By: Chris Cook
Mid-season is here across much of the ice belt and that early ice bite has come and gone. Panfish opportunities have likely slowed a bit, but if you’re lucky enough to have access to waters that hold trout, you can find some consistent action to get you through the mid winter lull. Unlike some of their warm water brethren, trout remain active throughout the winter months when water temps take a plunge.
Targeting lake trout through the ice is becoming an increasingly popular pursuit for anglers from the Rockies to New England, and many parts of Canada. Many of these tactics can applied to other members of the Salmonid family as well. Electronics will make this cat and mouse game easier and a lot more fun for the angler. A good sonar/flasher unit will not only mark fish, but provide a clear view of the entire water column.
Let's talk more about that water column - lake trout, rainbow trout and browns can be found anywhere in it - top to bottom, deep or shallow. Trout are predators and they are seldom sedentary. Having the ability to work the entire water column will give an angler the advantage. Devote more time to each hole than you would if you were hole hopping for panfish. I like to start from the bottom and work my way up, stopping every 5-10ft to jig for a moment. Once I have reached the ice I will drop back down and repeat the process. Should a hungry trout spot your bait, they will often not hesitate to strike.
Unlike marking a panfish on the bottom, and watching that fish rise to your presentation, trout can show up on your flasher screen with such speed that it pays to be very vigilant and ready for a strike at any time. It's a real thrill to see a fish on your sonar come swooping down on your bait from above - but be ready because it happens fast!
Shallow flats near deep water are often a prime place to start your hunt. Trout moving from deep to shallow will follow the contours and inside turns that provide the shortest route for them. If the lake has relatively little structure, transition areas where the bottom changes from soft to hard can be spots to key in on. Different bottom compositions offer different forage, so when two types of bottom meet, there is more food available in a smaller space. Inlets and main lake points are also worth checking out. Trout are also known to suspend at varying depths and even cruise just under the ice, so remember to work that entire water column.
Tungsten jig heads with soft plastics are a very effective presentation for targeting all species of trout. A tungsten jig will allow you to drop down quickly, which is key for fishing deeper water. They also have the advantage of being able to simply swap out the plastic you are using for a different color or pattern if the fish are being picky. 1/16 oz to 1/8 oz jig heads with a longer shank hook are a good starting point. You can increase size and weight accordingly for deeper water or larger fish.
Eurotackle's lineup of soft plastics has some excellent options for bringing trout through the ice. Personal favorites include the B-Vibe, Fat Assassin, Shrimp-X and Antisoptera. These baits have excellent action in the water and perform well while jigging or swimming up the water column.
If you are targeting lake trout, getting them to chase is one of the most exciting ways of fishing I have found. Once you mark a fish on your flasher, quickly start reeling up and don’t stop until they either strike or give up the chase. If they do stop chasing drop back down and start reeling up again. I have caught many lakers after they have chased my bait up and down the water column several times without committing, but eventually, they did bite.
Lipless crankbaits are another effective presentation. The 1/16 oz Z-Viber may be small, but that single hook packs a big punch for trout. You can fish it as is, or tip with live bait such as spikes, mousies, or, my favorite, a brightly colored Eurotackle Mummy Worm.
If you are fortunate enough to target larger trout, the 1/8 oz and 3/8 oz Z-Vibers have you covered. Work them agressively. The action and rattle on the Z-Vibers is a dinner bell for a predator seeking a snack. These larger baits also allow three different rigging positions.
If the mid winter bite has slowed for other species, give trout a try. They are beautiful in appearance, scrappy fighters, and also make for some excellent table fare.
Good luck and tight lines!