September Lake Trout Fishing on Lake Simcoe

Wil Wegman

For the last several years I have taken much of September off as a fishing vacation, and as crazy and disruptive as 2020 has been, I was determined to normalize matters by keeping this annual tradition alive. Although I usually make a couple major trips up north, I still always end up doing a lot of fishing locally in Simcoe County and especially on my home lake for the past 35 years … Lake Simcoe. Of course, for those who have read my articles over the last 35 years, it comes as no surprise that I tend to focus on my favorite open water species – BASS!

However in 2020 due to covid restrictions, most of the public boat launches around Lake Simcoe were still closed to non-residents of those local communities, I had to broaden my horizons and have an open mind to different yet exciting fishing opportunities.

That opportunity came the 2nd week in September when Mathew Clayton of Guiding Outdoor Junky’s Guide Service invited me to join him before the season closed Sept 30 for some lake trout fishing along the Simcoe County portion of Lake Simcoe. I heard Matt was on them and knew his method was extremely productive, so I figured why not chase some of those big ol’ adipose-finned wonders for a change. So, that’s exactly what we did on September 10.

To Down Rig … or Not To Down Rig: Not long ago, most die-hard open water lake trout anglers and especially charter boat captains on Lake Simcoe would utilize downriggers to get their baits deep enough to reach their quarry. That meant hours and hours of trolling hard baits like long thin crankbaits or spoons at various levels within the water column, over miles and miles of water to eventually find and hopefully hook into a laker. Today, guys like Matt who have spent so much time trying to figure out these denizens of the deep, have an incredible understanding of exactly where they should be at any given time of the month or even day. They use their electronics to aid them in their search but what truly sets them apart from most others is their innate ability to decipher precisely what the sonar screen is telling them and translate that into hooking fish.
We began our day over one of Matt’s many waypoints about three kilometers from shore in 110 feet of water. Immediately there were marks on the screen indicating both lake trout and baitfish … likely cisco (lake herring). Instead of rods and reels used exclusively for downriggers though we deployed regular spinning gear. And, instead of spoons or hardbaits, we just dropped down lifelike soft plastic swim jigs directly overtop the fish we marked. Additionally, whereas anglers in the past would have had to toss an anchor or two to try and stay in position, Matt simply hit “Spot Lock” on his bow mounted electric trolling motor and that kept us in the exact position we wanted to stay in despite the wind and the waves. “Spot Lock is such a game changer!” Matt quipped once as the wind and waves seemed to increase in intensity. I laughed because everyone I fish with who now has that amazing feature on their electric motors - regardless of the brand or what they are fishing for … including myself, says exactly the same thing!

We marked fish almost immediately on the screen and Matt began to explain what those marks meant. “All those smaller marks above are baitfish- likely cisco, but the longer streaks are lakers and those blurps right on bottom must be whitefish. For whatever reason, I don’t get many of those … mostly I think because my clients … and me, prefer to catch big lake trout instead.” We continued to jig our baits in that area but as the wind picked up it did become more of a challenge, so Matt figured it would be best to try another waypoint several minutes away that would bring us to a more protected area. We had no sooner set up in 107 feet of relatively calm waters when the sonar screen lit up with piscatorial activity!

This is where Matt began to interpret the activity level of the larger marks … ie lake trout seen on the screen. “That’s a chaser … reel in, reel in”, he commanded excitedly. I did and watched the trout chase my bait from 7 feet off bottom to within 17 feet below the boat … before it headed back down. This is a very similar scenario to what ice anglers experience regularly on Simcoe, and apparently open water lake trout specialists as well. “We’ve learned that if you just keep your bait in front of the lake trout after you mark it on bottom, that the laker will seldom take it, but if you begin to reel it in, you have a much better chance of getting it to chase and then commit.”

Both Matt and I ‘played with’ several lake trout in this manner, or they with us, for almost an hour … watching them approach our baits and ignoring them until we reeled in – only to see them follow upwards for 50-60 feet before they would turn back down towards bottom and disappear. Then out of nowhere a large mark suddenly appeared and Matt exclaimed, “she’s hot” and I had no sooner reeled in a couple of cranks before a solid thunk stopped my bait cold.

The battle lasted about five minutes and included a couple powerful runs before I got it near the surface and led it towards the oversized landing net Matt had ready … He scooped up the 15-16 pounder, we looked for any tags, fin clips, took a couple quick pics and sent her back from where she came. It’s always good watching them swim back down on the sonar screen.

As we worked our baits about ten feet from bottom we would see the occasional large mark on the screen at various depths telling us it was a laker so we would reel in to that depth and try to coax it into eating by reeling ahead of it.

With several trout playing the cat and mouse game … Matt tried to outsmart them for the next hour by trying various soft plastics and different colors until he hit pay dirt - so he was the next one to hook into a good sized lake trout and it was my turn to scoop it up with the net.

Once again we worked quickly to unhook the beautiful old 15 pounder and send her back down on her way … checking for a Floy tag that could be attached to the lake trout just below the dorsal fin by MNRF staff in the fall of 2019 during the annual trapnetting and egg collection program. “So far, this boat has caught several of the ~240 or so trout that they tagged. Each fish and tag has a unique number and the MNR’s phone number so anyone catching one can call in and report basic details of their catch like the tag number, size, general location, date caught and whether it was harvested or live released,” explained Matt.

As we continued to work our baits around the trout we were watching on the screen Matt explained that he strongly encourages catch and release with his clients. “We very seldom catch small trout … but they are really the only ones worth trying to eat. The larger ones simply aren’t … but even more important than that is that they are just key to the future of our fishery. And … those tagged fish really should be released because they will continue to provide important data to help the ministry manage this population – which I think needs some help, he concluded. He’s right … whenever you don’t catch many small fish and primarily big ones dominate your catch … you have a problem regardless of the species. Those tagged fish will help MNRF get a better handle on seasonal movements as well as site fidelity to spawning shoals where they captured those trout in the fall.

It was not long after our discussion that I saw a good sized mark on the screen and began reeling in my lure with the mark below in hot pursuit - until both ‘became one’ and simultaneously between seeing that and feeling the weight, I set the hook. I enjoyed another strong battle and then proudly held up a real chunky monkey lake trout. It was a perfect way to wrap up an excellent day with one of the top guides on Lake Simcoe.

Wil poses for a quick photo just before ‘torpedoing’ back that short and stocky female lake trout loaded with eggs. This sent a blast of oxygen thru her gills as she is propelled back down to over 100 feet of water below. By mid-October when the season is closed this laker and others could be in single digit depths atop one of Lake Simcoe’s many spawning shoals.

About Matt Clayton and Outdoor Junky’s Guide Service:
With over 20 years’ experience fishing and guiding all seasons his service focusses on trips for lake trout, whitefish, pike, jumbo perch, and bass. Matt not only guides on Lake Simcoe but also out of Lake Couchiching, Lake Joseph, Lake Muskoka and even several pristine back-country lakes for a variety of species. He is currently planning on another busy winter ice fishing season providing guests with a comfortable, warm and educational experience in their heated enclosed portable ice huts using the highest quality ice fishing gear and electronics. There are still some openings this fall for open water but the season is winding down fast. To contact Matt please visit: or or call 1 (705) 345-4888.


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Wil Wegman is an award winning outdoor writer and member of the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame. He is the Hooked on Fishing columnist for Lake Simcoe Living magazine and has had articles published on fishing his home lake in dozens of Canadian and several US publications.