Trout of all varieties are perfectly happy to feed in the cold, and in fact, they prefer chillier water than most species in the Mid-Atlantic region. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that fishing for them through the ice can be productive. It is not, however, like ice fishing for other species. If you want to target salmonids while it’s snowing, you’ll need to make some major tactical adjustments.
First, stick with live bait. Yes, you can catch trout while jigging artificials, but live bait simply works better. Minnow are the top choice. Strangely, even when it comes to stocked trout, minnow seem to out-fish the manufactured “dough” baits which simulate the pellets many trout are raised on (and which work so well during the warmer months of the year).
Second, fish near the surface. Trout often cruise just a foot or three beneath the ice, and one of the reasons many ice fishermen only encounter them on rare occasions is that they’re fishing far below most of the fish.
Third, fish relatively shallow areas. Flats of four to 10 feet are plenty deep for finding trout under the ice. Tip: savvy anglers after a mix of species will find an area where a shallow flat drops off quickly, and set tip-ups both over the flat and in the deeper water. Then, they’ll set the tip-ups in the holes over the flat appropriately for trout, and set the ones in deeper waters on or near bottom, for other species.
Finally, drill all your holes right at the start. Trout are easily spooked, and while many other species will bite immediately in a freshly-drilled hole, trout usually do not. So when you first arrive get to work, and pop open as many holes in as wide an area as possible.
BONUS TIP: When setting your tip-ups, be sure to hook the minnow through the back, just aft of the dorsal fin. While lip-hooking often works just fine in many situations, with the minnow suspended just under the ice back-hooking does seem to work a bit better. Also be sure to set your tip-ups extra-light, as trout may spit a minnow if they feel any resistance on the take.
For a more comprehensive look at ice fishing in the Mid-Atlantic region, see our Mid-Atlantic Ice Fishing Spectacular.