Ice Fishing for Brook Trout
The topic of this article will be ice fishing for brook trout. Brook trout are a beautiful fish that feed aggressively under the ice. Like most trout, brookies thrive in cold water. They will be found cruising the shallows all winter long. Anglers who understand their habits will have success ice fishing for these terrific game fish!
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The key to success when ice fishing for brook trout is understanding their habits. While many game fish species tend to move deep in the cold weather, with brook trout it is the opposite. Most fish will be caught in water less than 10 feet deep. In fact, the majority of fish will be caught and 5 feet or less.
Anglers who would like to read more about ice fishing can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “A Complete Guide to Ice Fishing” by clicking on the title link.
Brook trout are found in shallow water for one reason; that’s where the food is. Brook trout are comfortable in the cold water, therefore forage becomes a primary consideration. These shallow areas hold aquatic insects, bait fish, and eggs from fish that have spawned in the fall.
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The tackle required when ice fishing for brook trout is pretty basic. Anglers should go light, using a 24 inch to 36 inch light rod with a matching reel. Anglers need to go very light on the line, as the water is quite clear. Four pound test fluorocarbon line is a good choice. However, some anglers even drop it down to two pound test. Several manufacturers produce lines that are specifically designed for ice fishing.
Anglers can read more about ice fishing tackle and gear in this article.
Most brook trout are caught by anglers ice fishing with live or natural bait. Therefore, a selection of hooks is required. Light wire live bait hooks in sizes from #4 down to #10 will cover most situations. A split shot or two may be required when fishing slightly deeper water. A selection of jigs and small jigging spoons pretty much completes the brook trout angler’s ice fishing tackle box.
Best locations for finding brook trout under the ice
As in all fishing, locating where fish are holding and feeding is of prime importance. The best bait and tactics in the world will not produce if there are no fish around. Anglers ice fishing for brook trout should keep one thing in mind; fish shallow! If there is one mistake that the novice brook trout angler makes, it is fishing too deep, as he or she would for other species. Brook trout are comfortable roaming the shallows around boulders and other cover. That is where they do the bulk of their feeding.
Incoming streams are prime spots to locate brook trout under the ice. A brook or stream that enters a sandy flat with some gravel or rock bottom would be a prime location. Points that drop off into deeper water, particularly with structure such as submerged weeds, timber, or rock and gravel are other likely fish holding spots. Any type of water flowing into the lake, especially with these other features, should equal a great brook trout fishing spot!
Not all brook trout lakes or waters are the same. Some are known more for numbers while others are trophy fisheries. Trophy brook trout are not easy to catch! They live in an environment with a lot of food and they don’t grow large by being easy to catch. Conversely, anglers seeking more action would be wise to choose a lake that is more heavily stocked or is known for producing action as opposed to trophies.
Successful fishing strategies
Another consideration when ice fishing for brook trout is sunlight penetration. Brook trout, particularly in the shallow clear water, bite best in low light conditions. Early and late in the day along with cloudy days are almost always best. Brook trout can be caught in the middle of a bright sunny day. However, they will generally move a bit deeper and it can be harder to get them to bite.
As in all other aspects of ice fishing, there is strategy that comes into play when drilling the holes. Since early-morning is generally best, anglers get out there early and drill a dozen to 15 holes in water ranging from a foot deep to 10 feet deep. Ideally, these holes will be over weedy flats, shallows with rocky bottom, and the edges of drop-offs in 8 to 10 feet of water. Working the east side of a lake can extend the early-morning bite as trees will provide shade an hour or two later into the morning.
Most anglers don’t really have a choice as to when they get to fish. However, if it all possible it is best to go ice fishing for brook trout a day or so prior to a front moving through. Not only does the low-pressure tend to make them bite, these are normally the more cloudy and overcast days. Conversely, the days after the front will result in high pressure and a very bright, sunny day. These are not ideal conditions for brook trout or really most other species.
Since the window for catching brook trout can be small, anglers need to be flexible and constantly keep moving until fish are located. Once a particular area or depth seems to be producing, it is best to then concentrate on that area or that depth range. Where possible, anglers can team up by trying different baits or lures to see what the fish want that day.
Ice fishing for brook trout with live bait
The vast majority of anglers ice fishing for brook trout do so using live or natural bait. Top baits include live minnows, nightcrawlers, wax worms, and salmon eggs. Some anglers even increase their odds by adding a sent such as procure to sweeten the bait even further. These baits are readily available at bait and tackle stores that cater to anglers ice fishing.
Since the majority of brook trout fishing is done in shallow water, the best approach when fishing with live bait is generally to use a hook with no weight. The hook is then baited with a salmon egg or two, nightcrawler, or minnow and lowered down through the hole. #8 short shank thin wire live bait hooks are a good place to start. It is best to start out fishing the bait a foot or so above the bottom. Anglers can then move up in the water column if needed. One nice thing about fishing shallow is that there is less of the water column to probe.
Smaller minnows are generally the best choice for anglers ice fishing for brook trout. Small minnows will catch both large and small fish, while large minnows will only catch bigger fish. Anglers looking for action over trophies will do well with the smaller baits. However anglers targeting a trophy brook trout can use a larger shiner or chub.
Anglers can use a small tungsten jig head to present a live bait or salmon egg as well. This works particularly well with wax worms but can be used with nightcrawlers and salmon eggs, too. Most jig heads are brightly colored and this can help attract a brook trout to the bait. This approach works very well when fishing around large boulders and other rocky structure.
Tip ups will produce brook trout
Tip ups have the advantage of allowing anglers to fish multiple holes at one time. They can be set up and rigged with a live bait. Then, the angler can move on to put out more tip ups or actively fish a hole with the spinning rod. As with all fishing, anglers need to check local fishing regulations to make sure they are in compliance.
One excellent strategy is to set tip ups over submerged weed beds. Then, the angler can lower down a live minnow and set the tip up so that the minnow hovers just above the tops of the submerged vegetation. It is best to hook the minnow in the back, between the tail and dorsal fin. This can be easier to do with the tip up than with a fishing rod. Of course, nightcrawlers, salmon eggs, and even frozen or cut bait can be used as well.
At times, anglers will be fishing water so shallow that they will have to raise the height of their tip up. Otherwise, the rig will bottom out on the floor of the lake. Wood blocks can be used to accomplish this. Also, anglers will sometimes see where the flag pops but the line is not running off the spool. The brook trout will feel resistance a drop the bait. Anglers should reset the tip up and then wait a few moments. If the fish does not come back and bite, the hook should be checked to see if there is still bait.
It is very important to have a lively and frisky bait fish on the hook. Since the angler is not actively jigging or fishing the hole, the bait fish will produce all the action. Dead or dying baits do not trigger strikes like active ones do. Therefore, anglers should check their baits every 45 minutes or so. Also, adding a little bit of lake water to the bait bucket when arriving on scene will help the minnows not being shocked by a drastic change of water temperature.
Ice fishing for brook trout with artificial lures
While most anglers ice fishing for brook trout do so with live bait, artificial lures will certainly catch their share of fish as well. While jigs are the most popular ice fishing lure, spoons are generally the preferred lure when pursuing brook trout under the ice. The idea of an artificial lure such as a spoon is to excite or aggravate a fish into biting when they are otherwise not in a feeding mood.
Spoons provide several of these key elements. They put out both flash and vibration. Spoons are also fairly dense. This makes them an excellent choice towards the middle of the day brook trout tend to move to the edge of the flat, point, or weed line. At times an actively vibrating and flashing spoon will catch fish when live bait is ignored. However, anglers should not get carried away with the motions. In most instances, an 8 inch to 10 inch upward twitch of the rod tip is all that is required. Most anglers tip the spoon with a small minnow or piece of minnow or even a nightcrawler.
There are many effective ice fishing spoons on the market. In fact, there are too many to list. Top spoons for anglers ice fishing for brook trout include, but are not limited to, the Acme Kastmaster, Sweedish Pimple, and Little Cleo. Silver and gold are the most popular finishes. However, some anglers prefer brightly painted lures as well.
Jig heads with a small grub body do have their place when ice fishing for brook trout. They can be especially effective on heavily pressured waters. A tiny 1/64 ounce brightly colored tungsten jig head with a 1 inch soft plastic grub body may produce when nothing else will. Anglers often tip the jig with a wax worm or piece of nightcrawler. It is best fished very subtly with his lighted line as possible.
In conclusion, this article on ice fishing for brook trout will help anglers catch more of these beautiful and hard fighting fish!