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Back to School Lake Trout

The last few weeks of September are the cherry and chopped nuts atop a scrumptious sundae. Quite simply, it doesn't get any better than this. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Back to School Lake Trout

The Last Few Weeks of September Lake Trout fishing is true happiness

I love fishing for lake trout in Northern Ontario at any time of the year, but if the truth were told, fall is my beloved period. And the last few weeks of the season which wraps up on September 30th in my Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country neck of the woods is like the cherry and chopped nuts on top of the whip-creamed drenched sundae.

It just can't get any better.

Indeed, unlike most of the other fish, we chase across the northern half of the province, lake trout spawn in the fall, not the spring. As a result, they're one of the few fish we can catch as they're preparing to lay their eggs, instead of recovering from the reproductive cycle.

This is a hugely important point, by the way, because it means the fish are at their physical peak in terms of conditioning. It also means they're gorging greedily and acting belligerently as they chase down and eat anything that looks good enough to eat.

Knowing this was likely what I'd find, I trailered my 16-foot AlumaCraft johnboat to a favourite secluded hotspot northwest of Kenora yesterday, backed the boat over the granite shoreline and waylaid the first trout while I was still within sight of the truck.

I caught that trout trolling a freshly thawed anchovy, spinning behind a gold and silver Williams Whitefish spoon from which I'd removed the treble hook and was using as an attractor. It is a deadly trout trick that has duped hundreds of fish for me over the years.

Well-worn spoons like the Savant Crusher that JP Bushey used to catch trout, are perfect for trolling at the slow speeds big trout living in deep water seem to prefer. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

But, as important as the lure was the fact that I was marking dense schools of baitfish -- shiners and ciscoes -- on my Humminbird sonar unit. Finding the food and you find the fish is my motto any time of the year, but it's especially the case in September with back-to-school lake trout.

"Lake trout are tribal critters," says buddy JP Bushy, who is one of the top trout sticks in Ontario. "Depending on the lake you are fishing, you can find as many as three subspecies. The first is the huge, silver bullets that feed all season long, down deep, on smelt and herring, in 70- to 90-feet of water."

"Another group hangs out a little shallower, usually in the 40- to 65-foot depth range. They eat alewives, shiners, bugs and even smaller trout."

"Finally, there is the third group that I call grubbers. These trout feed even shallower still and target crayfish, nymphs, gobies and especially perch. The tribes intersect at times, but largely seem to live separate lives. The deepwater trout grow the biggest, while the grubbers are usually the most brilliantly coloured. They resemble brook trout in many ways and have the distinctive salmon-coloured flesh."

While JP spends much of his trout time targeting the deep groups of big fish in large lakes like Lake Simcoe, Georgian Bay, Lake Temagami and Lake Huron, I spend most of my backwoods time focused on the more modest size waters and the shallower "grubbers".

Gotta' confess, too, the reason I go gaga over them is that they're the easiest trout to target. Indeed, rather than trolling for miles searching for the deepwater roamers that are marauding balls of bait like wolves harassing herds of caribou, the grubbers relate to obvious locations. Structures like rocky points, boulder-strewn shoals and rock piles. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

A check with the local Ministry of Natural Resources District Office will tell you if a lake map, complete with contours, is available to help you pinpoint potentially productive trout mines on your favourite lake. But even if it has never been charted, you can dissect it easily if you turn on your sonar unit and scoot around the shoreline, way pointing all of the interesting-looking underwater features. I especially like to turn on the side-scanning feature on my Humminbird for this kind of fish-finding function, as it clearly displays the individual rocks and boulders

"I agree," says JP, "the trout are glued to the shoals. They're always there and they're always eating. But they do rotate through the spots and the shallower and smaller they are the quicker they'll move across them."

The author’s grandson, 12-year-old Liam Whetter relied on a Williams Whitefish spoon, used as an attractor ahead of his bait, to catch this gorgeous lake trout from one of the thousands of pristine waters that are found across Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

What Bushey's referring to is the process, OMNR fisheries scientist Mark Ridgway calls "trap lining", where a school of fish will move up and onto a piece of structure, sweep across it, pick it clean and then move on to the next trout restaurant.

"I am always amazed at how carnivorous lake trout can be," chuckles Bushey. "They're the teenage sons of the lake - eating anything that's not nailed down."

As I said, happiness is fishing in the fall for lake trout in Northern Ontario.

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