At Vail Valley Anglers, we normally focus our efforts on our usual quarry of brown trout and rainbows with the occasional bonus catches of brook trout and cutthroats. For anglers looking to do battle with a truly large freshwater predator, fall is a great time to look for alternative species that grow to mammoth proportions.
At this time of year, many larger fish become extremely aggressive and become more accessible to fly fishermen. Within an easy drive of the Vail Valley Anglers fly shop, we have access nearby to a couple of species we don’t target as often as the trout swimming in our backyard rivers and creeks.
The Mighty Mackinaw
Like brook trout, the Mackinaw or lake trout is a non-native species introduced as a game fish to Colorado. Also like the brook trout, they are actually a species of char. Char are fall spawners, which is good news for fly fishermen.
Fly Fishing for Lake Trout
Lake trout spend most of the year lurking in the deep water of mountain reservoirs and lakes beyond the normal reach of a fly rod. In fall, however, the spawning urge brings them into water closer to shore where they will reproduce. In many lakes, sight fishing is common as Mackinaws cruise the shallows looking for an unsuspecting meal. Inlets where a stream pours into a lake, dam areas and rocky shorelines close to drop-offs and deep edges are ideal locations to search for a big, hungry laker.
Lake trout are very aggressive piscavores, meaning they eat fish not insects. When targeting them, large streamers and saltwater baitfish patterns are the most effective. Flies six inches long are not too big. One of my favorites is a red and white whistler or deceiver. Sinking or sink tip fly lines are sometimes helpful if fish are in water deeper than ten feet.
The good news is lake trout grow very large. Fish between five and 10 pounds are common. The state record Mackinaw is over forty pounds. With this in mind, use heavier weight fly rods capable of fighting large fish and casting big flies. Heavy fluorocarbon tippet in the fifteen pound class is advised.
How to have Success:
For the best lake trout action, deep reservoirs with a solid food base of stocker rainbows or kokanee salmon offer the best potential for trophy fish. Consider Reudi Reservoir above the Frying Pan tailwater, Twin Lakes near Leadville, or Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison, which holds the largest Mackinaw in the state. Many reservoirs in the mountain region of Colorado hold large populations of Mackinaws. Fishing remains good until the reservoirs begin to ice over in late fall.
Boats allow for covering a lot of water and electronic fish finders save a lot of searching time but shore anglers can also find success if they look for productive spots that are holding fish. Structure, current and edges with depth changes all attract lake trout. Be patient as these fish tend to cruise in loose groups and will come and go searching for baitfish.
Mackinaws are normally left to trolling fishermen with downriggers or winter time ice fishermen, but in October and November they become an outstanding option for fly fishermen. Because they are a non-native species that are managed for recreational purposes, anglers can even happily keep a couple of lake trout. They make for excellent table fare. For those looking to land an exceptionally large freshwater fish on a fly, the Mackinaw gives fly rodders a great chance to do so.
Vail Valley Anglers has a deep selection of the newest oversized trout streamers or saltwater patterns that are ideal for catching Mackinaws. Come and check out our fly inventory and see for yourself. If you’re not in the Vail, CO area, make sure to check out our online fly shop.
In Part 2 we will discuss another non-native predator that swims in the lakes of Colorado-the Northern Pike.
Brody Henderson, Senior Guide and Web Content Writer