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How to Pattern Winter Lake Trout

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How to Pattern Winter Lake Trout

While most ice anglers “pattern fish” for walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, black crappies and whitefish, don’t do it for lake trout. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

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I recently returned from presenting seminars at the Spring Fishing and Boat Show in Toronto where the thousands of anglers in attendance were keen to talk about fishing.

I knew that with spring rapidly approaching and the open water fishing season at least on the horizon, folks would want to chat about the phenomenal walleye, bass, muskie, pike and panfish opportunities the province has to offer.

But I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of hard core ice anglers who wanted to talk about strategies for catching lake trout.

I think what sparked at least some of the interest, and subsequent one-on-one conversations, was an observation I made while up on the Megatank that lake trout are one of the easiest fish to pattern in Ontario in the winter time.

And it doesn't seem to matter whether you're ice fishing for them on Lake Simcoe, Lake Temagami, the Great Lakes, or one of the hundreds of pristine, picture postcard waters scattered across Northern Ontario.

But here is what I found so intriguing: while many of the ice anglers I met, acknowledged that they "pattern fish" for walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, black crappies and whitefish, most conceded that they didn't do it for lake trout.

Indeed, the question I was asked most frequently was: how do you pattern a species like lake trout that spends so much time swimming around in open water, chasing pelagic forage fish like ciscoes, smelt and shiners?

Well, I am glad you asked.

As Gord Pyzer explains, lake trout are one of the easiest fish to pattern in Northern Ontario in the winter time. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer) When you piece together the lake trout pattern you’ll be able to move around the lake, fishing systematically rather than randomly. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

But first, let's clarify what we mean by the term "pattern fishing".

Every time you catch a fish, you need to ask yourself, what was I doing when I hooked it? In other words, did you have your bait close to the bottom, in the middle of the water column or just under the ice? Were you jigging your lure aggressively or did the trout strike when you paused your bait and let it hang motionless?

Now, to be sure, one fish does not a pattern make, but every pattern does start with a first fish. So, to determine if you're on the brink of a method you can replicate throughout the day, try duplicating what you were doing when you caught the first trout.

For example, let's say that you were jigging a silver William's Ice spoon, 20 feet off the bottom and pausing it for a couple of seconds at the top of each lift and the bottom of each fall. And let's assume, too, that on your sonar screen you spotted the trout rush in and then felt it hit, after it had reached its maximum descent.

As long as the weather remains stable and consistent the lake trout pattern you develop will usually hold up and possibly even improve. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Well, drop your lure immediately back down to the same depth, 20 feet off the bottom and jig the spoon the same way. If you catch another trout reasonably quickly -- say within the next 15 to 20 minutes -- doing the same thing, the chances are good that many, maybe even most of the trout are relating to the bottom zone of the water column and that they will bite the silver spoon if you present it the same way.

Even if you don't catch another fish where you caught the first one, however, try the routine at another hole nearby and present your lure the same way. In fact, try it at two or three different holes.

By the way, another element of the pattern puzzle is being keenly aware of the structure that you're fishing. In other words, did you catch the trout when you were fishing 20 feet off the bottom of a long sloping underwater point? Or, was it on top of an isolated, deep, rocky hump or boulder strewn shoal?

The answers to all of these questions -- and many more -- will allow you to move around the lake, fishing systematically rather than randomly, piecing together the various parts of the pattern puzzle.

And when it does all finally come together, it is lights out and game on.

To the point, where you can often unfold your map of the lake, or turn on your contour chart embedded GPS unit and identify all of the similar looking structures.

Now, when you hop on your snowmachine or ATV and pull up on one of the new locations, you'll arrive brimming with confidence. And there will be no doubt in your mind as to the depth over which you need to drill your holes, the lure you should use or where in the water column you should jig it.

And it gets even better because as long as the weather remains stable and consistent, your pattern will usually hold up and even improve. It's the reason you always want to fish a pattern for lake trout in Northern Ontario.

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