Ice Fishing for Lake Trout
Many winter anglers enjoy ice fishing for lake trout. And for good reason! Lake trout are one of the largest species available to freshwater anglers. They are apex predators that grow very large. Like most trout, lakers thrive in the cold water. In fact, some anglers believe they actually feed more voraciously in the winter than they do at other times of the year.
Lake trout roam about in small packs, not exactly schools. They are found throughout the water column, from a few feet under the ice all the way to the bottom. Basically, they go where the forage goes. The fish that they feed on are usually found near the surface when there is a plankton bloom or down at the bottom where they feed on larvae. The primary forage for lake trout are ciscoes, whitefish, smelt, herring, and perch.
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.
While lake trout can be caught on live and cut bait, their aggressive nature results in artificial lures being quite effective. Lake trout, especially large ones, are looking for a substantial meal as well. Therefore, the best artificial lures are usually spoons and plugs. Anglers fishing with live bait almost always use a live, frozen, or fresh dead bait fish.
Stout tackle is required when ice fishing for lake trout
Ice fishing for lake trout does take tackle that is different than that used in other types of ice fishing. The ultralight spinning outfits with 4 pound line will not cut it when chasing these large, powerful fish. Anglers can use spinning tackle for lake trout. However, rods need to be 42 inches to 48 inches long and on the heavy side. Many anglers have gone to bait casting outfits. These are particularly desired when fishing water over 50 feet deep.
Anglers can read this article on ice fishing tackle to get more information.
Most anglers ice fishing for lake trout have gone to braided line. Braided line has no stretch while offering incredible sensitivity. The fact that this line does not stretch is very important when setting the hook on lake trout. This is particularly true in deeper water. Monofilament and fluorocarbon line both stretch, Braided line does not. Anglers can get away with 8 pound monofilament or fluorocarbon line when fishing in fairly shallow water for lake trout.
A swivel is tied to the end of the braided line. This eliminates line twist while making a convenient connection for the angler to attach a leader. Most opt for a 3 foot long section of 10 pound fluorocarbon leader. However, when the water is very clear, some anglers extend this to 5 feet or 6 feet long and even drop as light as 6 lb test.
Winter locations for lake trout
Lake trout are seemingly always on the move. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Unlike fishing for panfish, lake trout will not be found in big schools hovering in one spot. Instead, they cruise in packs of a couple fish to a dozen in search of prey.
Fortunately, lake trout do relate to structure. This means that the locations in which they can be found are predictable. Top spots include points, submerged islands, flats, and channel edges that drop off into deeper water. Structure that has cover on it such as boulders and submerged timber only increase the chances of it being a lake trout hot-spot. They use this structure and cover to locate and ambush their prey.
Lake trout will certainly move up shallow to feed as well. While the shallow flats are usually too warm in the summer months, this is not true in the winter. Lakers will move up onto flats to feed on yellow perch and other species. The edges of flats that are 8 to 12 feet deep and drop off quickly into deeper water are prime spots. The secondary drop off, where the bottom drops from 18 feet to 35 or 40 feet can be a very good spot as well.
Proven tactics for ice fishing for lake trout
Locating lake trout is certainly the most difficult part. Generally speaking, anglers ice fishing for lake trout do not have trouble getting them to bite, once they locate them. After all, these fish are cruising and feeding. Wintertime water temperatures are ideal for their comfort level. They are almost always on the move in search of the next meal. These large, cold, deep lakes require the lake trout to search constantly for the areas where forage is present.
Working the right depth is very important when ice fishing for lake trout. Normally, lake trout are found anywhere from 10 feet below the ice and as deep as 80 feet. They will at times be found suspending over very deep water. Once again, it is all about the forage and availability of food.
Fish locations and behavior change a bit in midwinter. Thickening ice and snow on the surface blocks sunlight penetration into the water. This results in plankton being found higher in the water column as the sunlight diminishes. Bait fish feed on this plankton and will be found there as well. This mini food chain of course culminates in predators such as lake trout.
It is important to work the entire water column, no matter what lure or bait is being used. Most often, lake trout will not be marked on the sonar unit. Instead, as mentioned above, they will be swimming about in search of food. The bait could be in the mud on the bottom feeding or up near the surface seeking plankton.
Ice fishing for lake trout with lures
The two most productive lures for anglers ice fishing for lake trout are spoons and tube jigs. These two lures account for the vast majority of Lake trout caught by anglers. Both are similar and that they mimic the ciscoes, smelt, herring, and other forage species that support lake trout populations. Vertically worked plugs can be effective as well.
Lake trout are usually quite aggressive. Anglers should take advantage of this trait by giving their lures a very erratic action. Lake trout are attracted to the flash and vibration of a lure, it imitates a wounded bait fish and simulates an easy meal for a hungry lake trout. There are times when the lure can’t be moved fast enough!
It is important though, to develop a bit of a rhythm. In the crystal clear water, lake trout will see the lure from a long way off. When ready, it will make its move. By keeping the jigging pattern the same, anglers stand a better chance of the fish finding the bait. If a strong knock or thump is felt, that is the fish missing the lure. Anglers should continue to work it, the lake trout will usually turn around and finish it off.
Jigs are a top producer
Jig heads with either a tube or soft plastic grub body are extremely effective lures for catching lake trout. White is the most popular color as it matches the silvery type bait fish that lakers feed on. As with jigs everywhere, the vast majority of bites occur as a lure falls. After being jerked up sharply, the seductive fall, seemingly helpless, will trigger the strike. Anglers can add scent or even a strip of cut bait as well.
While erratic aggressive retrieves are generally the most productive, successful anglers vary the retrieve until a productive pattern emerges. There are certainly days when the lake trout want the bait a little less active. The same applies when it comes to color, anglers should mix it up. This is especially true in shallower water where lake trout feed on yellow perch and other species. Rattles inside the soft plastic bait or tube can also make a difference. Again, some days the fish want them and some days they don’t.
Lake trout love spoons
Spoons are incredibly effective artificial lures for anglers ice fishing for lake trout. They very closely resemble the ciscoes, herring, and other bait fish that they feed on. Spoons are heavy and sink to the bottom quickly, efficiently covering the water column. They also put out a lot of flash and vibration.
The best spoons are those that match the size of the locally available forage. The Mepp’s Cyclops and Williams Whitefish are two very popular spoons for catching lake trout. 1/2 ounce to 3/4 ounce are generally the best sizes. Silver is an excellent all round finish. Copper works very well on cloudy days and when lake trout are shallow feeding on yellow perch.
Many anglers add a belly strip from a sucker or other bait fish to the spoon. The added scent only increases the chance of a lake trout taking it. Some serious anglers will actually remove the treble hook, run it through the middle of the minnow, then reattach the hook. This is a bit more work but does result in a higher hookup ratio.
The legendary Rapala Jigging Rap
The Rapala Jigging Rap is an ice fishing legend that has been around a long time. It catches a wide variety of species, and Lake trout are no exception. The larger #9 and #11 sizes work best as it is the approximate the size of the forage. Chrome is an excellent finish when ciscoes are about. Fire tiger and perch are very productive in shallower water when lake trout are feeding on yellow perch.
The Jigging Rap has the line tie in the center of the lure. It also has a fin or lip at the tail of the bait. These two combine to give the lure a very erratic action when it falls. It tends to spiral down in a circle, seemingly helpless. This motion will trigger strikes from lake trout. The best presentation is a hard upward jerk of about 2 feet, then the lure is allowed to fall down on slack line. As in most lures, most strikes will occur on the fall.
More lake trout ice fishing tips
Current under the ice can play a key role in success or failure when ice fishing for lake trout. Despite a body of water being covered with ice, there are often times current flows beneath it. Anglers can easily detect this by watching the line when the lure or bait is dropped down through the hole. At times the current can be so strong it can make it difficult to present a bait or lure properly. Often times, a change in current flow or strength will either trigger a bite or shut one off. Anglers should be aware of this as it is one more component to factor into solving the puzzle.
Anglers can also “troll” through the ice. This may sound odd, but it is just a variation of the tactic of dragging a lure through the water. The difference is when ice fishing, it is a vertical presentation from the top to the bottom. The lure is lowered down and allowed to rest on the bottom. The angler then walks briskly away from the hole, dragging the lure up through the water column. As with all fishing, angler should experiment with the retrieve. It is surprising how hard a lake trout will hit using this technique and how close to the surface it will do so!
In conclusion, this article on ice fishing for lake trout will help anglers catch more fish!