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There is little else more relaxing than fishing. The fresh air, the tug of that line, the catch; the colder months do not mean the end of the sport. In fact, ice fishing for trout can be productive if you know the basics. Knowing how to ice fish safely, the correct gear to use, and the right methods to employ will make you successful in ice fishing for rainbow, brook, and brown trout.
New to ice fishing? Click here to read Ice Fishing 101: How to Ice Fish
Winter Versus Summer
How you fish for trout in the summer is the opposite of how you will want to fish for trout in the winter. Trout are cold water fish. In the summer, they tend to stay near the bottom where it is cooler. Once the colder weather hits, trout move into more shallow waters, closer to the surface. Other fish, such as perch and bass, do the opposite, and when ice begins to form, they move more to the bottom to seek the warmth.
The most important thing to remember when ice fishing for trout is safety. Ice fishing is risky no matter how experienced you are, so you must be careful and prepared. It is best to fish at a location you already know, but no matter how familiar you may be with your location in the summer months, you have to take precautions. Snow can cover familiar marks and leave you feeling disoriented. Scope out your location before the actual fishing excursion and familiarize yourself with the scenery and marks.
Know the weather patterns and watch the weather at least three days in advance. New, clear ice is ideal and stronger than old ice or ice that is white and/or snow covered. Never fish on ice that is less than four inches thick. If you are using snow vehicles, you will want the ice to be at least five inches.
Have the right materials and gear when ice fishing. Be sure to wear ice boots, gloves, hat, a headlamp, and an ice fishing bib. Bring along an ice pick, an emergency radio, and always let someone know where you will be.
Ice Fishing Gear
You also want to have the right gear when ice fishing. The ideal fishing rod for ice fishing is generally shorter than the normal fishing rod. A popular choice is a jig, but do not make the common mistake of moving it too much, as creatures move slower in colder water. The trout will know something is up if you move too fast.
Another important factor to keep in mind when ice fishing for trout is the temperature. It will be warmer in deeper waters, the temperature ranging from 37F to 40F. To find the ideal temperature ranging from 32F to 35F, you will want to find shallow waters with a flatter bottom.
Knowing Your Location
Knowing your location is not only essential for safety, it also gives you an advantage when ice fishing for trout. Trout will hang out near small drop-offs. It is where they can feed off smaller fish. Be familiar with the layout of the water or bring along someone that is. Knowing the contour of the body of water can be the tipping point in your success when ice fishing.
You will want to fish in shallow waters, approximately four to ten feet from the surface. It is important to remember that the depth at which to ice fish for trout is not an exact science. You will want to have several different rods to test the success and determine how deep you will want to go. An ice flasher can help if you are in unfamiliar waters, but keep in mind that trout can hear and feel the noise sonar makes. It works best if you know the area or have a contour map to spy the drop offs and shallow parts.
Trout are especially skittish, and that can make ice fishing a challenge. But with the right knowledge and efficient routines, this does not have to be a problem. Drill your holes all at once. Do your best to arrange your gear in the best way possible and within reach to minimize movement and noise. Keep some snow under your feet to insulate the sound. Remember, trout have excellent hearing.
Set up and drill in the early morning hours, preferably before dawn. Trout are most active in the early morning or at dusk.
You will want to ensure that the light is at the right intensity for ice fishing for trout. Trout do not have eyelids and are sensitive to intense brightness. Light streaming in from your fishing hole can also alert them and scare them away. Cover the hole with snow or set up a portable structure to eliminate any issues.
For best results, fish on an overcast day.
Trout have excellent vision and can spot something out of the ordinary. It is important to use live bait or lures that are dull colors. You will also want to use thin, pliable 1 to 4 pound (unless the trout are known to be larger, such as over five pounds, and in that case, you should use the 6 pound line), and the line should match the surroundings. It is important to blend in as much as possible so the trout are not scared away.
Baits and Lures
Live bait is best when fishing for trout. Some of the better options to attract trout are minnows, live nymph and maggots. When using minnows, keep your tip-ups light so trout feel less resistance and will not be as apt to release the minnow. There are many ways to hook a minnow for bait, but for ice fishing, placing the hook through the back, right after the dorsal fin works best.
If you use a lure, be sure to go with a dull, natural shade. Use a small jig in the 1/100 ounce to 1/80 ounce range. These are best because they drop slowly. You will want to remember to not move any lures you use too much. Remember, insects and smaller fish move slower in colder waters, and you want to mimic that motion.
Use shorter rods so you can sit closer to the hole. Keep everything you need within reach so you are not constantly shuffling and moving and making unnecessary noise that could spook any catch you might get.
Ice Fishing for Rainbow Trout
When ice fishing for rainbow trout, you want to keep a few things in mind. Rainbow trout are an open water schooling species. You can usually find them toward the middle of the body of water. The best place to find rainbow trout is at the edge of a weedy section. If you cannot find a particularly weedy section, simply go for the shallowest, flattest area. Also muddy bottoms work well as a location for ice fishing for rainbow trout.
Tungsten Scud Flies (See Your Local Fly Fishing Shop)
Rainbow trout are active in the shallow area early in the day or after dusk. The later it gets in the morning, the further out rainbow fish travel. By mid-day, they are in deeper sections, moving mid water column. So if you are ice fishing for rainbow fish, you want to start in the shallow section and move more into the deeper section the later it gets. At dusk, you will want to return to the shallow part and start the process over again.
Rainbow trout are aggressive predators, and if fishing in a weedy section, keep your bait close to the bottom, as that is where they find their food. It is important to remember that rainbow trout are light biters and are known to spit hooks at the slightest indication of resistance.
As aggressive as rainbow trout can be when feeding, they are also known to be picky. If they are not hitting, change the lure or bait. Rainbow trout have an excellent sense of smell, so if you are using a lure, add a scent to it. This will cause the rainbow trout to hold onto it for longer, giving you a better chance to hook it. Rainbow trout feed off of insects at the bottom, so using flies is another great option.
Ice Fishing for Brook Trout
Ice fishing for brook trout is not as hard as fishing for brown or rainbow trout. Brook trout are the easiest to locate and the easiest to catch. Like rainbow trout, you want to find shallow water. But unlike rainbow trout, you want to fish closer to the shore. The best locations are inhabited with logs and branches and rock piles.
Minnows are the best option for brook trout, specifically sticklebacks. But brook trout are not picky, so there is a variety of bait available to use, including nymphs and maggots and even salmon eggs.
Again, as it is for the rainbow trout, you also want to be sure to have a light line with little resistance for brook trout. They are quick to sense when there is something amiss. They bite lightly and let go, so it is important to pay attention and not be overeager. If you are in an area that brook trout are known to occupy at the optimal time of day, and the brook trout are not biting, do not be afraid to switch out your bait. You will want to use a line that blends in with the surroundings and a dull lure that does not scare them off.
Be sure to drill holes early, before dawn. The best time to ice fish for brook trout is early morning hours, at dawn when the sky is still gray is the greatest time to start. You can also start to fish at dusk, when they gather once again in the shallow areas.
Ice Fishing for Brown Trout
Ice fishing for brown trout is not much different than fishing for brook or rainbow trout. Like rainbow trout, brown trout are swimmers that are constantly moving. Unlike rainbow trout, however, the brown trout are more likely to be found around structures, much like the brook trout. Look for fallen trees, branches, and rock piles near the shore.
Brown trout are aggressive predators and feed on larger prey, such as mice, but you will still want to keep your bait small. Nymphs, maggots, fish eggs and minnows are the best options for brown trout. Remember that if the brown trout do not seem to be biting, try varying depths. Switch out a lure for something different. Keep the light in mind, and try to block any extra sunlight from pouring into your fishing hole. You will want your line to blend in with the surroundings.
You will want to have a light line. Brown trout are skittish and can easily spot something that is not meant to be there, so be sure there is a light resistance. Brown trout will bite lightly and spit hook, so be prepared and be patient. You will want to wait until they take that bite and do not let go.
Also remember to drill all your holes at once and try varying depths to find just the right one. Start fishing early. When ice fishing for brown trout, you will want to remember that they are most active around dawn, and they are active once again at dusk.
The fun of trout fishing does not have to stop once the weather gets colder. Ice fishing for trout is just as rewarding. It is most important to remember safety when ice fishing. It also helps to remember to stay shallow and stay quiet. Fish early, starting at dawn or fish later when dusk is just beginning to form. Knowing these tips can lead to you to having not just a fun experience, but a successful one as well.