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Predators on the chew

argeting inland lake predators is challenging and sometimes sends you home with a vile, black-and-white kitty rather than a fish. But with arduous challenges come handsome rewards. “Go big or go home” is a common phrase used to describe the crap shoot of fishing fortune you can expect. Those who regularly hunt trophy predators know it takes time on the water, period.

Inland Chinook, Coho, lake trout (Mackinaw), brown trout, and bull trout all are dubbed predators for a reason: they are meat eaters, chomping on whatever meat source is available.
10 pound bull trout, photo by Phil Akers
This is a 10-pound bull trout caught while trolling a large lure scented with Pro-Cure krill. Bull trout are protected in most areas so please check the regulations for the water you intend to fish.

Threadfin shad, pond smelt, chubs, shiners, and even voles are all on the snack menu. But a favorite high-octane meal is kokanee and there is a reason the largest of predators can be found in stunted kokanee lakes.

Odell Lake kokanee, photo by Phil flip akers
Odell Lake, Oregon has plenty of small kokanee to feed hungry predators like this very worthy lake trout. Introduced to California from Michigan in 1894, lake trout do not construct some sort of nest, nor cover its eggs with gravel. Their eggs are simply dropped into the lake’s rocky ledges and shelves.
leviathan mackinaw from Odell lake, photo by Phil Flip Akers
Logging length and girth measurements on this leviathan mackinaw.

Although there are tales of rat macks and browns being caught on small tackle while kokanee fishing, and bass anglers do occasionally hook into a nice brown or king, hunting predators with consistent success requires some knowledge. Learning the target water’s make up is important, along with the fish’s habits, comfort zones, and feeding schedules

fishing line pulling across water of Lake Ordell, Photo Phil Akers
An extremely effective way of ripping shallower shoreline areas for brown trout is pulling your offerings behind large planer boards, far away from the boat ruckus.

These are coldwater species, while their prey can be found in warmer areas of the water column where zooplankton is prevalent. Strictly for feeding purposes, predators will venture out of their nearly anoxic, coldwater comfort zone into shallower, warmer, and more oxygenated areas of the water column. They are only here to feed, and death is certain if they remained here too long. For this reason they are very businesslike at dinnertime, violently crashing through bait balls, tail-slapping whatever gets in the way, then circling back through to pick off any dazed and confused prey.

bait worm with hook, photo by phil akers
The old adage is true, big bait catches big fish.

When fishing for predators in stunted kokanee lakes, I like to “match the hatch” by rolling very large bait such as herring or anchovy. The idea is to present the offering in a manner that imitates a wounded or dazed baitfish, sparking instinctive reactions to what they perceive as easy pickings. There are many ways to fish with bait, from old-school rigging methods that I still use, to more modern techniques and bait-head harnesses. Whatever method you choose, ensure your trolling speed is precise for your technique. A basic way of rolling bait is to start with a 30-or-so-inch piece of leader. Tie at least a size 6 Gamakatsu treble hook on one end, and a double surgeon’s loop on the other end.

bait fish shown with large hook going down spine of fish, photo by phil Akers
Next, insert a threader behind the gill plate of the bait and run down the spine to the tail-end. Place the loop end of the leader in the threader and pull back through until the treble hook begins to embed in the tail-end. This is where bait gets hit most.
bait fish with treble hook inserted, photo by PHil Akers
The treble hook should be flat, such that two hooks are in the bait and one hook is sticking straight out. This is where bait gets hit most…yea, I said it again.
bait fish used for showing how to insert fish hooks, photo by Phil Akers
Now insert the threader between the jaws of the bait and run it up through the forehead.
Bait fish being used to show how to insert fishing hooks, photo by Phil Akers
Another angle. Place the loop end of the leader in the threader and pull back through, sealing the mouth shut as you tighten. If the mouth is not threaded shut, or covered with a bait head rig, the bait will blow up before you can get it to the desired trolling depth.
bait fish hooked and ready to go, photo by phil akers
Lastly, put as tight of a cinch as you want. The tighter the cinch, the larger the roll.

Quality bait is paramount. Serious bait users purchase their bait fresh, then brine and freeze in trip-sized, vacuum sealed portions. Regardless if using fresh or store-bought, you need to brine the bait to add toughness. There are many homemade brine and salt recipes, but if you want to keep things simple and very effective, Pro-Cure Brine ‘n Bite is a smart choice. Just follow the simple instructions but I will add to never use chlorinated water, introduce a little non-iodized salt, and take your time dissolving the concoction -- it takes a little while. Once it is thoroughly dissolved, pour enough to cover the bait (usually into Zip-Lock bait bags), squeeze out the air, then submerge the bags into ice and rock salt for the duration of the brining process which is 24 to 36 hours.

Pro-Cure bait in containers, photo by Phil Akers
I use Pro-Cure exclusively because of product quality and results.

Once the bait has been brined, drain and freeze if intended for future use. Always use vacuum seal methods to prevent freezer burn. To enhance shelf life, always store Pro-Cure products out of extreme elements -- preferably in the fridge. If stored away from heat and sunlight, most Pro-Cure scents will last a couple of years before they oxidize. Use the garage fridge though, this stuff is made from fresh ingredients and thus has its very own unique fragrance. If your wife permits storage of bait and scent in the house fridge, I have one question for you: Does she have a sister?

Phl Akers and John Matkoski, with 16 pound fish, Photo by Phil Akers
That’s me and my cohort John Matkoski with my first mackinaw, a respectable 16-pounder. This fish took a large lure pulled behind a flasher, both were smeared with Pro-Cure Herring Gel.

Roughly 24-hours before use, add scent and bluing to the bait and keep it iced. If rolling shad, I prefer Pro-Cure Threadfin Shad scent, but if rolling large herring or anchovy I add Pro-Cure Herring Oil. Regardless of the type of bait and scent used, always add Pro-Cure Bait Brite bluing formula. A small amount of bluing goes a long way folks, so be careful. Simply a small squirt into a trip-sized bait bag will suffice. Bluing will make your bait shine -- a UFO did not just land, that’s your bait -- and the blue illumination is an excellent choice to penetrate the water column in most of our inland lakes.

Trinidad Tackle’s Anchovy Classic bait heads, photo by Phil Akers
Trinidad Tackle’s Anchovy Classic is a fantastic bait head rig featuring a wire that runs down the inside of the bait. Bending this wire allows you to tune the bait from tight, bullet-rolls, to larger swings. The more bend in the wire, the more dramatic the roll.

I first learned rigging bait old school, using threaded methods requiring slower trolling speeds, usually between 1.5 to 2.0 mph. Later on, I discovered that trolling hardware such as squid pulled behind flashers, large spoons and lures, are not only effective but can be trolled at much faster speeds. They can cover twice the amount of water than my method. If tuned properly, bait head rigs can be trolled at faster speeds and can even be presented alongside hardware setups -- more options…always learning.

During the hot summer weather we are currently experiencing -- dog days are dang near here -- remember that predators will leave their habitable zone to pursue prey, and our homework assignment is to figure out when this occurs. Right now, dinnertime is generally early in the morning and again in the evening. But it is always a crap shoot…trying to figure out when predators are on the chew.

Phil “Flip” Akers is a diverse angler and outdoor adventurer. For over 20 years he has backpacked, packed llamas and fly-fished the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, venturing into the farthest reaches of our wilderness areas pursuing quality trout and solitude. He enjoys sharing his experiences including tips, techniques, outdoor cooking recipes, and storytelling. He is certified in wilderness first response and rescue including swiftwater rescue, technical rope and technical animal rescue.

 

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