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Fly Fishing Lessons: Victory in Defeat

Updated: Feb 18

Fly Fishing for Lake Trout

Anglers each have there own ambitions, goals, and reasons they enjoy being on the water. Many anglers are attracted to the water for its solitude, but seek trophy fish, numbers of fish, unique species, or to perfect difficult tactics. The ability to set and meet these goals keeps anglers returning to the water. On my journeys around North America, and the world, my goal has been to target the different salmonid species. Each of these trout, salmon, char, and taimen have different habits, food preferences, and types of water they prefer to reside in. The most difficult challenge I have encountered thus far has come while targeting Lake Trout. This was the last of the species I needed to complete my collection of the species found within the United States. It is safe to say the fish whooped me across the entire country. From California to Maine the Lake Trout eluded my efforts but taught me several lessons along the way.

California Lake Trout Fishing

While not native to the lakes of Northern California, several large and small highland reservoirs in the Northern Sierras are stocked with Lake Trout, locally referred to as Mackinaw or “Macks”. Lake Tahoe is known for producing some large specimens, but these fish are out of the reach of most anglers as the prefer the deeper areas of the lake for most of the year. For anglers targeting these bruisers on the fly, they must find their way to the lakes just before Ice On or just after Ice Off. Ice Off is typically the more predictable time for many Lake Trout waters across the country. This is the window I looked to target when arriving the first week of June. I was in for a bit of a rude awakening though as the normal Ice Off had occurred a full month earlier due to the lack of snowfall the previous winter. The cruising lake trout had already begun pushing deep. After two full days of probing the steeper bluffs and bays only to see my buddy Zach land his first couple Lakers on spinning gear, I submitted and began to plan another outing for the fall.

Maine Lake Trout Fishing

Later that fall, I found myself targeting Lake Trout and the Blueback or Sunapee Trout in the larger ponds and small lakes of Maine. Lake trout here are native and don’t reach the large sizes like they see further west. The beautiful fall colors lined the hills of the back country but low water from the dry summer months meant warmer water temperatures and deep lake trout. Both fish refused to leave their deeper haunts. After spending a day fishing for each, I once again had to submit and look for the greener pastures that were the local landlocked Atlantic Salmon runs. Disappointed but still hopeful, my next stop took me to the Great Lakes Region for the annual spawning run.

Lake trout follow the annual fall run of salmon into the Great Lake Bays on the Michigan coast. This salmon run was what brought me to Northern Michigan but after learning about the presence of Lake Trout, I had to give it a try. What I learned about the fishery is that it is very sporadic, and a boat is necessary to have consistent success. Overcast days see them cruising more than others, mainly focusing on the mouths of the rivers. While I didn’t see any lakers to the net, I did see some success with a couple hard fighting salmon.

Colorado Lake Trout Fishing

Another state where lake trout aren’t native, Colorado has several larger reserviors and a couple small alpine lakes that hold Lake Trout. My first attempt at finding a laker brought me to Reudi Reservoir in the early spring where me and an old guiding buddy hit the water looking for some early spring roamers. For two days the lake trout got the better of us. A few dozen rainbows and brown trout managed to keep our hopes up while fishing through the snow, rain, hot sun, and any other type of weather mother nature could throw our way. With a gnarly case of tennis elbow but the determination to find success, I would return in summer for another shot on one of the high alpine lakes closer to Denver.

The second visit brought me to Loch Lomond at the beginning of July. The modest hike to the lake passed quickly with the anticipation of feeding fish. Upon arriving, trout were sipping hatching insects off the surface and from previous trips to nearby alpine lakes, I knew smaller midge patterns would likely be the ticket. After weeding through a few dozen brook trout with no luck my hope began to fall. The following day produced the same results with the exception of spotting a couple of larger 5-10 pound lakers cruising the steeper section of the lake. I attempted to make a trip to the nearby Little Echo lake where lakers were rumored to roam but heavier snowfall from the previous winter and closed ATV roads made the endeavor a touch too dangerous to attempt solo. Afternoon thunderstorms left me with an unsettling feeling back on Lomond, so once again I threw in the towel and planned to once again return later in the summer.

Early August saw better road and trail conditions as an old friend and one of my guides here in Georgia started our hike to Little Echo. Though the ride to the trail head was still rugged, the trail to the lake was brief and manageably steep. Fish were rising steadily upon arrival as small ants blanketed the shoreline of the lake. Less than ten casts in I had hooked up with a modest fish on a flashy woolly bugger.

I spent little time getting the fish to hand and to my elation it was a lake trout. Certainly not the monsters you hear about on larger reserviors, but I could not have been happier with the 12-14” Mack. Another hour or two of angling produced several more small lake trout on buggers and larger stimulators. I would be shocked to hear of another lake in the world where Lake Trout could be landed on dry flies in August. The trip did not end with the lake trout through as we hopped to the nearby James Peak Lake and St. Mary’s Lake for some colored up native Greenback cutthroat and Tiger trout.

Though most of these adventures ended in failure, each of them taught me valuable lessons and improved my angling abilities. These failures made the eventual success that much sweeter. Though I have come across some very difficult trout to find and catch, none took me the time, research, and dedication that the lake trout required. This was fitting as it was my final salmonid species left to land in the U.S. and I can now set my horizons to the remaining species overseas.

Read more Fly Fishing Stories and Fly Fishing Lessons Learned the Hard Way on our blog. Be sure to follow us on Facebook or Instagram to stay up to date on our latest tips and techniques articles as well as fishing reports that will help you grow on your fly angling journey.

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