Jigging For Summer Trout
By Mark Romanack
Paige Romanack caught this impressive lake trout deep water jigging during the dog days of summer.
The dog days of summer are the perfect conditions for deep water jigging. Here in the Great Lakes the lake trout or gray trout as many call them are often considered an inferior species compared to the chinook salmon, coho salmon, Atlantic salmon and steelhead.
While it’s true that lake trout typically don’t dish out a great fight when hooked on heavy trolling gear, hooking one of these denizens of the deep on light tackle is another story all together.
In much the same way we anxiously await spring so we can jig river walleye, the crew at Fishing 411 TV counts the days until conditions for jigging for lake trout are perfect. It only takes hooking one of these brutes on light tackle to be Hooked for life!
Lake trout can be jigged at just about any time of year, but later in the summer the conditions are ideal to find trout stacked up on deep water structure. We look for submerged reefs that top out in 80 to 120 feet of water and are surrounded by much deeper water. Reefs that top out in more shallow water may hold fish, but the water temperature tends to be too warm to hold adult sized lake trout.
A good lake trout reef could be the size of a foot ball field or as small as pickup truck. Typically, the larger the structure, the more trout a spot can consistently hold.
The advent of modern GPS mapping units and map data chips has made it much easier to find and fish these summer time fish magnets. At Fishing 411 TV we spend hours studying these digital maps looking for places we feel offer excellent lake trout habitat. While not all of these humps and bumps hold fish, some do and those tend to produce fish trip after trip after trip.
The best fishing areas are places that have several good looking reefs in close proximity. This makes it possible to set up a milk run and check out several good spots without having to make excessively long runs between spots.
Jake Romanack shows off a typical lake trout caught jigging while Gabe VanWormer captures the action on video. The Fishing 411 crew always looks forward to late summer and the opportunity to jig up lakers on light tackle.
The best approach for jig fishing lake trout on structure is to use digital mapping aids to get the boat over structure. Once on location, drop the electric motor and using the main engine cruise around looking for fish on the sonar. It’s possible to mark fish on traditional broad beam sonar, but setting your unit to CHIRP sonar is going to make it much easier to mark fish in deep water and near bottom.
When fish are marked, throw the electric motor into “anchor” mode and sit over top of those fish jigging for a few minutes. Often a fish or two are caught on the first drop, then the action slows. Using the “jog” feature on the electric motor, move the boat a few feet at a time in an effort to relocate the fish.
When the spot goes sour, move again and again as necessary to find fresh fish and more opportunities. This style of jigging is also perfectly suited to using interactive sonar such as Lowrance’s Active Target. With this style of sonar you can see the fish, your bait and even better how the fish is reacting to your bait all at the same time.
Using Active Target is not only interactive, it’s addictive. Similar to how an ice fisherman might tease a walleye or panfish into biting, lake trout can be fished the same way in deep water using Active Target sonar.
Catching lake trout with jigging tackle is easier than finding these fish. Typically when we mark fish they will bite a variety of different baits. We often joke that this style of fishing is something we call “see fish - catch fish” because most of the fish that mark on sonar are going to be catchable.
Just a few of the baits we carry and catch fish on regularly include bucktail jigs, jigging spoons, jigging/darter baits and blade baits. Depending on the mood of the fish one or more of these baits will routinely end up being the best on any given day.
Because these fish are going to be near bottom in deep water, it’s necessary to have a selection of baits heavy enough for the job. We find that 3/4, 1 ounce, 1.5 and 2 ounce baits work the best in most conditions. Rarely, but occasionally we find it necessary to fish a 3 ounce jig or lure.
THE SOFT WARE
Lake trout seemingly love big soft plastic paddle-tails. When we say big, a six inch bait is about as small as we routinely fish and 8, 10 and even 12 inch baits have a place in lake trout jigging. The bigger lake trout become conditioned to feed on larger forage such as suckers, whitefish, ciscoes and smelt. Running these larger baits may limit the number of bites, but the fish that do bite will be noteworthy.
Other soft plastics like jumbo tubes, split-tail minnows and oversized curl-tail grubs are also great producers for lake trout. All of these plastics have their time and place.
If lake trout have a bias towards color it would have to be white. You can fish any color you want, but day in and day out, white or pearl is going to produce the most bites. Baits that produce two/tone colors such as white/pink, white/chartreuse, white/orange are also very good options.
While Mari Romanack spends most of her time behind the scenes, she also enjoys getting out in late summer to target lake trout on light tackle.
WHAT ABOUT BAIT?
Usually catching lake trout does not require the use of live bait or cut bait, but there are days when having bait on board makes a difference. Over the years we have used all sorts of live and cut bait for lake trout and the trout don’t seem to care what type of bait is used.
From a fisherman’s perspective, we find that small sucker minnows (4-6 inches in length) stay on the hook better than other baits when tend to get soft quickly. Using a bait cure such as Pro Cure Brine n Bite helps toughen up baits so they stay on the hook better. Curing baits also eliminates the hassles of keeping the bait alive.
When we are fishing bucktails, jigs with soft plastic or jigs with live or cut bait, we always run a stinger hook. A No. 6 or No. 4 treble hook on a 20 pound test leader of fluorocarbon line makes the perfect stinger hook set up.
The biggest mistake we see anglers making when it comes to jigging for lake trout is not using rods/reels that are adequate for the task. The typical walleye or bass spinning rod is not going to be stiff enough to adequately handle baits in the 3/4 to two ounce range. A medium/heavy action spinning outfit is about as light as you can go and still have enough “beef” to fish larger hardware. Finding freshwater rods with actions this heavy is challenging. The Daiwa RG series features a 5’-9” and a 6’-0” medium/heavy action spinning rod that is nearly perfect for lake trout jigging. These are the same rods we use for fishing heavy jigs on the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers when targeting walleye.
Saltwater rods designed for deep water jigging can also be nearly perfect for lake trout jigging applications. While most tackle shops in the Great Lakes region won’t stock these rods, they can be mail ordered from the bigger mass merchants.
A heavy action baitcasting rod/reel makes a nearly perfect lake trout jigging combination. A seven foot rod is about right for jigging lake trout, but somewhat longer “flippin’ sticks” can also do double duty as a lake trout jigging set up.
The only practical line option for lake trout jigging is a super braid that features nearly zero stretch. We use 10 pound test super braid terminated to a 20 pound test leader of fluorocarbon for most lake trout jigging situations. While 10 pound test might seem light considering lake trout routinely grow to be 20 pounds or more, super braids have so much linear strength, breaking the line is of little concern.
When we find ourselves needing 2 and even 3 ounce jigs, a heavier 20 pound test super braid is required. Even a bass fishing flippin’ stick is not going to be stiff enough to handle 2 and 3 ounce jigs. In this case, extra heavy action rods such as those designed for musky fishing and casting A-Rigs will need to be employed.
Every lure we use for lake trout jigging gets treated with Pro Cure scent products. For soft plastics and hard baits like blade baits, we use Super Gel. For bucktails and maribou dressed lures, we use water soluble products like Yakima Bait Rooster Tail Spray Scent that won’t gum up the hackle.
Fishing without using natural scent products is in our minds a serious handicap. Time and time again we have fished with others who are stubborn about not using scent. Watching those anglers get “out fished” because they don’t understand the importance of scent is one place I don’t mind saying “I told you so” and not feeling bad about it.
WRAPPING IT UP
The months of August and September are prime time to target lake trout on deep water structure. Some of the reefs we target are literally covered with fish and the action is non-stop. On other reefs, the fish are scattered and you have to work at getting bites.
Either way, when a lake trout hits a jig, you’re going to have your hands full. Time and time again I’ve had a big lake trout right to the boat only to have that fish scream line off the reel and head straight back to bottom! Lake trout are awesome fighters when caught on light tackle. Having the rod in your hand when the fish bites is also something special. If you don’t like the feeling of setting the hook on a big lake trout, it’s time to seek out a new hobby!