Jigging for Lake Trout: Tackle: The Jigs
What to put on the end of your line? There are two answers to that question: jigging spoons and lead-headed jigs. First, about weight. Most of the time, I set my lure weight by the depths I'm fishing. In water under 60 feet, a 3/4 oz jig. For 60-100 fow, 1 oz. is best. In water over 100 feet, 1-2 oz lures are the ticket depending on conditions. A 1 oz jig is fine in little to light wind. On the heavier side use either a 1 1/2 oz jig or 1-2 oz spoon. If it's breezy and boat control is a problem you may want to go with a heavier jig or spoon. 90% of the time I use 1 oz lead head jigs.
Jigging Spoons: Sometimes spoons work wonders. Favorites: The Bomber Slab, in white and silver. Luhr-Jensen's Crippled Herring in large sizes works great as well. The Buckshot Rattle Spoon is awesome, especially in glo-perch. The Hopkins Shorty, for when heavy lures are needed. Any silver generic 'jigging spoon' will catch fish! I've caught them on Bass Pro Shops Strata spoons. Copperliner gave me some Cabela's brand spoons and they work too. Weights from 3/4 to 2 ounces will cover all your needs, though of course your local water, time of year, and wind all factor into your choices. In the Finger Lakes I've never had the need to go over 2 oz. I've found most often a short, squat profile is best, like the Hopkins Shorty or Bomber Slab. Experiment- lakers are voracious predators and will attack almost anything at times. I've even made my own out of trolling sinkers pounded flat and have fished with someone (bulletbob) who made his "jigging chunks" out of lead wheel-weights!
In my opinion, the spoons are best when the fish are short-striking. When the water is cold or after a morning feeding binge, lakers are lazy or uninterested, and often just nip at a passing bait. Using a jigging spoon, which features a hook at the rear of the lure, you are more likely to hook a fish that just takes a passing bite at it. Spoons also work well on smaller fish that don't inhale the lures the way big lakers do. I prefer spoons on Keuka lake as many times the 3/0 or 4/0 jigheads are a little big for the smaller fish. In the fall, spawning Lake Trout can be caught with spoons too. On the spawn, the lakers don't actively feed, but they will strike at perceived threats- and a baitfish looking for laker eggs is definately a threat. For spawning fish, I found it virtually impossible to hook lakers with lead jigs- the best lures by far were the spoons.
On the other hand, agressive lakers will take the spoons too deep, and "catch and release" becomes a lot harder. If you catch a few that are hooked deeply, it's a good sign to switch to the lead jigs. I also cut one of the barbs off of my spoons and make them double hooks. As soon as you buy your jigging spoons, immediately remove the hook it came with and replace it with a quality hook or spend a little time sharpening the points. Sometimes it's a #6, which is a little small- replace the hooks with quality #2 or #4 trebles (I favor Gamakatsu hooks, both round bend and EWG) and cut one barb off if you will be releasing most of your fish. Siwash hooks are definitely an good option.
Lead-Head Jigs: Any heavy enough jighead will catch fish. I fished all one summer with BPS brand round 3/4 oz jigheads. They work, but aren't ideal. Your ideal jig has a thin, strong, sharp hook. Basic white and unpainted work great, but don't be afraid to dip some in paint- flourescent white, charteuse, or even black. For head style, round heads are great, as are Erie style or bait head shaped. To get the perfect jig head I started pouring my own 1 oz jigs with Mustad black nickel 3/0 and 4/0 jig hooks. Gamakatsu also makes a great jig hook. Other brands work as well as long as they are premium hooks, I use Daiichi hooks for smaller jigs. For jigs and pictures, look here. NEW! Back in business!
Quality jigs can be hard to find in fishing stores, but look around, you never know. It is absolutely worth it to find a good jig. I started pouring due to the lack of good jigs available. Most area stores are traditionally oriented, with trolling, bass, pike and panfish gear. I have yet to see one with a good jigging selection. Even the soft plastics used on these jigs are usually designed for bass. The Storm Swim series is great in shallower (<70 fow) water- these are packages of very lifelike ready-rigged jigs. Try a Striper bucktail and consider cutting out some of the bucktail. Not shorter, just thin it out- this helps the jig fall faster. Most deep water jigs are made for saltwater, the same is true for spoons- the Hopkins Shorty is a saltwater spoon. The drawback to using saltwater lures is that the guage of the hook wire is often much heavier than is ideal for lake trout jigging.
Flukes and paddletails are the most common styles of soft plastic I put on the jigs. Tubes also work, as will anything you can down 100 feet and is roughly the right shape! I've heard skirt-style jigs also work well. Zoom Flukes are one of my favorites- they're what I learned on and I've never seen a reason to switch. They are also relatively cheap compared to some of the fancier soft plastics. I have tried other brands and they all work. Key here is movement- you want something that will be flapping a 'tail' around as you drop, jig, and retreive your lure. Many of these plastics are also imbedded with scent or salt, which may help with reluctant fish. Just a plain old 'fluke' is fine- nice slim profile to help get deep fast. Super-flukes can produce well at times too, and paddletails of various brands are an excellent choice if you don't have to worry about boat control or fishing really deep. If the fish are short-striking, bite (or cut) the front 3/8 - 1/2 inch off of the head of the soft plastic before threading it on the jig. This integrates the jighead with the tail, and brings the hook point a little closer to the end of the lure.
Common "flukes" and colors: Bass Pro 2-toned tube, cut black fluke, Baby Bass fluke, Fin-S Shad, and Zoom White Ice super-fluke. Sometimes lake trout are selective and it's good to have a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, though white, chartreuse, and green are the top colors.
Colors, while sometimes key, aren't nearly as important as you may think. White is a consistant producer, as is green. Lakers looking up see everything against the sky, so it's all about brightness and contrast. In dim light I like white the best. When it gets really bright out, I'll switch over to darker colors such as green or pumpkin. Lake trout eyes are most sensitive to two very similar shades of green (halfway between green and chartreuse), which makes sense when you think about their enviroment. Green light penetrates the furthest in the deep water where lake trout live. (Green spoons have long been a favorite of trollers and copper guys.) Depth is a factor- past 30-50 feet there really isn't much color- most fade quickly in water, and appear as black anyway. Your choice of lure colors should also reflect the color of the water you are fishing. In the Finger Lakes, the water ranges from fairly clear in winter to green (algae) in summer. Regular fishing rules apply here- you want to attract the fish but not scare them off! Brighter lures in deeper, more colorful water, and more subdued and natural colors in shallower or clear water or bright sun. Be prepared with a variety and keep trying different shapes and colors when the fishing is tough.