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Trout Ice Fishing Trout & Salmon

Ice Fishing Lake Trout

by Gord Pyzer   |  January 14th, 2013 5

Lovin’ Spoonful
In the past—before tubes—ice fishing for lake trout meant jigging with spoons. Today, especially when the trout are on a torrid cisco, smelt, or perch bite, spoons can still be your best choice.

But put away the paper thin, ­flutter-light stuff you troll in summer. Also leave the oposite end of the spectrum at home—the short, squat, heavy, bass-style jigging spoons. I’ve found the best hard-water trout spoons to be standard 1/2-ounce to 3/4-ounce models like the Mepps Syclops and the famous Williams Whitefish spoon.

The Williams spoon has been a Canadian classic for decades. The coating on this spoon is pure ­silver—like the Lone Ranger’s bullets—and when the trout are mowing down glistening forage, the spoons brilliant flash has the same effect on trout. When lakers are gorging on perch, on the other hand, a copper and chartreuse #2 or #3 Mepps Syclops, for a reason I cannot explain, is in a league of its own.

Most spoon jiggers attach a piece of sucker meat to the trailing treble, but a sucker or chub minnow is a much better option, if you rig it right. I learned this trick thirty years ago from an old-time Grizzly Adams Lake Simcoe trout guide, and it’s been a winter secret ever since. You won’t believe how many more strikes you’ll get and trout you’ll fight.

Slip the back treble off the O-ring of a Mepps, Williams, or similar spoon, and then nick the belly of the minnow with one of the hook points. Insert the eye of the treble into the slit and run it out the mouth of the minnow so it’s lying cradled in-between two of the three hooks. Then reattach the spoon. Rigged this way, your spoon maintains it’s brilliant flash and fluttering action, while the minnow provides added visual attraction, natural scent, taste, and smell. And not a single lake trout in the North Country can pull the minnow off your spoon without getting hooked.

Jigging Rapalas
When trout are running ten pounds and smaller in popular waters under pressured conditions and in tough-bite situations, few lures are the equal of the Jigging Rapala. Like the original floating balsa wood model, which not surprisingly is my favorite open-water trolling lure, the jigging Rap looks so natural that no matter how many times a lake trout sees it, it never becomes conditioned to the lure.

I stick pretty much with the two biggest models (the W9 and W11), and I almost always tip the lower treble with either a piece of sucker meat or the ragged cut-off head of a minnow. When the trout are chasing ciscoes and smelt, the chrome blue Jigging Rap is a dead ringer; the perch and glow tiger patterns excel when trout are feasting on perch, which is far more often than you’d ever imagine.

I never tie directly to this lure, favoring instead a premium snap. And I always experiment with jigging actions that range between a constant slow up and down yo-yo motion and a snap, pause, snap. Just remember three things when you’re using a Jigging Rap: The lure is still moving enticingly long after you quit jigging and pause, so don’t overwork it. And hone the front and rear hooks to razor sharpness when you replace the stock treble with a high-grade hook like the Gamakatsu (try one size larger).

Up, Up, and Away
During the ‘70s, the hottest winter trout lure was the airplane jig—a heavy lead-head and lead-bodied jig with wings and a bucktail skirt. When you lift one of these up and down, they circle and swim for miles under your hole just as their namesakes. But for some reason, in some places, the airplane’s effectiveness has tapered off lately. Like buzzbaits for bass, the trout appear to have become conditioned to them. Or maybe it’s just that spoons, Jigging Raps, and tubes have provided such a fresh new alternative. Nevertheless, airplane jigs can be an important arrow in your winter trout quiver.

The best airplane jigs are homemade and fashioned around a single 3/0, 4/0, or 5/0 hook like the Gamakatsu. (They also lack the tiny, flimsy, ineffective trebles on the wings that rarely hook fish and all too often wrap around your main line). I once owned one of these hand-crafted marvels that was nothing short of awesome, a gift from a visiting ­Minnesota game warden. For almost ten years I could catch trout with it when nothing else worked, and I was once asked seriously how much money it would take for me to part with it. But sadly, that giant lake trout I told you about earlier, broke my line and swam away with “Oscar the Trout Grouch” firmly attached to its lip, and I’ve mourned its loss ever since.

It’s All In The Fall
Nine out of every ten lake trout you catch will hit your bait when it’s falling. That’s why it’s so important to let your tube jigs and spoons descend on a controlled slack line. You must maintain contact, on the other hand, with airplane jigs, and to a lesser degree jigging Rapalas, as if working a yo-yo.

The key with all these lures is to let them spiral naturally, yet to be in control. You have to be able to set the hook immediately. That means you need to be a line watcher. Anytime you see your line dart, flick, or hang suspended in the hole, strike immediately. And the best way to do that isn’t by reeling up your line or setting with your rod. It’s by doing both simultaneously as you run backward away from the hole.

Trolling Through the Ice
Trolling through the ice often is the most potent jigging motion you can employ. To troll, let your lure free-fall to the bottom under controlled slack. Then jig as though your rod or hand line is a brush and you are ever so slowly painting a low ceiling just above your head. Now, here’s where the trolling comes in. While you’re jigging this way, back away from your hole, and keep walking backward until your lure is right under the ice.

Sometimes I speed troll by dropping my lure to the bottom and briskly walking backward without jigging at all. I simply keep my rod tip pointed toward the hole, ready to strike, knowing my tube, spoon, Rapala, or airplane jig is spiraling up to the surface like a fleeing baitfish. Other times, I rip-jig while trolling my lure up to the hole.

Expect to catch a trout anytime you’re trolling under the ice. You’ll be amazed how many times you’ll feel a laker pop your bait at the last second, only inches below the ice. And if you troll a jig or spoon up from the bottom and don’t feel a strike, walk it back down before starting a new troll. As you do, though, maintain constant control over your lure. And if you feel any loss of weight, run backward and set the hook.

Trout Conservation
Lake trout live in some of the most pristine, awesome places on earth. And while a mature female produces only a relatively small number of eggs and may spawn only every second year, lake trout can live for 50, 60, even 70 or more years. Also, being a ductless species with the ability to control the amount of air in its swim bladder (the gurgling noise you hear when you land one) a lake trout is releasable in winter, regardless of the depth from which you catch it. In fact, recent research shows virtually one hundred percent survival, in the coldest part of winter, so long as you don’t gut-hook the fish.

Unfortunately, even the best lake trout waters are fragile, inhospitable environments that grow trout at rates of less than .25 pounds per surface acre on a sustainable basis. So it’s easy to overharvest and destroy a lake trout fishery, sometimes within a single winter.

Take one or two small trout to eat, but release the moderate and larger fish, taking care not to expose their eyes or gills to snow or long periods of subfreezing temperatures. If we all do that—long into the next millennium—we’ll continue to enjoy one of the greatest sporting rites of winter.

* Gord Pyzer recently retired as the Kenora District Manager, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. He operates Canadian Angling Adventures (807/468-4898) a personalized guiding service that specializes in ice fishing trips into the northwoods.

Secret Weapons
When the fishing’s real difficult, nothing produces better than a big white marabou jig. Paul Jensen, a professional custom jig tier from Wisconsin replicated my favorite laker fly, the McLeod’s Alewife, with a jig. He overtied long, silky white marabou with peacock herl, flashabou, crystal flash, and other ingredients to create the best baitfish imitator I’ve ever seen in a jig.

When lakers refuse big white tubes in artificial-only lakes, I drop Jensen’s marabou creation on them. Marabou is so sinuous, so breathable, that it doesn’t have to be worked. When a fish appears on sonar adjacent to the jig, I barely nod the rod tip. Watching through the hole, the marabou rolls and unfurls like an explosion in slow motion. Only rarely does a laker come up for a look at Jensen’s creation and leave without biting. Most of the lookers bite, and most of those are hooked solidly.

Typical lures for lake trout include (clockwise from upper left) spoons like the Mepps Syclops and William’s Whitefish; a #9 Jigging Rapala; a Northland Air-Plane jig coupled with a tube body; tube baits like the Berkley Power Tube body slipped over a 3/8-ounce Blue Fox Foxee head; an Apex Tackle Shad Poke; and a Jensen Marabou jig.

When they refuse even this, which is rare, I add a strip of sucker belly. A taste of meat makes this the surest thing happening through the ice for lakers. Because the jig is worked slowly up and down, however, the belly strip has a tendency to drape across the hook point and ruin a hookset or two, so I start without it.

Jensen (920/731-5889) ties this marvelous cisco imitator on 1/8-, 1/4-, and 3/8-ounce Owner Ultrahead jigs. He can make them long and bulky for a bigger silhouette or small and subtle for slow days, and that’s the trick—being prepared for anything. When ice-bound lakers are biting, 20-pound line and giant jigging spoons work. When the bite dies, 6-pound line and subtle jigs outfish anything heavier. – Matt Straw

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  • Travis

    This article is awesome! Has some great tips, but being from Utah I fished for Lakers at Fish Lake Utah. Talking with other fisherman and forums these Lakers seem much more finicky of feeders than what you have described. I am no expert but have you heard that Lakers out here are more difficult or feed differently? Just wondering but I loved the article and am definitely going to try trolling under the ice.

  • Krista

    Great article, as always Gord. Some wonderful tips that have already helped produce!

  • Dan

    State of South Dakota Record Lake Trout was caught on Wed. Jan 23rd 2013 on Pactola Lake in the Black Hills. The Giant weighed in at 3lbs 15oz. and was caught on 8 lb. test line after a 45 min. Battle.

  • Joe

    Best article on Lake Trout on the internet hands down – A combination of science and angler experience.

  • Tom Lobnitz

    Awesome Lake trout article. Gord has always been very informative. I used to enjoy his segments on In-Fisherman Ice Fishing Guide TV. I was very disappointed In-Fisherman went with a different format. I can't be the only one missing the Ice Fishing Guide TV!

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