How to Catch Lake Trout: Essential Tips

The lake trout is a very interesting species, and it’s also a blast to catch in the lakes where they are found. Lake trout are quite different from other trout …

The lake trout is a very interesting species, and it’s also a blast to catch in the lakes where they are found. Lake trout are quite different from other trout species, and their habitat preferences and the way anglers fish for them are very different. In this post, we will look at how to catch lake trout.

Where are Lake Trout Found?

Lake trout are found throughout Canada and the state of Alaska, but in the continental United States, they are not widespread.

In the Continental U.S. lake trout can be found in the very northern portions of the country, with the largest populations calling the Great Lakes region home.

The lake trout has been artificially introduced into lakes outside of their natural range, with the USGS distribution map showing stocked populations as far south as Arkansas and New Mexico.

How to Target Lake Trout

The majority of fishing for lake trout is done by boat, and this is due to the lake trout’s habitat preferences of deep water and cooler temperatures.

Fishing lake trout consists of trolling and vertical jigging, and in some situations casting, albeit rare.

If you are on a smaller body of water compared to places like the great lakes, you might be able to find localized areas where lake trout congregate, and these areas are prime vertical jigging spots.

In other lake trout fishing situations on large bodies of water, trolling rules the day, and allows you to cover large areas of water relatively quickly, and using your sonar, you can find what depth the fish are using on any given day.

Lake Trout Techniques: Lures or Bait?


Trolling is incredibly popular on large bodies of water to catch lake trout, and during the open water season is the method chosen by almost all anglers on the great lakes.

Trolling for deep water lake trout isn’t easy, and is not comparable to trolling for other species in shallower waters.

Using downriggers, dipsy divers, large weights, and knowing your lure depth at all times is a must to get your baits to the desired depth in order to contact fish.

Trolling can be slightly simplified on smaller bodies of water, and if the fish are closer to the surface, getting the correct lure depth is much easier.

You can use a variety of lures to troll for lake trout, with the most popular being spoons, but flatfish style lures, crankbaits, and even tubes in niche applications will work great as well.


Jigging is the other common method of catching lake trout, and this is typically done on lakes where fish localize in certain areas, and are not spread far and wide like on the great lakes.

Using standard jig heads with soft plastics works great, along with spoons. Using large tube jigs to catch lake trout is also very popular among avid lake trout anglers.

Live Bait

Minnows can work well for lake trout, just like with any predatory fish that feeds on minnows.

Typically anglers will run live bait on rigs that consist of two hooks, a bottom, and top hook, or some other type of rig.

If you are fishing near the bottom, drop shot type rigs are in many cases your best option, but you can also run live bait on standard jig heads, and even in combination with lures like spoons.

Live bait is also very popular when used alongside artificial vertical jigging presentations when ice fishing, and can be very effective and at times more effective than artificial bait.

Other Tips For Lake Trout Success

Cold weather and blue skies are a great time to chase lake trout, as they are not bothered whatsoever, which isn’t the case for most species of freshwater fish.

In many of the bodies of water, you will fish for lake trout the water will be very clear. The clear water conditions mean you will want to use a fluorocarbon leader for stealth.

Most anglers run braided lines for maximum sensitivity when fishing deep water with long lengths of line, and use a fluorocarbon leader several feet long to give an advantage in stealth.

Most fish are affected negatively during cold fronts, but lake trout can have the opposite reaction and become very active and aggressively feed due to being a cold-water fish.

Cold weather and blue skies can be a great time to chase lake trout, as they don’t seem to be bothered whatsoever, which isn’t the case for most species of freshwater fish.

Use your fish finder

Fish finders are crucial tools for successful lake trout fishing, and while anglers once upon a time didn’t have these tools to use, you certainly can find and catch more lake trout if you do use them.

You do not have to guess at what depth the lake trout are hanging out in if you can see them on your sonar. Fish finders also allow you to make waypoints in areas that consistently hold fish, and can show you if there is an abundance of baitfish in a given area.

Cover the Water

Covering large swathes of water is crucial when catching lake trout on very large inland lakes, and definitely, if you fishing the great lakes.

In lakes like the great lakes, lake trout are spread out in schools over miles and miles of water, and the water column can be hundreds of feet deep.

Trolling a large spread at varying depths with heavier concentrations of lures at the depths you are commonly seeing fish is in many cases the only way to be successful.

Lake Trout Seasons

Lake trout can be caught year-round but in many cases, the fall is the best time according to many lake trout anglers, as the cooling water temperatures will have the fish moving up higher in the water column and they will venture close to shore.

Ice Fishing For Lake Trout

Ice fishing for lake trout can be great, but you can’t cover large areas of water when it’s covered in ice.

Find areas where lake trout consistently visit or spend time and fish it using the lures we mentioned earlier in this post.

Final Thoughts

Lake trout fishing is awesome. Don’t let the different styles of fishing or the deep water intimidate you, get out there and fish, and when you spend enough time on the water learning how to pursue and catch lake trout, you will become comfortable and consistent in it.

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Shawn Chapin is an experienced fishing writer and guide based in Wisconsin, where he loves targeting muskie and a range of other species. Shawn's fished extensively for pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth and panfish species. He's developing a passion for chasing trout on the fly rod.
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