Great Lakes weather can be unforgiving. Driving snow, howling gusts, and brutal wind chills tempt even the most ardent anglers to put the rods away at times. But, the opportunity to pursue brown trout that are truly measured in pounds as opposed to inches isn’t commonly found in many fisheries.
Anglers often venture to South America, New Zealand, or Iceland for this level of fishing results. But runs of large brown trout have made their way up some of the Great Lakes tributaries for nearly a half-century. The returning adults are typically beautiful fish sporting golden-yellow hues adorned with pronounced black spots. Males sport deep jawlines that project the distinct image of a top predator. Brown trout exceeding 10 pounds occur with some regularity and fish exceeding 20 pounds are possible.
Lake-run brown trout begin moving into Great Lakes rivers and streams in the fall, sometimes as early as the first part of September with the highest densities of fish typically found in late October into mid-December. Some lake-runs spend the winter in tributaries that don’t ice over or those that have deep enough pools to allow those fish to ride out the cold months. During late winter and early spring the browns that have wintered-over begin dropping back to the lakes but can linger, building up their body weight in the tributaries since the water warms much faster than the lakes. During spring some brown trout that spend the winter in the lakes will nose their way into the estuaries and lower ends of the rivers and streams to feed. The behavior of the brown trout in the spring is largely impacted by various bait migrations that occur near the warming tributary waters. Some fish can also be encountered staging in the lake near the mouths of the tributaries.
The autumn months tend to attract the greatest angling pressure. Lake-run brown trout go through the spawning process in October and November. While the fishery is largely supported by annual hatchery plantings, there are some pockets of successful reproduction on tributaries with sufficient water quality. I steer clear of any actively spawning fish to focus on those that are on the move, upstream or downstream. In some of my favorite waters the best fishing begins after the spawn is completed. Fish that are no longer consumed with the biological desire to procreate now have feeding on their minds.