower levels of the food chain. I’d hate to be a sucker in our lakes. They’re easy targets for all predators, particularly when they’re grouped up in cold water and preoccupied with spawning.

Narrows or slots that get sustained wind can be magic, too. Wind constricting water through tight places forces food and predators into fairly predictable spots. Probably my best all-time lake trout spot is a half mile slot of water between two west-facing islands. Prevailing winds hammer through this gap, and there’s deep, open water off either end. Right in the narrows, there’s small points, cabbage weeds, a seventy-foot pothole, a large, vertical wall and all kinds of shallow rocks and rubble. Lake trout can literally spend months hanging around in there. Big, west winds turn this spot on. Usually, there’s a visible current whipping through. The fishing gets tougher when the wind dies or switches direction. Current is clearly what makes the spot what it is. Huge clouds of shiners, perch and other minnows tuck in behind anything that breaks or deflects the flow. It’s a very easy scenario for predators.
The beauty of most lake trout water is the sheer variety of habitat. From stunning rock faces to quiet coves and sandy beaches. Use a lake trout’s ability to travel and roam to your advantage. Spend some time searching out a variety of areas like the ones mentioned above. There’s usually good fishing to be had in more than one.  


      “JP Bushey is a multi-species, multi-season fisherman living in Barrie, Ontario. North-Central Ontario’s ‘big water’ is where he spends most of his time, from his home waters of Georgian Bay to The Great Lakes, Lake Nipissing and The French River. JP’s been a freelance fishing contributor for over fifteen years, and enjoys helping people to improve their fishing through his articles, speaking engagements and on-the-water instruction.”             


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