Catching a 10+ pound Trout through a small hole in the ice is an experience unlike anything else in the Midwest! Many people think that catching a 40" Northern Pike through the ice is the ultimate fight on ice, well I beg to differ! Trout in cold water have more energy and fight in them than any 40" Pike or 10 pound Walleye!
There are many ways to catch Great Lakes Trout in the winter months, including Spawn Sacs, Skien, Minnows, Plastics, Wax Worms, Flies, Shrimp, and even Squid! The way in which you present your bait to the Trout is as important as what you choose to use as bait!
Trout are a finicky fish, and will show a preference in a certain bait on any given day. You can catch 10 Trout today on spawn sacs, and tomorrow those same fish in that same spot won't even touch your spawn sacs, but may attack a minnow or wax worm!
This inconsistent personality of our Great Lakes Trout make them a challenge to put on the ice consistently, making an anglers attention to detail the crucial factor in changing a slow day into a productive one.
When it comes to setting tip ups for Trout, I recommend the Automatic Fisherman in the 33" model, which is an ice fishing pole on a base that allows the angler to set the rod and allow the fish to take a preset amount of line before the hook is set on the fish. Trout are very sensitive to the slightest resistance, which is why the Automatic Fisherman is geared with a bobber that balances the weight of the lure so the Trout never feels the resistance of the tip up.
When using the Automatic Fisherman, I like to rig the reel with 8 pound Berkley Sensation or 8 pound Power Pro. I then like to tie a barrel swivel on to my main line and then an 18-24" leader of 6 pound fluorocarbon. When using spawn or skein for bait I like to use a #6 Gamakatsu Egg Hook, but when using minnows or shrimp I like to use a #12 Treble Hook.
When using standard tip ups for Trout, you can use the same basic rig, except the main line can be either a Dacron line or a superline like Fireline. Tie your 6 pound fluorocarbon 18-24" leader to a barrel swivel and then to the main line. When setting the tip up, make sure to set it as light as possible, so that the flag will pop when the fish touches your bait. This will make it less likely for the Trout to sense any resistance.
When jigging for Trout, there are many tactics that will work, but I have had the most success with a simple jig and Wax Worms. Swedish Pimples with minnow heads or Wax Worms can also work well at times. You can also jig with a spawn sac, tubes, or even Jigging Rapalas.
A camera or flasher are helpful when jigging for Trout, since they allow you to see how the fish react to your presentation. If you have a fish come in to your bait but not bite, you may want to change or jigging action the next time a fish shows up on your screen. The camera is nice because you can see what type of fish is present, and how they are acting.
Another mistake many first time Trout seekers make is horsing these fish in before they are ready. The average fight time on a Trout can be 5-10 minutes, with the big ones taking up to 20 minutes to land! There is no need to horse them in, once they are hooked you should enjoy the fight, set your drag properly and pay close attention to your line so that it doesn't get caught on the edge of the hole.
These are just a few general guidelines that should help you put a few Trout on the ice this season, I hope they come in handy for you on your next Trout fishing outing!