Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Goin’ deep for late-summer lakers

Bryant Abbuhl, of Fayetteville, holds a trophy lake trout he caught while fishing with the author on Lake George, Warren County. Because of warm water temperatures, lake trout should remain deep in big lakes through much of September. (Photo by Alex Martin)

By Alex Martin
Contributing Writer


It’s late summer and the lake trout fishing is far from easy! With water temps still in the upper 70s in some New York waters, these cold water fish remain in the depths of the lake, getting themselves out of range of normal tackle.


At first glance it can seem like an impossible task to get down and hook up with fish that are now close to the bottom in 80 to 160 feet of water. With a few tools and techniques, however, you can enjoy catching these beautiful fish on through late summer! 


Lake trout spend most of the summer in the deepest parts of the bodies of water that they inhabit, usually staying in the bottom 20 to 30 feet of the water column. They will feed on smelt and whitefish all summer long with their top feeding times being right at sunrise and before sunset.


Dramatic contour areas of the bottom that are near drop-offs, islands, or humps will hold lake trout all summer long. Lakers are very structure oriented so studying a good contour map of where you plan on fishing will give you the best idea of where to start. Many fishermen will make the mistake of only factoring in depth when they look at where to go for lakers and they overlook the importance of structure. Shallower spots on the lake with better structures will almost always fish better than long barren deep stretches of a lake.


One of the most accurate and effective ways to fish for lake trout is by trolling using a downrigger. If you’re not familiar with them, a downrigger is a small crane that has a spool of wire with a weight and a clip to attach your line to the end of, paired with a distance counter that allows you to present your bait at an exact depth. The standard models need to be manually cranked, but there are automated ones that are able to be set to maintain a depth on their own using sonar. 


Downriggers typically go down to 150 feet, which for most of the lakes in the Adirondacks and central New York (Finger Lakes) is more than enough. Partnered with a fish finder to show you where the bottom is, as well as fish marks and contour changes, you can put your lures right where the fish are.


Marked fish that are higher off of the bottom tend to be more active and you will often see them underneath schools of bait fish or off of the bottom before a change in depth. Pay very close attention to the bottom when you are looking at the fish finder screen as sometimes lake trout like to almost be laying on it and you can pass right by fish that will look like “bumps” on the bottom. These fish are usually less active. 


However, just because these fish that are glued to the bottom aren’t the most active that doesn’t mean they can’t be caught. 


At the depths that lakers hang out in during the summer there is little light penetration so it helps to dress your lure up a bit to stir up some attention. A popular attachment that is used before the lure is called a “laker troll” or “cowbells.” These are chains of hook-less spoons sold in different lengths, colors, and sizes that serve as extra flash and noise to attract the fish. Behind these rigs you put your lure from 1 to 4 feet back, depending on how shy the fish are that day. Sometimes the trout want the bait right on the end of the cowbells, other times they want it pretty far back. Experiment and see what works for where you are fishing as every body of water is a little different. 


Top choices for lures are flatfish, spoons, and spin-n-glos. All of these lures are sensitive to speed so make sure to run them in the water beside the boat to check and see how they are swimming before you lower them to the lake trout. I find that it helps to use a GPS to keep track of your speed so you can note at which speeds a lure looks best in the water. The flatfish lures are very sensitive and really don’t look good over one mile-per-hour while most spoons won’t have a good action until you get up around 2 mph. 


Speed is important, not only for the action of your lure but also to the lake trout themselves. As I mentioned earlier, lakers that are higher in the water column tend to be a little more active and interested in feeding. These fish respond more readily to faster trolling speeds and flashier lures. Spoons trolled behind cowbells, or just by themselves at 2 mph, or a little faster, in colors like chartreuse, gold, silver with gold, and orange work very well for these suspended fish. While fish that are almost buried in the bottom tend to like a slower presentation around 1 mph or less. The flatfish and spin-n-glo lures pulled behind cowbells work excellent and green, yellow, white, and rainbow colors are all very effective. 


At times, you will find on a particular day there is a direction that the lake trout will bite better in. This is usually due to the wind and how it is affecting your speed, so pay attention for that pattern because the lakers can be very speed sensitive. If going slower isn’t working, go faster and vice versa. Another way to vary your speed and convince a fish to bite is to make short stops while you are trolling to give your lures a slight rise and fall. This subtle drop and lift can provide a little extra action that can turn a fish from a follower into a biter. 


Trolling for these New York natives is a tradition that is easy to fall in love with. Trolling during the early morning when the lake is like a mirror and you have it all to yourself is something every fisherman needs to experience. 


For places to go, I highly recommend Lake George, Schroon Lake, Lake Champlain and Otsego Lake. They all boast great lake trout fishing. 

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