How-to Catch Lake Trout on Ice
In this lake trout ice-fishing guide we breakdown locations, gear, lures and tactics for catching these high-octane, cold-water predators. Let’s go!
Where to find lake trout
Lake trout frequently relate to rocky humps, saddles and bars. Concentrate on structures rising up to 30 to 60 feet found within lake basins and on deep flats.
Rock walls adjacent to deep water are another hotspot. Trout trap baitfish against the steep breaks. Icy water temperatures give trout the freedom to go where they please. It’s not uncommon for lakers to cruise 10 to 30 foot areas looking for a meal. Don’t be shy jigging points, reefs, deep flats, weed edges and other typical walleye spots when looking for laker trout.
The food factor
Lake trout are always near forage. Whitefish, ciscoes, herring, smelt and yellow perch are popular prey. Use a portable sonar to determine if an area holds schools of bait or larger prey fish. Keep moving until electronics reveal forage. Jigging in and around baitfish is critical for consistently catching lake trout.
Understand this, lake trout won’t go easy on you. These strong, aggressive predators test gear to its limit and inferior equipment will fail. Here’s what’s recommended.
For small to middle-sized lakers, a medium-power spinning rod is sufficient. Big lakers are another matter and best fished using a 36” to 42” medium-heavy rod. Excellent choices are the Widow Maker Trout Ice Rods and medium-heavy Omen Ice Rods, which are specifically designed for lake trout tactics.
Sufix 832 Advanced Ice Braid in 20-pound test is a reliable choice. This strong, no-stretch, thin-diameter line is perfect for deep-water hook sets and taming big lakers. Ten-pound braid is appropriate for tussling small to medium trout. Add a 24” fluorocarbon leader for stealth and a touch of shock absorption. Tie in a VMC stainless steel swivel between braid and fluoro to prevent line twist.
Successfully landing powerful trout requires a smooth drag. The Creed series of spinning reels in 2000 and 3000 sizes deliver the performance needed to put lakers topside.
Best lake trout hard-baits
The Rippin’ Rap (06), Rattlin’ Rapala (07), Magic Man and El Diablo rattling, lipless crankbaits are popular lake trout lures. Use long rod sweeps to call-in fish. Then, keep the bait moving away from an interested fish to force it to chase and strike. The new Rap-V Blade is another effective rattle bait.
Rapala Jigging Raps (09), Flat Jigs (06) and Snap Raps (08) consistently catch lakers. Their natural darting, swimming action, combined with a dying-baitfish fall make these lures irresistible. Hard snaps and high raises are effective, but also try subtle jigging to replicate a wounded baitfish.
The Cast Champ, Crippled Herring, More-silda and Tingler are reliable spoons. Having 3/16 to 3/4 ounce spoons covers shallow-to-deep scenarios, while offering different rates of fall. Use long jigging strokes to attract fish and trigger a reaction. If unsuccessful, shake the rod while reeling the spoon away from a trout to mimic an escaping baitfish - a sight few lakers can resist.
Tip: A portable fish finder is essential. Sonar displays a trout’s response to a presentation, which helps tailer jigging to a fish’s mood and prompt more strikes.
Tempt trout with a jig
Lakers go crazy for the vibrations, kicking action and natural profile of 3” to 4-1/2” swimbaits, like the pre-rigged 360GT Searchbait and Searchbait Shad. Other reliable combinations are a 1/4-, 3/8- and 1/2-ounce VMC Swimbait Jig or Hybrid Swimbait Jig with a Largo Shad, Churro, My Name’s Jeff or Pleasure Shad.
Snap, hop and swim jigs up and down to attract fish and elicit strikes. Fall rate is an important trigger, so try different jig head weights to learn what sinking speed evokes the best feeding response from fish.
Keep colours natural
Lake trout can be particular about colour. When whitefish, cisco, herring and smelt are abundant, try baits with plenty of chrome, gold or white.
Yellow perch or gobies may also be important food sources on some waterbodies. Here, jigging a bait replicating the colouration of these species is a wise strategy.
Lake trout are one of the most aggressive, hardest fighting fish anglers can find under the ice. Gear-wise, not much is required, just a stout spinning rod combo, a handful of baits and, ideally, a portable sonar. So, what are you waiting for?