The anticipation for the winter trout season for many anglers could easily be compared to a ten year old child on Christmas Eve who has done nothing but sit in front of their Christmas tree eyeballing the stacks of presents addressed to them for weeks on end. For many anglers (like me) trout opener is incredibly special. Every year my lovely wife and I wake up around 3am and drive over an hour South West of Minneapolis to a rather small yet relatively deep lake right in the middle of town where we meet up with a few good friends and join the mob of houses sitting no more than one foot apart from each other. Now I know what you’re thinking, “That’s way to close!” “Where is the personal space?” Well on this particular body of water on this particular day everyone seems to forget about needing space and they just focus on the fun of chasing those chrome torpedoes though the ice. It is almost like one giant family of strangers on the ice.
Fishing Rainbow Trout through the ice is not nearly as difficult as it may seem to be. You do not have to be in 60 feet of water and you do not have to use large flashy spoons like you would for Lake Trout. Most of the times you do not even need your sonar. Now all this also depends on the body of water you are fishing but for the sake of doing it simply you only need a rod, jigs, plastics and the desire to catch fish. For opener we tend to pack light as we have to drag everything out onto the lake. There are way too many people and far too few spots for vehicles on the ice. We bring our hub, heater, chairs, 2 rods, a box of jigs and plastics, a sonar and breakfast. Simple and very light to haul out. Now there are some very important regulations for trout fishing and they vary by state so be sure to look them up and understand them fully before venturing out. In Minnesota you can only have one line per angler in the water at a time, for bait only dried, frozen or brined minnows, leeches and worms are allowed and you cannot start fishing until one hour before sunrise. You will also need to purchase a trout stamp from your local license distribution center.
We typically start our morning off in 8 to 11 feet of water and only ever have to drop down 4 feet under the ice. Obviously in the early morning before the sun rises, sonar comes in handy since you cannot sight fish quite yet but once the sun is high enough to see down the water column I will turn it off and just look down my hole. The fish are the little fighter jets of the lake. They swim through so fast and change their positions in the water column so often that on your sonar they appear as little blips and then are gone. When I drop my jig down I am looking for blips about 2 to 4 feet below my jig. When I see one I will give my jig a few bounces to get their attention and as soon as I have it I play keep away from the fish making it turn on the after burners and charge me. When they hit it is typically very aggressive but only for an instant. trout will spit your jig out almost as fast as they hit it so you have to be ready with the hooksets. Now these instant hooksets may cause you to miss the fish because he has the jig head or spoon body in his mouth and not the hook but it’s like a friend of mine always says… “Hooksets are free” so I don’t feel bad swinging away at every tap and most of the time they will give you a few mulligans before moving on to the next meal. Trout have very dense faces so firm hooksets and sharp hooks will be your best friends. These fish are not on the “dead log” list when being reeled up.
As I said before my trout opener set up is very basic and very consistent year to year. I use a 28 inch Jason Mitchell Meat Stick with 8lb braid and a 3 foot 8lb fluorocarbon leader. My jig of choice is the Clam Pro Tackle Caviar Drop in green glow tipped with a red Maki Plastics Polli. When hung horizontally the Caviar Drop and the Polli look like a trout egg just floating through the water with a small minnow or slender bug next to it, AKA…easy two for one meal. This has been my tried and true set up since my first day fishing Rainbows through the ice. Everyone has a “confidence bait” and this is definitely mine. The Meat Stick has a really sensitive tip allowing me to see how my bait is moving in the water yet has a strong enough back bone with a fast tip to help me drive the hook deep into the tough mouths of trout.
With all that being said, finding a trout lake for opener can be somewhat difficult if you don’t know where to start looking. My advice is go on the DNR’s website and browse lake stocking reports for areas you wish to fish. This is a good way to find what bodies of water have trout stocked in them every year, what sizes are stocked, and how many are stocked. It will help you narrow down possible lakes for a trophy sized fish or a lake that will more than likely supply you with a nice limit of eaters. Most of the time the DNR will stock certain lakes to the max with eater size fish simply for you to come fish them out. Now state daily and possession limits still apply but that was the purpose of stocking them in the first place. I call them “Put & Take” lakes. I don’t feel bad brining 3 to 5 people with and everyone takes a limit home with them to eat because that’s that they are there for.
I hope this has helped encouraged you to make it a point to go get your trout stamp and give it a try this year. Trout are also great eating when prepared correctly. I have created a lot of great memories with my friends and family on trout opener and I hope you will too!
By Kyle Lynn