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Everything You Need to Know About Lake Trout Fishing

Everything You Need to Know About Lake Trout Fishing

If you love spending time outdoors and enjoy the challenge of catching a big fish, then lake trout fishing is for you. Lake trout are one of the most popular freshwater gamefish in North America, and they can be found in lakes all across the continent.

Whether you’re just getting started in your fishing career or you’re an experienced angler looking to add a new species to your list, this guide will give you everything you need to know about lake trout fishing.

What is lake trout?

Lake trout are freshwater fish belonging to the Salmonidae family and are the largest of the char species. They have a grey to green coloring with a lighter belly and yellow to cream-colored markings on their body and fins. Lake trout are slow-growing, mature late, and have low reproductive potential, making them vulnerable to overfishing. They inhabit the cold, deep water of lakes and can be found from the midwestern US through Canada. There are several species of lake trout, including rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout, and brook trout. Lake trout can range in color from silver and olive green to dark green, brown, and even black on the top sections of their back. They have a large and forked tail and are distinguished by their spotted design.

High angle close up of person holding freshly caught trout at a fish farm raising trout.

Equipment needed for trout fishing

Rod and Reel

When it comes to trout fishing, the type of rod and reel you will need will depend on the type of trout you are fishing for. For smaller trout, a medium-action spinning or casting rod with a complementary reel is a good choice. Typically, these rods are 6 feet long, and the reel should be in the 4-8 pound test range. For larger trout, a heavy-action rod with a reel suited for stronger fish is needed. St. Croix, Lew’s, and Fenwick are some of this space’s top rod and reel brands. In addition, you’ll need to consider rod length, power, and action, as well as the type of reel you’re using. Spinning reels are popular for trout fishing, and fly reels are for those who want to take their fishing game to the next level.

Line and Leaders

Trout fishing requires specific types of lines and leaders for the best results. Monofilament line is the most common type used, as it is relatively invisible to trout and is more resistant to abrasion from rocks and other obstacles in the water. The Fluorocarbon line is another popular option, as it has an even lower visibility profile than monofilament, making it ideal for clearer waters. Leaders are essential for trout fishing, ensuring the rig is invisible. The most common type of leader is a clear, ultra-lightweight monofilament or fluorocarbon line, typically in the 6-12 pound test range. This leader material is designed to be nearly invisible to the trout, allowing the fish to take the bait without detection.

Baits and Lures

Trout fishing requires a variety of baits and lures to catch the fish. Live bait such as minnows, nightcrawlers, and other living things attract trout’s attention. Bait imitations like Powerbait, which usually come in jars and have strong scents and colors, are also a good option. Artificial lures like spinners, spoons, jigs, and plugs or crankbaits that imitate the natural feeding options of trout are also very effective. Worms, such as nightcrawlers, are classic bait, as they have the right amount of plumpness and scent to excite trout. Artificial or prepared baits come in doughs and pre-formed baits that are easy to put on hooks, as they often float off the bottom and come in bright colors, which make them attractive to trout. Natural or artificial baits that closely mimic natural, like worm-shaped molded baits, also work well for trout.

Fishing at sunset

Best Lake Trout fishing techniques


Drifting is a popular method for lake trout fishing because it allows you to use the current of the water to your advantage. It is an effective technique to imitate natural prey movements in the water. By using the current of the water to carry the lure, the lure is moved more naturally and in a more realistic manner, which is more likely to attract the trout to strike. This technique also allows the angler to cover more area and offers more opportunities to find a fish actively feeding. Drifting can be a very effective technique for catching lake trout by using the right weight and allowing the current to carry the bait. When drifting, it is essential to use the right type of weight to ensure the bait is close enough to the bottom but not so close that it snags on rocks or debris. Sliding sinkers are ideal for still water, and fixed weights are better for drifting in a trout stream.

Still fishing

Preparing your gear first is the best way to fish for lake trout using still fishing techniques. You will need a rod and reel with a heavy line to support the bait, a variety of lures or bait, and a boat if you are fishing from the water.

To begin fishing, cast your line out with a bait or lure that is suitable for lake trout. If you are using real bait, such as worms, try to position the bait near the bottom of the lake. Trout often cruise just above the bottom in search of food.

If you are using a lure, such as a spoon or jerk bait, you can try fishing at different depths. Cast your line out and then retrieve it at a slow to medium speed, allowing the lure to sink to a certain depth before bringing it back.

If you don’t have luck with the bait or lures, you can try still-fishing with a float or bobber. Position the float at a depth where the trout are likely to be found, and attach your bait or lure to the line below the float. Be sure to watch the float for any signs of a bite.


The best way to jig for lake trout is to start by selecting an appropriate lure. Lures like the Rapala Jigging Rap and lures that imitate wounded baitfish are great options. Other great options include jig heads with soft plastic paddle tail swimbaits, skirted jigs, and bladed jigging spoons. Crankbaits can also work if the fish are higher in the water column or if you’re trolling. Before beginning to jig, make sure to use light lures and a strong 20-30 pound test line with a 30+ pound fluorocarbon leader for added visibility.

Once you have your gear assembled, you can begin jigging. Jigging is an erratic motion that mimics a wounded fish and is a great way to attract trout. Using a sharp, slow, and jerking motion, cast your line out and start to jig. Be sure to bounce the bottom of the water to create ripples, which will draw in the trout. You can also use bait, like worms, insects, or Powerbait, to attract trout.

Once the trout are hooked, make sure to handle them up from the depths, make the grab, and get your picture snapped. With the right technique and gear, you can have a successful jigging experience for lake trout.

Young man spending weekend with mature male and fishing together

Tips for Successful Lake Trout Fishing

Know the characteristics and habits of the fish

When fishing for lake trout, one should consider the species’ characteristics, such as its grey to green coloring, yellow to cream-colored markings, forked tail, large size, and slow growth. Knowing the habitat of the fish is also essential; lake trout can mainly be found in deep freshwater lakes, often below 30 feet off shoals and reef structures. When fishing for lake trout, it’s also essential to have a good understanding of the swim patterns of the fish, which can be mapped using depth finders.

Use the right equipment

Essential gear for lake trout fishing includes polarized sunglasses for better visibility, waders or wet wading gear for getting in the water, a tackle box or fly box for different lure options, a rubber landing net to bring your catch in safely, a fishing backpack to transport your supplies, tackle boxes and storage bags for organization, and a leader to connect the mainline to the hook. Additionally, pliers should be used to take out the hook without damaging the trout’s mouth, and anglers should always be aware of their local fishing laws, as fishing licenses may be required.

Use the right bait

Using the right bait is essential for a successful lake trout fishing experience. For example, during the spring season, it is best to use a bobber and attach your bait to the line just above it to target the top of the lake where the warmer waters are. In the summer months, it’s essential to take off the bobber to let your bait sink to the lakebed and attract trout that may be hiding from higher temperatures. Additionally, creating the illusion of a fleeing bug or fish by casting and then reeling your bait slowly will entice actively-feeding trout. Furthermore, choosing the right colors of jerk baits, crankbaits, and spoons that imitate a lake trout’s natural diet will also prove effective. 

Find the best fishing spots in the lake

Finding the best fishing spot in a lake is essential for anglers looking to land a big trout. By targeting the most productive areas, you’re more likely to find success. Lakers congregate along rocky shorelines and shoals in the fall as water temperatures start to drop, making them easy to target in shallow water. In the spring, lake trout can be found in the shallows and dispersed in the productive feeding zone.

Fly fisherman with brown trout


What is the best time of the day for trout fishing?

The best time of day for trout fishing depends on the species and the weather conditions. Rainbow trout tend to be most active at twilight, before the sun comes up, or after the sun goes down. For lake trout, the best time of year to fish is during the summer months, and the best hours are usually between dawn and 11 a.m. or at twilight. For brown trout, the best time of year is during late spring, in the early morning or late nighttime hours when the water is not yet warm. Brook trout are best fished during late spring but can be caught most often mid-afternoon and on summer mornings. Generally, trout prefer cooler temperatures, so fishing in the late morning and early afternoon during the spring or fall can be incredibly productive. Additionally, rainy and windy days can be good, as trout will be more likely to venture out in search of food.

What is the best bait for lake trout fishing?

The best bait for lake trout fishing depends on the season and the desired result. Using live bait with a weight and a bobber is an effective method for trout in shallow waters during the early and late seasons. During the middle of the summer, one should use a rig with the lead weight sinking to the bottom and the bait floating above the lakebed. Crankbaits, spoons, artificial baits, and natural baits can also be used. Popular forage species such as whitefish, tullibee, and cisco are good imitations for crankbaits. Artificial baits such as Berkley Powerbait and molded bait that closely mimic naturals are also a great way to catch trout.

What are the different types of trout found in lakes?

The four main species of trout found in lakes are Rainbow, Brown, Lake, and Brook. Rainbow trout prefer cooler waters and are more active in the early spring, while Brown trout and Lake trout can be found in deeper, cooler water. Brook trout prefer shallower water and can be found close to the shore. Steelhead trout are coastal variants of rainbow trout. All trout species are predatory and feed on invertebrates, minnows, and other bait, though they may vary in size with the size of their environment.

What is the best way to hook a lake trout?

The best way to hook a lake trout is to use a light-action rod with a 4 to 6-pound test line and bait or lures designed for trout. Add a bobber 1 ½ to 3 feet above the hook for bobber fishing and cast into a prime lake trout habitat. To fish off the lakebed, attach your lead weight about 1 ½ feet above the baited hook and cast out; Allow your spinner, spoon, jig, or jerk bait to sink before retrieving it to your boat.

How do I determine the best spots to fish for lake trout?

To determine the best spots to fish for lake trout, you should first look for prime lake trout habitats. Prime lake trout habitat includes rocky shorelines and shoals, as lake trout are fall spawners and will congregate in these areas. During the early and late seasons, lake trout can be found in shallower waters and can be targeted with a bobber on your line. During the summer months, lake trout move to deeper, colder basins, and you can target them by removing the bobber on your line and allowing the weight to sink to the bottom. Additionally, you should look for mid-lake humps, sunken islands, and gravel bars, as they are areas where larger fish are likely to congregate.