Particular Procedures for Large Lakers
By Daniel Kiazyk
My oldest brother had made a connection to the angling lake trout fraternity of Northwest Manitoba, something I had been unable to accomplish all the years I had been fishing with some intensity in the area. This is an area where folks are so pre-occupied with trout that you’d think they were fanatic walleye fishermen of the south. In fact my brother had put me onto one of those anglers from that fraternity who had become so specialized that he probably forgot more about fishing for Lake trout than I could ever reflect upon in any article I could ever muster on the subject.
So the story starts with my new trout fishing friend from the northwest sitting in my catfishing boat on the Red River angling for old whiskers. He had made his way down south after a couple of phone calls where we agreed that we would exchange fishing trips; Catfishing for Trout fishing. Well for the first leg of the exchange we had a slower than average day but were still able to land five good sized catfish that would win him “Specialist” standing. I was glad that he did catch a few good sized whiskered critters as it sealed the deal on being able to make my way up north to fish for those deep dwelling denizens of the north – Lake Trout.
The return leg of this angling exchange would take place over a period of two trips. The first leg included participating in a trout festival held each late spring on Lake Athapapuskow; The Leo Lavoie trout festival. The “Leo” as locals call it is a two-day tournament where anglers attempt to measure the greatest total length of trout (4 fish per day) over a period of two days. To rank in this tournament you need to measure at least 110 inches of lake trout per day. Our first day numbers, for example, were good as a result of a 39” trout landed about 2 hours into the tournament. The rest of the tournament however was dogged by our inability to land a second sizeable trout. On this particular year most of the boats in the top five had landed two and the top two positions had landed three fish over 35”. Our final total measurements did pay our entry fee for the tournament. Not bad for a rookie trout fishing tournament try. Admittedly my first foray on to Athapap with my new trouting sensei had been more successful than the previous ten trips I had made to Athapap myself. Yes, I’ll admit it, I had fished the lake with some regularity over the years with less than extraordinary results. My success however, had been limited to some dozen or so twenty some inchers.
Well if you’ve been reading carefully you’ll notice that I never mentioned who caught that 39” trout we picked up in the “Leo”. Ok, and it wasn’t me, it was my tried and true trout guru who managed to tempt the wary monster of the deep to come up for a visit some hundred feet above for a brief measurement and photo. My particular difficulty during the whole tournament was to get my head around the particular successful technique used by the trout fraternity of the northwest. The difficulty I was having was some romanticized view of a trout being a roaming predator who was going to strike a moving bait and had no need to be coaxed into biting what I had to offer. Well the whole experience that I would have to internalize in order to finally land one of this great lake’s monsters was to adapt to the prevailing method employed by this lakes successful trout anglers. The approach itself is very methodical and required the use of very specific and powerful fishing tools.
Firstly the approach wants a watercraft with some specific qualities. It must be of considerable size with decent ponies attached. Athapap has a reputation for blowing up into a vicious tumult that has over the years taken the lives of the unprepared angler. Another component that is a part of the system is a boat equipped with a high quality depth finder that is able to actually spot a single large trout in this lake’s considerably deep environments. The model in use in the boat we were fishing in was a high end Lowrance which had a combo depth finder GPS. The GPS component alone (and present with many newer higher end units) has provided this lake’s anglers with an incredibly important tool. Being able to find that spot on the spot or being able to see trout on the bottom with reference to a particular kind of structure and bottom composition makes all the difference when making an attempt to intersect a larger trout.
Of secondary importance for this particular approach is the rod and reel in use. A lighter, higher graphite modulus medium heavy rod, like the Avid or Premium series St. Croix rod in 6.5 to 7 feet, works quite well. These types of rod are not what’s normally used by anglers of this lake. In fact many local fisherman still fish a heaver style of rod much to their own detriment. These newer high tech poles have a definite advantage over many fiber-glass or lower count graphite poles. These newer rods make a difference because they’re not so hard to hold over the side of the boat on a 10 hour trout fishing session. They are also incredibly sensitive and allow the angler to feel what’s going on down below. As for their power doing the dance with a big kahuna…..no problemo. The reel mounted to these rods is also very important as there is a need to have a solid drag system and adequate line capacity. A 400 series Calcutta or an ABU 6500 C3 are both solid choices when angling for Master sized fish. Given that large trout are capable of long hard runs, having a drag system that sticks or is not easily adjusted can mean the loss of a memorable fish.
Thirdly for the particular procedures being described here is without a doubt (IMHO) THE significant part of the approach ends up at the terminal end. The business end of this approach seems to me to be forever changing with a view to achieving three goals. Firstly there is the need to have a hook large enough to carry down the bait used to entice the trout to bite. Secondly the terminal end has been characterized traditionally on Athapap by larger/heavier jigs. Fishing at greater depth makes feeling what goes on that far below a bit difficult (and then there’s those heavier poles that restrict the transfer of info by their very construction). Newer progressive thought in relation to the prior has turned towards a lighter more stealthy sized jig with a variety of accents not necessarily “canon” for the terminal end. Such accents include different types of glow paints and scented plastics and bio-bait alternatives baits such as Gulp or Power bait that can be added to camouflage the shank of the hook and to enhance the edibility of the jig. Thirdly, and as a last important component of this approach, it was felt that the jig’s attractiveness and perhaps its stealth would be enhanced having it attached to an invisible leader of fluorocarbon. With the water as clear as it is on Athapap its best not to detract from what you want the big critters to chew on a while……
So what “procedures” are normally employed by this region’s trout anglers to increase their chance of success? To begin I’d have to describe the pursuit as a hunt. Key to the hunt is a scouting component that seems more like looking for deer then looking for fish. In a broad general brush stroke (to safeguard information that was shared gratuitously and with such magnanimity) these guys will begin by going out to those areas where they have an idea that big trout will inhabit. Once in the area they will begin a search for large trout using their boat’s high-end sonar units. Once a large trout is spotted the search will continue not so much with a view to see the fish some more but more so with an effort to get to know the surrounding environment. After a good long look (for a period of what might seem five minutes argh let’s fish eh!) the boat will return to that place where the large trout was spotted. If for example a trout is remaining in an area and not just passing through there is a good chance that that particular trout may bite what you’ve got to offer. Staying for a limited duration in a spot once a big trout has been spotted (and re-appears for a longer period) is the simple side of what is done. But as with most other still-fishing approaches if you don’t get bit after a half hour moving on is part of the creed proclaimed by this fraternity. When exactly you need to move is part of the approach that is intangible and probably can never be acquired but through having time on the water.
Thinking back on everything now, as I sit here behind my computer in the heart of winter, anchoring and still fishing in such deep water was what was truly unique for me. Key to this sedentary approach was that the boat remain fixed in one place. Special anchors have been developed over time by these anglers (they seem to be a highbred between a water spike and navy style anchor with at least a six feet of chain) and they provide the capacity to provide a stable still platform from which bait can be delivered accurately to an appropriate area below. The anchor is also attached to a crab pot buoy. This anchor device allows for extrication of the anchor by using the boat to pull the anchor against the floatation of the buoy. The prior assists in being able to pull up the anchor and move on to the next spot. When fully anchored (in other words in as stationary position as is possible in such an environment) a small amount of chum is put down. The angler then watches carefully to see in which direction the bait will travel. Apparently underwater currents will not necessarily always match up with a given day’s surface wind direction. Underwater currents will be determined to a large extent as a result of the previous days’ prevailing winds. When satisfied that there will be an intersection of the jigs to be put down and the chum to be sewn, angling will commence.
The approach used to deliver the “bait” down to the bottom is elegantly simple. As already mentioned a lighter (less lead) long shafted jig with a heavier gauge hook is used to hook up with a larger piece of what makes everything work……sucker belly. Sucker is key to the approach and is caught prepared and frozen into packages that are brought out before each trouting session. The belly is the prize piece of meat and most other sections find their way to the bottom as chum – the means to get those big trout into a feeding mode. The latter point forms the point of depart for what you do with the jig and sucker belly already mentioned…..nothing. Simply put, it is left to rest on the bottom. The angler’s responsibility is to keep in contact with the jig and to set the hook if a trout picks up the bait. In some instances a rod may be put in the rod holder with the free spool button pushed in and the bait clicker on. When a trout does pick up the bait the clicker sounds and the angler has to set the hook. Part of the challenge to this particular procedure is not letting a trout take the bait too long which will normally result in a gut hooked fish. If you react too soon the bait will be pulled from the trout’s mouth resulting in what locals call “burning” a fish. It’s pretty much an art to get that hook set just right but that’s what the art is on this lake.
Initially I had trouble with the approach. With a walleye heritage that required me to impart some motion to the bait I sat there agonizingly as we watched trout come in to feed on our chum. In effect we were waiting for a trout to go in and pick up our bait…. And only then set the hook. However as with most things I learn the hard way (numerous “burned fish” I soon came to appreciate the approach with some coaching from my fishing partner…. Be like the chum, be like the chum….. yes master sensei That is good danielson…... This tantric refrain eventually did result in numerous fish and I slowly did get a feel for when a trout would come in to feed on the chum. I know it sounds a bit repetitive but in a way it took that long to actually visualize what was going on all the way down there! I was also impressed at how the depth finder would actually show the fish were either moving up or down to retrieve the chum….. wish it was my hook just a few more times….
Well, finally, on the third day out fishing with my trout sensei, I did get a good bite and what followed was captured on video and still pictures. The 39.25 inch trout fought well and made five good strong runs after being hooked up. As bizarre as this may sound the greatest impression that this experience had for me was not primarily the accomplishment of having hooked into and landing a master angler sized fish but it was immersing myself into the particular culture of lake fanatics and how they fish for trout in Manitoba’s northwest district. In effect I had entered into a world of very specialized anglers with very specialized techniques. Are particular procedures necessary for producing large lakers? No, not really but I like to think that the numbers that this particular group of Anglers in the northwest corner of our Province land each year attests to an approach or what others have called a pattern that’s hard to deny for its effectiveness.