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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

Bobbinen, jigginen and trollinen

September 11, 2009
By Jim Junttila

I know, it sounds like a Finnish law firm, but no. It's plural for bobbin', jiggin' and trollin', which pretty much sums up the ways they fish for Lake Superior lake trout around here. Some have evolved as specialists and steadfastly do one or the other. Many go both ways.

Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), from the Ojibwe namaycush, is a favorite target fish among Yooper deep sea fishermen. Like brook trout, they are actually freshwater char, native to Lake Superior. Deep dwellers, they are pelagic during summer stratification in dimictic lakes. Should you choose to accept it, your mission is to look up any words you don't recognize in this column.

My most recent outing for these delicious denizens of the deep was with a couple of true blue Lake Superior veterans and Big Traverse specialists, Burt Arola, 79, and Fran Cloutier, 87. I was the youngest guy aboard Bert's 21-foot Cruiser by a long shot, fishing with a couple of guys with combined experience of way over a century. "Feel free to add another coupla decades to that," Fran upped the ante.

Although the fish don't bite until you get there, they were up and at 'em first thing in the morning, Burt and Fran were serving flashers, flies and cutbait for breakfast at 1-2.5 mph, just the way Traverse lakers like it. We took seven fish aboard between 8-9:30 a.m., all trolling in about 150 feet. Several of them ate and ran, dined and dashed on us, then the bite went cold. We caught a stray about 11:30 and were back at the dock by noon; three fats, five leans.

To bring you lake trout virgins up to speed, "leans" are the good fish, while "fats" are more seagull, lamprey, eagle, and osprey food. But even birds of prey are getting picky these days. Being scavengers, gulls don't know the difference and could care less. Did you hear the one about the fussy seagull that took one bite of a fat, then flew down the beach and licked its tailfeathers to get the taste out of its mouth? They're still chock fulla omega-3 oil, though.

Siscowets or "fats" are heavyweight lake trout that swim the abyss with burbot (lawyer, freshwater ling cod) and eat them. They are voracious eating machines and can sport up to 70 percent body fat. Anglers have caught fats with a partially digested lawyer sticking out of its mouth. Others have hooked lakers with lampreys stuck to their sides that won't let go no matter what, even when you net the fish and bring it aboard.

According to Minnesota Sea Grant, "siscowet" translates literally from Ojibwe to "cooks itself" which is pretty much what happens when you put this fish anywhere near a frying pan or heat; they literally melt. "They develop 40-70 percent more body fat than lean lake trout (about 10 percent)," according to Jim Kitchell, professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"Lake trout are the largest of the chars," said WWW Fisheries Correspondent Dolly Vardenen, quite the char herself and a lean if you ever saw one.

"You'll recognize them from their deeply forked tails," she continued. "Their back and sides are usually dark green or nearly black, liberally sprinkled with whitish spots. Overall color ranges from light green to grey. Natives and leans are darker with redder fins and pink to orange flesh."

"I've always liked shiny things, especially jewelry," Dolly added. "It's in my genes, what's a girl to do? I never could resist the flash and sparkle of a Mepps or Panther Martin spinner. My bigger lake trout cousins prefer herring dodgers, Finnspoons and Laker takers, but they'll pretty much take any spoon that comes along."

How do you catch lake trout? The short answer is "with a hook, in the mouth, in Lake Superior" and you can quote me on that. Actually, they go to great lengths and depths. Downriggers are de rigueur. Dipsy divers do the trick, too. Many anglers mine for lakers with a geppu, a hand reel, jig and cutbait with leadcore line, catching most fish in 100-250 foot depths. They also have a taste for Finnspoons and Bay de Noc Laker Takers, RJs, Rapalas, and Reef Runners.

Keweenaw Bay and Big Traverse trollers and bobbers have done well this summer with good numbers of smaller fish. At press time, Burt Arola has caught 366 lakers so far and projects a 400-fish season before he puts the boat in the barn by the enda the month. "We haven't seen many wall hangers, but we've got a freezer fulla eaters," he said.

Northshore anglers, on the other hand, are having a frustrating summer. They're spoiled, used to catching bigger fish than they've seen this year. "We've gone from 6-15 pounders to Traverse-size fish, and not many of those," lamented Bruce Harter.

For those who don't fish or like their lake trout best when somebody else cooks it, try Peterson's on Quincy Hill, the Michigan House, Quincy's in Dollar Bay, or the Friday night fish fry at Calumet Golf Course.

The current Michigan state record lake trout, 61 pounds, 48 inches, caught in Lake Superior, 1997, by Lucas Lanczy, is hanging on the wall at the Hilltop Restaurant in L'Anse. He's not sayin whether he caught it bobbinen, jigginen or trollinen.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at



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