The gray world awaits—a chiaroscuro of gunmetal skies, charcoal water, and dappled submarines. I've been fortunate enough to chase lake trout from the Yukon to Labrador and from Colorado to the Arctic Sea, always hunting for another shot at a 50 pounder. Trolling spoons, fly fishing with big synthetic flies, pitching plastics, casting swimbaits—there are as many methods for lake trout as there are tactics for bass, pike, or anything else. The best method is the one catching the most and biggest fish, in my opinion.
Every environment distills its own unique methods out of its signature blend of baitfish, structure, water clarity, and latitude. Developing tactics designed to complement the specific and unique character of the water is what it's all about. The following waters offer the best laker fishing on earth right now, in my opinion. (Could be wrong, but I doubt it.) And right now is the time to call one of the following venues to set up the trip of a lifetime.
1. Great Slave Lake (Northwest Territories)
Great Slave is about the size of Lake Erie. It's huge, but the Plummer's lodge is on a long northern arm of the lake, allowing you to get out on the water almost every day. I watched a man haul in a 54 pounder here, the biggest I've ever seen respond to a vertical-jigging technique. If that's your favorite method, this is the place to be. We caught several fish over 30 pounds dropping jigs to bottom and reeling them quickly back toward the surface. Sometimes bulging gray predators would follow right up into the surface film and throw water over everyone on board. This is an exciting fishery in a gorgeous wilderness setting.
Contact: Plummer's Arctic Lodges 800/665-0240.
2. Flaming Gorge (Utah, Wyoming)
They still call them "Mackinaws" out here. In the lower 48, right behind the U.S. waters of Lake Superior, this is the place to be right now for big, bodacious lake trout. They grow fast here, if not old. Flaming Gorge Reservoir, on the Utah-Wyoming border, is over 91 miles long and over 400 feet deep. Lakers over 50 pounds have been caught here. When the water's cold, in spring and fall, huge lakers can be taken with a fly rod, though most are caught jigging vertically or downrigging.
Contact: Flaming Gorge Fishing Company, 801/652-4231 or 435/885-3285.
3. Wollaston Lake, Saskatchewan
Wollaston lakers grow big. In the short time I spent fishing for them I managed to pop a 30 pounder. Since Wollaston is a bit south of places like Nueltin and Kasba, where we fished 25 to 40 feet down in mid summer, we thought the fish would be deeper. Not so. Even during mid summer you can reach the biggest lakers in Wollaston with a big Worden's Flatfish or Luhr Jensen Kwikfish trolled 50 to 150 feet back on 30- to 40-pound braided lines with 25-pound fluorocarbon leaders and no added weight.
Sometimes the fish were found less than 20 feet down on the edges of rock reefs, which was surprising during the heat of summer. The action wasn't fast-and-furious, but the average size was big.
Wollaston is a great lake-trout fishery for anglers not worried about having constant action with smaller fish while waiting for the giants to show up.
Wollaston pike grow equally big. They move gradually from the shallows and the guides at Wollaston Lake Lodge keep them in the crosshairs, tracking them through their seasonal movements with commendable aplomb and efficiency. Mid summer found them on weed flats and in current areas near necks. We rounded up big numbers of fish in the 36- to 43-inch range with size #4 and #5 Mepps and Blue Fox bucktails around the edges of big weed humps. The action was phenomenal—fast-and-furious. In the neck downs action was a lot slower, but the pike were a lot bigger. I looked down at my big bunker-pattern Rapala X-Rap boatside just in time to see it lunched by a fish weighing close to 30 pounds that came out of nowhere. Heart stopping.
All-in-all, Wollaston is well worth a visit. The guides, lodging, food, and equipment are all top-notch—all accompanying some of Saskatchewan's finest fishing.
4. Great Bear Lake (Northwest Territories)
The Bear is the largest lake in Canada and the fourth largest in North America. Only about 400 anglers per year visit the home of the world-record lake trout (72 pounds), so the Bear is decidedly underfished. Baitfish here are lake trout under 10 pounds. Bring the stoutest gear you can fit on the plane, and expect to sit in the lodge drinking coffee and eating the delicious homemade cookies about one out of every three days. The Bear is a harsh mistress in the kinds of boats all lodges of the far north are forced to use. But you're here to hunt down the biggest laker ever to submit to rod and reel. There's a price to be paid. Any lake-trout man worth his salt has been on the Bear.
Contact: Plummer's Arctic Lodges 800/665-0240
5. Nueltin Lake (Manitoba, Nunavut Territory)
Some of the best lake-trout fishing I've ever experienced took place on Nueltin. During mid summer, we rolled up on rocky spires and jigged up lakers over 12 pounds on every pass, seldom looking deeper than 50 feet. In the early season and early-morning hours during summer, giants cruise the shallows where they can be approached with a fly rod. Fish in excess of 50 pounds have been taken here in recent years. A group of fly fishermen from England makes its way to Nueltin each year for the chance to hook a real monster on the fly.
Contact: Nueltin Lake Lodge 800/361-7177
6. Lake Athabasca (Alberta, Northwest Territories)
On northern Athabasca, just a few short years ago, I witnessed the most spine-tingling views of lake trout I'd ever seen. Huge trout, sporting orange- and yellow-tinged spawning colors, lined up like rockers outside a U2 concert, waiting their turn on the spawning reefs. They were easily visible in 6 to 10 feet of water, parting slowly as the boat passed overhead. We caught lake trout over 30 pounds every day, with several fish in the 38- to 40-pound range. Athabasca is currently my choice for the best lake-trout water on earth. But that can change.
Contact: Lakers Unlimited, 406/552-0712
7. Kasba Lake (Nunavut, Northwest Territories)
Another vast lake on the edge of the beyond, Kasba is famous for giant lakers and lots of them. A 56-pounder was taken here, recently. The first time I visited Kasba, almost everybody in camp boated one over 40 inches long. The grayling fishing here is world class. Be certain to take the fly-out to the Kazan River to see first hand the intimate relationship between grayling and big grays. Having a 20-pound laker decide to lunch on your 3-pound grayling gives you the opportunity to find out just how tough your 5-weight fly rod is. On the main lake, expect car parts and big banana baits to score the biggest fish. Mine came on big Luhr Jensen Dodgers (no trailer—just put a big Siwash hook on the dodger) and K-15 Kwikfish, using 30-pound braided line and 25-pound Berkley Big Game fluorocarbon leaders.
Contact: Kasba Lake Lodge, 800/663-8641.
8. Lake Superior (Michigan, Minnesota, Ontario, Wisconsin)
One of my favorite escapes involves finding a new port on Superior, breaking out a good chart, and finding lake trout with no further assistance. The lake-trout fishing on the largest expanse of fresh water in the world is nothing less than spectacular. Every likely-looking bit of structure has wall-to-wall gray trout in its time and season. A 62 pounder was taken by a Michigan angler here about 15 years ago. Certainly, bigger fish exist in Superior. Big copper spoons on wire line do well here. Even in the heat of August, it's rare to be forced deeper than 55 feet to find common lake trout (as opposed to the deep-dwelling siskowet) in the 15- to 25-pound class.
Contact: Micigan Charter Boat Association: 800/622-2971
9. Mosquito-Dubawnt Lakes (Northwest Territories)
Musk ox, ptarmigen, jaegers, open-range grizzlies, wolverines, and tundra. Make no mistake—this is an exotic tour of Arctic life, and lake trout fit right in. These lakes are ice free for about six weeks, and never warm enough to drive lakers deep. We caught them pitching big plastics on bare hooks into the tumult of cascading rivers and let them tumble down into the lake, where big lakers waited for a tired, injured, or distracted grayling to appear. Whenever my partner, Chuck Nelson, hooked up while trolling, I grabbed a spinning rod equipped with braid and pitched plastics out over depths of 80 feet—getting bit about a third of the time. This is a wild and wonderful area, with fly-outs to rivers "that have never been fished."
Contact: Tukto Lodge, 807/484-2512.
10. Camp Champdore (Headwaters of the Whale River, Quebec)
Lake trout in rivers? All summer? Not kidding. This is primarily a fly-fishing camp for lakers and big brook trout, specializing in shallow-water opportunities all summer long. The old camp-record laker (under former management) weighed over 44 pounds, and it was taken with a fly. A 20 pounder is quite common at Champdore. If you've never experienced lake trout coming up top for a fly, this is where you want to be. A 30-pound gray engulfing a mouse pattern is one of fishing's rarest and most treasured moments.
Contact: www.champdore.com or call 276/744-7619.