Best Flies for Lake Trout

11 Best Flies for Lake Trout (Plus How to Setup and Tie)

As a fly angler, the idea of pursuing lake trout isn’t one that’s too common. Most people imagine fishing for lake trout is trolling in the middle of the Great Lakes with heavy spinning gear. However, if you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll find that you can be equally as successful and land quite a few fish. As a bonus, you’ll find that these fish aren’t heavily targeted by flies, so they’re more than willing to eat them!

1. Todd’s Wiggle Minnow- Size 2

Todd’s Wiggle Minnow is a phenomenal option for your lake trout adventures. It’s a diving fly, so the more action it receives, the lower in the water column it gets. Since lake trout often sit in the bottom of the water column, you need to go meet them where they feed. When you cast, let it drop for a few seconds to get it where you need.

Todd's Wiggle Minnow for Lake Trout
Todd’s Wiggle Minnow for Lake Trout – image credit Umpqua

As you begin to retrieve the fly, long and slow strips are going to present the most realistic looking action. As you strip, it wiggles back and forth in the water. This moves quite a bit of water, and is a wonderful baitfish representation. This is one of those classic flies that you should always have in your box in case nothing else is working.

You’ll have three different options for color. Depending on the color stain, choose one that’s going to match best. If it’s clear water, the pink and green pattern will help it stand out. However, since trout like protection, stained water could help you find more fish.

Fly Fishing for Lake Trout
Fly Fishing for Lake Trout

2. Bennett’s Lunch $- Size 02-06

Bennett’s Lunch $ is another great baitfish streamer pattern. While it’s not a huge pattern, it’s extremely realistic. The dumbbell eyes on this fly are going to get it to wherever you might need in the water column. If you need something to fish on the surface, this isn’t your best option.

Lunch Money Fly
Lunch Money Fly – image credit Umpqua

If you’re looking for more action, then you can tie on a second one right behind the original. This helps emulate a school of baitfish swimming along. There are a variety of colors you can choose from, but the white and tan pattern is the simplest and is a great go to pattern. Shorter strips are going to be the name of the game with Bennett’s Lunch $. You want the rubber legs to have quite a bit of action, and this will help accomplish that.

Find structure or muddy water and you’ll be good to go. Let the fly get to where the fish are feeding and let it do the rest of the work.

Guide Tip: Lake trout can grow to double digit weights. Be sure you have the drag set correctly on your fly rod. Learn how to set the drag and some other tips on drag in this Article – Understanding the Drag on a Fly Reel

3. Big Bandit

The Big Bandit isn’t massively different from Bennett’s Lunch $. There are no rubber legs on this fly, and it also has a trailing hook. Depending on the regulations in the water you’re fishing, this may have to be snipped, but it likely will not happen. The earth tone colors of this pattern and the big eyes are what make this so attractive. It’s a great representation of all sorts of baitfish.

Big Bandit Fly
Big Bandit Fly – image credit Umpqua

You’ll find this pattern in a size 2, so it has the length that is needed to attract Lake Trout. Lake Trout are willing to hit this fly if you’re stripping it fast enough!

4. Articulated Flesh – Size 2

The Articulated Flesh fly is a classic fly pattern for salmon. There’s quite a bit of material for this fly, so it easily attracts the attention of everything in the water. However, there is no beadhead on this fly, so you’re going to have to attach a split shot to get those in the deeper water if necessary.

Flesh Fly for Lake Trout
Flesh Fly for Lake Trout – image credit Umpqua

This is a good fly to fish early in the morning or later in the evening when the fish have decided to move up to a shallower portion of the water column. It won’t have to get as deep, but it still looks like a baitfish that’s swimming through the water. Again, focus on the fast strips with this fly. Lake Trout love a good chase, so you’ll find that the more action you give it, the better off you’re going to be.

5. Chuckwagon – Size 2

The Chuckwagon is a messy looking fly. You have dumbbell eyes on this pattern, so it’s going to quickly fall in the water column. If deep water is what you need to land fish, bring the Chuckwagon along with you. It has a long, leech like body, but rubber legs all over it. Depending on how you’re fishing it, it can look like a variety of foods for fish.

Chuckwagon Fly
Chuckwagon Fly – image credit Umpqua

You’ll find it in black/purple, chartreuse and dirty olive. Do your best to provide a little flash in more clear water and use the darker patterns when the water is stained. It shouldn’t take much to get the fish to notice the Chuckwagon! Fast and powerful strips will attract all the fish you would need.

Guide Tip: Oh my gosh! I don’t know how many times I need to remind folks how to set the hook. There are different techniques. Read -> How to Set the Hook Fly Fishing

Lake Trout Flies
Lake Trout Flies -image credit Umpqua

6. CK Baitfish – Size 4

The CK Baitfish is a fairly simple and straightforward pattern. You don’t have any excess weight on it, so it’s a great shallow water option. Cast it along a bank or in shallow water near structure and strip it back towards yourself using different motions. You have a tan, chartreuse and white pattern, so you won’t find an excessive amount of variety, but it does the job! Those early mornings or late evenings call for the CK Baitfish.

7. Clouser Minnow – Size 2

If you aren’t chasing Lake Trout with a Clouser Minnow, then need to try it. Yes, this is a classic pattern, but it’s extremely effective. Whatever color you might need, you can find it. If you know the Lake Trout are feeding on baitfish, then the Clouser Minnow will be your best friend.

On those hot summer days when the fish are deep, take out the Clouser and see what happens. You may have to cast quite a few times to get the fish riled up, but once you do, you’ll find yourself continually tying in to all sorts of fish. Not much needs to be said about the effectiveness of the Clouser.

8. Floating Smelt – Size 2

If you see fish feeding near the surface, the Floating Smelt pattern is one you absolutely need to throw. It doesn’t need much to provide this fly with action, so don’t overdo it! The Floating Smelt serves a very specific purpose, but when it’s time to use it, you can guarantee that it’s going to work.

It comes in a pearl color and it’s a wonderful representation of a Smelt. Trout aren’t used to seeing floating patterns that look this realistic, so it won’t take long for one of them to at least try to hit it.

9. Kreelex Minnow Kraft’s – Size 4

If you need flash, go no further than the Kreelex Minnow Kraft’s. This has all the shine you might ever need for a Lake Trout fishing excursion. In clear water, this fly is going to do everything you need it to do. The shiny gold bead and kreinik flash are a killer combination that do surprisingly well with Lakers. As a fly angler, you never quite know what patterns are going to work, and this one may surprise you. However, you’re better off for having it in your box and giving it a try in those clear lakes.

10. Woolly Buggers – Size 4

Any big fish angler needs to carry a few Woolly Buggers around with them. You never know what type of fly is going to work and the Woolly Bugger is the perfect option. Fish aren’t quite sure exactly what it is, but they know it looks appetizing. If you strip this fast enough across the face of a Lake Trout, they’ll have to follow it.

Guide Tip: You’ve got to have woolly buggers in your fly box. “When all least fails, pull the woolly bugger out” I wrote a complete guide to fly fishing with a woolly bugger. Check it out HERE

It doesn’t matter if you’re fishing shallow or deep, this works!

11. Game Changer – Size 2

The Game Changer is one of the best minnow representations you will find. The colors and the eyes make it hard to discern. It doesn’t matter if you’re fishing this fast or slow, you’ll have success. If you know small rainbow trout are present, then throw this pattern. Lakers will come after them and eat it without hesitation. It’s a blast to fish and you can use it at a variety of depths. It’s going to be most successful in shallower water, however.

An Easy Lake Trout Fly to Tie

Check out this video on how to tie this fly!

Setting Up a Fly Rod for Lake Trout

Since Lake Trout are a still water fish, you’re going to need a specific setup to give yourself the best chance at landing some.

The Rod

If you’re going after Lake Trout, understand that you aren’t going to be fighting small fish. These fish are smart, so that’s one of the main reasons they can live so long and grow so large. If you’re fishing larger flies, you’re better off fishing a 7 to 10-weight rod. It’s not a bad idea to check the average fish size you’re going to be landing wherever you’re fishing. Also, a fast action rod is smart! You’ll need the power to make long casts and fight fish.

Also, a 9-foot rod is going to add to the power and casting ability!

The Reel

Match your reel to your rod. If you’re fishing a 9-weight rod, be sure you’re fishing a 9-weight reel. This is going to make sure the balance is exactly where it needs to be. Also, a large arbor is absolutely necessary. You don’t want to risk getting spooled if you hook into a large Laker.

A Disc Drag system gives you up to 15 or 20 pounds of torque, so you won’t feel as if you’re outmatched when you hook into a monster.

Fly Line

When you’re fishing for Lake Trout, the type of line you’re using is going to change depending on the method and the season you’re fishing. In the fall and spring, the fish are going to be sitting shallower due to the cold-water temperatures. A sink tip line is your best bet. It’s going to get your fly to the bottom where fish are sitting.

If you’re fishing in the summer, the fish are going to be deep. Assume that the fish are in the middle of the lake near structure. At this point, you may need to use a full sink line depending on the depth. A 300-grain line is going to be able to handle the heavier streamers that you may be throwing. A full sink line over 20 feet is a good idea.

Leader

For your leader, you don’t want to make the mistake of the line being snapped. The heavier, the better! A 0 or 1x leader is what you’re going to need. Again, you can tie into fish that are over double digits! A 0 or 1x leader should be 10-to-15-pound test. If you can’t secure these, then 15-pound test monofilament will do the trick.

Lake Trout Fly Fishing Questions and Answers

A common question many anglers ask is whether or not you can use all types of flies to fish for Lake Trout. Lake Trout are more than willing to hit all different types of flies, but streamers are going to land the largest fish. However, large dry flies are not a bad idea. Attractor patterns will entice fish no matter the time of year.

Another question anglers ask is when the best time of year is to fish for Lake Trout. Lake Trout fishing is extremely productive in the late fall and early spring. Any time the water temperature is between 55 and 60 degrees, you can assume the fish will eat.

Last Cast

Don’t just leave the Lake Trout fishing for the anglers in the Great Lakes. Give yourself a chance to take these fish on with a fly rod. They’re going to surprise you with their power and beauty.


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Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels


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