By Nick Simonson
In addition to providing a means for anglers in North Dakota to flex their muscles with the fly rod and pursue a species that normally would not be present in our region, stocked trout offer incredible fun on the ice and are generally ready biters throughout the winter. What follows are some tips to target viable populations of trout on hardwater and convert them when they show up on the sonar screen below the hole this season.
Pick Your Pothole
More than four dozen lakes across North Dakota are stocked with rainbow and brown trout each year but not all those waters sustain fish into the winter. Many of those smaller ponds and lakes get too warm in the summer – especially this previous one with very warm and very dry conditions – to hold those stockers into winter. However, on those impoundments and a few natural lakes where depths exceed 35 feet, stocked trout can find the cool temperatures out deep which they need to survive summer’s heat. Into the cooling waters of fall and the cold of winter, they come back shallow and patrol the skinnier water in packs, picking off any source of food, be it insect or baitfish. Take note that live baitfish cannot be used in certain lakes in North Dakota where trout are present and adjust presentations to those regulations accordingly. Where those restrictions aren’t in place, the ice is open for many different ways of catching trout.
Targeting trout under the ice requires offerings somewhere in the middle of what anglers offer panfish, and the larger spoons and jigs tied on for walleyes. Spoons between 1/16 and 1/8 ounce will generally provide enough attraction and a compact package to seal the deal when tipped with a minnow head or a couple of wax worms. Additionally, a selection of small jigs from 1/32 to 1/8 ounce will work when trying to connect with stocked rainbow and brown trout which remain in those lakes across the region. Tip them with wax worms or maggots to make an enticing bite for stockers. Creating a hybrid jig fly at the vise will also give anglers a third option that brings together the draw of a buggy fly with the fast sink of a jig to get down to fish with something they are familiar with. Use a tungsten bead on a jig fly for a faster sink.
Typically if trout have survived the summer and fall in a water, they’re big enough to take on minnows as a choice piece of protein-packed prey. Therefore, offering up live baitfish to the cruising trout, where allowed, whether under a tip-up or a slip-float rig can provide fast action as well. Use thin superlines like PowerPro in 10-pound-test with a #4 or #6 octopus hook for terminal tackle when deploying fish traps over the ice for trout and use four-to-six pound monofilament when jigging for them, going with the thinner option on those super clear waters that hold trout.
Time It Right
Depending on the water type and weather conditions, trout can be active much of the day, though lower light tends to make them less spooky. Target dawn and dusk, but don’t be afraid to stick around a bit longer into mid-morning to see if there’s a development as the day goes along. After a few outings, a lake can be patterned for the best winter trout bite and visited when fish are most active. Move around to isolate productive spots, like points with access to deeper open water, sunken islands and creek channel junctions which steer trout around a lake.
In addition to the great walleye, perch, crappie and pike fishing which abounds, stocked trout provide another species for anglers to pursue under the ice this winter and in those deeper lakes where they can make it a year or two, rainbows and browns can get quite sizeable. Find those waters where carry-over stockers are present, adjust presentations for their diet and desires, and pick those days when they bite best for some fast ice fishing for these favorite cool water species.
Featured Photo: Stocked trout provide another great pursuit on the ice for anglers in North Dakota, adjusting standard tackle to trout-sized offerings will help better connect with these cold water fish. .