A lake trout from Shoshone Lake, Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Chris Hunt.
I live within a two-hour drive of Yellowstone Lake, the site of one of the greatest environmental tragedies involving native trout in recent memory. In 1994, a non-native lake trout was caught and documented in Yellowstone Lake. Just over a decade later, the population of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout crashed—more than 95 percent of the lake’s spawning cutthroat trout were literally gobbled up by predatory lakers.
Unfortunately, because they spend the vast majority of their lives in very deep water, lake trout are tough to target with fly gear. But, twice a year, they can be found in water shallow enough here in the Lower 48 to make chasing them worthwhile. And right now, during their spawning season and before the ice sets in, is one of those times. The other happens in spring, just after ice out.
Lake trout are true predators—the devasation they created in Yellowstone Lake is a testament to their ability to kill and eat other fish. They’re native to the Great Lakes and the pothole lakes of the Canadian Shield, not to western lakes like Yellowstone. When you’re pursuing lake trout with fly tackle, streamers are your best best, and I like to use big, gawdy streamers with lots of bright color for searching patterns. Consider the food base of the lake you’re targeting and see if you can’t “match the hatch” for lake trout if you’re not having any luck with orange, red or yellow streamers. In the Canadian north, lake trout will take big streamers, but they’ll also gobble up leeches, which are prolific in those dark-water lakes. In Yellowstone, bigger lake trout eat other fish, like brown trout, brook trout, cutthroat trout … and other lake trout.
Here, where I live, the best places to fish for lake trout are now off limits—fishing in Yellowstone National Park where lakers are found in Lewis, Shoshone and Heart Lakes (and, yes, they’re still in Yellowstone Lake, even though TU volunteers have partnered with the National Park Service and other conservation groups to remove millions of lake trout over the last decade or so) closed last Sunday. But I did get to make a quick trip to Shoshone Lake and take 7-mile hike, round-trip, to chase lakers before the fishing season ended.
Fishing was slow, but we got into fish in waist-deep water. And, we had Shoshone Lake to ourselves, which is one of the coolest things about fishing in Yellowstone—not many people venture off the pavement, even though the rewards can be amazing.
Lake trout are spawning and cruising the shallows as you read this. If you have any lake trout in lakes near you, between now and when the first ice moves in is a good time to strip streamers for these big predators.
— Chris Hunt