Shoreline Lakers Coming Up
Some Idaho anglers might think "lake trout" are just rainbows or cutthroats that live in lakes. They maybe haven’t heard of true lake trout, or if they have, they call them "macks" or "mackinaws." Partly this is because we don’t have that many lake trout waters in the state. Another reason is that summer lakers hang out 75’ to 200’ down, on the very bottom of our deepest lakes where water temperatures remain in their preferred 45 to 50 degree range. Not many anglers know how to haul these secretive 5-to-20-pound fish from such depths.
by Richard North
During colder months, however, lake trout move closer to the surface. Ice fisherfolk may do well on "big macks" by bouncing a large spoon, leadhead, or a chunk of cut fish a few feet down. Of course lots of folks don’t care to freeze their tails off out there in the dead of winter. Also, the extremely deep lakes where lakers live are slow to freeze over and quick to thaw. This year in particular.
An easier way of tangling with a shallow-water mack is to hit any known lake trout water in March or April while surface temps remain low. Hungry lakers move inshore at this time, within easy reach of lures and baits cast on lightweight tackle. You’ll also have most of the lake to yourself, since few anglers realize lakers are "up" and even fewer will fight raw spring weather for a chance at these little-understood gamefish.
While shore angling should do the job, you might consider launching a boat. That way you can carry extra gear and more easily zip around between promising spots. Other reservoir trout may roam constantly, but lake trout are structure-oriented much like smallmouth bass. That means you’ll find a number of lakers stacked up over sunken rocks or trees, with structureless water nearby completely devoid of fish. A boat lets you reach these scattered hotspots without wading through bank snow, clawing your way around cliffs, and so on.
Where to Go
If you’d like to try catching a few of these oversized chars before they head back for deep water, here are the places to do it. The far-north Panhandle has Idaho’s very best mackinaw water, Priest Lake and Lake Pend Oreille. Priest Lake no longer cranks out 40-pound lakers as it did a few decades back, but the joint is absolutely jumping with macks in the 5 to 10 pound range. Vast Pend Oreille to the south contains bigger lakers, but they generally take a back seat to the big Gerrard rainbows there.
Save the Lake Pend Oreille Fishery!
Every lake trout of any size and rainbow trout more than 12 inches long harvested from Lake Pend Oreille until March 31, 2008, pays $15.00! This is part of the new Angler Incentive Program.
Idaho Fishing Rules Booklet for 2006-2007 is available. Call Fish & Game Headquarters at: 208-334-3700 for more information.
You have to travel far south for Idaho’s next mackinaw lakes. In the Sawtooth Mountains, Salmon Region of Idaho, both Stanley and Little Redfish Lakes feature lakers, but neither fish size nor number draw much more than local attention. Over by McCall, however, lower Payette Lake cranks out considerable numbers of macks in the 5 to 20 pound range every year. Only one is allowed now, though, and it must be OVER 36". Most are caught by deep trolling with silver Flatfish which imitate kokanees, the lakers’ primary forage there. During April and May, shore casters do well on Payette with both lures and still-fished bait.
Much smaller Warm Lake due east of Cascade in southwest Idaho also contains a fair number of smaller lake trout. This lake and the waters mentioned in above paragraph are open all year. General regulations apply, and six trout species are allowed and six in possession.
Our last two mackinaw waters lie far to the east. Sprawling Bear Lake on the Idaho/Utah border has long been a decent lake trout fishery (2 bag & possession limit) for those who know how to angle for these elusive gamefish. Farther north, Palisades Reservoir east of Idaho Falls contains more lakers than many local residents realize (6 trout; limited season: Memorial Day weekend [May] through September 30.)
That’s about it for Idaho mackinaw waters. You’ll note no rivers were mentioned, since lakers are almost never found in Idaho streams. They evidently have no aversion to river currents, though, since I’ve taken some big ones in icy currents on the Arctic Tundra. At Idaho latitudes, rivers just don’t remain cold enough year-around to support these deepwater dwellers.
If you hit any of the above waters right after ice-out, your first job is to locate near-shore structure like rockpiles, sunken logs, sloping points, and so on. As a rule of thumb, fish near or directly on bottom. If you’re in a boat with a fish sonar that says something big is suspending just below scattered kokanee schools, drop a 4" silver spoon to that depth and jig it a little. You might also hang a piece of sucker meat on the hooks for added enticement.
Like other big char, lake trout are basically fish eaters. At 5 to 20 pounds each, they also want a mouthful. You may get hits with the usual 2" trout spoons and spinners, but don’t be shy about using lures up to 6" long. Wobbling spoons in most any color will do the job, as will crankbaits, oversized streamer flies, bug leadhead jigs, and nearly any other lure you can name. Your main job is to get something in front of these ever-hungry fish, and they’ll take care of the rest!
Some bait anglers still-fish a large gob of worms or cut bait directly on bottom and wait for cruising trout to come to them. Lakers are somewhat residential, however, so its better to go to them. Walking rocky shorelines or boating along parallel to shore should produce a strike eventually. Once you’ve hooked one laker, remember to keep fishing that spot for these gregarious fish. Lake trout water is typically very clear, so move slowly and quietly to avoid spooking shallow-water fish.
Sum Sum Summertime...
Some anglers might ask why bother with cold-weather mackinaw fishing at all? Why not just deep-troll for them in July? if you don’t mind investing in and fiddling with downriggers or lead-core line, great! You’ll catch your share of sluggish warm-weather macks on spoons and oversized plugs trolled near bottom.
In summer, deep-trolling with downriggers is the favored method of locating and hooking widely-dispersed lakers. Trolling will also work in early spring, but there’s always the danger of scaring near-surface fish when you pass directly over them. I’d personally rather free-drift or troll-motor along slowly near visible structure while casting off to each side of the boat.
If you’d like your summer mackinaw fishing somewhat simpler, try hanging a heavy leadhead jig or dense slab spoon on low-stretch line. Sharpen all hooks as finely as possible for better penetration 150’ down. Hang a big, oblong piece of cutbait on your lure. Use a sonar (or simple trial-and-error) to locate rocks or other structure at least 75’
deep. Then bottom-bounce your jig-and-bait directly in these rocks, and strike hard with a stiff pole at any "hangup" you feel.
But if you’d rather tangle with frisky 15-pound fish on lightweight tackle near surface, Big Macks are "coming up" all over Idaho from March until May