Trout for All Seasons

A man in a canoe fights to land a jumping fish. Trout may be the most highly regarded of all gamefish. Brook trout, rainbows and lake trout are the major species found in the Boundary Waters and Quetico, and anglers travel from all over the country to fish them in the area’s cold, deep waters.

Fishing Trout

Brookies and rainbows are often found in the same general locations. Smaller lakes with rocky bottoms are the best choice; these fish will not be found in warmer, shallower dark-bottomed lakes or bays. Rainbows are also often found in connecting streams with swift, cold waters. Lake trout grow larger than either brookies or rainbow trout, and spend much of the year in the deeper waters of large lakes that have populations of cisco and whitefish for forage.

Both brook trout and lake trout have light spots on a dark background, while rainbow trout have dark spots on a light background. It’s easy to distinguish between brookies and lakers, however. Brook trout are generally smaller than lake trout, and also more colorful; their spots are cream- to tan-colored on an olive body, and they also have worm-like markings on their sides. Lake trout have deeply forked tails, while the tail of a brook trout is squared. Lakers tend to be more greenish-gray, with white spots, so they appear less colorful than brook trout.

More than one Boundary Waters angler has hooked a small lake trout near shore and thought at first that it was a northern pike. In the water, small lakers and northern pike look similar because both are dark with light spots. But the resemblance ends there, and once the fish is in hand, it is easy to distinguish between the two. A pike’s head features a duck-billed shape and rows of razor-sharp teeth; the lake trout’s mouth is more blunt in front. In addition, the trout’s dorsal fin is midway between head and tail, while on a pike, it is much closer to the tail.

A man holds up a brook trout. Rainbow trout get their name from the iridescent pinkish-to-blueish rainbow band along their flank. Like brown trout, they have black spots; however, brown trout are brownish in color, not silvery like rainbow. The spots on brown trout have white rings around them, and browns also have orange spots on occasion. Tails on rainbow trout are covered with black spots; tails on brown trout have few or no spots.

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing is particularly effective for brook and rainbow trout, and can also take lake trout in spring and fall, when the fish are up in the shallows. Streamers in white or yellow are effective; so are dry flies in neutral colors. During a hatch, however, most fly anglers switch to nymphs and emergers; down-wing patterns are also effective during a hatch. Many fly anglers spend years learning to identify every bug in the area, and attempt to match them precisely; others feel that it is more important to simply present a fly in the appropriate color and general size than to painstakingly match the hatch.

Spinners and Spoons

For anglers using spinning gear, the straight-shaft spinner is probably the lure of choice for brookies and rainbows. Try casting a small Mepps or Panther Martin spinner in orange, brown, or yellow from shore or from the canoe; if the trout are holding deeper than a foot below the surface, count the spinner down until it reaches a suitable depth before beginning the retrieve. Small spoons and small minnow plugs in silver, silver-blue, or gold-fluorescent orange also work well.

Lake trout are, as they say, a ”whole different kettle of fish.” In early spring and fall, lakers are in shallow water and can be caught with the same tactics and baits used for brookies and rainbows; a white jig tipped with a minnow or nightcrawler is also productive for shallow lake trout. But as the water warms in the early summer, lake trout head for the depths. Midsummer lake trout anglers drop one- to two-ounce jigs tipped with dead ciscoes into waters as deep as 100 feet. . . some report going even deeper. At that depth, light-colored lures are the best choice: yellow, white, bright chartreuse, or even phosphorescent colors. Typically, lake trout hang right on the bottom , although they will also suspend underneath schools of ciscoes. If you’re not catching lakers on the bottom, try moving the bait up until you have success. A portable depth finder is extremely helpful in locating schools of ciscoes.

The Sutton spoon (or any other ultralight ”flutter spoon”) is a time-honored lure for lake trout. Most anglers use a heavy bottom-walking sinker or bead-chain weight well ahead of the lure to get down to the appropriate depth. A gentle breeze helps push the canoe or boat across productive waters. Another proven technique is vertical jigging with a jigging spoon, or with a vibrating blade like a Sonar. Drop the lure all the way to the bottom and jig it a number of times, with pauses between jigging; then reel in line and jig again at that depth. Continue until you have covered the entire column of water from bottom to top. Lake trout are very mobile, and will follow a lure up if they are interested; many anglers are surprised by a strike almost at the surface when they are reeling in for another cast.

Landing a Lake Trout

Dolan holds up two nice lake trout caught in the BWCA.
Fighting a lake trout caught in deep waters is one of freshwater angling’s biggest thrills. At first, the trout may sulk on the bottom, refusing to be moved; you may think you have a snag, but keep in mind that a snag in 80 feet is unlikely! Eventually, the trout decides to move, and sometimes swims so rapidly toward the surface that it removes the tension on the line and throws the hook. If the trout remains hooked, it will usually make a big run for the bottom once it sees the surface (and you); get ready for some fast back-reeling if this happens! Back-reeling, by the way, is a better technique than allowing the fish to pull out drag; your line will not get all kinked up as it does when the fish pulls out drag. It’s also fast-paced and very exciting.

Unlike many fish, trout do not need to be scaled or skinned before cooking, although you may wish to skin your fillets before panfrying if you are using a batter or coating. Trout make excellent table fare, and are particularly suited to cooking in foil packets over a campfire. Small cleaned trout can be skewered lengthwise with a stick and roasted over the campfire; enjoy them right off the stick, rather like corn-on-the-cob! Some trout taken in the BWCAW and Quetico have white meat, while others, even of the same species and in the same water, have deep orange meat.
Article copyright Teresa Marrone. ; all rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.