Jason Brooks, December 12, 2020
There’s something about standing around a small warming fire on the banks of a lake, or chipping away at the ice and using a bucket as a seat. It’s wintertime and regardless if you are on the colder side of the region or in the temperate west side we all tend to get a bit of “cabin fever” and just want to go fishing. Trout is the answer, just like they are when we were young, or during warmer spring days, fall late hatches and any other time of year when we just want to cast a line and relax. But trout are often overlooked this time of year as steelhead flood rivers and perch anglers head to iced over lakes.
One great thing about trout fishing regardless of which state you live in, is a robust hatchery program. This means most lakes will have fish in them ready to bite. Looking at ice fishing first there are a few things that can increase your success when the rainbows are a bit lethargic and cold winds cut across the frozen water.
Jigging is often overlooked when it comes to trout, though many are caught while anglers pursue perch and sunfish. Small jigs sized 1/16 to 1/32-ounce work well and be sure to tip them with bait such as maggots, worms, corn or cooked shrimp. Use colors that will contrast in the blue hues of sunlight that penetrates the ice and use UV enhanced painted jig heads. Same with body materials if possible. Pro-Cure makes UV scents and scents are a must. In lakes where chumming is permitted cut another hole next to the one you are fishing and put down a scent dispersing rig. Something as simple as a can of corn with holes punched in it and then fill it with Pro-Cure water soluble scents like shrimp. Drop it down on a thin rope or Para chord marked with the depth such as ten foot increments. Then match that depth with pulls from your rod so your bait is near the chumming rig. If chumming is not allowed then use scents heavily on your jig and be sure to add them often. You can also use “scent chambers” on your line just above your bait when legal to do so.
Blade baits, such as Mack’s Lure Sonic Baitfish is an excellent ice fishing lure. Much like the jig you pull it up and let it drop down, but as it drops it flutters which gives off action, vibration and shine. This draws the attention of trout. Be sure to use a gel scent on it as it is metal and water soluble scents won’t stick to it as well. The also work really well for kokanee, perch and walleye so if you are at a lake that has multiple species you can use this one lure and catch them all.
Other ways to fish through the ice is to use a dropper system where the weight is on the bottom of the leader. You can tie hooks up the leader to the swivel and in states such as my home state of Washington you can use up to three hooks on a line, and they can be trebles for trout. A small size 8 Gamakatsu treble hook is deadly when it comes to ice fishing. The treble holds dough baits, such as power bait, well and you can add different baits such as a single salmon egg, a piece of shrimp or a worm and leave one point exposed.
The angler that heads to a lake that is not frozen over has other options such as the standard bait fishing rig. A slider system works best with a sliding weight to a swivel then a long leader, where again you can use more than one hook when legal. The bottom hook on the leader, which will be the top hook when it is cast out and sitting on the bottom of the lake needs to be floated. This is best done by sliding a bobber stop knot or a rubber bobber stop up the leader about an inch or two from the hook and then a Lil’ Corky from Yakima Bait Company. This will keep everything floating and present the other hooks with bait to the trout. By doing this you can use floating dough baits or other traditional baits that sink as the Lil’ Corky will keep it all out of the weeds. Be sure to fill the hole of the float with scent so it can do double duty as a float and a scent dispersing rig.
Fishing from above is another good way to trout fish from the bank. Using a slip float you can adjust the depth to find the fish and not worry about getting hung up on the bottom of the lake. Plus, you can use non-floating baits such as salmon eggs, shrimp and corn. Since the bobber or slip float has some resistance to it you can sit back and relax a bit as once the fish bites and pulls it often set’s the hook on itself. A great way to sit around a warming fire and enjoy the day but this technique is hard to use if it is windy.
Regardless if you are on the ice or on the bank there are a few winter trout fishing things to consider. First is exposed skin. Be sure to bundle up as skin can numb in the cold weather and you can get wind burns and even frostbite without knowing it. A good pair of sunglasses will help on bright days but also on breezy days too. Protect your eyes from the cold weather. Be sure to take snacks, especially if you have kids along. Not only does snacking help pass the time between bites but you burn a lot of calories to keep warm. You will stay out longer if you are not hungry and it makes the day enjoyable. When using a warming fire make sure it is far from the water and don’t burn garbage, such as food wrappers. Charcoal and water make lye which is bad for the lake and the fish. Obviously if you are at a city or county park then know the rules on fires. Keeping fish fresh isn’t much of a problem in the winter but you want to take care of them on the ride home too. A small cooler to keep them in, on ice, helps keep trout fresh. And lastly, a life jacket might not be the first thing you think about when ice fishing or even fishing from the bank, but water and air temperatures are extremely cold and hypothermia can set in very quick. It’s smarter to wear a life jacket, even from shore in case you slip and fall in, and especially on the ice. If you happened to break through the ice a life jacket will help you stay afloat while you try to slide back up onto the ice as you will be wearing heavy clothing that will make it almost impossible to stay afloat and crawl.
Be safe and get outside to enjoy some winter trout fishing. Most lakes get a fall stocking of fish just before the winter cold and have lots of trout to catch. Review the regulations, tie up some leaders and head to the local lake. A fresh fish dinner is only a trip away, and be sure to dress warm!Jason Brooks is an outdoor writer based in Washington and the Editor of The Tailout, an online magazine dedicated to all things Salmon & Steelhead related.