Never forget the importance of adding a little additional scent to your presentation. A very small piece of belly strip or even small slice of skin and scales can make all the difference it the world when it comes to catching these deep water predators.


Gotta love Great Lakes greys.


I’ve got one crazy fish down there. Over and over and over again he’s going. Just one crazy fish!” exclaimed Randy Ford my fishing companion on that sunny July day out from Kincardine on Ontario’s Lake Huron shoreline twenty years ago. “You have to see this dumb animal. Seems like he’s hypnotized by the darn Spin Doctor.”

My reply was almost instantaneous. “Same on this rod, only I have two trout that seem to be imitating either the dodger or the bait. There really are some crazy fish swimming in big circles down there!”

That was an interesting and educational day on the water way back then. Ford was the president of Walker Downriggers and it was the first opportunity I had to experiment with his latest invention, the Strike Vision Underwater Camera System. We had mounted a Tournament Series rigger on both the starboard and port sides of my Mako both with Strike Vision cameras attached. I had wanted to film and record what exactly had been going on under my boats for all those years.





For six straight hours with the camera rolling I was honestly blown away. We were in fish rich lake trout water and it seemed the fish were always on the screen. At times, not always attacking our baits… but always on the screen following our offerings. Right from the start we learned the lake trout were inquisitive. If they weren’t hungry or tricked into hitting our baits, they at least were content to follow our baits and then stay attracted for long periods of time. If we were trolling too fast, the greys would still swim in behind a flasher and almost play “follow the leader.” As the Spin Doctors spun and the rotation became tighter many of the fish would home in closer and almost act as if they were part of the parade following the same track as the attractor and bait. Bringing the speed down a few notches, the flashers, flies and spoons would slow and the puzzled trout would almost nudge the baits out of curiosity and then depart in an act of almost disappointment.

In one instance, while bringing a 10 pounder to net, the Dreamweaver spoon ripped free from the mouth of the trout, taking with it a one-inch piece of boney jaw flesh and cartilage. The action was hot and in a hurry to get the attractor and bait back down in front of the camera I hadn’t bothered to remove the trailing lip of the trout that hung on the treble. Almost immediately it became apparent a little added attractant of scent or “real” meat made a difference. On the other side of the boat Randy’s camera was still catching numerous fish wanting to still play “follow the leader.” Under the watch of my Strike Vision the lakers were also still playing a little “follow the leader,” but they only had to move into the “smell” zone one or two times and then readily strike out at bait and trebles. It was one lake trout lesson I would not forget. Now when an artificial goes down to the bottom and the deep, it always goes down accompanied with either the Real McCoy or a little added scent attractant.

Since those early days of experimenting with the original Strike Vision, right up to the present, I’ve probably recorded a thousand hours or more of underwater fish observation. I’m positive all of our cold-water game fish species react differently. Coho for instance, in their last final summer of feeding frenzy are nothing short of finned dynamite. They attack a flasher and trailing bait from all directions without any hesitation. Seldom to the follow a bait…they just attack! That’s the reason they can gain a pound a week during their final months in the open lake or ocean.


As lake trout numbers increased across the Great Lakes anglers continued to tinker and learn.


Chinook may be bigger, but they are much more wary than the coho. The big boys and girls almost always swing in from behind the trolled bait and even stalk it. I had one Chinook follow a Spin Doctor and fly for a good half hour. More often than not they approach a bait, seem to sniff it out and then drop back and continue the stalk. Again, this seems to be all the more reason for the addition of sent.

Steelhead or rainbow trout will kick it up a gear. Not quite as aggressive in the pursuit of a meal as a coho, they deserve second place for the kamikaze award. It’s amazing they can be so tough to catch in the stream, yet so willing to bang away at just about anything in the open lake.

Now, back to the subject of Great Lakes lake trout, where we are talking about another fish altogether. Unlike the other three species, grey trout don’t migrate around the Great Lakes in search of a meal. For the most part they are a stay at home creature, preferring a slightly colder water temperature range than salmon. The general rule is the 42F – 52F range with 48F listed as optimum. Like every other species, they will journey outside these perimeters in search of food occasionally. During the spring months you can find them almost rubbing the shoreline in water as shallow as 10 feet or less. By mid-summer you can expect to find them 80 feet or deeper in search of preferred water temps. They will occasionally suspend, but prefer to feed on bottom. They love rocky structure, rocks, boulders, gravel bottoms and especially ledges, reefs and drop-offs. What is for certain, is the fact that lake trout are a “community” fish. Find one and you know others are usually around and on the prowl. Structure counts. Find the structure and you find the fish.





During the summer of 1970 I accepted an invitation to fish Manistee, Michigan for the first time. The salmon miracle had just commenced. Coho were the name of the game at this time, but Chinook were beginning to make their presence known. Also steelhead, browns and lake trout were being stocked to control an exploding alewife and smelt takeover of the lake.

The day of my arrival I walk into a tackle shop and meet one crazy Polish fisherman from New York State. His name was Bernie Klimczak. Most old time Great Lakes anglers will know him as one hell of a fisherman and guide out of Oak Orchard, New York on Lake Ontario and also the owner/manufacture of the famous Miller silver plated flutter spoons and gang trolls. I fished that evening with him and for the next week. Of course his preferred bait was always a Miller flutter spoon and as expected it was following a 4-foot Miller silver plated gang troll. To impart more action to the lure, Klimczak would chug and jerk on the line as we trolled. Salmon may have been our target, but we caught as many lakers that day as kings.

Later, Bernie and his wife Marie invited my wife and I to join them at an event called a “Michigan Fish Boil.” It was a fundraiser put on by the members of the Michigan Steelheaders and Salmon Fishermen’s Association. I had never walked into quite a scene like the one that evening. A giant canvas circus tent set up by the shores of Lake Michigan, jammed to the rafters with anglers and every wall lined with steaming Leyse fish kettles. It was my first introduction to a “Fish Boil.” The boiling pots were filled to the top with onions, potatoes and fillets of trout and salmon. Once on the plates all three ingredients were bathed in melted butter and the results were fit for a king.


Tell the boss Gambler Rigs don’t catch big Niagara Bar lake trout.


I also had my first introduction that night to Andy Pelt the Executive Director of the MSSFA, Mike Lummis managing partner of both Walker Downriggers and Producer Lures, as well as both Howard Tanner, the Michigan DNR Director and Wayne Tody, Michigan DNR Fisheries Chief. Tanner and Tody are recognized as the fathers of the Great Lakes’ salmon fishery.

I can still remember bringing up the subject of the lake trout collapse around the Great Lakes, asking why and if we could expect a recovery? Tanner answered we had to wait and see. Salmon were an automatic game changer, but lakers faced problems dieting on smelt and especially alewife due to the aspect of thiamine deficiency, reproduction and in turn survival. Having been around the fishery a few years myself I suggested predation by the bait, just maybe killing the prey. Coming out of the egg lake trout are small. Smelt by the billions have teeth like sabertooth tigers and alewife have the same jaw structure of tarpon and suck up hatching baitfish and game fish. Not one of us around the table even considering nutrient depletion due to refined and improved filtrations facilities around the Great Lakes or the threats from even more exotics from Europe such as zebra and quagga mussel that have not only arrived but are paving the bottom of our lower Great Lakes and siphoning even more all important nutrients out of the system.

Well, here we are 50 years later. Chinook are still kings of lakes Michigan and Ontario, but less stocking effort is put on the number of Chinook and coho in an attempt to preserve the ever decreasing numbers of alewife and smelt. Remember, those two big lakes are like holding tanks and continually collect various forms of nutrients from the millions of people, cities and farmlands that surround them. On Ontario, especially in the western basin the lake trout fishery for grey giants is now challenging any other location in North America for average size and numbers. Lake Michigan is also becoming famed for big trophy lake trout.





Then there’s Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, two bodies of water that were the first to experience the drastic effects of the invasive mussels. Almost overnight smelt and alewife numbers bottomed out and the State of Michigan ordered an almost total stoppage of salmon stockings, except around a very few northern ports. The Province of Ontario also reduced Chinook stockings in the volunteer Community Fisheries program. As the smelt populations fell lake trout numbers began to boom. After decades of stocking lake trout, the fish even began showing remarkable evidence of natural self-sustaining reproduction.

While still feeding on the dwindling smelt and alewife stocks, lakers are show-ing a remarkable diet shift towards shiners and even the invasive round goby. Both prey are less oily in nature and in turn have changed the flesh color, texture and taste in lake trout. Bluntly put, they are less oily and scrumptious! On Huron and Georgian Bay fillets carved from the trout are a brighter yellow, sometimes even red toned, firmer and delicious. The fish are increasing in size, with 30-pound plus-lunkers being reported regularly. Along Ontario’s Lake Huron shoreline lake trout often capture top weights over Chinook salmon in most summer derbys.

The lake trout fishery around the Great Lakes is also starting to blossom. Anglers have been quick to learn that while migratory kings come and go, the lake trout are always nearby to satisfy a day on the water.


A slow trolled Spin Doctor and Wirlygig counts for big fish.


Anglers have long known that three- and four-foot gang trolls are the ultimate when it comes attracting greys. Luhr Jensen and Sons from Hood River, Oregon were actually the first to target Great Lakes with their Dave Davis, Beer Can and Les Davis trolls. There was a time when silver plated spoons and silver plated trolls pulled in tandem were looked upon as the ultimate lake trout slayers. Times change. Anglers knew that trolls attract fish, but experimenting with what followed behind them also began to change. A funny little bait known as the “peanut” or Yakima “Wobble Glo” soon became the craze across the Great Lakes for big water anglers. Funny, that a little bit of wiggle behind a gang troll would turn on the big trout.

As lake trout numbers increased across the Great Lakes anglers continued to tinker and learn. The same Yakima Bait Company had another dandy bait in production and their Spin-N-Glo buoyant winged drift bobber proved to be just the bait to catch the grey trout’s attention and another bait to follow a gang troll or even a slow dip and diving Spin Doctor flasher.

Dreamweaver Lures out of Ludington, Michigan, a leader in the salmon tackle industry, introduced their Wirlygig with lake trout and walleye in mind. The Wirlygig is another spinning classic to tie on behind a gang troll that the greys can’t resist.






Then there’s a special company out of Hilton, New York, Gambler Rigs that have a series of both lures and gang trolls designed specifically for Great Lakes lake trout anglers. Their trolls are constructed for tracking down lunker trout and the various color patterns can be matched identically to the trailing Gambler Rig. It’s interesting to note the Gambler Rig is a combination of Worden’s Spin and Glos and tinsel tails. The same company also produce a special “Peanut” rig, utilizing the original Wordens Wobble Glo. Do they catch fish and big fish at that? You bet!

Never forget the importance of adding a little additional scent to your presentation. A very small piece of belly strip or even small slice of skin and scales can make all the difference it the world when it comes to catching these deep water predators.

Times are changing throughout the Great Lakes. Hopefully kings and coho are here forever, but I’m going to predict the lake trout are here to stay and fishing for them is only going to get better. These slow growing fish are starting to make an impact on our sport and an impact in a big way. Forty pounders are on the horizon and whole lot larger in our fishing forecasts.



Wisconsin’s famous “fish boil” has been around for more than 100 years. Legend has it that the fish boil goes back to the Scandinavians who brought the custom to the early settlements around Lake Michigan.

Steelhead, salmon, brown trout and lake trout are the main ingredients and the finished prepared meal is fit for a king or a queen. The "fish boil" can be pre-pared indoors or over an open fire outdoors.

Leyse Aluminum of Kewaunee, Wisconsin manufactures the original fish kettle, but almost any kettle with a submergible basket will do.

    • 8 Quart Kettle
    • 6 medium-sized potatoes (halved)
    • 6 onions
    • 1 cup of salt
    • 4 lbs of fresh fish fillets or steaks
    • 1 ½ cup of drawn butter
    • parsley and lemon

    Remove basket and bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Place potatoes in basket and cover kettle. Add onions and 1 cup of salt. Boil 18 minutes over medium heat (regulating heat to produce a steady roll action). Add fish and continue heating for 10 to 20 minutes. Drain and serve. Pour melted butter, garnish with parsley and lemon. Enjoy...






    Back to blog

    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.