By: Tom Armstrong
Lake trout is my favourite species to target through the ice. In Thunder Bay I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a multitude of ice angling opportunities for lake trout. Lake Superior offers excellent lake trout fishing as do many inland lakes. Lake Superior lake trout feed on smelt. Locally, and across the province, these same smelt can provide anglers with the ultimate lake trout bait. In this blog I’m going to explain my favourite techniques to target lakers and you can bet one of them includes smelt and other cut bait.
Lake trout through the ice can be a challenge. Meanwhile, rewards can be huge. This type of fishing isn’t for everyone as action can be slow. Nonetheless, I enjoy the prospect of icing a giant laker and will happily spend a day on the ice catching nothing at all while clinging to that chance. Is it fun to catch and bring home a limit of tasty walleye for the frying pan, but if you get the chance to tangle with a 10-pound plus lake trout through the ice on a 36-inch rod – in my mind there is no comparison.
Check your local fishing regulations. Lake trout seasons vary depending on where you live. Some lakes are open now and others open soon. For example, lake trout season opens on Lake Superior and a zone to our west of Thunder Bay on January 1. The zone where I live around Thunder Bay opened February 1.
For lake trout I jig and run a setline since we can use two rods through the ice. For my jigging line (95% of the time) I run a version of a white tube jig or smelt pattern jig fly tipped with a minnow. I tip these jigs with a Fire Brine minnow or strip of brined herring. When jigging I like the idea of live bait, but it isn’t necessary.
I’m not big on wasting bait. For example, after an ice fishing trip if I have leftover minnows (dyed or not) I give them a soak in Fire Brine, seal them in a Ziploc and freeze them for later use. Then I have bait that lasts, isn’t wasted, requires no maintenance and is perfect for tipping jigs.
I have two strategies for the setlines. I run a large Fire Dye sucker minnow or colourful Fire Brine dead bait. It’s a close call, but I prefer dead bait for lake trout. Hanging a dead Fire brine herring or smelt (where legal) on a setline is effective for lake trout. For whatever reason dead baits produce fish.
For dead baits I prefer smelt (where legal), frozen herring or similar cut bait. Brining bait is common for ice fishing and couldn’t be easier. To brine take the frozen bait, separate them, place them in a Ziploc and simply pour enough Fire Brine over them to cover them. As long as the bait is swimming in the brine you are doing it right. It’s that easy. Then set the bag in the fridge and leave it overnight so the brine can work. By the next morning the baits will be ready to fish.
After an overnight soak the baits will have absorbed the brine and taken on colour. I prefer chartreuse and blue, but used to use a lot of purple before it was discontinued. Why brine the bait? Brining bait does several things, but most important it toughens it up so it stays on the hook better, makes it more durable, helps the scales shine better and adds vibrant colour.
On the other hand, if I’m running live bait, such as big sucker minnows, I give them a quick soak in Fire Dye and hang them on my setline. The Blue and Chartreuse Fire Dye works best and can be irresistible, but make sure to follow the instructions on the bottle for the short soak. If you try to alter them and come up with your own recipe it likely wont work. Once dyed, I prefer to hook them with a single treble behind the dorsal or on a quick strike rig. If those toothy lake trout get a glimpse of a struggling, chartreuse sucker down in the depths it’s game over.
Try either – or both – of these techniques when fishing for lake trout in your local Ontario water. You’ll be impressed with the results just like I was several years ago when I first tried this. Remember to make sure bait is legal in the water you are fishing.
Editor’s Note: Tom Armstrong is an outdoor writer based in Thunder Bay. For more info on his adventures please visit: www.tomarmstrongoutdoors.com.