Many trout fans hang it up and head for the shade during the Dog Days of summer, mistakenly believing these cold-water beauties go on a hunger strike as the mercury soars. Veteran trout guide Bernie Keefe knows better, however, and offers the following tips to help you tap summer’s hottest lake trout bite.
“Under the right conditions you can enjoy fast action for aggressive lakers, from small eaters to trophies topping 20 pounds,” explains Keefe.
A habitual salmonid stalker and proprietor of the popular Fishing With Bernie guide service, Keefe is based in the High Country paradise of Granby, Colorado. For years, the jovial yet relentlessly hard-fishing guide has been a guru for anglers seeking a piscatorial Rocky Mountain high, but his secrets hold water in many other fisheries across lake trout country.
“It all starts by finding the right lake,” he begins. “Not all lake trout lakes have good summer bites. The reasons why one fishery is on fire while another one sucks wind vary, so your best bet is using online tools such as fishing reports, forums and state fishery agency websites to research perennial summer powerhouses in your local area. Bait shops and guides are also great resources.”
Keefe also looks for lakes loaded with lakers. “The higher the trout population, the better your odds of a hookup,” he says.
He pays less attention to the lake’s physical characteristics and forage base. “Those are a crapshoot,” he says. “Some waters with lots of structure are great in August, while others are dead. Same thing goes for bowl-shaped basin lakes. Some are hot, some are not.”
Lake trout are voracious predators that feed on a variety of forage from shrimp to large baitfish and even young trout and salmon. “I haven’t seen a pattern as far as one type of forage base producing better late-summer fishing,” he admits. “Some lakes with lots of kokanee salmon are red hot, while others aren’t worth your time right now. So again, go back to finding lakes that have lots of lakers and a history of solid summer fishing.”
Once he zeroes in on a destination, Keefe studies the lake map for structural sweet spots including points, ridges, humps and drop-offs into deep water. Such pre-trip recon saves precious time on the water; when he slips his Crestliner Fish Hawk into the water, all he has to do is fire up his Lowrance HDS sonar-GPS combo and head for the strike zone.
To fully explore and chart complicated structure, Keefe also uses the Lowrance electronics to create his own lake maps using InSight Genesis. “It’s a great way to learn more about fish-holding areas,” he says.
“It’s worth noting that some lakers suspend and others hug the bottom in summer,” he adds. “Both are viable options. I prefer bottom huggers because when I mark them on sonar I know they’ll stick around until I get back and drop a jig to them. Suspended fish are always on the move.”
When jigging low-riding lakers, Keefe ties on a ¾- to 1½-ounce hand-poured jig head, armed with a 5/0 Eagle Claw 810 TroKar hook. He tips it with a traditional tube ranging from 4½-inch Berkley Havocs up to 10-inch saltwater options, depending on the size and mood of his quarry. “Scent and flavor are important,” he adds. “I always thread a strip of sucker meat or chunk of Berkley Gulp! on the hook, inside the tube.”
Keefe is also a firm believer in the importance of color, even in deep water. “Scientists may disagree, but I’ve found that color makes a huge difference even in 60 to 100 feet of water,” he says, noting that natural shades of gray, green, brown and white are his favorites. “Leave the chartreuse and gold at home,” he adds.
He favors a 6’-3” medium-heavy Fenwick Aetos spinning rod with a fast tip for solid hooksets. He pairs the rod with an Abu Garcia MGX reel spooled with 14-6 Berkley FireLine mainline and a 10-pound leader of Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.
“Experiment with your cadence, from dead-sticking above the trout to rip-jigging and slower lift-falls,” he says. “Each trout is a little different, but you can often dial in a general pattern for the conditions at hand.”
For suspended trout, Keefe takes a similar tack, dropping a jig to the fish and testing different jig strokes. “Minnow-shaped softbaits like Berkley PowerBait Minnows and Jerk Shads are money for suspended fish,” he notes. “Spoons like a Fergie, without the clacker, are good, too. And if the trout are scattered and you like a nice slow boat ride, trolling is an option as well.”
However you target them, Keefe recommends focusing on trout overlooked by the masses. “Fish that haven’t been harassed are far more likely to aggressively hit your baits than trout hit hard by murderous fishing pressure,” he says. “If you find tight-lipped, shell-shocked survivors in a community hole, look for a similar structural setup 5 miles down the lake that no one else is fishing.”