Catching lake trout on a fly rod. It was something I had wanted to do for a number of years after targeting them through the ice in the winter, however I just wasn’t sure if it was possible due to the nature of the fish. The majority of the year they are off in deep water, spread out over open water flats that can be hundreds of feet deep depending on the specific location. However I did know that in spring and fall they venture into shallow water to follow the baitfish they feed on, as well as to spawn. This may be a short window though, and these fish may only be this shallow for a couple weeks every year depending on weather and water temperature. This factor makes exploratory trips difficult because if the fish aren’t there, there isn’t any point in going.
For a few years now I have considered venturing up to southern Ontario just after ice-off in the spring to make an attempt at fishing some of the lakes that we have fished in the winter, when the fish should theoretically be in shallower water feeding and preparing to spawn. The main roadblock that I have encountered with this concept is access, as many of the lakes that we fish in the winter are only accessible by snowmobile through unmaintained trails. During the summer months these trails become heavily overgrown, and some even portage across lakes. This works in the winter, however in the summer most of these lakes are nearly inaccessible. Just getting down to where they are would be extremely difficult, and trying to bring any kind of watercraft in would be nearly impossible.
For this reason I had kind of put the idea away for the time being, thinking it might not happen in the near future. However this spring I got some renewed motivation to attempt one of these exploratory trips.
In late May I was on a camping trip out west around the Jackson area and I was looking to do a little fishing while I was out here. Stopping into a fly shop I was told pretty much all the rivers in the area were blown out and dirty, which for the most part was what I expected to hear at the time. However I was told that the lakes had been fishing well, so I decided to run up to Jackson Lake about an hour north of the town of Jackson Hole and give it my best shot. (Lake trout had been mentioned as a possible species at the shop, but I wasn’t so sure.) I then wandered up and walked out onto a point, my switch rod in hand rigged with a heavy sink tip, and began casting. The view was fantastic, I was in a little bay and directly across from me were the Tetons jutting up into the clouds. I would have been happy to be there that day even if I wouldn’t have caught anything, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. Within 15 minutes I was hooked into something, but the hook popped before I could get a look at it. A little frustrated, I returned to casting with hope still that I would tie into another fish. A few minutes later stripping the fly in the same manner as before, it got hit hard. I was hooked up again, and a 20” lake trout was the prize, my first on a fly rod. I was super excited, and catching another three fish in the next hour before a storm blew in was just icing on the cake.
The next morning I returned to the same spot on the lake before we began the drive home, putting another three fish to hand in just over an hour. Having the opportunity to catch one of my favorite trout species in an amazing place such as that won’t be an experience I’ll soon forget. Even if stumbling upon the opportunity to do it was a complete accident.
More than anything, I was excited to find out that it was a possibility. It showed me that if it is possible there, it has to be possible in other places too. Thus, meaning that the lakes I ice fish in the winter will indeed have lake trout in shallow water that are target-able on the fly. I hope to be able to make an exploratory trip to southern Ontario to target lakers on the fly within the next couple years, and hopefully that experience will go as well as my first one with lake trout on the fly did.
Though the fish I caught weren’t the biggest lake trout, they were still amazing fish in an amazing setting. The experience will be something that sticks with me for quite some time, and I hope I’ll have the opportunity in the future to connect with this species again in new places.