The Great Lakes are full of iconic fishing destinations every angler should experience at least once. Stannard Rock located approximately in the middle of Lake Superior is at the tip of the spear for anglers who covet native lake trout and the quest for ultra-big fish.
The Michigan state record for lake trout is a mega giant 61.5-pound specimen rumored to have been taken at Stannard Rock. Fishermen being the secretive sort, we may never know for sure what part of Lake Superior produced that goliath fish. However, it’s a safe bet that anyone looking to catch super tanker lake trout would be well advised to set their sights squarely on a reef system known as Stannard Rock.
ABOUT THE ROCK
Stannard Rock features an unmanned light house, that marks a reef that is approximately five miles long and a little over mile wide. The closest point of land and public access site is Lac La Belle Lake located near the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The run from Lac La Belle to Stannard Rock is approximately 38 miles.
Despite being a much further run, the majority of anglers who make the trek to Stannard Rock jump off from Marquette, Michigan. While the run to the rock is shorter from Lac La Belle, it requires about two more hours of drive time to reach the public access compared to launching from Marquette
NOAA WEATHER BUOYS:
Making the run to Stannard Rock is all about picking a suitable weather window. A series of weather buoys maintained by the National Data Buoy Center, www.ndbc.noaa.gov, provide critical wind and wave information that is updated hourly. By consulting this site anglers can see current conditions, read the most recent marine weather forecast and determine if a suitable fishing window is available on any given day.
Anyone who heads to Stannard Rock without first consulting this site and confirming weather conditions is literally rolling the dice. In the interest of safety, it’s also a good idea to set up trips involving two or more boats. This way if a boat breaks down, help will be nearby.
Stannard Rock is far enough off shore that cell coverage is unreliable and even reaching the Coast Guard on a VHF radio is risky at best should an emergency occur.
WHEN THE WEATHER IS RIGHT
When the weather is right, making the run to Stannard Rock in a 20- to 22-foot multi-species boat averaging about 30mph takes about 80 to 120 minutes depending on the port of departure. A multi-species boat equipped with premium quality sonar, a GPS plotter and also a bow mounted electric motor is the ideal boat for targeting lake trout at Stannard Rock.
Once on location, fishing for lake trout focuses on two primary presentations including jigging near bottom and casting for suspended fish. The Fishing 411 TV crew spent three days at Stannard Rock last July as the guest of Captain Travis White. We made the run in two Starcraft STX 2050 aluminum multi-species boats and a crew of four anglers including myself, Dale Voice of Cadillac, Captain Travis White, Jake Romanack and videographers Jordan Brown of Michigan Out of Doors TV and Gabe VanWormer of Fishing 411 TV.
The lake trout of Stannard Rock can be as shallow as a few feet of water or as deep as 200 feet depending on what part of the reef is being fished, the time of day and surface water temperatures. When the surface waters are in the low to mid 40 degree range, a majority of the fish are going to be found in deeper water and deep water jigging tactics aided by the help of an electric motor tend to produce the best action.
When the water temperature records in the high 40 and low 50 degree range, lakers move up onto the shallow portions of the reef and large numbers of fish can be found in 60 feet of water or less. Early in the day it’s common to see fish on the surface feeding.
Because wind and wave conditions, plus subsurface currents are constantly mixing the water, surface water temperatures change rather quickly and as a result so do fishing strategies.
The typical set up for jigging lake trout at Stannard Rock consists of a medium or medium/heavy action spinning rod, with a 30- or 40-size spinning reel loaded with at least 150 yards of 10 to 15 pound test super braid line. A clear leader of 15-pound test fluorocarbon is tied to the braid main line using a double uni-knot and the jig tied directly to the fluorocarbon.
Because an angler never knows for sure what depth the trout will be found using, coming prepared with an assortment of jigs including ½-, ¾-, 1-, 1.5- and 2-ounce models is standard practice. Old school bucktail jigs are popular with locals, but a growing number of anglers who make the trek to Stannard Rock are depending primarily on a variety of five- to six-inch soft plastics including action tail grubs, split-tail grubs, split-tail minnows and paddle-tail style swimbaits.
Because the water is gin clear, natural colors that do a good job of imitating the ciscoes or lake herring these trout feed on tend to produce the most consistent action. Local anglers tip their jigs with a small chunk of sucker meat.
When the Fishing 411 crew visited Stannard Rock in July of 2017, we took along about 12 dozen four- to si- inch sucker minnows treated with Pro Cure Brine-N-Bite in the natural shine formula. This one step brine firms up the sucker minnows and works wonders at keeping them in great shape for both jigging and casting applications.
Dale Voice and myself landed countless fish using a one-ounce jig, dressed with a five- or six-inch paddle tail and top dressed with a whole sucker minnow during our three days of fishing. The real story however wasn’t about jigging on this particular adventure, but rather applying a casting strategy that produced fewer, but much larger fish.
A significant number of the lakers at Stannard Rock are not found on bottom, but rather suspended in the water column. Targeting these fish requires a different approach. Because these fish are scattered, drifting or slowly moving with an electric motor and fan casting is the only practical way to cover water and contact fish.
Our best approach boiled down to making a long cast and allowing a jig dressed with an oversized plastic body to sink to the bottom. Once the jig hit bottom a slow and steady retrieve back to the boat produced best.
This strategy produced lots of follows from fish that would literally nip at the tail of the grub, but not strike. “While it is frustrating to see a big fish follow and not strike,” it’s also nice to know there are big fish in the area,” explains Jake Romanack of Fishing 411.
SMALL FISH/BIG FISH
Stannard Rock has a reputation for producing big lake trout, but the truth is for every trophy-sized trout that is caught, dozens of fish in the two- or three-pound class must be sorted through. Sometimes it seems there is no rhyme or reason in terms of the size of the fish caught. Small fish are abundant and routinely caught, then suddenly without warning a big fish shows itself.
TARGETING BIG FISH
Captain Travis White, has probably spent more time at Stannard Rock and boated more trophy lakers than any other angler. To limit the number of bites from smaller fish and also to increase his odds of catching fish in the 20-pound class and larger, Captain Travis spends far more time casting than jigging.
“I’m convinced that on average the bigger fish tend to be suspended in the water column more often and that smaller fish are more likely to be belly to bottom,” says Captain Travis White. “A 20-pound lake trout would have no problem eating a two- or three-pound laker, so the smaller fish tend to stay on or near the bottom where they can avoid larger predators.”
Captain Travis also selects casting baits that are much larger in size in an effort to ward off strikes from smaller fish. “One of the nice things about chartering at Stannard Rock is I get to fish with my clients,” explains Captain Travis. “I’m personally only interested in catching big trout and you can’t accomplish that goal if you’re catching smaller fish all the time. I throw a lot of musky sized plastic swimbaits. Because these baits are larger and heavier than what most guys fish, I also use heavy action baitcasting rods and reels.”
Recently while helping the Fishing 411 TV crew film an episode for World Fishing Network, Captain Travis proved his point by tirelessly throwing big baits from dawn to dark three days in a row. Day two turned out to be a special day on the water for both Travis and Jake who fished together all three days. When the dust had settled their five biggest fish on day two would have weighed more than 120 pounds!
All trout caught during filming were released including a spectacular fish over 36 pounds landed by Jake Romanack applying Captain Travis’ big bait and casting strategy.
“When casting oversized soft plastic swimbaits, one of the most exciting aspects is that strikes tend to happen right at the boat,” says Jake Romanack of Fishing 411. “The down side of that equation is that for every fish that bites, several others are going to follow and then peel off at the last second without striking.”
Captain Travis strongly suggests that anglers who are going to throw big plastic swimbaits should also rig up with a stinger hook. “Sometimes those big trout will literally inhale the whole bait, but most of the time fish are hooked on the stinger hook as they tend to nip only at the tail of the bait.”
A HOT AND COLD BITE
The small fish at Stannard Rock can be caught jigging pretty much any time of the day. The larger fish at Stannard Rock are seemingly hit or miss in terms of their activity level.
“When the big fish are actively feeding, the action is fast and furious and trophy class fish seem to appear out of nowhere,” says Captain Travis. “When the bite is over, you would swear there aren’t any big lake trout at Stannard Rock.”
In other words, the only way to insure catching truly big fish at Stannard Rock is to make the trek often and also to make as many casts as possible while on location. Making a trip to Stannard Rock doesn’t automatically come with a big fish guarantee, but for those who covet native lake trout and fish big enough to brag about, the “Rock” is the place to be.
- written by Mark Romanack (Fishing 411 TV)