A member of the char family, the lake trout, Salvelinus namaycush, is a uniquely Canadian fish. They are easily recognized by their long, somewhat rounded shape, deeply forked tail and body which is covered with light spots on a darker background.
Lake trout range in colour from almost silver to light green or gray, dark green, brown or almost black along the back, depending on the particular water body it inhabits. The flanks are lighter and fade to white or milky on the belly. The pectoral, pelvic and anal fins have an orange to orange-red hue with the narrow, white leading edge that is common to members of the char family.
Lake trout are native to North America but have been transplanted to such locations as New Zealand, South America and Sweden. In Canada they can be found in southwestern Nova Scotia; throughout New Brunswick and most of Quebec; in northern Labrador; across most of Ontario; through northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan; across most of Alberta (except the extreme southeast) as well as in northern British Columbia and throughout the Territories. Interestingly, lake trout are absent from most of the Hudson and James Bay lowlands, an area that encompasses most of northwestern Quebec and the extreme north and northeastern portions of Ontario.
Lake trout spawn in the autumn, between September and December, in water between 48ºF and 57ºF. They prefer to spawn over large areas of lakes with boulder or rubble bottoms but they are also known to occasionally spawn in rivers. The eggs fall into cracks and crevices where they will remain for between four and five-months before hatching in March or April.
Due to their preference for deep, cool waters, lake trout are most accessible to anglers immediately after ice-out in the spring, or during the winter months when they become a primary target for ice-fishermen. For most of the summer they prefer to remain in the hypolimnion, the area below the thermocline, in water temperatures around 50ºF. Across most of the southern and central parts of their range, anglers must use downriggers, wire line or deep vertical jigging techniques to catch lake trout in the summer, but in areas of the far north they can remain in relatively shallow water throughout the summer.
Lake trout typically live for 10 to 20-years although some have been known to reach 60-years or more. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for them to reach weights exceeding 30-pounds. In fact, the current IGFA All-Tackle lake trout stands at 72-pounds. Larger fish do exist however, and the largest lake trout on official record weighed 102-pounds and was caught in a gill net from Lake Athabasca, Saskatchewan in 1961.
Lake trout are an important species for both recreational and commercial fisheries. Their flesh is firm, with an excellent flavor, and may appear white, pink, orange or orange-red. While commercial fishing for lake trout has declined, due in part to the collapse of the Great Lakes fishery in the 1960s, sport fishing interest in these fish remains high.
Colour: Silver to various shades of green, gray, brown or nearly black with lighter spots and a milky to creamy white belly.
Size: The average size lake trout will weigh between 2 and 10-pounds. Fish up to 30-pounds are not uncommon and trophies over 40-pounds are caught every year by anglers fishing in far northern waters.
Life Span: Lake trout commonly live for 10 to 20-years although some have been known to live for up to 60-years.
Habitat: Cool, clear waters of large, deep lakes and rivers. In the extreme north they are known to occur in shallower lakes that remain cool throughout the year.
Spawning: Spawning takes place between September and December over boulder or rubble bottoms.
World Record: The IGFA All-Tackle World Record lake trout is a 72-pound monster that was caught from Great Bear Lake in 1995.