Washington State and other parts of the Pacific Northwest are dotted with several deep lakes and reservoirs. Several exceed 400 feet deep. While trolling at the surface can be effective targeting rainbow trout and cutthroat trout, the Mackinaw lake trout (actually not a trout but a char) spends most of its time near the bottom in 50 to over 200 feet in depth. Targeting these fish usually requires a good fish finder, a down rigger and presenting your lure close enough to the fist to get them to strike.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for Hobie about targeting trout trolling lead-core line. Lead-core line has advantages of getting your line down 10 to 30 feet below the surface but often still out of reach of deep dwelling Mackinaw. A fellow angler read my article and contacted me asking if I had ever jigged for Mackinaw lake trout. He shared a few tips of looking for deep ledges around the lake where these fish congregate. Often the structure along the shoreline will give you a good indication of what lies beneath. I look for steep rock faces along the shoreline which often results in that same contour underwater. Mackinaw will often lay along steep edges and drop offs and will not move much unless an easy meal passes by them.
Jigging is more common in the Great Lakes area where Mackinaw thrive. I was familiar with jigging spoons or bar jigs such as Point Wilson Darts and Buzz-Bombs, having fished for migrating salmon in salt water. The jigging for Mackinaw was far slower and required more finesse than fishing for salmon.
Mack’s Lure makes a smaller bar jig in a half-ounce size called the Sonic Baitfish. The jigging spoon drops fast in the water column and can be easily jigged using a light spinning or level wind rod and reel combo. On the fall, the Sonic Baitfish has a flutter action that looks like a dying baitfish (in this case, a landlocked Kokanee salmon). And because both metal and lead shows up so well on sonar, you can often mark fish laying on the bottom watch the fish intercept your falling jig before it hits the bottom.
You’ll want to pick a calm day with little to no wind. Wind and waves can often make it difficult to stay on top of fish and be within their strike zone. Hobie’s MirageDrive 180 allows you to control your drift and helps you to stay in position on top of the fish. Mackinaw can be suspended off the bottom or sometime seen laying directly on the bottom of a ledge. While you can certainly drop your jig down 50 to 100 feet and reel it back up each time, I’ve found a couple of flutter kicks of my MirageDrive and slow vertical twitches of my lure off the bottom allows me to cover more area without having to reel in.
If the bite slows, try adding a little scent to your lure like Pro-Cure’s Bloody Tuna & Garlic. Mackinaw fishermen say that the best scent is just rubbing the lure inside of the mouth of the fish. Added scent can sometimes land you a bonus catch like the prehistoric, snake-like looking burbot. Burbot are another deep dwelling species of fish related to their saltwater cousin – the lingcod. They also make great table fare.
While these fish spend most of their time in the deeper parts of the lake, in the fall and spring when the waters are cooler they will migrate to shallower waters from 10 to 30 feet to spawn. You can fish them the same way, just reducing your jig size to something a little lighter.
Get out there and knock another bucket list species off your list. It’s even more rewarding when you do it from a kayak!
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