WILD HARVEST: Hunting Great Slave Lakers

Don’t waste time

Have you ever put in huge amounts of time trolling, casting or jigging while looking for fish?

If you are not careful, more time can easily be spent looking for fish, rather than actually fishing. Over the course of a summer spent as a fishing guide, targeting trophy lake trout on the NWT’s Great Slave Lake, I honed my techniques for efficiently sniffing out and literally “hunting down” big fish one by one. The result was consistently more and bigger trout hitting the floor of the boat, with far less wasted time.

 

Invest and trust in quality electronics

The first and absolutely most crucial piece of the puzzle is a good fish finder. You really get what you pay for when shopping for electronics. A quality unit gives you the confidence and tools needed for the job, without breaking the bank. I went with a $200 Lowrance Elite-4X, which provided fantastic results. Set in the shallow water mode (less than 100 feet) at 200 kilohertz, my finder lit up trout like a Christmas tree in the form of various-shaped arcs. Large-sized fish against a rocky bottom show up well, but the colour screen display and ability to zoom-in really lets you examine and judge each arc. Near the end of the season, I developed an ability to estimate the fish’s size or weight based on what I saw on the screen. If you can teach yourself this skill, you can strategically offer your bait to trophy trout every day.

 

Hunt down arcs, don’t just hope for them

The first step to finding fish is identifying productive water. Here, monitor your fish finder’s thermometer and be conscious of water temperature and lake trout seasonal movements, helping you exclude large chunks of unproductive water. Rather than beginning with a troll or casting shoreline to find some fish, I tend to drive the boat as fast as my finder allows while maintaining accurate readings. Often it’s just a matter of lowering the transducer to bypass wake bubbles while at faster speeds, eliminating false readings. I’ll usually do a few passes through key areas with appropriate water temperatures before ever picking up a rod. I do this until I locate above average numbers of big arcs. Finding a piece of the lake with higher densities of fish per unit water instantly puts the odds in your favour. Begin spending more of your precious time on the water catching fish, rather than fishing blind and optimistically. Remember that 90 per cent of the fish are found in 10 per cent of the water.

 

Turn the arcs on your screen into fish on your line

I recall a guest calculating the daily stats during our boat ride back to the lodge after a great day of fishing. Typically in an eight-hour day we were only on the water for six hours due to a relaxed start and longer shore lunch. We had our lines in the water between four and five hours total, catching in the neighbourhood of about 40-plus lake trout, 15 or so exceeding 20 pounds. Two were over 35 pounds, if memory serves. Essentially we were fighting fish more than 50 per cent of the time our lines were in the water. It was amazing! Stats like that are only possible if you are incredibly lucky or unless you know how to find fish, get on them and make them bite. Granted, these trout were aggressive, but don’t just keep your fingers crossed when you see a big arc on your finder below the boat. If you happen upon such an arc while trolling a spoon or jig, flip the boat in neutral to give your baits a chance to sink closer to the fish. Then I like to zigzag with busts of speed to entice a strike. If I happen on a dense cloud of fish, I’ll instantly instruct my guests to drop jig, reversing the boat. I’ll use landmarks or GPS, as well as the sonar, to stay on the school. Be prepared to follow them as they move or hunt around for them if they scatter. I will also, at times, bypass smaller arcs in an effort to give guests in my boat real chances at ancient, monster lake trout each and every day.

Milk the very most out of your fish finder and make the most of your time. Hunt down those fish. You won’t regret it!

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