Prior to the introduction of salmon and non-native trout into the Great Lakes, lake trout were the alpha predators. Although they were once heavily parasitized by sea lampreys and have been supplanted in places by salmon, lakers continue to be one the most important sport species in the Great Lakes, particularly in Superior and Huron.
Lake trout prefer cold water and are often found at significant depths, though they can be taken in relatively shallow water in spring and fall. For the most part, lakers are caught by trolling anglers using spoons, flashers and flies or cowbells and minnows, often near bottom. The establishment of zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and the subsequent water clarity has changed lake trout behavior and they are now being taken well up in the water column, often just subsurface. Reefs that extend high in the water column in otherwise deep water - such as Standard Rock or areas around Isle Royal - produce well for jig fishermen.
Lake trout spawn in the fall, often on shoals and reefs but some migrate upstream creating angling opportunities on piers, where anglers fishing with spawn, smelt or minnows on the bottom or casting with spoons can sometimes connect. Similarly, short-term fisheries are created in the drowned river mouths just inshore of the Great Lakes and in rivers, where lake trout often are caught incidentally by steelhead fishermen. In the winter months, anglers fishing deep water in Great Lakes bays - Grand Traverse Bay, for instance, or Keweenaw Bay - with spoons or jigs tipped with cut bait take lake trout through the ice.
A number of inland lakes have been stocked with lake trout or have natural populations that produce excellent fishing all year long, typically for those who are adept at Great Lakes tactics. Higgins, Elk, Torch and Crystal Lakes are among of the better-known inland lake trout waters.
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For more information on identifying characteristics for lake trout see our fish ID page.