Even if you’re a complete novice, spring presents a unique chance to catch trout in Muskoka
Trout fishing has a reputation for being complicated, or something that needs specialized gear. In midsummer, you will sometimes see anglers heading out to catch lake trout or rainbow trout equipped with an array of deep-water tackle, talking about the merits of steel line versus lead-core line, or how many cannonballs or downriggers they need to use.
But early spring offers a different kind of fishing: shallow water trolling. This is an incredibly easy way to go trout fishing, requiring little more than a boat, a rod and reel, and a couple of lures, things that many of us have tucked away at the cottage or in the boathouse. Spring trout fishing is a great excuse to go boating, to get out in nature, and to see Muskoka in spring. Whether you’re on Lake Musoka, Lake Rosseau, Lake Joe, Lake of Bays, or any of the mid-sized lakes in Muskoka, spring is the time to go trout fishing.
This approach works when the lakes are still cold. That’s because trout are a cold-water fish, preferring water that’s between 50 and 60 degrees. The exact ideal temperature varies by species — rainbow trout feed most actively in 54-degree waters, while brook trout prefer slightly warmer water and lake trout prefer slightly cooler. But suffice it to say that cool water is best for trout fishing.
In the summer, trout go deep in the lakes to find the cold water they need. That’s why summer trout anglers need all that specialized gear, to send their bait or lures down to the depths of the lakes where the trout are hanging out. In winter, most fish tend to stay nearer the bottom of the lake where oxygen levels are higher.
But in spring, there’s a lot of activity happening near the surface. Plants start to photosynthesize, boosting oxygen levels near the surface. And runoff from the snow melt sends masses of water in through streams, creeks and rivers, bringing with it an abundance of food. Because the water is cold enough for them near the surface, trout will migrate upward in spring, and stay there until the water gets too warm for their liking.
(For a fuller explanation of the seasonal changes in lake temperature, check out this blog post we wrote a little while back.)
Staying alive on the lake
Spring boating is a great delight, whether you’re fishing or not. But this is not the time to keep your life jacket under your seat. That water is cold, cold, cold, and if you fall in, it can be deadly. Please wear your life jacket when you’re boating in spring.
Also, remember that fishing licenses are mandatory in Ontario for anyone 18 and over. You’ll also need an Ontario Outdoors Card in order to get a fishing license. You can find information here.
As for fishing seasons, trout fishing season in Muskoka is open in winter, spring and summer. It closes on September 30, because trout breed in the fall.
Catching spring trout
The preferred method of trout fishing in spring is trolling. This is really as simple as fishing gets: you just lower your lure over the side of the boat, let out some line, and slowly boat up and down the lake.
You’ll want to let out enough line for the lure to be at least ten feet below the surface if you’re on the water right after ice-out. As the weather warms, you may want your bait to be 20 to 30 feet beneath the surface. Depending on the lure, achieving that can be as simple as letting more line out. If you have a fish finder on board, of course, this will give you an idea of where the fish are hanging out. Otherwise, it’s a matter of trial and error.
One of the secrets to this kind of fishing is that your boating needs to be slow, slow, slow. Three miles an hour is absolutely the top speed. Not all boats can travel that slowly going forward. If that’s the case for you, try trolling in reverse, a technique known as “back-trolling.” We’ve even had success trolling for trout in a canoe or a kayak!
How to troll for trout
Even knowing that the fish are shallow, there’s still a lot of water to cover in Muskoka! To focus your search, think about where the fish are likely to be looking for food.
Since spring runoff is bringing food downstream, you’re likely to find fish of all kinds — including trout — congregating near the mouths of rivers and creeks.
Remember that also includes small, seasonal streams that barely even merit a notice in summer. The mouth of the Muskoka River is a great fishing spot, but so too are the many unnamed creeks that only run for a month or two.
If you have a depth finder, you can also look for underwater shelfs — places where the water depth changes dramatically. Fish often congregate near the edge of these drop-offs. Trolling along them will often bring great results. The same goes for the points of islands.
When you’re trolling, don’t feel you need to just go in a straight line. In fact, many anglers find they have excellent results by taking sharp turns now and then. The movement causes your lure to suddenly speed up or slow down, the way a waterskier will when you make a turn. That sudden change in speed can trigger a fish to strike.
Lures for trout
Serious anglers can talk for hours about the best lures for spring trout fishing. They’ll debate the merits of chartreuse crankbaits or willow-leaf blades and will employ an array of specialized systems to put their lures exactly where they want them to be.
For beginners, though, there are a handful of go-to lures that will increase your odds of success.
Crankbaits. These look like little fish, and often have a lip at the front. As you pull them through the water, the lip makes the lure dive down. The size and shape of the lip (as well as your trolling speed) determine how deep they dive. Crankbaits worth using include:
- The Original Floating Rapala (this is an absolute must-have, in our opinion!)
- Junior Thunderstick
- Rebel Jointed Minnow
Spoons. The blade of these lures is shaped roughly like a spoon, with the hooks attached to the bottom end. They are designed to wobble and flash, reflecting light the way a minnow does as it darts past the mouth of a hungry trout. Spoons worth using for trout include:
- Little Cleo
- Williams Wabler
- Mepps Syclops
- Johnson Daredevle
- Johnson Silver Minnow
Spinners. These consist of a spoon-like blade attached to a shaft, with a hook at the other end of the shaft. They are often used for bass fishing in the summer, since they aren’t typically deep-diving lures, but in spring they can be quite effective for trout. Spinners to try in spring include:
- Mepps Long-Cast
- Mepps Aglia
- Blue Fox Vibrax
You can also use a good old-fashioned frozen minnow on a hook. And some anglers swear by adding a touch of live bait, or even a kernel or two of corn, to the hook of a spoon or spinner.
Just remember: troll slowly, and have fun!
For more great ideas on getting out and enjoying Muskoka, check out these articles.