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Ice fishing for brook trout
The cold wind numbed my exposed face and frosted the sweat mixed in my beard. After drilling several holes in the thick ice of a local pond, I had a fishing trap set up and ready for bait. As I opened the minnow bucket, I realized the net had become frozen to the side of my
insulated bait pail. At that point I simply reached into the pail, pulled out a wiggling minnow, and impaled it just ahead of the dorsal fin.
In the few minutes it took me to bait the hook, new ice had solidly glazed over the just-drilled fishing hole. I stomped my heel into the hole, crushing the new layer of ice, and dropped the hooked minnow into the cold water. The nearly frozen baitfish slowly wiggled its way around the hole and then sank with the weight of the hook and line.
Setting the next four traps differed only in the increasing thickness of new ice covering the recently bored fishing holes. By the time I finished setting all five traps, I longed for a warm cup of coffee and a place to sit down and relax. As I began to settle my heavily
clothed body into the swivel seat on the ice-fishing sled, I noticed my fishing companion, Shawn Maguire, racing toward the red flag that had tripped on one of his traps.
“Fish on!” Shawn hollered, sneaking up to the hole in the last few steps of his hurried approach. After a few moments of gentle line handling, he pulled a frisky, 18-inch brook trout through the hole.
My highly active fishing buddy had his five traps completely set up before I even had my third trap set. Some folks might call his hurried nature hyperactive, but I believe his aggressive and enthusiastic method of ice fishing pays off.
Contrary to popular belief, an angler that sits and patiently waits for hours over a set of fishing traps won’t be the most successful fisher. Anglers that constantly tend their traps by freshening them with lively minnows, get more hard water action when going after brookies. The twitching action of the bait, as it gets pulled in and replaced, must entice the fish to strike.
Aggressive trap tending produces more brook trout for ice anglers, but even the most active ice fishers won’t catch fish if they don’t hit the right location in a particular body of water. Look for underwater structure like large rocks, boulders and sunken trees. Baitfish, chased by salmon from deeper waters, congregate around a shallow shoreline that offers the security of this type of underwater structure. Hungry brookies know this and hover there for their next tasty meal.
Brook trout congregate around spring holes and incoming sources of water like rivers, streams and brooks. Check maps of local ponds and lakes to locate the inlets, and start by boring a few holes at varying distances from the shoreline. Be cautious by drilling test holes to check for thin ice in these areas.
Place fishing holes at varying depths in lakes and drop baits down to different levels in the water. Traps that get hit indicate prime locations, so start placing the other traps at similar depths and water levels to take advantage of the sweet spot on the lake. Most good brook trout fishing happens in shallow water, near the shoreline.
Terminal tackle for catching brook trout under the ice, similar to that used for open-water fishing, starts with light lines around 4-to 6-pound test and hooks at size six or smaller.
Anglers can successfully use many different types of ice-fishing traps of various size or design for taking brook trout under the ice – as long as the trigger mechanism can detect the gentle nibble of a brookie. Some hard-water anglers use small rods and spinning reels with jigging lures to take these salmonid through the ice. Just make sure to set the drag light enough so the four-pound test line doesn’t snap.
Popular lures such as a Swedish Pimple or a simple leaded jigging hook, with a piece of worm or minnow attached, take plenty of brookies each winter. Alternately raise and lower the rod tip, in a jerking fashion, to make the lure shimmy and shake in an enticing manner.
The most popular method by far, a trap with a minnow set just under the ice surface, produces more fish than jigging. Successful ice anglers line the shore with traps set in this manner, and then routinely go about tending the traps at regular intervals. Those who fuss over their traps, like an obsessive hen caring for its nest, take the most fish.
No wonder some folks get so darned excited and hyper about ice fishing for brook trout. With fly fishing gear stored away for the winter, the chance of seeing an awesome brookie seems far off – unless one takes advantage of a few of these ice fishing techniques. Couple these suggestions with a boundless amount of excitability, and an ice angler seeking brook trout often finds success. While some might label this condition as hyperactive, I prefer to diagnose it as enthusiastic angling – and the only cure comes in the form of tight lines,
white-lined fins, and the familiar olive-green vermiculation of Maine’s char; Salvalinus fontinalis (Brook Trout).