Jigging For Lake Trout

My drag was practically smoking as the eight-pound test sizzled off my reel. I had just set the hook, burying my jig into the mouth of what I thought was an average lake trout, getting him about 10 feet off bottom before all hell broke loose. The battle was on and after some fierce head shakes, there was no doubt that this fat boy definitely had some shoulders on him as I quickly loosened my drag and got ready for what I knew would be a lengthy battle with this lunker laker.

Whether you are fishing through the ice in the dead of winter or off the boat in the dog nights of summer, jigging can be an effective way to catch lakers consistently. Of course, it’s tough to beat the shallow action that usually takes place in late May to early June, when the lake trout are in the shallow depths and can be caught fairly easily, most times putting up explosive battles with their feisty levels of energy. Winter-action jigging depths can vary depending on the lake, but you most likely will have your greatest success in a little deeper water.

During these times of year, I prefer to use light small jigs in the 3/8-ounce size and in this day and age that alone gives you a million color and style combinations to choose from. Although, if you took chartreuse, white, black, orange and pink heads/tails, you most likely wouldn’t need any other jigs in your tackle box. But if I was only able to pick just a few shallow water or ice fishing jigs, I would take a white tube jig skirt, a chartreuse curly tail, a pink flutter bug and a 3/8-ounce head for each of them. These three have consistently delivered time and time again.

Two of my absolute favourite jigs, which seem to work wonders in the early shallow water season and again in the winter months through the ice, are a jig tail called a flutter bug and of course, the old faithful, the tube jig skirt, which works well with a variety of jig heads and weights. Both of these come in an assortment of colours.

As the days of summer warm and the lake temperatures begin to rise, the lakers will find cooler, deeper water, which seems to be more suitable for them to spend the majority of their time. This is the period when you may need to switch things up just a little, especially if you are a drift jigger much like I tend to be. Even the slightest of summer breezes will likely be enough to keep you from bouncing off the bottom with your lighter jigs when fishing in depths of 60 feet or more. There is nothing like drift jigging, as you are able to cover way more water, increasing your success rates, constantly bouncing your jigs through not only new structure, but new schools of waiting fish. Although the horizontal-style jigs tend to bounce along, hugging the bottom structure better, as the weight size increases it is tough to stay within the suitable tail size, causing you to have a huge jig that will likely be a turn off to the fish more than it will work.

This is when I generally switch to a vertical-style jig to slide my favourite colour tube jig skirts over. What I’ve found works absolutely perfectly are in-line trolling weights, which I carry in variety of sizes from 3/4 ounce right up to three ounces. I like to start off by putting a split ring on the one end and then add a good, sharp Mustad or Gamakatsu single octopus-style hook in about No. 1, No. 1/0 or No. 2/0 size. On the other end, you will then be able to push this through the end of your tube skirt, where you can attach this to your line, using a snap swivel. I would suggest using a good, quality ball-bearing snap swivel with an excellent clasp, as these jigs can really wreak havoc on your line as they spin all the way to the lake bottom.

Now with these heavier jigs, even in windier conditions, which seems to be the norm on many of our lake trout lakes, as you’re drifting over the top of the fish, you can still make it all the way down so you can feel the bottom. I like to keep bottom bouncing my jigs and what I tend to go by is that about a good foot before the tip of my rod touches the water; my line goes slack as my jig lies on the lake’s bottom.

Of course, you will likely lose a few jigs along the way if you fish like this, as there usually tends to be plenty of structure where these fish lie in ambush and putting it right in front of their face will definitely increase your odds, as the deeper water can cause them to be a little more lethargic. Just remember, instead of drifting your jigs harmlessly over the laker’s heads without catching any of their attention, the more time you spend with your jigs hugging the bottom, smack-dab in the structure and right in the lake trout’s bubble, will help your chances of catching that fish of a lifetime.

If you prefer, these trolling weights can even be painted different colors and used on their own, although I tend to prefer sliding a tube skirt over the weights not only to easily give one a multitude of color options, but I believe the fish bite harder on something soft versus a big hard chunk of lead.

Now these trolling weights come in a few different shapes and styles: some are straight and some are curved like a banana, but I’ve pretty much had great luck with virtually every style I’ve tried, as they will each give your jig just a little different wiggle and action.

If you are planning on fishing any of Canada’s beautiful National Park lakes, they have a lead ban in place, meaning you have to substitute jig heads made of other materials such as tin or bismuth. Now you’ll unlikely be able to find the larger trolling weights in tin or bismuth, but the good thing about these heavier jigs is anything in a size of two ounces or larger, you are still be able to use the ones made of lead in these National Park waters.

I have experimented plenty over the years and have even taken these jigs one step further with great success. I sometimes will add a little extra spice to the hooks I attach to these trolling weights, by taking out my fly tying tools and whipping up a nice addition of red, pink or chartreuse marabou onto these single hooks. Now once you slide the tube skirt over the top of these, that chunk of marabou gives you just a little extra enticer to coax those lakers into taking the plunge, giving your jigs an even more lifelike action in the water as the marabou tends to add quite an animated appearance.

A good fisherman never stops thinking and always has a bag of tricks up his or her sleeve. Another one that I like to use is bleeding the colours of the tube skirts together. These jig skirts are petroleum based and the colours will, most times, bleed when put together. Although this doesn’t happen with all the colors, you will have to experiment to see what works best for you. I have had my best luck mixing white, chartreuse and orange skirts, but play with mixing the colours yourself to give you a one-off tube skirt that just may give you the upper edge you need on a tough day on the water.

One of the other must dos is to make sure to use a little lighter line than you may think. I have always had my best luck with eight-pound mono and although I’ve tried 1o-pound and heavier, my success rate always dropped while using this heavier mono. I have also tried today’s braided lines, but was disappointed with the success on these lines as well.

I tend to prefer using a bait-cast style of reel, as I like using my thumb to feel things just a little more and can feel the jig as it falls all the way to the bottom, but there is nothing wrong with using a simple spinning reel if that is what you chose.

I’ve spent most of my time fishing in crystal-clear lake trout waters, so I know that plays a huge factor in the chosen line size. Be your own judge on that, but if you seem to not be having too much action, take my advice and go lighter. Don’t worry about losing a giant lunker on the light line, just don’t try to horse them in. You just have to pay a little extra attention, playing the fish by using your drag, and you shouldn’t have too many problems.

Using jigs, I’ve caught and released plenty of lake trout over the 20-pound mark, with my largest just shy of 30 pounds, all on eight-pound test, and all I can say is when it happens don’t rush it, just hold on and enjoy the ride.

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