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Trolling for Lakers

I spent most of my youth stream fishing for bows, browns and specks in the upper Credit River and later in life, smallies in the Thames and Maitland. Fast forward to our cottage purchase… I knew going in that our lake was a typical deep/cold Canadian Shield lake with smallies and lakers. I’m familiar with smallies, but lakers were something new. I did a ton of reading/research so hopefully you’ll find some of my ramblings helpful. Check out Lake Ontario United, a wealth of info there. By no means am I an expert on the subject, but it puts fish in my boat.

Downrigger Accessories:
Beside downriggers, you’ll need some accessories…
1) cannon ball - I started with a 5lber but way too much blow back. I now use an 8lber.
2) trolling snubber - you’ll want one of these when you gain confidence and start banging bottom. See this article.
3) weight holder and weight retriever

You’re current rod/reel combos likely won’t cut it for laker trolling. Not saying it can’t be done and I’m sure guys do it, but it’s tough on the equipment. It would be a challenge to downrig or pull boards or dipsy’s with your average spinning outfit. I suppose you could do it with a heavier baitcaster setup. I have many spinning/baitcasting rigs, each setup for a different technique for smallies/walleye. I wouldn’t use any of those rigs trolling for lakers except maybe a baitcaster in the spring when I longline. Basically you need the proper tools for the job.

IMO, a good line counter reel and a downrigging/dipsy rod is a must. A line counter gives you repeatability. I have two identical combos, one is set up for the rigger, the other pulls a dipsy or a board.

My reels are Okuma Convector CV-20D. Very sweet reel. They have performed flawlessly for me. The only thing is that I maybe should have gone to the CV-15D. A little smaller/lighter. Not really a big deal as it spends most of the time in the rod holder when you’re not fighting a fish. As with everything, you can get a cheaper or more expensive reel. I have a cheaper Daiwa Accudepth Plus ADP17LC I use when pulling boards for walleye. I don’t like it as much. Not as smooth as the Convector. IMO, no need to go more expensive.

For rods, I use Okuma Classic Pro GLT CP-DD-902M dipsy rods. I started off with dipsy’s before downrigging so I went with a longer rod (9’). They work fine in the rigger. I wouldn’t use anything less than 8’ on the rigger. If you think you might try dipsy’s (which you will), stick with the longer rod. However, with the longer rod it’s sometimes tricky landing a fish by yourself. Medium action is fine. You don’t want a broom stick. The Daiwa AccuDepth Trolling Rod is a reasonably priced option. I use the ADDR762ML with my Daiwa reel. Bottom line is that you don’t need an expensive graphite rod. A good quality fiberglass/E-glass/composite rod is all you need. Remember it spends most of the time in the rod holder.

Okuma combo at LeBaron is $110.00.

Line counters hold a lot of line. The CV-20D holds 290yds of 14# mono. Like I previously mentioned, I started off with dipsy’s and used 30# braid (no stretch). Both reels are spooled with 20# mono backing (Big Game) then 150 yds of 30# braid (Power Pro). You should be good with 12# mono. I use BassPro Excel brand for my mono reels. A decent line at a good price. You can buy bulk spools of 1500yds for $10-$15.

Terminal Tackle:
Use quality snaps and swivels. I prefer fastlock or coastlock snaps over interlock snaps and ball bearing swivels over barrel swivels. Don’t cheap out.

You could spend thousands of dollars on lures. Start out simple and then experiment. Remember, your targeting a specific depth when downrigging, so don’t use a deep diving lure. Try to mimic the bait fish in the lake which for me is cisco and smelt. I find anything silver is most productive, but experiment with colours. My go to bait is a Bomber Long A - B15A Silver Prism Black Back. I’ve caught over half my lakers on this bait.

Some other stuff I use:
1) silver cowbells with a small light weight spoon (Williams Wabler Lite (W55 size) , FlatFish (F7 size) or Spin-N-Glo (#6) - 18” leader from cowbell to lure
2) silver dodger or flasher with above spoon, FlatFish or SNG but a longer leader 24”. Dodgers for slower trolling, flashers for faster trolling
3) a larger spoon (NK-MAG, NK28), larger Flatfish (T4) or shallow running 4”+ stick bait (Bomber B15A or B15J) on its own (ie. without the cowbells, dodger or flasher)

A good fishfinder will clearly detail the thermocline. You want to fish the sweet spot just below the thermocline (about 35’ in my lake). You’re looking for a water temperature of 50F. Learn to read the arches instead of using the Fish ID feature.

Other Stuff:
Some other types of presentations…
1) dipsy - there has been days that it out fishes the rigger.
2) planer board and snap weight

If your gonna pull a dipsy or a board, get yourself a good rod holder. I use both the Salty S-10 and the Scotty Power Lock. You can get optional rail mounts for both units.

Find out everything you can about your lake. Here is some Kawagama Lake info. Contact this guy at the MNR (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) and ask for a lake contour map. He can also provide you with any of the documents outlined in the “Completed Projects” section of your lake fact sheet. For starters, locate the main basin and fish any kind of interesting structure adjacent to it (sharp drops, deep flats, sunken islands, saddles, pinch points). Remember, lakers are a cold water species and will stay below the thermocline, so don’t fish too shallow.

The shallower you troll the longer the distance from the ball to the lure. Use the 100’ rule as a guide. If your rigger is down 70’, the distance from the ball to the lure is 30’. If your rigger is down 35’, the distance from the ball to the lure is 65’. If I’m fishing shallow, I usually double the ball to lure length .

Speed is important. So you’ll need a GPS for speed. You can never go too slow for lakers, but too fast and you’ll drive around all day just wetting your lures. I generally troll around 1.5mph. And as fast as 2.3mph or so if they are actively feeding. My boat does around 2.3mph at idle. To get down to 1.5mph, I run at idle and tie a drift sock off to each of the bow cleats.

In the spring they can be anywhere in the water column. I usually longline with a 1oz snap weight and small baits. Gets me down about 10’ or so. It not unusual for me to let out 200’+ of line. I’ll also use a planer board for a more stealthy approach.

In the summer, I start in the known hotspots, doing a fast troll below the thermocline to see if any lakers are actively feeding. If no takers, I’ll slow it down and bang bottom in about 60’ to 70’ of water. On my lake, they hang out in this range when they are inactive. Very rarely do I mark any suspended in the main basin which I find unusual. There either below the thermocline feeding or chilling on the bottom in 60 FOW.

That’s all I can think of right now. Happy trolling!!