Over the years I have gained some good knowledge on ice fishing for trout. The following is stuff I have learned on my own, from fellow Fish Explorer members, and from reading online articles. These tactics have helped me pull fish through the ice and hopefully you will too!
My preferred rods are 27 to 33 inches long so I can have the backbone for larger fish but still have tip flexibility for bite detection. Some people prefer to have spring bobbers on their poles; it doesn't bother things one bit!
New this year is the Esox Ice Rods. I personally helped design their 28, 32, and 36 inch rods for this season. They have ceramic guides, graphite blank, and a cork screw handle. These rods offer great sensitivity, a sweet rod bend, and durability. They are high-end ice rods for around $25 to $35 each.
My favorite reels are the Okuma ice fishing reels, with ten ball bearings and 5.1:1 gear ratio, all for $30. That makes them hard to beat! If that's out of your price range, Automatic Fisherman has some really nice four ball bearing reels for around $15. Your smaller open water reels work fine also. Just lubricate them with an anti-freezing oil. I do that for all my ice rod setups.
For line I like Berkley Transoptic line. It has the clarity of fluorocarbon, with the strength of monofilament, all for around $9 a spool. Four to six pound test is all you need. If you prefer fluorocarbon line, I suggest P-Line Halo. It’s super tough and virtually invisible below the ice! Also, Cabala’s has an ice fishing line that works great and is inexpensive.
When it comes to flashers, Humminbird, Vexilar, Marcum, which one is better? We could go on and on for days debating that one! I personally use a Humminbird. It’s simple to change settings, such as depth, and it’s what fits me. The same goes for Vexilars, or Marcums, find one that you enjoy using and operating. I would suggest that you try to test some out for yourself to find what fits your needs, before buying one or listening to all the arguments for different units. As to using them for fishing, they are amazing. You can quickly and easily figure out the depth, weed coverage, and the amount of fish activity below. They are a great alternative when you can’t sight fish! Once you fish with one, it is extremely hard to fish without one.
My favorite lure for ice fishing is the Berkeley Powerbait Atomic Teaser Tube, actually tube jigs in general. One season I used the tubes in the colors pink and orange. No matter the body of water I was at, I always had great success on the trout! This past ice season a root beer brown tube with a chartreuse teaser tail was the killer lure for me. I’m sure this will change yet again this year! Simply, be prepared to change up as things change.
Author's selection of ice fishing jigs
One new tactic I picked up last year was using the regular HD Trout through the ice. I apply a split shot 8 to 10 inches below the lure to get it to sink faster and then I rip it like a spoon. The HD will flutter around and dive in wide circles. It has BBs inside which create a nice rattle to attract fish. I also use spoons and lures with good flash for those situations when the fish stop swimming through the area I’m fishing on a regular basis. I believe trout are like pike, in that they are attracted to the flash and have to see what it is. Use this tactic to lure the fish in and catch them with your baited jig or tubes. If the trout are aggressive enough they will hit the spoon too! Ratsos and Rat Finkys are also good baits to use as the tail tantalizes the trout. They are great fished tipped or untipped.
One key to fishing success on some waters is finding the weed lines and holes in the weeds. To save time locating those features I suggest picking up a Fish-N-Map (or other lake map). You can also use your flasher to plot points on the map of the weed edges or what looks like holes in the weeds. This will save you time drilling dozens of holes to find the pockets in the weeds. Once you find a nice spot in the weeds, start fishing!
Generally I fish with two rods. I usually leave one pole about a foot off the bottom and dead stick it. This means I leave that pole alone, and do not jig it at all; just let it sit there. I will switch between both rods, jigging the “dead stick” one while the one I was jigging becomes the dead stick. A lot of times about 30 seconds after setting the jigging rod down, I get a hit. I generally jig from the bottom up to two feet off the bottom. If a fish doesn’t come through, I jig mid-level in the water column, and let it drop time to time. When a fish comes up and doesn’t immediately hit the tube I will do one of two things. First, I slightly jig or shake the lure to see if the fish wants a more subtle motion, or two raise the lure up a foot to see if the fish chases it, and if it does, and still doesn’t hit I let it fall a foot below the fish. Doing this makes the bait seem to “run” away from the fish, and trout will chase it.
Shane with a nice rainbow
Something I picked up on last year while ice fishing is jigging a spoon, Kastmaster, PK Spoon, or Trout HD around 11:30am-1pm. When the bite slows down I pull out the “flash” and I often get into some bigger fish when I do so. I use two methods of doing this. First I let the spoon hit the bottom and rip it up about two feet off the bottom. If nothing comes in I rip the spoon from two feet off the bottom to about halfway up.
I prefer to fish in a hut. It helps to keep you and your gear warm, a controlled environment. Further, the darkness of a hut makes it easier to sight fish if the water is clear enough. This gives you an edge on figuring out what the fish want.
Depending on what type of shelter you have, this can hinder your portability and ability to easily and quickly move around. This is one reason why some people might prefer to fish outside and not in a hut. You can easily cover more area by just drilling holes and fishing. You spend more time fishing when you don’t have to put up and take down a shelter. So if you seek portability, and mobility fish without a hut. A great combination of having a hut and fishing outside is solved by a mobile flip hut.
Beating the Crowds
Don't be afraid to walk away from the crowds at a lake. Yes, they might be catching fish, but if you venture out to a spot with similar weed lines or structure I personally believe you will catch more fish throughout the day without moving. Persisting in fishing crowded areas blasts the fish; they’ve seen it all. Many have been caught a few times. All this makes for tougher fishing.
If you know the ice is safe walk to a lesser congested area and use the same tactics, such as holes in the weeds. I did this last season. I made a 30 min walk out to the middle of the lake and was rewarded! I'm not saying you won't catch fish in congested areas, but you will catch more the farther away from the crowds you get! Plus, who doesn't mind a beautiful day on the ice in solidarity!
Beautiful Colorado River Cutthroat
We all have something we can contribute to one another when it comes to fishing, our personal tricks, or tactics that can be shared! The great thing about fishing is that no one person knows everything. These tips coupled with the experiences of others and your own fishing experience you should be able to go out on the ice and have a successful day for trout! Hope to see you out on the ice!