Timely tactics for early season success
As lake water temperatures warm during late spring and summer, lake trout make a predictable migration from shallow shoreline areas deep into the offshore abyss. Right now, the fish are on the first leg of their seasonal exodus—offering anglers the opportunity for fast fishing a short cast from shore.
“I call it the first step down,” says veteran lake trout guide Bernie Keefe, of Granby, Colorado. “When the water temperature reaches about 52 degrees, which typically happens three to four weeks after ice-out, the trout move onto humps, ridges and flats in 10 to 40 feet of water, near the shallow water where they’ve been feeding since open water arrived.”
“The fish are active and highly catchable,” he reports. “So finding them is more than half the battle.”
Keeping a close eye on his Lowrance Carbon 12 electronics, Keefe idles over likely areas, watching the screen for signs of life below. “In depths of 10 to 20 feet, you might not mark an entire school of fish since the sonar cone is still pretty narrow,” he says. “So it pays to spend a little time over every fish you mark because there may be more trout in the area.”
When Keefe spots a promising return on sonar, he marks the spot with GPS, turns his Crestliner around and prepares for battle. “I don’t look for the fish on sonar,” he notes. “The fish is most likely on the move, cruising the structure in search of a meal. My job is to lure him back to me.”
Keefe’s “first step down” tackle setup includes a 6- to 6½-foot Scheel’s Guide Series spinning rod, paired with an Abu Garcia Revo reel spooled with 14-pound Berkley FireLine. He finishes off the mainline with a 10-pound leader of Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon.
Jigs are his lures of choice. All feature razor-sharp TroKar hooks and range in weight from ¼ to 1½ ounces, depending on the depth and conditions. Plain heads are tipped with 4- to 6-inch Berkley artificial softbaits including Havoc tubes, PowerBait Power Tubes, Gulp! Minnows and Jerk Shads. Shades of white or natural grays, greens and browns are perennial producers. “An assortment of hair jigs in the same colors rounds out my jig box,” he adds.”
Keefe’s presentation includes a variety of moves. “Drop the jig to bottom and start with a nice constant jigging rhythm,” he advises. “Then experiment with snaps and deadsticking. Don’t be afraid to raise the jig for suspended fish or even reel it all the way to the surface, inviting hungry trout to give chase. Pay attention to what works, because consistent success is all about repeatability.”
The diehard guide also encourages trout fans not to wait too long to give the first step down pattern a try. “It typically lasts four to five weeks,” he says. “Some of the areas will produce fish all summer, but others become barren as trout continue their journey into deeper water offshore.”