ICE IS FORMING…FISH ARE BITING!
Get the vehicle loaded for some of the best ice fishing of the year. In Manitoba we have over 100 lakes, ponds and streams stocked with trout! And quite a few of those grow fish to mammoth proportions. East Blue Lake for years has held the Manitoba record with rainbow trout over 30 inches in length. Over 40 years as a professional angler I have been fortunate enough to fish most of the lakes that have become folklore in this province.
EARLY ICE SUCCESS
At this time of the year, when the ice has just formed enough to be able to walk out, stocked trout can be active all day long. If you are lucky enough to be one of the first out on the ice, fishing could be spectacular. Do not sacrifice success for safety! Check ice as you go.
After a couple of weeks of angling pressure, these trout will become noise shy and feed best during low light conditions. That means 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. Before you set up and get comfortable though, make sure you are on an edge of some sort. Could be weed edge, a transition from hard to soft bottom plus a depth change. All fish species love edges and stocked trout are no different.
Aaron Wiebe shows you how its done in this great video!
FISH QUIETLY IN THE DARKNESS
When you are set up properly, close all the windows and darken your portable shack. That means on most lakes you will be to 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! Also, be very quiet in your shack, fish are extremely spooky at this time of the year.
PAY ATTENTION AND YOU WILL CATCH MORE FISH!
By watching down your ice hole or on an underwater camera you will continue to learn about fish behaviour. 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 harbour 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.
OTHER ARTIFICIALS FOR STOCKED TROUT
Many of my friends like to use tube jigs for trout with some wild success. I have caught tiger trout on one inch Berkley tube jigs or Berkley finesse minnows. I also like to use a small flutter spoon when the trout are up and down the water column. The flutter of the spoon will attract trout and even if they don’t hit the lure they might take your still line. I really like the Leech Flutter Spoon made by Clam. The Leech Flutter Spoon from Clam Pro Tackle has the ultimate unique flutter that falls and tumbles back-and-forth.
The lightweight lure falls slowly because of its zinc alloy material. The attracting feathered treble really helps get extra bites. You can sweeten it with Berkley trout bait if you want. Just don’t put on much other wise you will change the action of the spoon. Available in a wide variety of metallic and glow colours. The metallic colours are great for cleaner waters and the glow colours perform best in dark or stained waters.
OXYGEN LEVELS AFFECT FISH ACTIVITY
Rainbows are very sensitive to oxygen levels in a lake, so when you are looking for fish, especially midwinter, check out green weed edges, 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.