In the warmer summer weather you’ll usually find that trout tend to stay in deeper water as they favor the cooler waters during the summer heat.
Once the winter arrives and the ice begins to form trout will start to move into the shallower waters. This is probably one of the most important things to know about ice fishing for trout.
Trout are a cold water fish and will usually thrive in cooler mountain lakes and streams where other species simply cannot survive.
Other fish species such bass, walleye, panfish and perch will actually do the opposite, they will move to deeper water where it is warmest during the winter months. These other species will locate themselves at the bottom of drop offs and feed on smaller organisms that live at these depths.
So basically you take the opposite approach for fishing for trout on ice as you would do in the summer months.
Any time you venture out onto a frozen lake or river you are putting yourself at risk. No matter how experienced you think you are at reading ice conditions there is always a risk of the ice breaking under you even if you are sure it is solid.
Before you trip make sure to keep a close eye on the weather reports starting at least 3 days before you intend on going fishing. Tracking any major weather front that might be moving in is a good practice to start.
Always tell someone exactly where you intend on fishing even if you are fishing with someone else. Make sure your phone is fully charged and if you can also carry an emergency radio and headlamp.
Wear the correct clothing for the elements such as ice boots, ice fishing bib and gloves and hat.
When fishing for trout on ice there are a few important considerations to take into account:
- Light conditions
The water temperature under the ice is probably the most important factor. As discussed above trout can live in colder water conditions than most other freshwater fish except for salmon and other members of the salmon/trout families.
Deep down will be warmest on any large body of water. Depending on your location of course this can vary depending on just how far north you are.
In deeper waters the temperature range will be somewhere in the range of 37°F and 40°F. However, once you move to the shallower waters that have a flatter bottom you will most likely get a constant temperature range between 32°F and 35°F
Where exactly you fish for trout under the ice is usually a combination of both the bottom structure and the depth.
Ice fishing on a new lake or river is extremely difficult unless you have some kind of information from someone that has fished there already.
Knowing a lake or river well from the summer months and be aware of where the drop offs are is crucial to getting into the right location on the ice.
If you have a contour map for the lake bottom then you can be on to a real winner. Trout love to cruise around small drop offs and breaks actively trying to ambush smaller fish and aquatic insects.
As we mentioned above where to target trout in the winter is a combination of location and depth. The two are very strongly intertwined.
If you are new to the lake then your only option may be to use an ice flasher to see just how deep things are. Bear in mind even of you know the lake well and it is a large one using some kind of sonar is still advisable.
Trying to guess how far you are out from the summer water line in the middle of winter can be quite challenging especially when there is heavy snow around and you have no markers to use as a frame of reference.
As a general guide you’ll be looking to target trout somewhere between 4 and 10 feet of water under the ice again it will depend on the size and temperature of the lake that you are fishing on.
Be sure to not just focus on fishing near the bottom of the lake. Trout can just as easily be patrolling along at only a couple of feed below the ice.
Make sure that if you are using several different rods that you vary the depth at which each is being fished.
A good approach is to set a bait like a night crawler or something similar at about 2 or 3 feet below the ice and then you can actively jig at varying depths from 3 feet down.
This way you get to cove the entire water column beneath you.
Spending all day fishing at the wrong depth is frustrating especially if you find out that someone a hundred feet away has been on the fish for hours purely because they found what depth the trout were at rather than just guessing.
The amount of light that you get in the winter will depend largely on your latitude. It is not only the amount of daylight you get per day that matters so too does the intensity of the light.
How much light the trout experience under the ice depends on a number of factors:
- Time of day
- Thickness of ice
- Depth of water
- How much sow on top of ice
All of the above will have an impact on how bright the light is under the ice. Light conditions can have a big impact on your lure selection especially on really dull days if you are using artificial lures.
Clearly you will need some very different tackle from your normal fishing gear. An ice fishing rod, ice auger, ice flasher or under water camera, tip ups, ice shanty, lots of warm clothing such as an ice bib, ice boots so you can walk safely on the ice and warn gloves for ice fishing are a must.