Getting After Lake Trout for the First Time

Mike Carlsen of St. Paul Park, MN writes:

I would like to target lake trout through the ice this year. It's a species I have never targeted and know very little about. I know the basics of using the mndnr lake finder website to look at lake surveys but I am wondering what types of lakes I should be looking for and what resources are available to learn what I can before I head out and try and tackle them? I know the Ely area is a good place to start.
Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Well Mike - you've got your work cut out for you, but the great news is that there are a few shortcuts you can employ to get in the game.  

  1. Online Research - You've looked at the Lake Finder, and that's a good start, but it's a dizzying array of information, and too much of it to process for the moment.  Spend some time on,, or any host of online forum fishing groups that likely already have the information out there.  If not, post a few questions and get to know the members.  No one will give you their best lake trout lakes, but you can definitely start figuring out general areas that people like to target.
  2. Hire a Guide -  Ely area or Gunflint Trail area will have an array of guides to choose from.  There's no shame in hiring a guide, especially to shorten the learning curve!  They will know the area, their quarry, seasonal movements and which baits work best and when.  You could drive north, pay for gas/food/lodging a few times for the same price, but not get nearly the amount of information you could by hiring a local guide in the area you decide to target.  Make it clear that you're not hiring them specifically just to catch fish, but that you're trying to learn all you can about the sport in general.  Be direct, and only hire them if they respect that request.  It's money well-spent.
  3. Fisheries Area Office - Spend some time talking with the fisheries office guys, and ask them what internal resources they can share.  They're a wealth of knowledge and often overlooked.
  4. DIY - If you decide to give it a shot on your own, pick a reputable area with a lake known for producing numbers more than size.  Get the knack of what it takes to drill out the depths, look for bait, and fish the lures you've purchased.  Be tenacious, realizing that it's not an easy task to just up and go for a new species in an unfamiliar area, but accept the reward being much sweeter for it.

Good luck!