Species overview: The lake trout is a char that lives mostly farther north than Pennsylvania. Besides the brook trout, the lake trout is the only trout and salmon family member that is native to the state. It is found naturally in Lake Erie and in Silver Lake, Susquehanna County. Elsewhere the limits of its original range follow the southern boundary of the glacial advances across North America. The genus name “Salvelinus” is an old name for “char,” and the species name “namaycush” is an American Indian name for the lake trout.
Identification: The lake trout’s body has a background gray color, often with an bronze-olive overtone. It shades to silvery-white on the belly. The back and sides have many large light-colored, irregularly shaped markings, some of which are wavy or wormlike, like the brook trout’s markings. There is also light speckling on the dorsal and adipose fins and on the deeply forked caudal fin, plus a white leading edge on the pectoral, pelvic and anal fins. The Pennsylvania record, from Lake Erie, is more than 27 pounds. Elsewhere, lake trout have been known to grow to more than 50 inches and reach over 100 pounds.
Life history: Lake trout are mature enough to reproduce when they are six or seven years old. Some lake trout respond to a homing instinct. They return to the same spawning grounds year after year, while others do not. Lake trout do not normally make an upstream spawning run. They spawn in their home lakes at night during the fall. The eggs are deposited over a boulder-strewn or rubble bottom, or over artificial spawning structure, in depths from 40 feet to about one foot. Lake trout may clean their spawning sites by rubbing against the rocks with the snout, body and fins, but they don’t prepare a nest as do other trout. After release, the eggs drift down to settle in the spaces between the rocks. The eggs are not guarded. They develop by themselves and hatch the following spring.
Lake trout grow more slowly than other salmon and trout family members. They reach a large size because they live a long time, over 20 years. Lake trout feed on smelt and other fish, as well as crustaceans, terrestrial and aquatic insects, and plankton.
Gallery of Pennsylvania Fishes Chapter 15