Maligne Lake secrets revealed………….
One of Alberta’s most popular, but unforgiving lakes is Maligne Lake located in Jasper National Park. This lake has some of the best rainbow and brook trout fishing found in the country…..if you know the tricks. An average sized rainbow weighs in at around 2 to 2.5 pounds with consistent 4 to 5 pounders. The brook trout fishery is incredible. Averaging at a pound and a half, you get consistent 3 to 4 pounders and one fish was weighed in at an incredible 12 and a half pounds. This was years ago, but the gentleman who caught this monster still hangs around at the boat ramp just waiting to tell his tale and pull out the old photo album.
There are many ways to fish for these two trout species, but we’re going to concentrate on one specific technique and that’s trolling sinking fly lines. Very rarely do you hear, or read, about trolling sinking lines, but this technique has proven to me to be the most productive ways of fishing many mountain lakes, none more so than Maligne Lake.
Maligne Lake is 5,479 ft. (1670m) above sea level in the Canadian Rockies thus it can be frozen right into the beginning of June. The first three weeks to one month after ice out and the last few weeks of September is primetime if you want to see some real action. Being so high in the mountains you have to be prepared for the climate. I’ve fished blizzards in the first week of August and days when one minute you’re in fleece pants and rain gear and five minutes later shorts and a t-shirt, then right back again. I always recommend you dress in layers with some good rain gear on board. Then you’re prepared for anything.
Since there is gas motor restrictions on this lake you need to get yourself an electric motor. There a several places in town that rent this equipment and provide rental boats on many of the lakes in the park. You can rent freighter canoes which are long, sturdy canoes that cover water a lot quicker than the aluminium boats available, but either will do for day trips. Since this is a very large lake you can only cover a limited amount of water if you’re just day fishing. There are campsites available along the lake should you wish to camp for a night or two. If this is the case you will be in for a treat as this is one of the more beautiful lakes in the world the further away from the dock you venture (this lake is 23 km long).
First off, get yourself a fly rod. It doesn’t have to be a fancy outfit and you don’t even have to know how to cast. Trolling is far and away the most effective way to locate active fish on Maligne Lake due to its immense size. You can use anywhere from a 5 weight up to a 7 weight rod. I always preferred a 9 ft. 7 weight set up. It’s sturdy enough to pull a variety of baits. Minnow baits are some of the top producers and if you use too light of a rod retrieving your line to check your presentation can be quite the battle even without the fish on the other end.
There are some reels that have some advantages. Multipliers and large spool reels certainly come in handy. A multiplier will increase the retrieval ratio, so for every turn of the reel your spool will turn twice, or three times. A large spool reel means the diameter of the spool is greater than normal spool size and will in turn increase the amount of line gained per reel rotation. When trolling fly lines there is a lot of slack created by water resistance and the higher the gear ratio the better if you’re not used to fishing with this equipment.
Line is important. The line, combined with boat control, is the most key component to this technique. This doesn’t mean you need the proper brand of line just the proper “type” of sinking line. There are six different types of full sink fly line, type 1 being the slowest sinking (shallowest running) to type 6 that is the fastest sinking (deepest running). Using type 1 you can troll just under the surface to type 6 where you can effectively fish from 15’ to 20’ depending on your trolling speed.
For leader material do not go out and buy pre packaged tapered leaders. Since you are not casting there is no need for the tapered line, in fact it would be counter productive because you are using a lot of lures that create water resistance and the thin tip would not be strong enough. I recommend you buy a spool of fluorocarbon line. I use 8 pound Vanish, but any fluorocarbon will do the trick. Fluorocarbon is completely invisible under water and has less stretch than monofilament which I find advantageous in setting hooks. Long leaders are important. If you’re using lures instead of flies tying a swivel into the leader is a must. I like about 12 ft. leaders with a swivel about 9 feet away from the lure. One other thing that I like to use is the slip-on leader loops. This helps guide the leader through the eyes of the rod instead of some knots that can get caught up and potentially break the line. They’re very easy to put on and can save you some headaches if you’re just getting started. The staff at the local tackle shop is always happy to help with your set up and point you in the right direction.
There are a wide range of flies and lures will work with this set up, but remember the line is a sinking line and it is not necessary to use fast diving lures with big lips. An assortment of flies: streamers, leaches, shrimp patterns are all very good. For lures use the lightest gear possible. Minnow baits are the most effective; Flatfish being the most consistent, with Rapalas and Hot Shots coming in a close second. In the years I guided on this lake I can count on one hand how many times I used something other than flies (shrimp, or a brookie pattern streamer) and/or a Flatfish. Those two types of flies and an assortment of flatfish always produced. Even on those famous frustrating mid-summer Maligne days.
Getting a portable fish finder is very beneficial. This is a very clear lake for the most part and this tends to push the fish down to the 10’ – 20’ range. There are times when the runoff from the mountains clouds the lake with silt and I find they spread out a little more and you have to work at different depths to locate the active fish. It’s not as important to pay attention to the fish being marked on the screen, but knowing your depth is very important in a successful day on the water. For the most part I try never to leave the range of 10’ to 25’ of water. Being a successful fisherman means you know how to play the percentages. There will be fish all over the water column from one foot up down to well over a hundred feet, but the highest percentage of fish that you can effectively fish for should be within range of the equipment listed above, if worked properly. If you don’t have access to a fish finder a good map will do, or just stick to the shore and keep an eye out for shallower water. Being a clear lake for the most part it is relatively easy to spot the drop offs and keep your lines out of trouble.
“Ripping” flies is one of the most consistent techniques for picking up active fish. To do this you will want a nice long fluorocarbon leader, no need for a swivel down to your fly, all on your type 6 sinking line. These fish love big flies! The best fly in my box is a #2 double shrimp pattern. Followed by a brook trout streamer, or a leech pattern, but anything big (#2 – #6) will do on most days. The key to ripping is exactly what it sounds like. Let your line out until the backing, keeping the trolling speed a little higher than what you might be used to and repetitively jerk the rod as hard as you can. Most people don’t jerk the rod as hard as they should. This is another benefit of the heavier 7 weight rod; it makes this motion a lot easier on the arms. Essentially, this will make your fly almost swim through the water like a jerk bait and you get a lot of impulsive strikes.
Ripping flies can be very straining on the body. Your forearms and back get a big workout, so if you want a break, or are just interested in relaxing on the water bring a good selection of flatfish, hot shot’s and rapalas. I find you catch more fish on lures as opposed to flies, but the fast pace ripping is certainly more interactive and the fish really hit hard.
If you’re just getting used to fishing this way always check the action of your lure at the side of the boat before you lower your line so you know how to gauge the speed for your troll. For example, flatfish are designed to have a lot of action at a very slow rate of speed, so by trolling dead slow you achieve the perfect action, that you will notice on your rod tip, and be able to get deeper than lures that require faster action. So, when you want to get to some deeper fish with your type 6 line troll dead slow with a flatfish, kwikfish, or hot shots and you can effectively fish at around 20 ft. Rapalas, or the more streamlined body baits need a little faster speed and should be running around 10’ – 18’.
I’ve found that early in the season the first third of the lake is the most productive; up about the five mile mark. Mid summer I spend more time around the 4 mile to 9 mile marker. And later in the season when the brook trout start to spawn the far end of the lake in front of the major creeks like Warren and Coronet.
Early season, when the ice comes out the first bay, aptly named “home bay”, is some of the best fishing in the lake and easily accessible. Home bay is one of the most consistent spots on the lake year round and often overlooked by the guides who just want to get down the lake to make the trip more of an adventure for their clients. At the top end of the bay (outwards to the lake), on the right hand side of the channel there is excellent fishing. There is a very abrupt drop off with the odd boulder pile that you can see on most days from about 7’ down to 15’ – 30’ at mid channel and into the next bay, and then troll straight down the channel for 100 metres or so. This is called “rainbow alley” to the locals. Watch out for the tour boats that seem to get in the way constantly. Ripping double shrimp patterns and a slow troll with a flatfish, or hot shots will do the trick. Try zigzagging over the drop off slightly changing your boat speed so as to vary your depth and lure action.
Mid-summer concentrate a little further up the lake. I like Trappers creek, Leah creek, Upper Maligne River inlet and 5 mile point. These are the most proven spots on the lake and fairly easy to find for newcomers because that is where the guide boats usually are working. Working points, drop offs and creek outflows are all where you want to target. Anyone of them down the lake can hold fish.
Late in the season, it’s worth it to go down the lake, past the narrows and famous Spirit Island to the “far end”. This is one of the most scenic locations I’ve had the pleasure of fishing in my life and find it almost spiritual. You are in what feels like uncharted territory past the tour boats and the capabilities of most visitors to the lake. Stunning mountains that run straight into the lake and glaciers so close you could walk up and touch them. This is your playground late in the season. If you do want to plan a trip down the lake I recommend you plan a multi-day trip. There are campsites both at the narrows and the far end of the lake at Coronet Creek. It is definitely worth it, some of my fondest memories are from trips down the lake for days at a time.
Try getting right up close to the creeks as there are some very abrupt drop offs and pull the usual flatfish, or break out the flies and start ripping. Pre spawn these brookies will school up right in front of these creeks in astounding numbers and sometimes you can see large numbers of them rolling around.
Getting used to the way the lines follow the boat is also very important if you want to work a lake properly. Sinking lines have much greater water resistance due its greater diameter and don’t cut the water nearly as quickly as monofilament. For example, when you make a fairly sharp turn the line will swing more with your turn and follow the path of the boat instead of cut across water and thus stalling your lure. This allows you to work your bait more accurately. To within a few feet you can estimate your depth and where behind the boat your fly, or lure, is running. Boat control is absolutely crucial when working deeper structure and you can actually work the lines to ride right up a drop off or sink down, whatever the case may be. So, if you’re trolling in 20’ feet of water and you see that the bottom is rising, all you have to do is gradually speed up so your line is elevated by water resistance caused by the speed of the boat. The reverse is also true when you come to a drop off slow right down and let the line sink with the bottom and speed back up when your line is deep enough. This will put more fish in your boat and you’ll find a lot fun out of concentrating on the bottom and trying to work it properly. Some of my bigger fish have been caught this way.
No matter the time of year you visit, if you find even one fish, work the area again. Several times even. Often when you find one fish there are others in the immediate area. Try coming in from different angles and at different depths. I’ve seen what was easily over forty fish come out of one small area in under an hour by a couple different boats repeatedly circling the area. After working the lake for a while and getting a good feeling about the fish behaviour I would never leave an area immediately after catching a fish. Every single spot that produced a fish got at least one or two additional passes. Sometimes you don’t get a follow up fish, and sometimes you don’t have to leave the spot for hours and are consistently catching fish.
Don’t get me wrong there are lots of ways to catch fish and I wouldn’t presume to say this is the only way to catch fish on Maligne Lake. Many anglers are very successful casting chronomid patterns to a strike indicator, some do well trolling wabler’s to flies, or lures, with spinning rods. But as former guide on this lake the only way I would fish, day in and day out, is trolling my sinking lines. Remember, it is always good to check in at the local tackle shop and get up to date information and help with the proper set ups. I know the guys at On-line Sport and Tackle on Patricia St. will be happy to help point you in the right direction and set you up with whatever rental equipment you may need. And remember to try this technique out on your local lakes as it is one of the best ways to produce large numbers of fish, even on some of the toughest days.