One of the most classic fish to catch during the winter is trout. There are many different kinds of them and many can be found under the ice waiting for a meal. Here are 21 tips to help you get started and catch some quality fish.
There are so many ideas and techniques out there that I could add to this post but I found ones that I think would be most helpful. Some are for those who have been ice fishing for a bit and others are for beginners. I try to explain all the things that I talk about for those that are new. Stay warm and good luck!
1. Jig Consistently with Rhythm
Many fish rely on sight and sound to find prey. This is why jigging is crucial to success as an ice fisher. If you are just entering the ice fishing scene then you ought to learn how to jig. It will be so beneficial to you.
What is jigging you ask? Jigging is a consistent bobbing up and down of the lure by rhythmically moving the fishing rod up and down.
Is there a specific speed for how you should jig? No, not really. It really depends on what is comfortable for you. Whatever you do, just make it consistent. That is the main takeaway.
It is important that you jig with a consistent rhythm because if you do not and the movement is erratic, then the fish will have a hard time latching onto the bait. I can’t imagine that you want the fish to have a hard time.
The fish can follow a pattern of consistency and then strike when the perfect moment arises. Random and sporadic movements really make it difficult for the fish to predict where the food is going to be.
If the bait were a smaller fish trying to avoid being caught then being sporadic would be great but you are trying to catch this trout, not make its life more difficult. Well, I guess you are making its life difficult but you get what I am saying.
2. Use Sonar Technology
Modern conveniences have made some awesome technology for ice fishing. Some like the more natural approach and that is completely respectable but I love to use the help that we have from technology. Why not use it? Plus tools help us be more proficient with fishing. Take a spear or fishing rod for example. They help a ton.
We have sonar devices (sometimes called “fish flashers”) that can sense the fish under the water. Most come in the form of a flashing light ring that has little lights to represent the various fish, the bottom of the water column, and your lure. You can watch the fish swim up to the lure in real-time and wait for it to attack.
Once it attacks, the light to represent the fish will combine with the lure and that along with the pull on your rod will tell you it is time to start reeling in. It is really incredible technology.
These tools are very useful. They allow us to in a sense “see” under the ice. It allows us to understand where the fish are and what is working and what is not. Not only does it allow us to see which fish are biting, but it also allows one to see if the area they are putting their lines down is actually plentiful. If there are no fish there, you will know within seconds.
The sonar technology allows for some great understanding of the lake or pond you are fishing in. I recommend investing in one. There are generally anywhere from $150 to $400. It is an investment but well worth it in my opinion if you plan on ice fishing often. There was an article written by a friend of mine which talks about some great fish finders. I suggest reading that.
3. Use A Variety of Spoons
Some of the coolest technology in modern fishing is the jigging spoon. Of course, the Swedish pimple has been around for years but spoons are being reinvented into these powerhouse lures that everybody should use. Spoons are a kind of lure that reflects light and the sudden flickering of light catches a fish’s attention. The reason why they reflect light is that they are this oval shape, concave lure.
Not only do they disperse light to catch the fishes eyes but they also fall weirdly when jigging because of their shape. The lure will spin as it falls and moves in ways most unnatural. Most lures just sink in a straight line but spoons will float through water like it is struggling almost and that unnatural movement will attract the fish.
It is because of the success and incredible lure ability of spoons that they have become so popular. These lures bring results in ways others will not. I challenge you to find a seasoned angler that does not have a spoon in their tackle box. I would be surprised.
4. Drop Down a Visually Appealing Lure
One of the main senses that fish use for hunting food is their sight. They like pretty things so make your presentation pretty and appealing. You want to put on your best show. Everything rides on it. Find something that makes them come close. The closer the fish is to bait, the more tempted they are to take a bite.
The kind of lures that I am talking about are ones like a spoon lure. It reflects the light and falls weird. That is unique and visually it is appealing to a fish. Some lures have this hair or fur looking like substance and that can attract fish too when floating around in the water.
Spinners are also another great visual lure. They have a metal blade or multiple at the top of the lure to make it spin like a propellor when moving. These are great for rivers or moving bodies of water. I do not suggest ice fishing on moving bodies of water. That can be dangerous. Spinners work fine in still bodies of water too.
Basically, anything that is colorful, shiny, or unique looking, the fish will be into it. They are suckers for a show. Fish are incredibly curious, especially around feeding time. Take advantage of that.
5. Make Some Noise with a Lure
Another thing that attracts fish is sound and vibration. Sound is another way to get fish that are out of sight range come closer to see what is going on. they sense the vibrations and want to find where that is coming from. There are plenty of different lures with noise-making abilities. Many of them are paired with visual appeals as well for a double whammy.
Flipping jigs with a noise chamber are a great example of noise and visual appeal. They have this hair-like structure that when jigging flips the lure upsidedown and then right side up. It looks intriguing to a fish. It has a sound chamber with something in there to make a sound like a rattling sound. That is just one example. There are plenty of combinations like sound chambers with blades or spinners.
Of course, I can’t not talk about my favorite kind of lure. I have to mention the jigging spoon. And what better than one with sound? These ones are called rattling spoons. Not only do you have exceptional visual appeal but also the rattling noise. Bring fish within sight of the lure with the rattling noise and then lure then in for the final show with the visual appeal.
6. Put the Bait Right Under the Ice
It is fair to say that the trout could be anywhere in the water column. You never really know so you have to try a few things to figure out where they are. Most of the time they are lower in the water but not always. If you are having a hard time, it might be time to try this little technique. In the video, the guy is using a tip-up to try this technique. I suggest doing the same thing.
The technique is placing a line write under the ice. It just pokes out of the hole at the bottom. I would say somewhere around six inches. the trout might just be at the top riding along. They will notice it and possibly take a bite.
The reason why I say that you should use a tip-up is that trout swimming at the top is not as common as down lower in the water. I say use the tip-up as a passive lure to catch something while you are on your own line trying to find the fish.
7. Jig as Much as Possible
When you slip a line into the water, you want to get to jigging as soon as humanly possible. Naturally, you would want to wait until you get to the desired position and then start jigging the rod. This is not what you want to do although it is not detrimental to your chances of catching fish. Fish are all up and down the water column anyways. Might as well start right away.
The lure will do what it is engineered to do as it descends but jigging it will help get in a rhythm that the fish can manage and eventually strike. The fish you are trying to catch will be aware of the lure and they could be anywhere in the water. Some trout love to stay at the bottom but others prefer the middle. There could be depth variety in the area where you are dropping. You never know.
Of course, the trout will notice your lure as it lowers. It is not like a magical switch turns their attention on when the lure is jigged. But you want the best possible chances to catch their attention right? Just start jigging then and it will send a more obvious signal there is something new in the water that is ready to party.
8. Use a Leader Line
“What is a leader line?” you might ask. Well, a leader line is a line that you attach to the lure and your line. It is another line that is used to protect your main line from breaking. It is called a leader because it goes first in the water. Sometimes the leader line is a weaker test than the main line but other times it is stronger. For our purposes today, I would suggest the latter.
Trout have some sharp teeth and it will wear down your line and eventually break it. If that happens, then you have to rethread everything. That is a hassle and it takes time. That is why I suggest using a stronger test for the leader line.
The common set up for ice fishing is a 10-pound test for the line and 15- to 20-pound test for the leader line. This will do a pretty good job at keeping your line safe and withstanding the teeth of the trout. If you are ever targeting fish with sharp teeth, use a leader line. You will be happy you did.
9. Braided Lines are Better for Winter
Staying on the same topic of lines, I am now going to touch a little bit on the use of braided lines. What is a braided line? It is what you imagine it is. It is a line that is braided. It has great strength that is far stronger than a normal line in relation to strength in diameter. It does not stretch much either which helps you feel more in control when you reel a fish in. It is basically a stronger fishing line.
These kinds of lines are still popular because of their strength but why is this important for winter fishing? It is easier to handle in the winter and when fishing at great depths it is more efficient. Having a long stretchy line at over 40 feet down can be difficult to hook.
Think about it. To hook a fish, you have to do a quick yank on the line. That movement has to travel down the line over 40 feet deep and then hook into the fish. With a stretchy line it can be difficult because the line is not as firm. With a braided line, it is more firm and hooks easier at greater lengths.
10. Set Lines for 20-60 Feet Deep
Moving right along, let’s move onto depths. I have already mentioned that the various amounts of trout in the water will be up and down the water column. A good range to put your line at is anywhere from 20 to 60 feet in the column. This is why jigging all the way down is a good idea. Who knows, you might find fish sooner than you thought.
Lake trout are found at the bottom more often. Rainbow trout stay closer to the top. Trout like to be at certain temperatures. Earlier in the season, they tend to be lower in the water and near the end, they come up closer to the top where it is warmer.
20 to 60 feet is just a good place to start if you are newer to this whole ice fishing thing. Use a fish flasher if you have one or go invest in one. Either way, once you find your fish, keep catching them until they stop. Then move onto a different spot.
11. Look for Smaller Fish
Trout are bigger fish that prey on smaller fish. smelt and perch are common fish food for these things so what a better way to catch them then to invade where they are feeding. It may not happen immediately but if you wait a bit with your line in the water next to these tiny fish, then you will see things start to happen. Besides, fishing was never a speed sport. People either fish socially or to find solitude.
When you do this, you could potentially have a smaller fish eat the food only to be eaten by the bigger fish. How funny would that be? It kind of reminds me of Star Wars when Qui-Gon said, “There is always a bigger fish.”
I would not put the lure right in with the smaller fish. I would put it next to them. You could try both and see what happens. It is all up to you.
12. Study the Body of Water for Drop-Offs
Trout are strategic hunters. They know how to use the geography of the water and such to their advantage. They use drop-offs often for hunting. The wall that is created from the drop-off is a good place to corner smaller fish and they know it. You can use this knowledge to your advantage.
Having the wall of dirt on the drop-off gives an incredible strategic advantage to the trout. The advantage this gives you is you know where they will be. Even more important than that, you know they are hungry. If your lure and bait look enticing enough, they will attack. Congrats, you have successfully outsmarted a trout.
You can apply this strategy in other ways. Study fish and the way they act. Learn how they seek food. Once you understand how to capitalize on a fish’s patterns and habits, you will have won the struggle.
13. Fish in Shallow Waters Sometimes
Trout like specific water temperatures. Generally, they like colder waters which is why during the summertime they tend to stay away from the surface of the water. This is different in the winter though because the water has the potential to become far too cold for them to stay at the bottom. This is especially true late in the winter season.
Being equipped with this knowledge, you can study a map of the area and see where the more shallow areas are. A higher portion of food is closer to the top near the end of the season as well. Knowing this and the last tip, you can fish in shallow waters and then if that is not working, try fishing at a drop-off. If the small fish are in shallow waters then they have to go on the drop off eventually so, either way, you are bound to find fish.
14. Use the Trolling Technique
I am fighting everything within me to make a joke about internet trolling so I am just going to explain that this has absolutely nothing to do with that. In fact, it is almost the opposite considering it involves being outside and off your computer chair.
Trolling is a jigging technique that has seen success in ice fishing. I will say before explaining how to do this, you can’t do this if you are sitting in a shanty. if you are, this will not be possible. Now, let’s talk about how to do this.
You start off with using your jigging technique as you lower the lure into the water. You lower it until you can’t anymore. Once you’ve hit the bottom, keep jigging. Start to walk backward while jigging. I know, mind-blowing. Walk backward until the jig is almost out of the water. This is why I said you can’t do this under the cover of a shanty.
What would be the point of this? Why would this be effective? The first thing that comes to mind is how much distance you will cover. You will cover the entire water column. I would only suggest doing this in an area that you already know has fish in it. I would not recommend this as a way to find fish if you are completely unsure where to find them.
Trolling is typically done in boats. You can even get specific motors in boats for trolling. This is an effective method and it has been around for some time. It has been converted into an ice fishing method that you can use.
15. Study a Topographical Map
I know that I have already touched on this idea but I have never directly said it. For example, you can find the drop-offs and use that to your advantage. Reading the map can show you the depth of each area to know where to find fish depending on the time of the season. There are plenty of things to do.
You can find bay like structures that create a funnel-like system for the fish as they exit it. Knowing this may give you an advantage over the fish because there is only one way out and that is pasted your lure. Another thing you can do is look for a point under the water.
Let’s talk about what a point is. A point is an underwater plateau of sorts. It is where a portion of dirt is more shallow than the surrounding area. If you find two of these near each other, you have found a gold mine.
The reason why is because it has been scientifically discovered that fish would rather go around a structure rather than go over it. It reminds me of that scene in “Finding Nemo” where one of the fish says that they should go over this structure and the other says they should go straight through. Anyways, I don’t understand why fish do this but they do.
You can use this to your advantage. The little fish have to swim around the points so the trout lie waiting to catch dinner. Since you are the ultimate lifeform in this situation, you can fish at these points to catch some tasty trout. You are the bigger fish in this case.
16. Search for Structures
Continuing on from the last one, you can use topographical maps to search for structures. This could be things under the water or partially in the water. Search for different structures and see how you can manipulate the fish to your own gain.
An island in the lake could be useful because the fish have to swim around it. This might be a prime spot for the trout to hunt for prey. You can take a page from the trout and hunt for prey here too. Trout will hunt near structures of all kinds because it is easier to catch food when they have nowhere to run. Open water is not advantageous for trout.
17. Avoid Dead Weeds
Plants in the water provide oxygen and nutrients to creatures in the water. So naturally, the smaller fish will eat around them. If the small fish are there, the bigger fish will follow. You get the idea. Plants are good when it comes to ice fishing. If you have an underwater camera, it is even easier to find. You get what I am going to bring up next.
Dead plants/weeds are not a place to fish. No fish will be around dying materials. Actually, I do not think anyone would want to be around dying or decaying material. That is why it takes a special person to work in a morgue.
How do you know weeds are dead if you don’t have eyes down there in the water? Generally, when weeds die, they float to the top of the water column right under the ice. When you drill a hole, they may float towards you or be near enough that you can see it. If the ice is clear, you might be able to see it.
If you can’t see it, have no fear. You will be able to smell it. If decaying plants are under you, you can smell this disgusting composting smell. You will be quite aware of that dying or dead plants are under you.
18. Search Up and Down the Water Column
I have talked plenty about the water column and I think it is time to talk about it specifically. The water column is a scientific term, originally, that means the space of water reaching from the top to the bottom of the lake or wherever you are. Think of it as a giant column in the water that explains the different portions of water. It is much easier to explain the depth of the water in terms of a small controlled column of water rather than the entire area of the water.
Now that you know what it is, it is important to search throughout the column to find out where the fish are. I think this is where tip-ups come in handy. You can set multiple tip-ups in the water at different lengths to see where the fish are hiding.
19. Put Tip-ups in Your Line of Sight
When putting tip-ups out on the ice, put them in a line in front of you. I would recommend putting them about 3 feet apart from each other. The point of a tip-up is to have a passive fishing line that catches a fish on a hook for you to pull up. If you cannot see or reach a tip-up fast enough, there is no point in having them. That is why you should set them up in front of you in your line of vision.
While fishing, you will be focusing on your fishing rod that you are jigging or whatever. Having the tip-ups lined up in front of you will make it easy for you to quickly lookup and check for tripped tip-ups without taking you away from what you are doing too long. You do not have to get up from your seat to check. It is such an efficient way to ice fish.
20. Fish During Prime Hours
The prime times to fish are before the sun comes up and then when it goes down. This is when the fish are out eating and hungry. You can fish throughout the entire day, of course, but you will find the best times are the ones stated above.
The prime times to fish are before the sun comes up and then when it goes down.
If you are struggling to find anything worthwhile to catch, try going earlier or staying later. Once you understand the pattern of the fish in your area and where they hang out at specific times.
21. Cover More Ground with a Friend
I wanted to share a more fun one for the end. Some people like solitude when going ice fishing but I find it far more exciting to bring a friend along. Not only that but it is a safer way to go about ice fishing. Having more people can cover more ground. It is like having multiple tip-ups but an actual human who can make far more complex decisions and does more than one thing.
I highly recommend going with friends or a mentor if you are new to ice fishing. Have a good time and use these tips!