Canadian outdoorsman take their ice fishing seriously and for many of them, the pinnacle of the sport is landing a giant lake trout. Winnipeg angler Justin Jenken, 31, has put a few stud lakers on the ice during the last two seasons.
During a recent trip to Manitoba’s Lake Athapapuskow, located southeast of the town of Flin Flon, Jenken landed a 41-inch lake trout that was estimated to weigh 30 pounds. He had been fishing out of Bakers Narrows Lodge, a drive-to Canada fishing spot an 8-hour drive north of Winnipeg.
“We fished on Feb. 2, the temperature was 40-below zero,” says Jenken. “We headed to a spot that friend and guide Mac Mulligan knows, where we set up an ice shanty and cut some holes.”
For big lake trout, extra large holes are required. Jenken says they first drilled a 10-inch diameter hole, then drilled a second hole that connected with the first one to produce a hole big enough to haul a lunker laker through. That day on Athapapuskow the ice was about 6-feet thick, which wasn’t too bad, says Jenken. He’s caught lakers through much thicker ice.
“Athapapuskow is a huge, unchartered lake, but Mac knew where to go, and we cut holes in a spot 81-feet off bottom, and started fishing,” explains Jenken. “We were working a trough between two reefs, topping at 30 feet on one side, 50 feet on the other.”
The anglers were targeting big lakers, vertically jigging with 5-inch white Dragon Slayer soft plastic swim baits threaded onto ½-ounce, long-shank jig heads.
“We caught walleyes, pike, and some smaller lake trout of about 10 or 12 pounds,” says Jenken. “Then a much bigger fish hit, and it just crushed the lure and took off on a long run.”
He was using spinning tackle with a 39-inch Frostbite rod, 25-pound test braided line with an 8-foot fluorocarbon leader. It’s specialized tackle for dealing with heavy lakers. Jenken’s fish made long, wild runs and forced him to push his rod deep into the water to keep his line from scraping the underside of the ice. Finally, he worked the laker to the hole, got its head up, grabbed the fish and hauled it onto the ice. He captured a few photos with Mac Mulligan holding the 41-inch, estimated 30-pounder, and then the fish was released. Jenken releases all lakers over 26 inches. He landed the 41-incher in 15 minutes, but has had other giant lakers that fought for nearly an hour before they could be worked to the surface.
Catching giant lakers isn’t an everyday occurrence, even for Jenken. But last May when fishing in far northern Nunavut, he caught three lakers each over 40-inches in a single afternoon. He made YouTube videos of those catches, which you can watch above.
Jenken uses a constant up-and-down retrieve through the water column when jigging for lakers. He believes fish mistake his 5-inch soft plastic lures for ciscoes or smelt, natural prey for heavy lakers.
“Sometimes they want a fast-moving lure, other times just a slow finesse type motion works,” he says. “I vary the retrieve as I work the jig up through the water column, and they can hit about anywhere, from the bottom, mid-depth, and near the surface.”