Ice fishing for lake trout on Lake Superior

Lake Superior does not freeze every year so when it does you should take advantage of this great fishing opportunity. You can travel deep into the lake to catch large lake trout.

Getting started

Although you could land a small lake trout on a walleye rod it is worth investing in a heavy action rod at least 32 inches long. That’s because it is possible to catch lakers that weigh upwards of 20 or even 30 pounds. You don’t want to lose a trophy because you came under-gunned. Such rods can be purchased at a reasonable price from many different sporting goods stores.

Photograph of two ice fishing rod and reels combinations. One rod has spinning reel on it and the other a bait-casting reel.

Reel, line and lures

A 200- or 300-size spinning reel, the kind typically used for walleye and bass fishing, is ideal. Just make sure that it has a strong and smooth drag

Spool your reel with at least 100 yards of 10- to 20-pound braided line. You typically catch lake trout in deep water and they can easily pull out 100 feet of line on their long powerful runs. Braided line, which doesn’t stretch like monofilament, is the preferred line because it allows for better hook sets in deep water and keeps your line from bowing in the current.

Many anglers tie 10 to 20 feet of 10- to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader to their line. Lake Superior has extremely clear water so using a strong and nearly invisible leader is important. You can connect your leader to your line using a variety of fishing knots, such as the double uni knot or FG knot.

Lake trout lures

Lake trout feed on smelt more than any other fish. This means white-colored lures are your best bet. Still, it is good to have some orange, chartreuse or pink lures on hand as they can be effective during certain conditions.

Ice fishing for lake trout is not finesse fishing. Leave your subtle techniques at home. That’s because lake trout they can be extremely aggressive, swimming great distances up and down within the water column to attack your bait. Good lure choices include those that are loud, smelly and white. You can get bites on jigging raps, rattling traps, spoons, tube jigs, swim baits, bucktails and other similar jigs. Half-ounce jigs are about as light as you’ll want to use. Lures as heavy as two ounces can be ideal in certain situations. Tipping your hook with a piece of smelt can be extremely productive sometimes.

Photograph of six different lures, including a plastic tube jig, spoon and jigging lures.

Sonar unit

A fish-finding sonar unit, commonly called a flasher, is nearly a necessity when ice fishing for lake trout. Any basic sonar unit will work just fine though high-end units that have LCD graphing capabilities do provide advantages.

How to fish for lake trout

Lake Trout are typically found in water that is 60 to 200 feet or deeper. Typically, you will want to fish your lure in depths between 80 and 160 feet.

Two of the best tactics to catch lakers are pounding the bottom and playing keep away. Sometimes just lifting your jig and dropping it against the lake bottom will kick up enough sediment to call in a laker. When doing this “pounding the bottom” technique you may not mark fish electronically as they rise off the bottom. However, you will feel them physically when they nearly rip the rod from your hand!

Playing keep away is the most common way to catch lake trout. It is not unheard of to have a fish shoot off bottom and chase your lure 50, 60, 70 feet or more. Do not try to finesse these fish as you would a walleye or sunfish. Instead, once you mark a fish start reeling! Burn the lure past the fish and watch it close the distance on your sonar unit. If it hits, set the hook hard and hold on!

Photograph of male angler holding a lake trout horizontally.

Where to fish

You can fish for lake trout anywhere the water is the right depth. For example, starting at 21st Avenue East in downtown Duluth there are a few great spots to get out on the ice and into deep water. If you follow scenic Highway 61 north along the Lake Superior shoreline you will find multiple locations where you can park your car and get onto the ice.

Safety first

Be careful. Ice is never entirely safe. Ice that is 12 inches thick in one area can be less thick nearby. Ice heaves and recent cracks that look safe but have yet to develop thick ice are also dangerous. So, bring a spud bar, rope, ice picks and a buddy. Keep an eye on the wind as well. A strong wind from the west can push the ice out into the middle of the lake. Contact local bait and tackle shops for current ice conditions.

Adapted from JS-Outdoors, Duluth, Minn. For the complete article visit

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