Rainbows, browns, cutthroats, brookies. Strong fighting, coldwater species, often active—if not fiercely aggressive—throughout winter. That’s not to say these fish can’t be finicky. Adverse conditions may slow the action, but there’s usually little need to tease with spring bobbers or wispy finesse presentations.

Ponds, spring-fed or aerated, often are stocked in late fall strictly for the purpose of providing winter, ice fishing trout opportunities. Meanwhile, “two-story” lakes offer possibilities, as do reclamated mine pits and various other designated trout waters spread across ice country. Visit area fisheries offices or associated websites to identify destinations near you.

Lake maps, if available, are invaluable for locating fish-holding features, including deep basins; steep shorelines; shoreline points and bars; inlet and outlet areas; and cover such as rocks, boulders and downed trees.

Rainbows roam open-water basins or suspend off shoreline breaks, while browns, cutthroats and brookies are more structure oriented, often relating to shallow-water vegetation, sunken logs, brush piles, and rock piles found along shoreline points, bars and reefs. Or use your electronics to find key areas. Plan your mission and keep moving. Trout are mobile. You should be, too.

Tactics
One favorite approach is to stagger a line of holes along a target feature or two, then hole-hop, spending no more than 10 minutes jigging any given hole. When trout are near, it usually doesn’t take long to get action. If nothing happens or action slows, try another area.

Once a productive spot is found, tip-ups are an effective option. Premium units with light settings like the HT Enterprise Polar family models or magnetic Polar Pop-Ups are good choices. Spool with 20-pound braided Dacron and, using a ball bearing barrel swivel, add a 24-inch leader of thin-diameter monofilament or fluorocarbon tipped with a #10 or #12 treble hook. A small colored bead or a dab of colored yarn just above the hook enhances the presentation.

Active minnows such as fatheads of about 1 to 2 inches are one top bait. To draw attention, hook two at the same time, each by the tail on separate tines so they struggle in opposite directions. This attracts trout and keeps minnows active.

The Ice Rigger from HT Enterprises, is a deadstick rod holder that uses a tip-up flag to signal strikes. When fish bite, the flag pops and your line free spools from the reel as fish run. You control the hook set timing and force, then fight fish using the rod-and-reel combo.

When movement is important, wind tip-ups like the HT Windlass rigged incorporating a lightweight flutterspoon tipped with mealworms or large grubs also are effective.

Set baits in the upper half of the water column for rainbows. Browns, cutthroats, and brookies may also roam high but are as likely to use the area just above the bottom. When using multiple lines, spread sets along the edges of your focus area and look for bite patterns.

 

 

Jigging
While tip-ups and riggers work their magic, I jig with a medium-light-action spinning combo like the HT 25-inch PLG-25L Polar Gold. I add an HT Accu-Cast spinning reel loaded with 4- or 6-pound mono. To minimize line twist, I tie in a tiny ball-bearing swivel 15 inches above the lure.

Small brightly colored spoons such as the Jig-A-Whopper Hawger Spoons and Lazer Rockers work well. So do small Jigging Rapalas and horizontal jigs like the #6 or #8 Slim Rats. Marmooska jigs adorned with tiny soft plastic tails or small Berkley Sparkle Tubes work too.

With jigs, I start with subdued colors like browns, beiges, whites, and blacks, although purples and reds are good choices, too. Contrasting colors, such as black-orange and green-chartreuse are worth a try when standard colors aren’t producing. I tip jigs with small minnows or mealworms. At times large wax worms work best.

Work the spoons with short, sporadic pops interspersed with long pauses. Cover the entire column from directly under the ice to bottom. Strikes almost always occur during the pause.

With smaller jigs, use subtle shaking or quivering motions—just enough to keep the bait moving. Again, work the entire column. Start by tapping bottom and gradually work up to just under the ice.

Trout usually strike aggressively, followed by frenzied, head-shaking runs. Not only is this fishing a lot of fun, the fish also are great eating, especially when taken from waters where they’re feeding on crustaceans, making their flesh a bright orange.

 

 

Great Lakes Harbors and River Mouths
Harbors and river mouths on most of our Great Lakes offer trophy potential for steelhead and brown trout—at times even salmon. In harbors, fish move along break walls, slips, docks, rip-rapped shorelines, and rock piles near river-mouth openings or within adjoining, upriver holes. Also check transitions between water-clarity breaks where darker runoff enters the harbor, a phenomenon most common during mid-winter thaws or late ice.

Gruenwald in action, fighting a trout that went for a minnow presented with the help of an Ice Rigger. The Ice Rigger allows a tip-up-like set with a rod and reel in a holder, the flag ready to signal a bite.

Great Lakes fish usually strike and drop, so “auto-set” tip-ups like the Automatic Fisherman, Slammer, or Hook-Set are rigged with backing, a 6- to 12-pound mono leader, minimal weight, and a thin-wire #6 or # 8 Octopus hook tipped with a lively lake shiner or spawn sac. In current anglers use a slip-sinker just heavy enough to position the bait and add a pencil-eraser-sized float to suspend spawn off bottom.

The Automatic Fisherman and Slammer units cradle a rod in a bent position. Strikes release the trip, snapping the rod upward and setting the hook on contact. With the Hook-Set, a spring-loaded shaft does the setting.

*Tom Gruenwald is an ice-fishing industry insider having written several books on the subject. He is the Marketing Manager at HT Enterprises, in Campbellsport, Wisconsin.

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