Are you sick and tired of winter? Do you need to just get out of the house and fish? If you live in the northern part of the ice belt, then you may find yourself asking these questions as we get to the beginning of March. At this time of year, we can still see a lot of snow on the ice and a lot of ice beneath it, both of which can make fishing challenging. However, you are in luck because as the weather warms and bugs and minnows become more active due to increased sunshine, rainbow trout often become more aggressive and can be an exciting catch through the ice.
The first thing to consider when fishing rainbows through the ice is, set up a portable shelter. I usually set up a shelter for two reasons. One, having a shelter blocks out the sun so the fish are unable to see the rod tip moving through the hole as they approach baits; and two, having the portable shelter and the dark it offers allows me to see clearly down the fishing hole almost as though it were like looking in an aquarium. This second reason is especially important because it allows for fish to be observed and how they react to baits, and it adds a whole extra level of excitement when they come out of nowhere to strike lures.
Once the shelter is set up, I go with three different baits styles to sight fish for rainbows which cruise from right below the surface to about three feet below the ice. The first choice is using a 1/8 oz. UV Glow Chub or Red Northland Forage Minnow Spoon tipped with a Berkley PowerBait Honey Worm (yellow or red). This bait selection is meant to be fished emphatically from one to three feet below the ice with rapid rips and then a pause. The spoon approach is meant to target very aggressive fish in the vicinity and draw others in from a distance.
The second bait style that I revert to when the spoon draws fish in, but they will not hit it, involves a bit more subtlety. It involves using a Northland Gill Getter tipped with a one inch Berkley Gulp! Alive! Leech . The idea behind the leech presentation is using a cadence which involves fluidity. Focusing on just moving the leech through the water column in a slow deliberate manner without pause can be exactly what the fish are looking for in some cases.
The third approach I might use if the fish have snubbed the first two offerings is using a size 12 or 14 nymph hook tipped with a Berkley Gulp! 1” or 2.5” Black Shad Minnow (size depends on bait available in the system). I usually hook the minnow about 2/3 back from the head, a little behind where a dorsal fin might be on a live minnow. Then, I let the minnow sink slowly to about six to twelve inches below the bottom of the ice and let it sit for several minutes. After a few minutes, I will lift it a couple of inches and then drop it back to its original spot to let it sit completely still again. This lift and pause technique is perfect for when fish are a little more finicky and/or right after a snowstorm or other front.
So, if you live in the northern ice belt and find yourself in a winter rut, try your luck with some great Berkley products for some late ice fishing trout action. Sitting in a dark shelter watching rainbows slamming spoons tipped with Honey Worms or delicately slurping in tiny leech or minnow imitations can be a great way to beat the mid- to late-winter doldrums.