How To Troll For Lake Erie Lake Trout

By: Ryan Raines

March 29, 2024

Greasers, Mud Chickens, and my favorite expression, “Slimy Dinosaurs,” are just a few of the names we’ve lovingly derived from where they live and what is left in our boats after a few of these delightful monsters make their way to our landing nets. Whatever you choose to call them, it’s hard not to fall in love with them after you’ve struggled to pull a few of them up from the depths.

Greasers, Mud Chickens, and my favorite expression, “Slimy Dinosaurs,” are just a few of the names we’ve lovingly derived from where they live and what is left in our boats after a few of these delightful monsters make their way to our landing nets. Whatever you choose to call them, it’s hard not to fall in love with them after you’ve struggled to pull a few of them up from the depths.

In this article, I'll go over what I've found to be the most successful methods for trolling for Lake Erie Lake Trout. We'll talk about all the tackle, setup, and technique you'll need to boat a monster greaser!

Table of Contents

  • What is a "Lake Trout" Anyway?
  • When Is The Best Time To Fish For Lake Erie Lake Trout?
  • How To Catch Lake Erie Lake Trout
  • My Top Three Lake Trout Trolling Setups
  • Important Details for Lake Trout Trolling Success
  • Conclusion
  • Tackle For Trolling For Lake Trout

What Is a "Lake Trout" Anyway?

Crazy part… Lake Trout aren’t a trout at all; they are actually the largest species of char. The largest Lake Trout ever netted weighed in at a scale crushing 102 pounds and measured 50 inches in length. This wasn’t anywhere near Lake Erie, but it certainly gives us a wild imagination with every strike.

Fun fact: Lake Trout are only native to the northernmost reaches of North America, with the majority present in Canada. Some have been found in Alaska as well. Their presence can be felt and caught in lakes scattered around the northern United States, with a significant concentration where I live here on the Great Lakes.

While recent evidence does suggest that natural reproduction occurs in my neck of the woods, the stocking efforts of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission could not be more vital to the thriving local population of these Lake Erie bottom dwellers. Speaking of monsters and Lake Erie: the current PA state record Lake Trout was caught just off the Lake Erie shore of North East, Pennsylvania and weighed in at 31 pounds 13 ounces and measured 40 inches in length.

Lake Erie Lake Trout
A healthy specimen from the depths of Lake Erie

When Is The Best Time To Fish For Lake Erie Lake Trout?

When most of us are focused on turning Lake Erie Walleye into delicious nuggets during the summer, these beasts are tucked safely away in cold, deep water with their bellies buried in the mud.

During the spring and fall however, the cooler temps push them to congregate in shallower water where they are more accessible to those of us willing to don our cold weather gear to give chase.

How To Catch Lake Erie Lake Trout

Mostly... trolling. I’ll talk more about other presentations in future articles.

Their mud focused routine can sometimes make them impossible to decipher from the bottom on your electronics during the springtime. A watchful eye is critical to find them on screen, but you’d be surprised how many fish I catch when the screen appears to be blank. Watch your fish finders for subtle bumps on the bottom, and when you find them, keep an eye on your rods because a strike is not far behind.

Covering water is key for me most of the time. Trolling for them is ideal because I can cover water so quickly. My spring small boat spread generally consists of two downriggers and four dipsy diver rods. When the bite is good, more than six rods is just madness. Those six rods are rigged with a mix of attractors and lures on various diving devices. Bear with me as I break them all down.

As I walk through the spread I’ll refer to attractors, spinners and spoons generically. Here is what I mean…


A set of 4/0 Hammerhead Cowbells are my favorite attractor, so one downrigger generally has one running.

On the other side is a mix of Gambler Death Traps and some old school dodgers. Some days they seem to want a school of bait presented, while other days the whipping action of a dodger drives them crazy. Having a mix available is best. It is funny sometimes how picky they can be one day and how hungry they can be the next.

The mission of the attractor is fairly obvious. We get their attention, then dangle a tasty looking vulnerable little morsel directly behind the attractor. The commotion of the attractor pulls them in and the spinner seals the deal.

Hammerhead Cowbells
Hammerhead Cowbells are a staple for Lake Erie lakers


Running behind my attractors are some type of spinner rig for the most part.

Spinner rigs are the ticket a significant percentage of the time. Worden’s Spin ‘n’ Glos tied in single or double configurations, Dutch Fork Butterfly Blade Laker Rigs, and Dreamweaver Whirly Gigs all tied between 18 and 30 inches long on Gamma 30lb fluorocarbon leader material are generally what you’ll find rigged on my boat. The length of the rig varies based on the attractors I’m running and what exactly I’d like to show the fish.

For example: If I’m running a dodger and the fish are aggressive, I may want to shorten my rig to give more action to the spinner trailing behind. If the fish are negative, I’ll most likely run longer rigs, smaller attractors, and potentially size down my spinners. There are no firm rules here; some will like longer rigs, and some shorter. Do what works best for you and be flexible. Let the fish tell you what they are keying in on.

Colors vary by conditions, but a safe bet to get started is always some combination that includes green. Most of my rigs include a flashy tail tied out of flashabou, bucktail, and even a squid imitation from time to time. All of my rigs are trailed by sharp, high quality treble hooks.

Spinner rigged for Lake Trout
Green color variations are deadly for Lake Trout


Trolling Spoons come in every shape, size, and color you could imagine. That said, Lakers live in some pretty dark country in the bottom of the water column and my best spoons generally have some glow on them. They almost always have a form of UV tape on them as well. Moonshine RV Spoons have been a hero for me, but on any given day, you’ll see a mix of Dreamweaver, Michigan Stinger, and Moonshine Spoons in varying sizes hanging from my rods.

I favor magnum size spoons to start, but have found that a mix of sizes helps me narrow down my offering when my fish aren’t cooperating as much as I’d like. Think “match the hatch” when choosing your spoon size. Sometimes Lake Trout are “courteous” enough to leave their last meal on the floor of your boat, but even when that isn’t the case, you can usually narrow down the preferred size by which of your spoons they are most actively striking.

Generally when I have one lure taking any number of consistent strikes, I move toward that size and/or color with my less productive rods. Constant swapping and tweaking can wear you out, but hey, we’re fishing and not boating after all. I try not to relax in the back of the boat because changing conditions will sometimes sneak up on you and cause your bite to “shut off”. Sometimes it’s the fish, and sometimes it’s your buffet that’s the issue.

My Top Three Lake Trout Trolling Setups

There are many other options that I plan to discuss in future articles. The following six rod spread accounts for the vast majority of Lake Trout that hit my net each spring.

1. Downriggers

Downriggers handle the majority of my activity. An Okuma Convector 30 spooled with 17 or 20 lb mono and a good medium/medium light weight, slow-moderate action rod works fantastic on the downriggers. I tie a Dreamweaver Ball Bearing Snap Swivel on the end of the line where I plan to attach an attractor, and sometimes I downsize the snap swivel when I intend to run smaller spoons.

When I’m fishing, I’ll generally let out between 15 and 30 feet of line, then clip my line into the downrigger release and send it to the bottom. When I say bottom, I mean bottom. It’s not uncommon for me to intentionally drop my downrigger balls in the mud to entice my otherwise lazy quarry into activity. This can be risky business. Take caution when attacking the bottom of the lake. You never know what might catch your downrigger weight. For me, it’s worth the risk, but it could make for an expensive date if you aren’t on your game. Most of my lines are targeting the deepest few feet of the water column when I’m in Laker Country, but I’m not afraid to park some lines higher in the water column to keep any suspended critters honest.

2. Inside Dipsy Divers

Next in line are my inside dipsey diver rods. Another Okuma Convector 30 reel this time spooled with braided steel or PowerPro Braid accompanied by an 8-9 foot dipsy rod is the tool of choice in this position. Dreamweaver Deeper Divers set at a 1 or 1 1/2 setting generally sit in this position with a mix of either spoons or smaller more streamlined attractors and floating spinner rigs.

By more streamlined, I mean they travel through the water with less effort. These lend themselves better to being pulled behind a dipsey diver than some of the larger and more active attractors like cowbells. Most of the time, these lines are slightly higher in the water column than my downriggers, but I’m talking inches, not feet here. All of my gear is normally in the same wheelhouse unless I’m consistently marking fish that are higher in the water column or otherwise hunting for the right depth and active fish.

Often their bellies are glued to the bottom and I’m running my gear right through their living room, between the couch and the TV.

3. Outside Diver Rods

The last major contributor to my small boat spring Lake Trout program are my outside diver rods. Another Convector with either PowerPro Braid or braided steel and a longer 10 foot dipsey rod is my choice here to ensure ample rod tip separation between my inside and outside dipsy rods. Another pair of Dreamweaver Deeper Divers set on a 3 or 3 1/2 are generally trailed by spoons that round out my six rod spread.

You’ll have days where spoons are winning, and you’ll have days that attractors are winning. It pays to be flexible in your approach, let the fish tell you what they want that day, and don’t try to force a program on them because it’s what you’re used to running. I set a time limit for my setups, and retire unproductive colors, spoons, sizes, etc. with little hesitation when other rods are consistently taking fish.

The diagram below illustrates what my typical six rod spread tends to look like:

Lake Trout Trolling Diagram
The green lines represent the downrigger lines, blue represents inside dipsy rods, and orange represents the outside dipsies

Did you know?

Lake Trout live an incredibly long time. I’ve heard it said that Lake Trout grow approximately one pound every 1 ½ years. If that is truly the case, the largest fish we are catching could be 30-40 years old.

Important Details For Lake Trout Trolling Success

Having an accurate read on your speed and water temperature are critical when targeting Lake Trout. Without one particular tool, you’ll find yourself in the dark on both of those. Way more experienced captains than I have written articles and produced videos explaining the importance of knowing your speed at depth, so I’ll assume you agree with me when I say that speed is extremely important.

Knowing your speed at your lures (down speed) will help you be more consistent no matter what you’re fishing for. Your speed over ground from your GPS or speed sensor on the transom of your boat would be the “up speed.” You might be surprised to see how much your up and down speed can vary.

Often you’ll hear anglers talking about how they caught fish one direction, but not the other. There are many different reasons that could happen, but underwater currents are a major factor. I’d recommend you check out some of the videos that Captain Pete Alex has put together about the value of a Fish Hawk. These videos will show you more about what I’m referring to above.

Regardless of tools; Lake Trout like it SLOW.

Earlier I mentioned that I like to run Hammerhead Cowbells. Those attractors are recommended to run at 1.8 mph or slower; and that is precisely what I do. Most days, I target a down speed somewhere between 1.5 and 1.8 mph. If you happen to be running a more streamlined set of attractors, or you choose to run a spoon focused program, you can go a touch faster, but 2.0 is about the max for me. Be patient, and good things will come.


A stranger to many, Lake Trout can make for an absolutely awesome day on the water. Moving their massive bodies can feel like you’re lifting a manhole cover from the bottom of the lake. Every bent rod gives visions of giants and a good bite can wear down the most seasoned anglers. On more than one occasion, I’ve had guests “tap out” for the day after reeling more than their fair share.

Remember to listen to the fish, and troll slowly with a good mix of gear and you too will be nursing sore muscles before you know it. Gather your cooler weather gear, and hit the gym my friends. Slimy Dinosaur season is nearly here.

Tackle For Trolling For Lake Trout

Lake Trout Trolling Lures

Lake Trout Trolling Attractors

Divers For Lake Trout Trolling

Reels For Lake Trout Trolling

Rods For Lake Trout Trolling

Line and Leader for Trolling For Lake Trout

Electronics For Trolling For Lake Trout

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