By Nick Simonson
On the heels of a fast fall bite, trout in lakes and ponds can provide quick action under the ice as well, and a variety of tactics will add a good deal of color to any ice fishing adventure where these fish are found. Whether stocked or naturally occurring, and where ice fishing for them is allowed, stationary efforts, flashy lures and simple baits help cover water and catch more trout when the hardwater season sets in.
It’s important to understand the various regulations in place from state to state and even from lake to lake throughout North Dakota when it comes to ice fishing for trout. A few lakes throughout the state prohibit ice angling for trout while other waters prohibit the use of live bait for these species. Additionally, crossing the borders into any other state such as Minnesota, South Dakota or Montana brings a number of new regulations into play, season dates governing closed ice opportunities, and access restrictions to certain lakes and reservoirs during the hardwater season. Be familiar with those rules in place for a destination trout water and know what type of tactics can be employed for success.
Look Up, Tip Up
In winter, trout will roam the water column, but like many species will rise to an offering. It’s not uncommon to find them a few feet below the bottom of the ice, so be prepared to find flickers on a sonar unit from just below that point on down to the bottom. On those impoundments where trout are present and tip-up use is allowed, set out as many as can be utilized to cover the various depths in the surrounding area, and document where each one is set at. Punch a large grid of holes and as a hot flag develops, move the outlying tip-ups in line with the fish trap that is getting the most action. Note the bottom depth and where fish are coming in relation to it and coordinate rod-based efforts off those numbers.
For those lakes where live bait is not legal, tip-ups rigged with light line leaders and small hooks stacked with maggots can produce, but automatic rod-based hook-setting units will be even better at connecting with the sometimes subtle bite trout species have when it comes to these tinier offerings. Otherwise, on those lakes where minnow use is permitted, eight-pound fluorocarbon leaders of three feet in length rigged with a split shot and #4 hook baited with a minnow of two or three inches is a perfect offering for trout. If possible, punch holes before dawn and have tip-ups spread out before first light as trout are often active in the early morning hours and again in late afternoon. Giving the noise and vibration time to dissipate and an opportunity for trout to cruise back in is vital to success and more shouts of “FLAG!”
Trout can provide a great deal of on-ice excitement with the most basic of ice fishing tackle, as a simple medium action ice rod rigged with four-pound test line will deliver those lures and baits that trigger the hard strike of rainbow, brown or cutthroat trout residing under the ice in a given lake. Flashy lures pay off at early ice, and spoons like the Swedish Pimple and Kastmaster with a good deal of flash and flutter on the rise and fall draw aggressive trout in for a look and a strike. While some trout can get large, consider using spoons a step down in size from what may be employed for walleyes. Instead of a quarter-ounce, scale down to a eighth.
Where legal, tip them with minnows or minnow heads to add some flavor to their flicker, or on those lakes where live baitfish are prohibited, use waxworms, maggots, mousies or artificial baits such as Gulp! maggots and waxies in a variety of colors. Other options for trout under the ice include small jigs tipped with waxies or maggots, along with hackled and marabou jigs in more natural colors like olive, brown and black.
This winter get an understanding of the trout fishing options in the immediate area and add some very memorable angling moments to your on-ice experiences. By covering water with tip-ups and other stationary methods while exploring points, drops, adjacent flats and other high-percentage areas with active offerings for cruising trout, success can come quickly and lead to a season of excitement.
Featured Photo: Trout can be readily caught through the ice with a variety of means. Where live bait fish are not legal, use a jig and waxworms or maggots, as were employed for this rainbow caught by the author’s son, AJ. Simonson Photo.