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Trolling for Monster Lake Trout

Trolling for Monster Lake Trout
by Capt Mike, Sea Raider

My first experience with monster fish scared the hell out of me. My dad had just handed me the rod, where the bait was in the water at a distance. With his hand on mine, we began to reel it in. A short distance from the boat, something struck on the other end of the line. The rod jerked violently in my hand, and before my dad could utter a word, that Winona monster, a huge Northern…huge relative to me anyway…exploded from beneath the surface. I cried out in fear and tossed the rod to my mom. I was two.

Since that time, I’ve been seeking monsters…relative to me anyway. Got a hundred pound Dorado…mahi-mahi…and that’s a monster. Hooked up with a one-hundred and ninety-two pound halibut that needed a harpoon and a twenty-gauge shotgun to pacify at boat-side. Monster Salmon, monster Rainbow, and monster Lake Trout, they’re in my blood.


Sea Raider is set up for trolling in Flathead Lake charters. For the uninitiated, that means dragging artificial or live bait slowly through the water while trying our best to make that enticement look like food to monster fish. We can anchor and jig, or anchor and set lures in the current, but the primary means for fishing Flathead Lake and finding monsters is by trolling. Sometimes that’s done with downriggers—controlled depth fishing as it’s called.

With high-tech sonar, fish-finders for the uninitiated, we discover where the monsters are hanging out with their buddies, and then we drop the food in their laps…er…faces. Sometimes they feed, sometimes not, but at the very least the invite is delivered to the right address.

For deep-dwellers such as Lake Trout, we use a spread of artificial lures that usually have scent enhancement. The lures trail behind a flasher or dodger, an attractor that simulates a fish feeding on the lure. Lake Trout are often stimulated to strike by the act of another fish feeding and since it seems as though their competitor missed they might be prompted to give it a try. One of my captains actually had a big Lake Trout try to take a Worden Flatfish out of another big Lake Trout’s mouth. He caught them both simultaneously on the same lure. Voracious and competitive accurately describes Lake Trout. If you know how to find them, and where to find them, they’re not difficult to catch.

Surface dwellers, like Bull Trout and Rainbow (or Kamloops) as you might find when fishing Lake Koocanusa, are a different story. In Flathead Lake fishing, the apex predators feed almost anywhere and on just about any fish, but they concentrate on shrimp and fry…down deep. While fishing Lake Koocanusa, the primary forage is Kokanee Salmon. The Kokanee feed on zoo plankton, on the surface, and that’s where the monsters hunt them. Those big fish are boat shy and that makes presenting a lure…food…a different proposition.

In Lake Koocanusa fishing charters, to effectively prompt Bulls and Rainbows to strike, your lure must be trailed far from the boat, sometimes as much as three hundred feet away. You might drag flat-lines straight back behind the boat, but to avoid tangles, not very many and there is yet another aspect of the problem to solve. The big predators are dispersed and you have to cover a LOT of water to find them. Planer boards provide for an effective solution for fishing Lake Koocanusa.

A planer board is a properly-shaped pair of planks constructed of wood or foam-filled plastic that ride up on their edge. It is connected to the boat via a large pulley with an extendable cord that lets the board travel through the water fifty yards or more away from the boat. The shape of the planer board causes it to arc away and out to the side from the boat to the full extent of the cord.

Once the boards are out and running, we let back our lure directly behind the boat for about two hundred feet. Then the line at the tip of the rod is secured into a release which is then clipped onto the planer board cord. More fishing line is let out and this release then slides down the cord toward the board while dragging the lure out and away from the boat. Three or more lines are attached to the cords on each side in a similar manner. A boat trailing a pair of planer boards covers a swath of water almost a hundred yards wide. We troll at nearly twice the speed of Flathead Lake fishing when fishing Lake Koocanusa…covering a LOT of water with our three-hundred-foot wide spread. And still it takes time to find those predators because, unlike Flathead Lake charters, the monsters are not typically beneath the boat. It’s more of a hit and miss approach. Side-scan sonar helps, but not a lot.

Both Flathead Lake charters or Lake Koocanusa fishing charters are hands-on educational experiences. Whether you are an angler looking to learn, or a vacationer wanting to try something new, come along with us and we’ll share every trick in the book. A fishing charter is a fun-filled time of discovery, so don’t pass on the opportunity.

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