Jigging for open-water lake trout

by Gord Ellis | April 12, 2022
Jigging for open-water lake trout

We had been trolling the calm waters of Lake Nipigon for an hour, working a series of reefs, with little to show for it. Yet, lake trout were showing on the depth finder.

It was time to make an adjustment.

“Let’s try some jigs,” I said to Gord Sr. “Maybe they want a different presentation.” My father and I both reeled up the trolling lines and dug out the casting rods. Senior had a nice smelt imitation jig fly on, while I had a four-inch rubber Power Minnow with a 3⁄8-ounce darter head. Both had been proven laker takers in the past. As we got to casting, there was a large splash and swirl over the deep water just adjacent to the reef we were working.

“Did you see that?” said Senior, with a little excitement in his voice.

“Yes, I did,” I whispered. ”Cast to it…”

Without missing a beat, Gord Sr. had the bucktail jig sailing towards the swirl. The jig plopped into the water, before it was slowly retrieved with a gentle lift-drop of the rod, allowing the bucktail to pulse. There was no strike on the first cast, but on the second one, I saw Senior reef back on the rod and set the hook.

“Fish,” he said. “Feels nice.”

In the clear water, we could see the flash of the trout 20 feet down as it ran beneath the boat. After several minutes of back and forth, the laker was burping bubbles and approaching the surface. There are few sights as sexy as a big laker on its final approach. With one scoop, the laker was in the boat. The jig fly was well buried in the trout’s snout.

“Well, that was fun,” said Senior, slipping the fish back in. “He wanted the jig.”

Lake trout are often caught in the winter via jigging. These big, cold-water fish just love a vertical presentation. Yet jigging for lake trout in open water can be just as good, and maybe even better.

Here are a few techniques and presentations that can pay dividends on soft water.

Hair jigs

These can vary from plain Jane in white, grey, silver, and black, to multi-coloured. Hair jigs or jig flies have a lot of action in the water and look quite realistic and alive in the water.

Soft plastics

The average soft-plastic baits I use for lake trout is about four inches, although you can go larger depending on what the main forage is. Always match the hook size and head weight to the bait size. Finding jigs with larger, wide-gapped hooks can be tricky, but worth the effort.

Tube jigs are lake trout killers in the winter and are just as effective in open water. White tubes are good, but pearl, silver, purple, and blue also catch lakers. A four-inch tube with a 3⁄8-ounce lead head is about right, but you can go larger. Those muskie-sized tubes can be just the trigger a giant trout needs. Tubes fall in a spiral and look like a dying baitfish. They work very well over deeper humps or when you mark fish near bottom. Drop the tube to the bottom, and then slowly work it back to the surface, holding the tube still every few feet. I’ve had trout follow and strike right at the surface this way.


Jigging spoons are a good choice when trout are hugging bottom, especially over mud or sand. When you drop the spoon to bottom, it will stir things up and attract fish. This technique, called “pounding,” works in summer and winter. On rocks and boulders, the probability of getting your spoon snagged is high, although the technique can still be effective. My favourite spoons for pounding bottom include the Swedish Pimple, Hopkins Smoothie, Crippled Herring, and Laker Taker. Use spoons, of 3⁄8, 1 ⁄2, and 1 ounce weight. The deeper the water, the heavier the spoon needs to be. I like a plain silver, brass or gold finishes.

Jigging for lake trout is a deadly technique and relatively simple. If you want to mix up your summer lake trout tactics, this is a good place to start.


For jigs:

  • a medium/heavy action spinning rod of seven or eight feet
  • 20- to 30-pound braided line
  • 12- to 15-pound mono or fluoro leader

For spoons:

  • a medium/heavy bait-casting rod and with a little give in the tip
  • 30-pound braid
  • a 15 pound test leader, attached to the main line with a barrel swivel to decrease line spin
  • a metal clasp to attach the lure. Use the best clasp you can. Big lake trout will test tackle, and the weakest link is often at this point

Senior Editor Gord Ellis is a journalist, radio broadcaster, photographer, and professional angler based in Thunder Bay. Reach Gord at: mail@oodmag.com, Twitter: @GordEllis

Originally published in the April 2021 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.

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  1. Renaldo Wattley wrote: i am happy i read this post