The lake trout, or mackinaw trout, comes in a wide range of colors, from gray to brown to dark green. The distinguishing feature is the light yellowish or white spots that cover the body, from head to tail, and dorsal and tail fins. The other fins are unmarked and lined with white. The tail is sharply forked.
The lake trout grows and matures more slowly than other fish. After one year they are about six inches in length and when mature range between 19 and 23 inches, usually at the age of four to five. Typically, lake trout run between 5 and 30 pounds. The world record is 72 pounds. The Utah record is 51 pounds, 8 ounces, and was caught in 1988 in Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Smaller lake trout make excellent meals. Larger fish tend to take on an oily taste. They are recognized as a strong fighter, but are not particularly showy. They begin life eating small insects and crustaceans, but switch to a fish diet when they reach about 2 pounds. The lake trout is native to most of Canada and many lakes in Alaska and the northernmost lower 48 states. It was first planted in Utah in 1875 in Utah Lake. It was later planted in Spring Creek a tributary to Utah Lake and later in the Provo River and Fish Lake. The lake trout in Flaming Gorge were not stocked, but came down the Green River from Wyoming's Fremont Lake. They have become so abundant that the limit was increased to eight, but only one may exceed 28 inches. Anglers are being asked to keep a limit of lake trout in order to reduce their numbers.
Lake trout require deep, cold and high-quality water. They are also very carnivorous and do not co-exist well with other game fish. Because of these requirements, they have very limited distribution in Utah. Lake trout are found in Bear and Fish lakes and in Flaming Gorge Reservoir. A sterile hybrid of lake trout and brook trout, the splake, has been successfully introduced into several fisheries in Utah and can create some confusion because they are difficult to differentiate from lake trout.
Lake trout are mainly fish eaters and are usually caught by deep trolling minnow-imitating lures using downriggers or strong trolling outfits with heavy sinking lines made of steel or copper loaded with lead. Effective lures for trolling include Lucky Craft and Rapala minnow lures, flat fish, Kwikfish and swim baits like Castaic Rainbow and Megabait Charlie. Lure color isn't as important for lake trout because down deep, lure colors fade to black. Lake trout can also be caught by vertical jigging using metal jigs and plastic fish-like jigs with heavy lead heads. Metal jigs like Crippled Herring, Megabait Live Jig and Buzz-Bombs all catch fish. Plastics include tube jigs, twister grubs and swim baits fished with 1/2- to 4-ounce heads. Tipping the lure with a small piece of sucker or chub meat adds appeal. Vertical jigging is especially effective through the ice. Lighter weight lures can be used and no special tackle or boat is required. Be sure the hole through the ice is big enough. Anglers not equipped to fish deep can find a rare opportunity to catch large lake trout casting spoons, spinners and minnow-imitating lures along the shore at ice-out. Fly-rod anglers can also catch lake trout at this time casting streamers and even on dry flies imitating mice, cicadas and other terrestrials. Bait fishing with minnows or cut bait works at times but can be difficult because of the depth involved and because lake trout tend to move about. Bear Lake anglers do well from shore using boats to run lines baited with cisco meat out into deep water.
Note: Lake trout can grow to a very old age. Specimens more than 60 years old have been recorded. The Utah state record lake trout was estimated to be less than 25 years old. Maybe some day a world record will come from Utah.
Bryon Gunderson, Fish Tech Outfitters