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Catching Big Lake Trout at Flaming Gorge Is As Easy As 1, 2, 3!

Kurt Barton with Huge Lake Trout
Above Photo: Kurt Barton

1.  Fish in the Right Spot

The lake trout at Flaming Gorge like to bunch up above underwater hills, mounds, drop offs, and cliff edges. Knowing where to locate these spots will put you on track to zero in on the Macs.  I can help you here. Send me a good detailed map of Flaming Gorge, make sure it is this map.

I will mark it for you and send it back. Send the map, along with $1 for return postage, to:

Steven Davis
271 E. 250 N.
Ivans, Utah 84738.

Now that you have the map, you are ready to find individual humps and hills where the Macs are at. You will need a good fish-finder and a  GPS. Next, go to that area on your map where the Macs are at and with your GPS, start criss-crossing in a grid pattern. Every time you see a bunch of five or more big fish on the bottom, mark a waypoint on your GPS. My GPS will hold a thousand waypoints. By going back and forth and having a notebook with you, you will be able to get a picture of the bottom. Don’t put your waypoints too close to each other, you should only mark one on the top of the hump, or edge of the drop-off, where you see the most Macs.

In a notebook, write down the waypoint number and depth. Don’t even think about fishing at this point. This may take more than a day. However, once you have these secret GPS points, you will be able to start making trolling routes.

Kurt Barton's friend with Giant Mac
Above Photo: Kurt Barton’s friend

Now let’s talk specifics… Swim Beach Bay is one of the best areas to look for Macs. The fishing here is the best from April to July. There are a bunch of 50 to 60 foot deep edges that can have lots of Macs in May. These spots are mostly on the north side, about 100 to 200 yards from the big rock edge of the lake. The bottom here is rocky. Fish your lure 100 hundred feet back from your downrigger ball, and when you fish,  stay 1 foot off the bottom.
About 100 to 200 yards south of these 60 foot drop offs is a mile of dirt humps in 90 to 105 feet of water. From about mid-May to July these humps have large Macs on them, with 10 to 50 fish on each hump. These humps run from northeast to southwest, all the way across Swim Beach Bay.  I will mark both trolling patterns on your map, but you will need to find the individual humps by scouting it out. After you find the humps, it is just like connecting the dots, trolling from one waypoint to the next. The good thing about this area is the bottom is soft and you can drop your downrigger ball to the bottom with no worries. Fish 150 feet back from the ball in this area.

The next area to fish is Antelope Flats. This area is divided into two parts, with a deep canyon draw dividing them. The north area is called the J Run. It is very easy to troll and it is the preferred area for steel liners because of the flat gradual slope. It would be a good area to practice dragging the bottom, because of how consistent the flat bottom is here. There are big fish here, but not in large numbers, or spots. So other than marking a trolling line and pattern, there are no humps to mark. Trolling is from southeast to northwest, or northwest to southeast. I will mark it on your map.

The main Antelope Flat area is at the southeast end of the J Run and has a number of canyon draws. It can be very challenging to troll these canyon tops and slopes.
  They can have hundreds of moody lake trout on them, and when you see how many lake trout you are crossing over in June, it can make you crazy trying to get them to hit. The state record lake trout, and my biggest lake trout, was caught in this area. It is the preferred area for the boats jigging, and on some days there will be 25 or more boats dead in the water jigging these spots. Learning how to weave  through them and stay 100 hundred feet from each boat can be challenging. The bottom here is very uneven, rising and dropping from 60 to 100 feet numerous times, with lake trout everywhere. Making a straight trolling line here will not work. However, you can troll here without having to adjust your downrigger too many times by knowing the bottom and having a trolling pattern that is more like trolling the letter W than a straight line. This area can be very productive, but on many days the fish act like they have lockjaw. I once trolled this area for eight hours straight, without so much as a tick of a hit on my line. Finally, at 2:15 in the afternoon, I got the only hit of the day: a 50 pound monster Mac!

At the end of the June, a lot of the lake trout start to move over to Linwood Bay. The fishing in Linwood Bay is easy and can be hot with large fish being caught all day. 
Linwood Bay has a gradual slope to it from the shallows on the north side out to the center.  Where the lake trout  hang out on the edge of long a drop-off, that runs east and west. Most of the lake trout will be on this edge or on the east end of the edge, that runs north and south. A long trolling run of almost 1 to 1 1/2 miles miles can be made here in basically a straight course from east to west or west to east. Trolling here is easy with few snags, depending on the level of the lake. You can drop your downrigger ball to the 100 foot bottom and forget about it, just troll.  Fish your lure 150 feet back in this area.  Fishing here is very productive in July through August, with more and more fish showing up every day. Two other areas to mention would be the Anvil Area and Sheep Creek. These areas can have big lake trout.  I will mark the best spots on your map, but caution should be taken in Sheep Creek and other spots south of here, like Hideout and the rest of the canyon area, because of rocky snag filled outcrops. It is easy to lose a downrigger ball here and should only be trolled after making several passes to scout out and mark the bottom and side of the canyon. It is best left to expert downriggers. There are other areas in the lake that have large lake trout, but you must know and  map the bottom.

2. Fish with the Right Lure

There are many lures that are sucessful at catching lake trout:
A.  Rapala-type lures
B.  Flatfish
C.  Flutter spoons

A. Rapala-Type Lures

Rapala-type lures are fish shaped lures, usually 3 to 10 inches long with 1 to 3 treble hooks. They can be very effective in certain places and times of day. For example, fish these lures before sunup or after sundown. My favorite Rapalas are the floating Rainbow, Green Pike, Silver Blue, or Silver Chartreuse. Fishing with Raplas early in the morning in the shallow areas can be deadly, such as on the 50 foot to 60 foot area of Swim Beach. Set your downrigger anywhere from 20 to 40 feet down and go 3.5 to 4 mph. This approach will also work at Antelope Flats in the 30 to 60 foot areas. This method usually only works before sunup or after sundown. Stay at least 10 to 20 feet above the bottom, or you will snag up for sure. Rapalas can be very effective in the late fall to spring.

B. Flatfish

Big flatfish were once the weapon of choice at Flaming Gorge, but are rarely effective anymore. The big fish have gotten weary of them. However, small F7 and F5 flatfish, trolled right on the bottom, are killers. My favorite colors are white, silver-white, and silver-blue. They should be trolled at 1.5 mph right on–or close to–the bottom. They will catch lake trout almost as fast as you put them down, but they have a problem… they snag the bottom and you can lose a half a dozen lures in an hour of trolling. So it’s best to fish them 5 feet above the bottom.

C. Flutter Spoons

Flutter spoons are made by different manufacturers. The most well-known would be LuhrJensen‘s Needlefish. I made my first flutter spoon in 1975 and called it a Flashy Fish and soon found they are deadly to all sorts of trout and bass. The difference between a traditional spoon and a flutter spoon, is casting spoons are made with thicker metal, versus flutter spoons, which are made with thin metal. The result is the thin metal spoon has a much enhanced side to side motion, giving the lure a much more appealing fluttering action. The other benefit is these lures can be trolled right on the bottom with a downrigger. Because of their light weight, they just glide over the many rocks and snags that other types of lures catch.  I can troll the bottom a whole day and only lose one or two lures to snags, which is impossible with other types of lures. I would say that I now use Flutter Spoons  90% of the time when trolling. The most effective flutter spoons for lake trout would be the small 2 inch size Blue Night, Green Machine, Mack Attack, Whitey Tighty, Excalibur, and After Dinner Mint. Troll these lures at 2.25 mph.  I like to troll large or extra large Flashy Fish in the winter and spring, when the fish are up off the bottom, or in the canyon areas where it is hard to troll the bottom. Troll these large spoons at 2.75 to 3 mph. The best large and extra large spoons are the Rainbow, Kokanee  and Blue Tiger.

3. Fish the Right Way

Now that you know where the fish are and have a bunch of flutter spoons ready to go, there’s just a few more details that will help you catch big lake trout consistently. Many of these details are my opinion about tackle and tactics, which may change in the future.

Reels

I only use line-counter trolling reels because I want to know exactly how far back my lures are. Also, they hold a lot more line, which will be needed if I get a big fish on and it decides to run.The best line-counter reel is the Shimano Tekota Levelwind. This line-counter reel is not cheap, but should last for years of fishing. Okuma also makes a cheaper line-counter that I like, The Okuma Cold Water Linecounter.

Line

I like to use Seaguar fluorocarbon line in a 15 pound test, but it is very expensive to use. If you get a snag, you can lose a lot of line fast. For this reason, I now fish with 12 pound Izorline XXX line in smoke color, available at Tackle Warehouse. It is stronger than fluorocarbon and cheap. You will want to buy the 1100 yd spool, and put on at least 1000 feet on each reel. There is a lot of different lines that are sold and I’ve tried dozens of them with bad results, so getting the right line is very critical to your success. If you have the wrong line on, it may doom your fishing for years.

Rods

My recommendation is a 7 foot, one piece, medium action bass rod. There are many good brands to choose from. The rigging is very important, what you want to do is tie on a Duo-Lock #2 snap with no swivel, with a Palomar knot.
Duo-Lock #2 snap with no swivel
Duo-Lock #2 snap with no swivel
If your lure starts to spin or you get line twist, you will need to slow down, because you’re moving too fast.

Downrigger Notes

If you have a manual downrigger, get rid of the cable and put on 130 pound test, braided line. It will cut through the water easier and stop that annoying hum.  I use 6 pound round lead balls. Don’t use the fish shaped ones, or the pancake type. They will get hung up on the bottom. Change your transducer from pointing straight down to looking one click back. This way you will be able to see exactly where your lead is as you troll. I use offshore downrigger releases. Use the black ones, and put your line 3/4 the way back.
OK! You’re ready to fish! Put your flutter spoon 150 ft back and send it to the bottom as you approach one of your pre-mapped trolling lines. People ask me, “You don’t actually drag the bottom, do you?” And I tell them to look at my downrigger balls and notice all the dents in the lead from hitting rocks. Finally, big lake trout are very moody and 20% of the time or one out of every 5 days
they just won’t bite, no matter what you’re fishing with. Even more agrivating, in late August through October they get even more testy, so if you get skunked, don’t give up, tomorrow’s a new day.
If you have more questions email me at   trophyfishingguides@gmail.com