When the snow and temperatures start to fall some angler’s fishing season comes to an end, but for many others the hard water fishing seasons is just starting!
For most Interior lakes in Western Canada the ice fishing season starts in later December as the colder weather brings over 6 inches of hard ice. The beginning of the season offers some of the best Rainbow Trout fishing as the oxygen levels are still high in the water and the fish are aggressively feeding.
Rainbows will relate to shallow water in the winter months, sometimes as shallow as 3 feet under the ice. The Trout will cruise just off the bottom of these shallow areas searching for the most nutrient rich fertile ranges such as weedy bays and shoals. A Rainbow’s diet in the hard water season mainly consist of dragon fly nymphs, caddis fly nymphs, leeches, snails, smaller forage fish and many other aquatic invertebrates which all reside in weeded or muddy areas.
Look for areas on the lake that offer flat shoals with a drop off ledges. Rainbows like to cruise the ledges adjacent to weeded areas seeking forage. Drill your holes close to shore in about 3 feet of water. If you drill into weeds, then move out 4 to 5 feet at a time until you locate the weed line. The best is if you can look down your ice hole and see half the hole is weeds and half is not; then you know you are in a prime area!
If the lake that I’m fishing doesn’t offer heavy weeded areas then I search for the flattest and most shallow regions, especially if the bottom is muddy. I’m bound to come in contact with a Rainbow cruising this zone. Later in the day the Rainbows will become less active in the shallow water and they will move out to the deeper 10 to 20 foot range. In this deeper water the Rainbows tend to cruise in the mid water column to prey upon small minnows or insects. A proven tactic is to start fishing in the early morning within the shallow water, but as the day progresses move out over deeper water to target these suspended fish. Drilling holes approximately 30 to 50 feet away from the drop off ledge. As the evening sets in the trout will start to come back up to the shallow areas to feed, so you should follow.
Regardless of where you choose to fish on the lake it is a good idea to get to the lake early and drill all your holes. Try avoiding drilling holes throughout the day, as it can scare off the fish. Any loud movements on the ice could startle the trout; so get comfortable and commit to the holes in which you drilled.
Presentations & Fishing Techniques
It’s important to note that Rainbow Trout are the main predator in the lake, which means they can be very aggressive while looking for an easy quick meal. Using jigs tipped with some sort of bait that mimics a dying or injured baitfish can be very effective when the bite is on. When the trout are feeding up on the weeded shoals its important to keep your presentation very close to the bottom, as this is where the trout find most of their food. Jigging 12 inches off the bottom and slapping your rig off the lake floor will encourage a Rainbow to cruise over and bite your presentation.
Using small spoons such as a Mack’s Lure Hum Dinger or Sonic Baitfish when the Rainbows are suspended over the deeper water will attract the rainbows from a far and entice them to attack your gear. The water clarity in the winter months is very clear due to the lack of algae blooms in the lake so the trout will notice a well-presented spoon from far distances away.
Rainbow Trout are either super aggressive or very picky on what they choose to eat. Sometimes they will come out of nowhere and hammer an aggressive jigged spoon or sometimes they will desire smaller bait with no movement. If you are jigging a small spoon with no luck try switching up your lure to a small baited hook such as a Mack’s Lure Glo Hook size 6 tipped with bait.
Excellent options for bait when targeting Rainbows are Pink Maggots, Meal Worms, Dew Worms and Corn. Rainbows have an excellent sense of smell; so adding scent onto the lures and bait such as the Pro-Cure Trophy Trout Ice Gel encourages the trout to hold onto the bait for a longer period allowing for a greater hook set.
Many small insects emerge from the lake’s bottom so using flies such as woolly buggers, balanced leeches, or even a bead headed nymph as they imitate what the trout are feeding on very well.