Brook trout are the most popular trout species sought by ice fishermen in Maine. These fish have predictable behaviors which, if understood, can be used to your advantage. Follow the strategies outlined below to catch more brook trout under the ice.
(1) Stay shallow: Brook trout like to swim around shallow shorelines in water 2 to 10 feet deep. Look for shoreline with structure, such as boulders, sunken logs, or submerged vegetation which attracts aquatic invertebrates and small baitfish, and hence trout.
(2) Find a point: Fish around points that stick out into the lake because they attract bait fish, provide a break along the shoreline, and are great ambush sites. It’s even better if the point has a nearby drop-off or some other structure, such as big boulders or sunken wood.
(3) Target inlets: Inlets are prime brook trout spots. The moving water supplies nutrients, dissolved oxygen, and aquatic invertebrates that attract small baitfish, and trout. Be aware that the ice can be thinner where an inlet enters a lake due to temperature differences and the flowing water.
(4) Get on the ice early in the morning: I cannot stress this point enough: start ice fishing at the crack of dawn. Trout activity under the ice peeks early and drops off within two or three hours after sunrise. The bulk of the feeding is over by 9 or 10 am at the latest.
(5) Seek shadow: Bright sunshine tends to push the brook trout into deeper water and out of the shallows. Place your tipups along the shoreline on the eastern side of your target lake. The rising sun will stay hidden behind the trees along the shoreline for longer, thereby creating a shadow line that can last deep into the morning. Or better yet: schedule a fishing trip when the sky is overcast and light conditions are dim.
(6) Beware of past low pressures: This advice applies to all types of ice fishing: fish don’t bite for up to 48 hours after a low pressure moves through, when the weather consists of bright sunshine, bitter cold, and howling winds. I have never done well under those conditions and will cancel my ice fishing trip if they prevail. Instead, wait a day or two until the weather stabilizes and conditions return to normal.
(7) Look forward to an incoming low pressure: This advice also applies to all types of ice fishing: fish tend to feed actively 24 to 36 hours before a low pressure is scheduled to move through, when the weather becomes overcast, the temperature moderates, and flurries are in the air. It is always a good idea to be on the ice when these conditions prevail.
(8) Jig! It could make the difference between catching trout or not. A lifeless baitfish may not entice a trout whereas a fluttering lure may do the trick. Use a 2-inch, silver-colored “Swedish Pimple” or a small airplane jig to probe the entire water column from bottom to top. Using even smaller jigs is fine too. Beware not to make big jerking movements. Your lure should not travel vertically by more than 6” to 10″. Jig a hole for 5 minutes and move to another one if you do not get a bite.
(9) Use small bait fish: The ideal bait fish size for trout is about 2”. Anything bigger will decrease your catch rate. Place your bait half-way down the water column. Don’t get fancy about baitfish either: cheap, hardy shiners work great. Just make sure that your bait is fresh and lively. Also, when you reach your fishing spot, partially change the water in your bait bucket with lake water to help the baitfish acclimate. Finally, replace your bait on the hook if it is not swimming around. Lifeless bait does not attract trout.
(10) Wait to set the hook: Be patient if a flag comes up but the spool is not turning. If your spool has not moved after a minute, simply reset the flag but without moving the tipup. Chances are that the flag will pop up shortly. The reason is that a trout will take the bait, trigger the flag, but then spit out the bait and swim around it. Check your tipup if the flag does not trigger after a few minutes. The trout probably stole your bait! Also, make sure to jig that hole to see if you can get the bait stealer to grab your lure. I’ve made that experience many times.
(11) Check your baitfish: Regularly check the baitfish (say, every 30 to 60 minutes), particularly if you have had no flag action. I have often found that one or more of my tipups was fishing with an empty hook! How did the trout steal the baitfish without triggering the flag? I do not know … but it does no good fishing without bait! Besides, pulling your bait through the water column gets it swimming again and creates a flash that may attract a nearby trout. Also, don’t be afraid to change your baitfish if it is not actively swimming around. Baitfish are cheap, whereas it takes a lot of effort to get on the ice! Lifeless bait will not attract trout.
(12) Move your traps: Often times, one hole provides several flags and becomes your “honey hole”, for reasons only known to the trout. Drill several new holes within 15 feet of your honey hole and move one or more of your non-productive tipups to these new locations. Drill additional holes around the honey hole for jigging. It is amazing how often this simple tactic can increase your catch rate.
(13) Stay flexible: The approaches outlined above are sound and will help you catch more trout while ice fishing. But fish have a mind of their own and may not follow your game plan! Be ready to think outside of the box. For example, move your tipups away from shore and over a drop-off; place the bait fish either close to the bottom or one or two feet below the ice; drill new holes elsewhere along the shoreline. Stay flexible and try something new until you find – and catch – the trout you seek.
Do you have other ideas, tips or secrets on how to catch brookies under the ice? Did the information in this blog help you? I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions.