Posted by Chris Larsen on 19th Apr 2023
Ice Fishing For Trout - Tips, Tricks, and Tackle
Ice fishing for trout is a fun and exciting way to change up your ice fishing tactics and experience something different from the norm. Blake Tollefson is an outdoor writer and avid ice angler. We discussed ice fishing for trout with Blake during Episode #136 of the Fish House Nation Podcast. Click here to listen to the conversation or check out the transcript below.
Why go ice fishing for trout?
Blake Tollefson: It's something different. It's a lot different than going to fish for walleyes or panfish. In the area that I live in, panfish kind of rule the roost for a lot of the lakes around here. There's a handful of OK walleye lakes, but targeting trout just gives me something different to do. They're super fun to catch. I mean, they pull a lot harder than any panfish you're going to run into, and there are opportunities for good ones across a lot of the places in the Midwest.
Are there special license requirements for trout fishing?
Blake Tollefson: The first thing you need to do is make sure you get a trout stamp. Trout stamps are required to fish for trout with ice just like if you were going to fish for them in open water. The nice thing is that the stamp runs for the whole season. So, you can open-water trout fish, or you can ice fish for trout as well. In terms of regulations, there are some differences in lakes. So, you want to make sure you're checking the regulations. In Wisconsin, there are some really handy tools. They have what's called the trout tool and it's a user map. You can click on different bodies of water and it will tell you what the regulations are on that. Or they do print off regulations on an annual basis too. You can find those in PDF form on the DNR website, or you can just go get the booklet when you purchase a license.
How do you get yourself prepared for the winter ice season when it comes to trout?
Blake Tollefson: I think it's really important to hit a lot of these lakes well in advance of the ice season. You definitely can go find some good opportunities if you're just going to do it on the ice, but the thing is, a lot of these lakes, don't have maps. If you can get a boat in or you can get a kayak in, what I like to do is just spend time driving around. I will mark them out there and you can create a map on that Marcum MX-7. So, what I'll do is drive around, create a map, and then I'll have that specifically for when the ice comes. Another thing that I like to do prior to getting out there is Google Earth or onX, something where I have up-to-date aerial imagery. I can zoom in and look at these locations. A lot of times these trout lakes are pretty clear, so you can see a lot of things from aerial photography if you don't have a map. That's a great starting point. You can get coordinates for those, plug those into your GPX or your MX-7, and then you're good to go come ice season. It gives you at least a starting point for when you're there.
Once you get out there on the ice how do you find fish at that point, Blake?
Blake Tollefson: Typically I like to start shallow, especially during the low light periods whether that's morning or afternoon. If I'm going out in the morning, I like to get there well in advance, make sure I'm drilling all my holes, and not spooking fish that will be coming through those shallow areas at that first light timeframe. The same thing applies to the afternoon. If I'm going to fish those last few hours of the day, I'm going to try to get out there in the middle of the day, get all my holes drilled, get everything set up, so that I'm ready and I'm not causing any disturbance once I'm out there. They're one of the most wary fish. Without a doubt. You can watch them on camera. If you make the slightest noise, they're gone at times. So, it's really important to have everything set up well in advance of the time that you want to fish.
What is the best time of day to ice fish for trout?
Blake Tollefson: Specifically, it's either that first hour or two of the morning or that last hour or two of the day. That just seems to be when most of those fish are moving in shallow, which is the best way I like to target trout. It's worked a lot better than going out and trying to find trout when they are suspended during the day. It seems like you can find that ambush point for the first part of the morning or last part of the day. That seems to be my favorite time, and it seems to be the best time for both size and quantity.
Most great ice anglers move around a lot while fishing. This sounds like the opposite. Is there any advantage to moving around while ice fishing for trout?
Blake Tollefson: I'm a huge panfish nut. I'm used to drilling lots of holes and moving around and finding new areas constantly. So, when I first started doing this it was kind of a big change to the way I was used to fishing. But when I tried it, when I forced myself to sit down, I found I had a lot more success finding that right area where they're going to be during those key times of the day. Basically, I ended up catching a lot more fish and then I ended up catching a lot bigger fish by doing that. There are certainly instances where hopping around can catch you a few more trout, but those seem to be when you're fishing in deeper water where they're not as impacted by that noise, anytime you're in shallow water, it makes a lot more sense to just sit in an area and let those fish come to you as we talked about. They're super, super spooky, super weary so, you're better off sitting in one area and trying to limit the amount of noise you're going to make.
What are some of your favorite lures for trout?
Blake Tollefson For anybody who wants to start doing this, if you fish for panfish through the ice, you probably have a lot of good lures that you can already use. My personal favorite is a little lipless crankbait. So, like the 1/16th ounce Z-Viber. I'll tip that with a wax worm or a plastic. It's kind of like you're walleye fishing, aggressive motions to bring those fish in. Then once you see them come in, whether it's on camera or your flasher, you want to slow it down. Little spoons work well, jigging plastic combination, and jigging a wax worm. But my favorite thing is that small lipless crankbait.
What are the best lure colors for trout fishing?
Blake Tollefson: There hasn't been a ton of specific colors that work well. If I'm fishing a more stained body of water like some of the lakes that are by me, I'm typically going to use something that's brighter. I have some green ones and some pink ones, something that they're going to be able to see from a little bit further away. But in some of the more clear bodies of water than I'm fishing a lot of times I go with something more natural, whether that's like a rainbow trout imitation or a bluegill or a perch. So, very similar to what you would use in terms of walleye fishing or panfish. Those darker systems use something that provides a little more contrast, and then those clearer systems and it's a little bit more natural.
You love plastics and artificial baits. But you mentioned wax worms earlier. What are some of the best live bait presentations for ice fishing for trout?
Blake Tollefson: There are times when a minnow on a split shot just pays huge dividends. There are a lot of great dead stick options on the market right now. One that I like to use a lot for trout is the Deadeye from St. Croix. It’s basically a specific dead stick rod and I'll just tip that with a small plain hook and then a small crappie or fathead minnow. In Wisconsin, we can use three lines. So, typically I'm going to be jigging one hundred percent of the time and then those other lines will be set up as dead sticks. It doesn't seem to be as effective as jiggling, but there are times when it can account for some extra fish and especially some nicer fish.
Do you keep your deadsticks in a shelter with you or do you use tipups or an iFish Pro type of setup to spread out your lines?
Blake Tollefson: Typically, I'll have one set up in the shack right next to me, and then I'll have something on a different piece of that structure at a slightly different depth. Or I'll have it higher up in the water column just to keep that away from the shack. As much as you try not to make noise on the ice, especially in those early ice times, it doesn't take much to scare fish away. So, having those set lines further away from the house can make a big difference.
What is the best rod and reel setup for ice fishing for trout?
Blake Tollefson: A panfish style rod, and I'm not talking like a super light panfish rod. This would be the heaviest panfish rod I have in my lineup. You could certainly get away with using a light walleye rod. I would say either a heavy panfish rod or a light walleye rod. The one that I use in particular is a St. Croix Perch Seeker. It's a 32-inch medium-light power rod with extra fast action. It's really good for working small spoons and those small lipless crankbaits. Then I will pair that up with fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon is a huge advantage when it comes to trout fishing. We've talked about it so many times. They're very weary fish so having that extra invisibility factor that you get with light fluorocarbon is a huge bonus. It's not like a panfish that will typically kind of come up. They'll make big runs and you'll have your line running on the ice so that extra abrasion resistance is also an added advantage.
What electronics do you use when ice fishing for trout?
Blake Tollefson: When it comes to scouting and finding those initial spots, that's really where the camera is a lot more effective. A lot of times in these shallow areas, these trout will relate to something that's in the water, whether that's like a weed line or some kind of point. A lot of times there might be a log that falls out into the water. So, I'll rely on that camera initially to pinpoint where I want to set up. Like I said, it's different from pan fishing where I want to be constantly on the move and drill a lot of holes. With trout, I want to be in the right spot from the get-go. Having that camera to figure out if I am five feet from this weed line, or if I'm right off the end of this tree is a lot more important. When it comes to actually fishing, I rely a lot more on a flasher in particular. The main reason I will do that is because I want to have a view of the entire water column. Trout will come through literally anywhere, especially in shallow water. If you're in less than 10 feet of water, they could come through right under the ice or they could come through somewhere near the bottom. So, having a full view of that water column makes a huge difference. If you go out and chase them, you know, maybe during the day and they're in deeper water they might be suspended 40 feet down or 30 feet down over 80 feet of water. So, if you didn't have a flasher, you'd be fishing blind.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about when it comes to ice fishing for trout?
Blake Tollefson: One of the big things I've noticed when it comes to trout is staying in the upper half of the water column when you're working baits. So, if I'm in 10 feet of water, I'm going to be focusing on five feet and above for trout. They're constantly moving, constantly swimming through. It's not like a big bluegill or crappie that will come in slow and then work their way toward that bait. They're just going to flash through. So, I want to keep that bait higher up and give them an opportunity to see it from further away. Trout will come through from literally anywhere in the water column, so having it higher up in the water column will just give me more opportunities to have that bait seen.
Blake Tollefson is a writer and fanatic fisherman. You can follow his adventures on Instagram at @btollefsonfishing