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Mo ice fishing
Dixfield ice angler Jeff McLeod displays a nice salmon he caught on Wilson Lake in Wilton. (William Clunie Photo)
Ice fishing tips
Take a drive through any part of Maine during the winter, and it becomes obvious – ice fishers seem to be set up on nearly every available lake or pond.
Even in this tough economy ice-fishing-gear sales remain steady, and bait dealers continue to maintain their businesses – both points indicate a sizable number of hard water anglers.
Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIF&W) stocks over 20,000 fish per year in an effort to give winter anglers a chance at enjoying a nice trout dinner or two.
An angler with the proper gear, the right technique, and plenty of persistence, has an excellent chance at taking a few pan-sized brookies home to their own kitchen this winter – and a good possibility of hooking into a trophy for the wall.
Nowadays, searching for brook trout begins at home on the computer, an easy way to find some of the better places to catch a winter brookie.
Open Maine’s DIF&W website (mefishwildlife.com) and click on “fishing,” located on the left side of the first page. Then click on “reports” and then “stocking list,” which takes searching anglers to a complete report of current stocking activity. At the bottom of that page anglers can also find reports of past stocking efforts.
Once anglers locate a specific lake or pond to be fished, the next step in this search would be to find the best brook-trout fishing areas on that particular body of water. Some lakes and ponds cover huge acreage, so start narrowing down the vast amount of choices by looking for a few key features that attract brook trout.
Most anglers already know that brook trout hunt for food in shallow water during the winter freeze, but many ice fishers miss the point by limiting their fishing activity too close to the shoreline.
Occasionally a brook trout ventures to within a few feet of the shoreline to chase baitfish, but this doesn’t mean that anglers should start boring every hole right up against the shoreline. Most of the time, brook trout hang out in a transition zone somewhere between the shallow water and deeper water.
A proper set up, where anglers can legally use five traps, would be to start out with the first trap set in about two feet of water. From there, form the rest of the traps in a line toward progressively deeper water. Then when a trap gets hit, anglers can pull the other traps and concentrate their efforts at the location and depth that caused the hit.
Although the terminal gear used to catch brook trout through the ice doesn’t have to be much more than a baited hook at the end of the line, setting it all up properly can make the difference between simply watching inactive traps, or hauling in fish.
Brook trout, above all other fish, seem to be what anglers refer to as “leader shy.” A rig with a heavy leader, too big of a hook, or lots of extraneous hardware makes these finicky trout avoid chomping onto the bait.
A good set-up would be a loop connection at the end of a heavy line made specifically for ice fishing, connected to a leader of no more than six-pound-test line. The leader should be at least six to eight feet long and tied to the main line with a loop knot, so changing out warn leaders can be accomplished in a hurry.
Next, make sure to use a hook no larger than a number six, tied directly to the leader. Forget about swivels, or other means of fastening the leader to the hook – leader-shy brookies like it simple.
Hook the baitfish lightly though the top of the body, near the dorsal fin, and attach a small sinker a few inches, to one foot, ahead of that to keep the offering below the ice. Drop it down to anywhere between two- and twenty-feet and set the trap. The same set-up can be used successfully with a worm.
When the trout takes the bait and the flag goes off, let the fish run for a short distance and set the hook by pulling sharply on the line.
Smaller brookies may come right in, but larger fish require some tactical handling.
Time and experience on the ice happens to be the only way to teach excited anglers how fast to pull the fish in, but that happens to be the joy of fishing for brook trout through the ice – a constant and refreshing learning experience.