Rainbow trout inhabit thousands of natural lakes from Maine to Washington, including the Great Lakes. They also thrive in many reservoirs, where ice-fishing often provides an overlooked opportunity. As cold-water fish, trout thrive under the ice and often prefer to feed in shallow water in winter-just the opposite of their summer preferences. The “reversal principle” allows various species to switch habitats throughout the year, preventing competition for the same forage at the same time. In winter, panfish often go deep while trout move shallow. In summer, they switch places. Successful ice-fishing depends on your ability to identify the areas active fish use during winter.
Rod: 2- to 3-foot medium-light-power ice rod.
Reel: small-capacity spinning reel.
Line: 4- or 6-pound-test mono.
The best bait in natural lakes often is a live mayfly or stonefly nymph. Use light line, thin wire hooks or 1/125- to 1/80-ounce jigs, and a small lead shot 18 inches or so above the bait. Suspend the rig in the top half of the water column, since rainbows usually cruise above the bottom. In the Great Lakes and in larger reservoirs, minnows often are a top bait. Use a #6 Aberdeen hook and small lead shot or a jig in the 1/64- to 1/8-ounce range, depending on depth and size of the bait. Lip-hook or reverse-hook the minnow. Maggots and wax worms also work well on tiny jigs.
One key to trout location in natural lakes is finding the largest shallow flats in the lake, since these areas tend to produce the most food. Bays and shoreline flats with a soft, sandy bottom or a variety of substrates are best for nymphs and larvae. Prime depths are 4 to 8 feet, unless no flats exist at those depths. Trout feed deeper, too, but when they do, it often occurs just past the lip of the first major drop leading to these shallow flats.
Mobility often is a negative when fishing for rainbow trout in shallow water, since activity spooks them. Drill all your holes before sunrise. Scatter them over the flat and along the lip of the drop-off where the deepest water approaches closest to the flat. Trout rise from deeper adjacent flats at dawn, feed for several hours (well after noon on cloudy days), then drop back down. They return in the evening, and some continue feeding through the night.