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Slugging Spring Lakers

By Craig Ritchie - April 9, 2020
While it's always rewarding to persevere through tough conditions and come up with a decent catch at the end of the day, I don't always want fishing to be an uphill battle. Sometimes, it's nice to have everything click into place and enjoy some easy action.

Maybe that's a reason I'm such a big fan of spring lake trout. Spring is when these usually deep-water fish crowd into shallow water where they're easily accessible without the need for downriggers, lead core outfits or other heavy equipment. In fact, the fishing is a lot more like you're targeting bass or pike than big black trout.

The key is to get out on the water as early as you can. Depending where you live lake trout may be protected by a closed season that runs into May, but in many places the season opens January 1, meaning they're fair game as soon as you can get your boat in the water. That water may be frigid to you or me, but it's as comfortable as it gets for lakers, which is why they're taking advantage of the opportunity to feed in the fertile shallows before the sun makes things too uncomfortable and drives them into deeper water. In April and early May lake trout will crowd into surprisingly shallow water where they gorge on all sorts of smaller fish that are busy spawning and a little off their guard. That includes everything from dainty emerald shiners to various species of chubs, suckers and smelt.

Lake trout will gather where these species congregate to spawn. You want to focus your attention on spots that offer shallow spawning habitat for baitfish, but which are still adjacent to the main lake basin and quick access to deep water. Most of these places will be in 8 to 15 feet of depth, and over a bottom composed of scattered rock from pea gravel to boulders of various sizes. I like to focus on the south side of the lake, especially if I'm fishing smaller water bodies where steep shorelines or heavy tree growth keeps the water shaded, thereby slowing the warming from the sun. The mouths of any inflowing creeks or rivers are always a first choice, as are stony or gravelly drop-offs or points.

Most anglers will troll through these spots - there's a deep connection between lake trout and trolling, and it stems from the mid-summer, deep-water fishery where covering ground is always important. But at this time of year, with the fish so concentrated in the shallows, I prefer to work my way along the shore and cast. Twitchbaits, spoons, swimbaits or other long skinny lures that mimic smaller fish will all work well on lake trout, but my all-time favourite are soft stick baits that I would normally use for largemouth bass.

There are a ton of soft stick baits on the market today, but my top pick remains the original Slug-Go, which just has a size, action and feel in the water that lake trout can't resist. It's also one of the few to come in a chrome flake finish that realistically mimics the flash of a dying baitfish's scales. It doesn't make much of a splash when it enters the water, which is important when targeting lakers in the shallows - fish which normally live in deep water and which can be super-spooky in the thin water. Most of all, the original Slug-Go's six-inch size is just about perfect.

There are a ton of soft stick baits on the market today, but my top pick remains the original Slug-Go.
I rig this on a weighted wide-gap hook but I don't bother with burying the tip in the bait to make it weedless, since there's not much to foul on when fishing such open water. I poke the hook point out the top side of the Slug-Go's soft plastic body, ensuring hook-ups.

It's admittedly an unusual way to fish for lake trout, but wildly effective and more fun than can be imagined - especially after a long, cold winter. Give it a try and you might just be shocked as how effective it can be. -

Author Craig Ritchie
Craig Ritchie
Over a near 40-year career as a full-time outdoor writer, Craig Ritchie has fished all over the globe for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species. The author of The Complete Guide To Getting Started In Fishing, he has written thousands of articles for magazines, websites and newspapers worldwide, appeared as a guest on several television fishing programs and won numerous awards for his writing and photography. He lives in the Great Lakes region where great fishing is as close as his own back yard.
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