As with any open water situation water temperature has a huge influence on a lake trout’s activity level. Spring water temps are generally favourable and put lake trout in waters more easily fished by an angler. However, spring water temps can vary greatly year to year and if you are an angler who plans early spring trout trips based on a pre-determined date or regulated season opener will find conditions can vary greatly from year to year or weekend to weekend.
Case in point was last year’s opener in Zone 6. We found ourselves on a remote trout lake we have visited on the opener several times over the years. Anticipation for success was high. The lake had been free of ice for nearly 10 days. Water levels were high and current throughout the lake was strong and the weather had been stable. After a few hours of plying some of the past years hotspots not a trout had been caught. It quickly became apparent that the surface water temp of 45F had an effect on the trout. Simply they were not aggressive and refused to chase down the spoons we were trolling. This does not help when you are fishing a trout lake not known for numbers but for producing some really good sized fish under ideal conditions. In short we wrote the day off for trout fishing as we found a large school of post spawn walleye just outside a current area that kept us busy for the rest of the day.
Day 2 of opening weekend we chose to fish a small trout only lake with a strong population of medium sized trout. After launching the boat and turning on the graph only to see water temps of 45F again we knew a change of tactics from the previous day would be necessary. For fun we made a pass through a favoured area trolling spoons without a bite. In short order the trolling gear was stowed away and the live bait equipment was brought out.
Homemade spinner rigs dressed with large minnows and weighted with large a bell sinker and the other a bottom bouncer were dropped down and the 9.9hp was kicked into reverse. We slowly back trolled a large sandbar that protruded into the main lake basin dragging the bait on or near bottom in 30-40 feet of water. Before long there was a solid ‘thump’ on the line. After a sharp hook set and a quick battle you could see a 3 pound Laker rolling and twisting in the clear water directly below the boat. The same scenario played itself out several more times that morning catching a releasing a number of trout in the 3-6 pound range.
Lakers are thought of as an aggressive cold water fish but they have preferences on optimum water temperature. Knowing your water temperature and adjusting your presentation accordingly is a key factor in successful spring trout fishing. Location really doesn’t change. Fish are still utilizing the same points, sand bars, rock shoals and boulder flats that they normally would but based on temperature they relate to them slightly differently.
As a general rule surface water temps of 45F or less requires a slow presentation with plastics(tubes, swimbaits etc..) or live bait(jig/minnow or spinner/minnow) in water from 20-40ft. Back trolling or using a controlled drift is best. Focus on the bottom one third of the water column. Present you baits as you would to walleye in a cold water situation….slow.
When the water temp rises into the 50F range you can get away with a more aggressive approach. Forward trolling (1.5-2MPH) to cover more water with crankbaits and spoons is a good starting presentation. If the trout are bumping the artificials but not hooking up change to a spinner/minnow combo and stick with the trolling. Again focus on water in the 20-40 foot range. Casting can also be effective and it is worth throwing some plastics (tubes and grubs) or a medium sized crankbaits/minnow bait into the shallows. A semi-aggressive presentation works well.
Water temperature of 55F is magical. That seems to be the ideal temp when Lakers really put on a show. Troll at speeds of 2-3MPH+ to cover water and locate fish. Don’t be shy to use larger baits if the lake you are fishing is known to produce bigger trout. Live bait is not necessary and artificial baits tend to produce more fish as you can fish them faster and cover water. Still focus on water less than 40 feet deep and don’t be shy to fish ultra-shallow- less than 10 feet deep. Cast jerkbaits and large plastics into shallow structure and fish them aggressively. The shallowest fish are generally the most aggressive so it is best to start shallow and work your way deeper until you contact fish and focus on that depth range.
As the temperature hits 60F the shallow water bite begins to fade quickly. Prolonged exposure to water over the 60 degree mark is lethal to lake trout. In our area this usually occurs around mid-June on an average year. Lake trout will start to migrate to main lake basins and begin to suspend over deep water adopting their summer’s patterns. Focus on trolling weighted spoons and hardbaits around structure associated with deep water. Downriggers can also be used now for controlled depth fishing as most fish will be in water 20ft or more and starting to suspend over deep water. Stick with trolling at 2-3mph to cover water and start focusing on main lake structure.
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