Salvelinus namaycush
Lake Trout

Lake Trout

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The natural history of the northwoods



  • Salvelinus, an old name for char, from the same root as the German, Saibling, (little salmon)
  • namaycush, a native American name, said to mean "tyrant of the lakes". Compare with the Ojibwe namê, "sturgeon", and namégoss, "trout"
  • Common Name from its preferred habitat
  • Other common names include: Forktail Trout, Great Lakes Trout, Grey Trout, Lake Char, Laker, Laker Trout, Land-locked Salmon, Mackinaw, Mackinaw Trout, Mountain Trout, Namaycush, Salmon Trout, Togue, Togue Trout, Touladi, Truite grise, truite de lac, omble gris (Qué), Canadaröding (Swe)


  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Chordata,
    • Subphylum Vertebrata,
      • Superclass Osteichthyes, bony fishes
      • Class Actinopterygii, ray-finned and spiny rayed fishes
      • Subclass Neopterygii
      • Infraclass Teleostei
        • Superorder Protacanthopterygii
        • Order Salmoniformes, salmon and trout
          • Family Salmonidae, salmon and trout
            • Genus Salvelinus, the chars


  • A swift, torpedo-shaped fish of deep, cold waters and perhaps the most prized catch in Canoe Country.
  • Length
    • typically 17"-27"
    • known to exceed 4'
  • Weight
    • typically 3-9 lbs
    • known to exceed 100 lbs
  • Coloration
    • the least colorful of the trouts
    • light green or grey, dark green, brown or almost black with irregular, lighter colored spots
    • light underside
    • leading edges of pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins are reddish-orange with a narrow whitish margin,
    • during the fall spawning season, the fins near the tail become a pale orange.
  • Body
    • moderately elongated shape
    • tail deeply forked
  • Head
    • large
    • well developed teeth on jaws, tongue, and roof of mouth
  • Lifespan
    • long-lived, the largest fish being 20 or more years old
    • does not reach sexual maturity until 8-10 years of age


  • Two distinguishing features are its tail, which is deeply forked, and its colour which generally is dappled.


  • Occurs naturally and is widely distributed only in North America, where it is native to the cold waters of Alaska, Canada, and the Great Lakes Region. It has been widely introduced elsewhere in the US.
  • Found in all five Great Lakes and many of the deeper lakes of the BWCA.


  • Prefers water temperatures of around 50º F., but will venture into warmer water on occasion. Hence, it is restricted to still waters of large, deep lakes and reservoirs and some large streams (although in the Northwest Territories it is also found in shallow tundra lakes).
  • Inhabits deep waters (60'-300')
  • Least tolerant of salt water of all the chars.


  • Predaceous, feeding upon crustaceans, insects, many species of fish, and even small mammals.
  • Young lake trout feed on plankton, insects, freshwater shrimp, and other aquatic invertebrates.
  • Larger lake trout typically eat other species of fish, mostly Lake Whitefish and Cisco(Tullibee).
  • Feeds near the surface of a lake when the water is cold (spring and fall). During the summer, the cold denser water sinks to the bottom of the lake and the trout follow it down.


  • For more than half a century, the most valuable commercial fish in the Upper Great Lakes. Then overfishing and the onslaught of the sea lamprey from the late 1930s and into the 1950s effectively eliminated this fish from most of the lakes. With control of the lamprey, population levels are rebounding.
  • Largest on record weighed 46.3 kg and measured 126 cm., taken with a gillnet from Lake Athabasca, Saskatchewan, in 1961.
  • World Record (angling): 66 lbs, 8 oz, from the Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories, on May 27, 1993 by Rodney Harback.
  • Minnesota Record: 43lbs, 8oz, from Lake Superior (Cook County).


  • One of the largest of the freshwater fish, it is endowed with a flesh of superb eating quality and is eagerly sought by commercial, sport, and subsistence fishermen. The flesh may be white, pink, orange or orange-red, the color being influenced by the diet.
  • Anglers catch this species in surface waters very early in the spring by fly or spin fishing. As the surface waters warm up, these fish retire to deep water. Anglers who seek this fish during the summer months must use long lines and heavy lures to fish in the deep waters. Only in far northern (i.e., Canadian) lakes are they caught in surface waters during the summer.
  • Commercial fishermen catch lake trout winter and summer using gillnets. Largest production comes from the lakes of northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.


  • Lake Trout are solitary and do not school or congregate except during spawning season.
  • Lake Trout spawn at night in late autumn in inland lakes up to depths of 40', over large cobble and boulder substrates.. The female lays 400-1200 eggs and hatching occurs 4-5 months later.
  • Lake Trout do not build beds but simply scatters eggs among the rocks. Males do not defend territories, unlike males of other species of trout and salmon.


  • Lake Trout grow very slowly, and often don't mature until they are 8-10 years of age. Because of this late age of spawning, heavy fishing pressure can seriously deplete lake trout populations.


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Last updated on 15 March, 2002