Lake Trout Fishing In Idaho
Lake trout fishing in Idaho is better than ever before. Lake trout, sometimes called mackinaw, are one of Idaho’s best sport fish to pursue – if you know what you’re doing. Their gigantic size potential – the largest one caught in Idaho broke the scales at 57.5lbs – combined with their plentiful population and delicious taste makes them the perfect fish to target on your next fishing trip. What’s more, they are scientifically char – not trout – which makes their flesh taste more like brook trout than a rainbow trout. I’m personally a fan of lake trout, their flesh is denser than other species and they make for good baking. Their cheeks are also much larger and harvesting cheek meat is easy to do, even on the smallest ones!
If you have never fished for lake trout or you are looking to improve your catch ratio then you are in the right place. Idaho’s lake trout population is as unique as the rest of our state. Reading lake trout fishing tips from the Great Lakes won’t do much to help you reel them in here in the Wilderness State. Keep reading to discover simple and concise strategies to help you fill your freezer with these delicious fish.
Lake Trout How To
Take one look at a lake trout and the size of their eyes in proportion to the rest of their body is immediately recognizable. With eyes larger than rainbow trout of similar sizes, it’s clear that these fish live in deep water. Living deep within the lake means less light is penetrating the water column, which is why their eyes are so large, to better collect the light that does make it their way.
Lake Trout Live In Deep Water
Most fisherman understand that lake trout live in deep water and immediately dismiss them as either “un-catchable”, or “too boring to fish for to bother about”. I disagree wholeheartedly with these perspectives, lake trout are among the most exciting fish to target and hitting daily bag limits can be done once you understand their habits.
Let’s start with the “deep water” perspective. I will preface this section by saying I’ve caught lake trout off the surface early in the season, about 3 weeks after ice out, throwing inline spinners. Early in the season and late in the season, you can find these fish throughout the entire water column. Ice fishing for lake trout is a whole different story – one that I will not get into. I will say that winter fishing on hard water offers prime opportunities for monsters but I digress.
Lake Trout are found in deep water during the warmer parts of the year for 3 reasons:
- Water Temperature
The preferred water temperature of a lake trout is around 50ºF. When surface temperatures in Idaho tickle the triple digit mark, it pushes the fisher into deeper water to escape the heat. Finding the proper depth where temperatures are just right is paramount to a successful fishing trip.
These fish gotta eat! Understanding the main forage species will help you dial in the proper baits to catch lake trout. In Idaho, most lakes with mackinaw in them have healthy populations of kokanee. Lake trout will gorge themselves on these land-locked salmon and they are the primary food source. You find the kokanee, you find the lake trout. I like to troll about 10 feet lower than the kokanee schools when targeting for lake trout.
The amount of dissolved oxygen in water increases with colder temperatures. This is important to remember in lakes and reservoirs with a heavy current. If there is a river bed and a current, the right oxygen levels could be shallower than you expect. A strong river current will keep the lake trout happy with a consistent temperature and oxygen level, even during the hottest days of summer. When I was fishing Payette Lake, I spent all morning targeting 100+ feet of water, and not catching anything. I changed it up and trolled at 40 feet deep inside the river channel and BAM – I limited out that day.
Trolling For Lake Trout
Once you understand what a lake trout wants, you can start trolling for lake trout. The first variable I seek to solve is the depth where the fish are at. I laid out my techniques below:
Step 1: Find The Right Depth
Lake trout are a schooling fish which means after you catch one, you are likely to catch many more. It also means that targeting the right depth will pay for itself in fish! I use two downriggers and have baits at different depths on each to increase my chances of hooking lake trout. I start trolling in increments of 5 feet, depending on the surface water temperature, I will begin at either 5 feet or 10 feet. Every twenty minutes I will lower my baits in increments of 5 feet until I hook a lake trout.
Step 2: Using The Right Lure For Lake Trout
Throwing the right bait is necessary for limiting out. Lake trout are predators and primarily feed on other fish, this means the lures you are throwing need to mimic their food source.
When i’m initially targeting lake trout I throw kokanee rigs and heres why:
- There are more forage fish than predator fish – more kokanee. Which means I have a better chance of catching kokanee and targeting them. Afterward, I can set my baits 10 feet deeper with lake trout lures.
My favorite baits to throw for lake trout are crank baits. I generally attach them to a dodger or cowbells when i’m downrigging. If you really want some action, try throwing a jointed rapala and really haul the fish in.
Step 3: Map The Lake Bottom
Most of the lakes and reservoirs in Idaho are large enough to harbor lake trout but small enough to thoroughly fish during a weekend fishing trip. Use your depth finder to read the bottom of the lake to find canyons, river beds, and boulder piles. Lake trout love hanging out in structure and if you can find 2-3 ” honey holes”, your freezer is going to thank you for it.
Where To Find Lake Trout In Idaho
Not every lake is blessed with these delicious fish but enough are. I listed out the definitive list of lakes that harbor lake trout in Idaho.
- Payette Lake
One of the most famous lakes in the state for lake trout. You can catch these monsters throughout the summer, even with all the jet ski traffic.
- Stanley Lake
In 2020, biologists gill netted about 99% of the population to eradicate lake trout from the Stanley area lakes. I don’t recommend fishing here.
- Bear Lake
Deep and huge, this is a great resource for a lake trout fishing trip.
- Ririe Reservoir
Another impressive water body full of potential monsters.
- Palisades Reservoir
Cold and located far from population centers. Most people are too busy driving to Yellowstone to hit this body of water.
- Lucky Peak Reservoir (last stocked in 1998) Not a significant population
I’ve never heard of anyone catching lake trout here but they might still be lurking about.
- Lake Pend Oreille
The largest lake in the state. If there was a place to catch monsters, this is it.
- Priest Lake
Where the state record lake trout was harvested. A must-fish body of water in the state of Idaho.
If I missed any water bodies, let me know in the comments!