It’s time to break out the portable ice shack and be ready for some incredible fishing moments on your favorite trout lake. In Manitoba we have over 100 lakes, ponds and streams stocked with trout! And quite a few of those grow to mammoth proportions. East Blue Lake for years has held the Manitoba record with rainbow trout over 30 inches in length. Over the 32 years as a professional angler I have been fortunate enough to fish most of the lakes that have become folklore in this province.
Get out early in the morning, an hour before daybreak, drill some holes in two to four metres of water off of a point, island or weed edge and be on watch. You will be amazed what you will see in the underwater world that unfolds below you. In a portable shed with all the windows closed you’ll see fish come in on your baits, how they react and what works and doesn’t. This is especially true on lakes that have excellent water clarity. There’s nothing like watching a big rainbow or brown trout coming in on your bait. Will he take it or not? When to set the hook if he does? All these questions will come flooding to your brain with a heart pounding rush of blood. As anglers, we don’t always make the right decision or catch the fish but it certainly will keep your attention!
By watching down your ice hole or on an underwater camera you will continue to learn about fish behavior. That’s when a good pencil float will come in handy. You can suspend a small bait just off the bottom with a pencil float and split shot and wait for these light bites. When properly weighted so half the float is visible you will see lift bites as the fish take the bait from below and move up with it. On a smaller fish, if you slowly lift up with your rod tip, it will spit it out but if you feel good weight, it’s time to set the hook.
On lakes which allow bait, I like to suspend a dead shiner minnow from a float half way down the water column. So when fishing lakes that harbor very large rainbows and browns, pound test of your fishing line becomes an important consideration. Six pound test clear monofilament, or a fluorocarbon like Berkley Vanish is probably the minimum. Make sure that you also have a good reel on your ice fishing rod, one that will let the fish run on a smooth drag. On a cold day, if you are outside of a shack your pencil float won’t work as it will freeze into the ice but a warm shack will get the job done. Then you can let out a foot or two of slack line, so when the fish takes the pencil float, there is no resistance and it can move away with the bait, resulting in better hookups. Sharp hooks are extremely important at any time, but with stocked trout it’s a must.
Rainbows are very sensitive to oxygen levels in a lake, so when you are looking for fish, especially midwinter, check out green weed edges like the spot we found in Tokaruk, or underground springs, or even inflows, as long as ice conditions are safe. That means the best time to ice fish for rainbow trout in Manitoba is now, before ice thickness depletes oxygen levels to a point you think you’re on a dead sea. Or fish one of the many trout lakes in the Parkland region that have aeration systems. Just be very careful of ice conditions.