How to Catch Trout Under the Ice
There are a few simple things you can do to catch more trout under the ice. The short days and cold weather make it tough enough on your winter fishing outings. I’m going to give you three simple tips that you can take to the bank when it comes to catching more trout when ice fishing.
How many times have you driven up to the lake, braved the brutal cold, slapped on your gear, grabbed your equipment and moved to your place on the ice to drill a hole and drop a line? I’m surprised at how many people just wing it when it comes to selecting a fishing spot.
If we assume that the first guy on the ice is a genius and knows what he is doing, and everyone else sort of falls into his orbit, then all is well! But that just isn’t the case. More often than not, folks end up fishing at a randomly selected spot, using randomly purchased products, with little or no knowledge or technique.
Hey, let’s change that! Here are your three ice fishing for trout tips:
Tip 1: Know Where the Trout Hold
Active winter trout classically use the biggest flats available in less than ten feet of water, especially where those flats are adjacent to sharp drops into deep water. These flats are rich in minnows, small crayfish, aquatic worms, mayfly nymphs, and so forth that burrow in the sand and provide a rich food source.
I first caught onto the flat phenomenon years ago. We went fishing with the same group and I noticed that one guy always came away with two or three lunker rainbows that he caught in less than 6 feet of water. I had to bend my head around that because I initially thought it was random and a fluke. But it happened several times. We often caught more fish in the 20-30 ft. suspended areas. His fish were always bigger, and at Utah’s Strawberry Reservoir, were almost always rainbows.
Less active trout drop deeper, usually in the 20- to 30-foot flats, or suspend over even deeper water. Trout tend to suspend and then move up to within several feet of the ice and swim parallel to it as they motor to the shallows.
When the weather is good, figure out where these shallow shelves are in your winter lakes. Target them. Take a wide-angle picture on your phone so you can go right back there in the winter when everything looks different. Finding areas of softer bottom in a predominantly rocky lake can be key. Target your fishing times for early and late in the day at low-light conditions. Trout will often extend their bite on dark, snowy, or cloudy days.
Tip 2: Give Them What They Eat.
Trout love a maggot, live or synthetic. A meal worm, wax worm, even a red worm are the perfect thing to tip a hook with. Trout commonly forage on larval insects and they rarely refuse one when it’s presented correctly.
Your jig selection is important. There are so many options on the market, in every color and size. Generally speaking the white-headed and chartreuse ice flies work well for color. I keep all kinds of colors at hand. But use the little teeny ones. Don’t jig a spinner or a spoon. You want to keep something light on the end of the line because that faint little nibble is often all the chance you’re going to get. Heavier jigs and lures, heavier lines, heavier stiffer poles all suffer a decrease in responsiveness.
Trout can be exceptionally wary, especially native species and the big hogs. They have an excellent sense of smell, so cover your scent on line and lure with something like Dr. Juice or Kastaway’s Kodiak salmon-oil scents. Trout have excellent vision and lateral-line senses, too.
Often the frequency and style of jigging will determine the outcome of your trip. Jig slower. Jig faster. Moderate the jig by just flicking the line slightly now and again. Often the standard jigging motion is enough to attract the attention of fish and lure them over, but not enough to entice a bite. A small variation will often trigger a strike.
If you aren’t having success, change it up! Don’t keep doing the same wrong thing. Drill multiple holes and change locations every 30-40 minutes of inactivity.
Tip 3: Get Your Gear Right
Most Western trout lakes are clear and trout can be extremely line shy. Use thin, pliable, 2-4-pound monofilament line in a color that matches the background. P-line Floro-ice and Berkley Vanish are two great options for invisibility. Try smoke or gray shades in clear water, green lines in green water or where there is bottom vegetation. In cover or where +5lb trout are common, bump up to 6-pound test.
You have lots of options when it comes to ice-fishing poles and reels. You can find great variety at your local supply shop in the $30-40 dollar range. The basic Ugly Stik combo is a great and indestructible option. Shimano makes a great little combo as well. Some people prefer to use their old reels. That’s all well and good, but beware: I’ve seen a lot of them go flying through the hole in the ice. And to quote Marshall Cogburn in True Grit, “gone, gone, gone.”
You are obviously going to size everything up a bit if you are targeting the larger species like lake trout or pike. Heavier line, heavier rod, heavier jigs. There is nothing worse than hooking into a lunker, have him on for a few seconds, or minutes, and then feel the sudden snap and release of pressure. Which brings up a final point: check and prep your gear every time before a fishing trip. If the line is relatively new and has been stored out of the elements, clip off several feet of line and tie on a new knot. Assuming that the ice fly on the rod is tied with a great knot and will hold just fine is a mistake. Go over your equipment with a fine eye and make sure it is ready to perform.
There you have it! Three great tips to help you catch more trout under the ice.