Top Tips Towards Lunker Lake Trout

Deep and big. Those two words describe the continent's second-largest salmonid. Referred to as a trout, Salvelinus namaycush is actually a char of enormous size. Called mackinaw, or lake trout, these fish reach stunning proportions, sometimes growing as large as 50 pounds or more.

They have haunted the icy waters of bottomless lakes in the arctic for thousands of years, growing huge in the rich, cold waters. Transplanted across the west, they have thrived and now have self-sustaining populations in many of our deepest lakes.

Lake trout this size aren't interested in your No. 2 spinner; they want a substantial meal. Go big or go home. Photo courtesy of Rick Arnold of Trophy Trout Guide.

These monsters do not grow huge by nibbling on tiny delicacies such as little minnows. No, they grow fast by inhaling as big a meal as they can stuff in their gaping maws. Like other char, mackinaws start life on a diet of small crustaceans and insects until they are large enough to make use of bigger food sources such as small fish. However, lake trout take this attitude to the extreme, and once they switch to piscatorial food they key in on the biggest prey present.

In other words, this is not a fish you can catch by trolling a Mepps No. 2 spinner. Anything so inconsequential will not gain notice from Mr. Laker. He is a fish of substance, and he wants a substantial meal. If you want him to bite, you better bring the groceries.

How big are we talking about? "Some studies suggest that mature lake trout prefer food that is 1/6 to 1/4 of their own length. Think about the size of a 30-pound mackinaw, and then compute how big he wants his food to be. They are programmed to tune out anything too small to waste energy chasing down, so they pay little attention to anything that does not throw a substantial profile.


In the West the mackinaw does best in lakes with populations of kokanee, trout and whitefish. By feeding on this larger forage the mackinaw gets more calories for energy spent, resulting in phenomenal growth rates. These are the big baitfish your lures should mimic.

In-Fisherman Editor in Chief Doug Stange favors a Berkley PowerBait Pro Power Tube when searching for big lakers. Photo courtesy In-Fisherman

Just ask a few lake trout junkies, like Rick Arnold of Trophy Trout Guides. In addition to being a master at mounting big trout, Rick is also a master at catching them. When asked about larger baits for lakers, he points to some sizable plugs, both old and new, that will definitely get the attention of Big Mack. "In the old days the standard for lakers was flashers and hootchies," says Arnold. "Now big trolling plugs and baits are what most people use."

Arnold likes to troll a 5 1/2-inch Apex plug. His fishing partners often push the profile even larger. "I have a friend that has used the 9- and 12-inch jointed AC Plugs, and he has caught big lakers on them, too. They are a big fish, and they want something with a big profile."


Many mackinaw lakes in the west are also home to kokanee, which is one of their favorite foods. Steve Kroll is a seasoned trout angler and former guide with dozens of giant lakers to his credit. Now retired, Kroll used to guide and fish for these giants in some of the best American lake trout waters there are.

He advises anglers fishing for lakers in kokanee lakes to "match the hatch" of the local baitfish, so to speak. "When they feed on kokanee they are targeting fish that are 11, 12, or 13 inches in length," says Kroll. "When that is the case you want to troll a big plug in a kokanee pattern."


While more popular among Canadian mackinaw fishermen, spoons are effective on western lakers, and both Kroll and Arnold like to use them at times. Savant and Sutton Spoons are proven at catching lake trout, as are many others. Once again, you want a big size: at least a 5-inch spoon.

Once again, it is important to have quality electronics in order to find at what depth the baitfish and mackinaw are suspending. Covering multiple levels in the water column will also increase the odds of getting bit, and as a guide Kroll has discovered that he could run as many as three lines off his downrigger cable for his clients and cover more of the water column in each pass.

Lake trout are a fish that has always seemed a bit mysterious, given their size and the depths at which they live, but modern anglers are getting them figured out. Match the local forage in size and color, and put it on their nose. Once you get it dialed in, trophy lakers will be your reward.

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