Trout have no problems with cold temperatures, remaining active through the winter months. This makes trout a great target for an ice fishing trip. However, ice fishing throws up different challenges, and your chances of a successful days fishing is greatly enhanced by using the right lures.
The 6 best ice fishing lures for trout are:
- Vertical jigs
- Jigging Spoons
- Rattle Spoons
- Marabou Jigs
The lure which you find works best on the day can depend on the water and weather conditions. In this article we shall look at each lure and discuss its benefits when ice fishing and when and how to use them.
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Ice Fishing For Trout
Although trout remain active during the winter their behavioral patterns will change when the water conditions are cold enough for ice to form. However, trout are cold water fish and adapt much better during the winter months than many species.
During the warmer summer months you will often find trout toward the bottom where the water is cooler. However, when ice forms the water at the bottom can become too cold even for trout and you will often find they have moved to shallower water.
The one constant is they will still be searching for prey, and where the prey goes so does the hunting trout. Their prey is also more likely to be close to the surface, seeking better oxygen levels and warmer water. Trout will still hunt around drop off and weeded areas as they know this is where they can trap smaller fish. Knowing the topography of the water is always a big bonus when fishing.
One element which does not change is trout remain exceptionally skittish regardless of the season. This has the potential to make ice fishing through bore holes more difficult. If you intend to fish through more than one hole then make sure you create all the holes in one go.
You should spend a little time thinking through how you will lay out your equipment in order to minimize any unnecessary movement which could spook trout. Having everything laid out within easy reach is efficient too.
Any intensely bright light streaming though holes in the ice can also be an issue as trout are sensitive to such extremes. Therefore, you may need to block off some of this light with snow or a covering structure. Choosing an overcast day for your trip would of course naturally circumvent this issue.
One of the prime considerations is how you tempt trout to bite beneath the ice. The lures you use on open water in summer will not usually be the same as those you use when fishing on the ice.
The Top 6 Ice Fishing Lures For Trout
1. Vertical Jigs
Jigs are one of the more common methods used to catch trout. This form of lure usually consists of a lead sinker and a molded hook, lined with soft materials such as feathers to attract predatory species like trout.
However, lures which work in summer on open water will not necessarily be as effective when the weather takes a turn for the worse. When ice fishing you will be fishing straight down through a hole made in the ice. Therefore, you will be operating your lure vertically rather than horizontally as you might on open water free of ice.
Lures designed for a vertical jigging style of ice fishing are often attached to the fishing line in the middle of the lure’s back. They will also tend to have hooks at both ends to better assist the vertical presentation. When jigging you are bouncing the lure up and down within the water to simulate wounded prey and attract the predatory instincts of the trout.
Using jigs provides precision to where you place the lure, and you need to use the appropriate weight of jig for the depth of the water you are fishing. After bouncing the jig up and down you let it flutter back towards the bottom. This is the point when it most resembles a wounded fish and is most likely to attract the trout to strike.
There are many brands and variations of jigs on the market and you may need to experiment until you find the ones which attract the trout where you are fishing. Tungsten jigs can prove effective since they can be used in conjunction with a variety of lures or a natural bait, depending on what the trout are feeding on.
Jigging swimbaits are another popular choice of lure when ice fishing as it has a flattened tail region. This sees the lure dart around in the water like a wounded fish when raised up as part of the jigging method, further enhancing the chance of attracting trout.
2. Vertical Jigging Spoons
Jigging spoons have been around for some time, but have been a little usurped by more modern lures. However, they remain an effective lure when trout fishing. As with jigs, when ice fishing for trout you want vertical jigging spoons to help fish directly below you.
Spoons are also good lure options when fishing at depth. Trout are fine with the cold and can be found in the deeper, colder water or head there if that’s where their prey is to be found. Spoons are good lures to use for jigging at depth as they have a fast sink rate since they are usually made from denser materials.
You will still need to consider the weight and size of your vertical jigging spoon depending on the depth of water and the size of fish being targeted. You want to try and match the size of the spoon to the size of the prey the trout are naturally feeding on. Trout are easily spooked, and are more likely to strike at a lure which looks like their natural food source.
When you head off to ice fish for trout it is also a good idea to take a pack of spoons containing a variety of colors. This way you will be prepared to find the right combination of lure size and color that is attracting the trout to bite.
Vertical jigging spoons like the Acme Kastmaster are a popular choice as they are designed to flutter on hitting the water and shimmer in the light. These traits are similar to a wounded fish in the water and more likely to attract a predatory trout.
3. Live Bait
Live bait is still an excellent option when ice fishing for trout. Whereas many fish species become more passive in colder water, trout remain active and continue to feed as normal. Therefore, the movement and scent picked up from live bait can be hard to resist for a trout hunting prey.
Minnows are a favorite live bait with anglers fishing for trout. This still holds true when fishing on the ice. Small minnows on the end of a jig can be a great way to tempt a trout to strike as they will continue to move around on the lure.
Dead minnows or minnow heads can also be effective in luring trout. While they can be jigged to mimic movement, it will mostly be the scent which draws in an inquisitive trout. Regardless of whether you use live or dead minnow, try to use minnow which reside naturally in the waters you are fishing as trout are not so keen on bait which is alien to their environment.
Some days the trout may be more interested in invertebrates than small fish. It is always worthwhile having different bait options to counter such feeding preferences. One of the best baits to have is the tried and tested maggot. As well as being easy to source they survive well in cold temperatures, a useful characteristic for an ice fishing lure.
Nightcrawlers are also favored by trout, even if other fish species are not so keen. Although they can be hard to source in winter months, they are worth the effort as every trout variety seems to love nightcrawlers. Live nightcrawlers can be best as they wriggle around, attracting notice from the trout. For smaller trout you may want to use just an inch or two of the worm, while also keeping it off the bottom of the waterway.
As with artificial lures you want to try and replicate the trout’s natural food source as much as possible and that can take some chopping and changing between baits. Further live bait you may want to try include:
- Mealworms – although they are much loved by feeding trout, mealworms prefer a warmer habitat. Look to keep them in a pocket or somewhere else reasonably warm until ready for use
- Red worms – these smaller worms can sometimes work best because larger worms may intimidate some trout. They also wriggle around less which can again attract some trout more.
- Wax worms – This is another live bait which is easy to attain all year round, with the added benefit that they are tolerant of colder conditions. One or two wax worms on a vertical jig can soon have you catching trout.
- Live nymphs – When you are wondering about a trout’s natural food source on a waterway, live nymph is always a reasonable bet. They are something trout like to forage on and are always likely to attract a bite.
- Salmon Eggs – These are good for trout all year round, ice or no ice. You can add salmon eggs to the end of your hook, and even add some scent to them to try and attract trout that are not biting.
- Shiners – An inexpensive live or dead bait option. As shiners are bait fish they are usually species of smaller fish which are native to the area where you are fishing.
4. Rattle Spoon
A rattle spoon lure is another good option for vertical jigging when ice fishing. As the name implies, what sets this particular lure apart from other vertical jigs is the noise it emits in the water. In the right water conditions this additional sound will attract inquisitive fish such as trout and increase your chance of a bite.
Trout like to investigate sounds and vibrations within the water, checking the source out for potential prey. The rattle spoon lure mimics a small minnow and you can buy different sizes and colors to better imitate the fish found naturally in the water you are fishing. As mentioned previously, lures which seem alien to the trout’s natural environment can make them skittish.
When you first lower the lure beneath the ice you want to replicate the movements of the minnow alongside the noise emitted. This should attract trout, at which point you can reduce the jigging of the lure, further replicating the behavior of a minnow when faced by a predator.
You will find a good number of rattle spoon lures on the market. The Northland Buckshot rattle spoon is a consistently popular choice, its reflective colors and sharp clicking sounds making it effective in attracting trout. The sound given off is similar to the method of using popping corks when saltwater fishing.
Another popular variety is the VMC Rattle Spoon, which makes an even more distinctive sound when submerged beneath the ice. This lure contains a resonance chamber made of brass and multiple beads. The chamber is also shorter to allow anglers to make more noise with reduced jigging. The lure can be bought in a range of sizes and has a UV bright finish to reflect more light.
5. Marabou Jigs
A marabou jig is a small lure which will be found in the kit of many anglers when they go ice fishing. It is a lure which attracts a number of different species of fish, including trout. They are made with marabou feathers, a form of down feather trimming.
The marabou jig is similar to a spoon, and once lowered beneath the ice will undulate when still. Even the smallest current or movement of the rod will cause the feathers to flutter. This movement will attract the attention of an inquisitive predator such as trout.
These mini jigs are usually made from soft plastic, silicone or rubber, making them very pliable and life-life in the water. This lure has been around for many years and has proven to be very versatile, but it also seems to fair better in colder waters.
You can buy marabou jigs in different colors. You may opt for a more colorful variety on sunnier days when the water is quite clear, whereas on murkier days you may find a more natural color works best.
However, this is fishing, and what works one day may not work the next. Having different colored varieties to hand will help you ‘match the hatch’ and find what the trout are taking on a particular day. You can also buy different size weights of jig, allowing you to alter the depth at which you fish under the ice, with slightly larger jigs better for more depth and when the current is stronger.
Powerbait is another strong option when ice fishing for trout. Although generally preferred for fishing stocked trout, Powerbait can still work with wild trout. This is an artificial bait made from PVC and oil based resin, with chemical scents added to help attract trout.
Powerbait is also called dough bait as this is what it tends to resemble. The ‘dough’ is easy to mold in to different sized bait balls depending on conditions. Another bonus apart from its ease of use is Powerbait is relatively inexpensive compared to other baits.
The reason Powerbait works particularly well when fishing for stocked trout is it closely resembles the feed the trout are used to in the hatchery. It also comes in a whole range of colors and shapes to help you match the bait to that which seems to be working best on a particular stocked lake.
If you are aiming to catch and release trout it is probably best to bait up using a single hook rather than a treble. The trout can quickly swallow a fair amount of Powerbait and it can become difficult to remove the hook. With a single hook set on a handheld rod you have more chance to feel the bite immediately, allowing you to set the hook before too much of the bait is swallowed.
These six types of lure will help you attract trout and increase your chance of a successful day of ice fishing. Having the right equipment for the style of fishing is key, and when ice fishing for trout that is particularly true of the lures you use.
Having a good selection of lures including a variety of sizes and colors allows you to experiment when the trout are not initially striking. As trout are skittish creatures they are very wary of anything that does not mimic their natural food source. Matching the lure to their food source and taking in to account water and weather conditions is key to lure selection.