Ice fishing season comes upon us just as soon as area lakes and farm ponds reach a safe ice thickness, and that means it’ll be time to catch those first of the winter meals of bluegill and crappie fillets.  Coming out of ice water they’ll be unusually tasty.  But after four or five trips for panfish, it can get a little dull.  You know where they are and what they’ll bite, and shortly you’ll be looking around for something new and different.  Rainbow trout are definitely new and different.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife often stocks rainbows  in selected lakes and reservoirs and has for long years now, and while many are caught out of each spring and sometimes fall stocking, a fair number aren’t.  They survive and grow until some places almost certainly have trout that will reach several pounds.  One of these battlers on lines end (or even a 12 incher) would be a welcome change from your average six inch bluegill.

If all this sounds like a good idea, and you have a lake or reservoir in mind, your first step will be to make sure ice fishing is allowed.  A call to the nearest police department should answer this question.  If it’s “Yes”, you’ll seek these lively and hard fighting fish a little differently from ordinary panfish.

Rainbow trout have excellent eyesight and in super clear winter water, you’ll need thin line indeed, 2 pound test, 4 at the most.  And since these winter fish are feeding mostly on very small provender, zooplankton mostly, you’ll need small lures to attract them.  A tiny glow-white micro-tube jig is a good choice, and since trout love mealworms, tip it with a single worm.  If there’s snow on the ice, causing a low light environment below, stick with glo-white and take a few other colors that glow, like chartreuse and yellow, too.

If the ice is clear and smooth causing good lighting below, then turn to black, brown, and pink.  Another good trout bait is a 1/64 ounce black jighead with a black chenille dressing.  Take them all and try several until you find the magic one.  You’ll always want to use two rods and fish one just a foot or so off bottom, because often they’re down there probing for insect larvae in the mud.  Be prepared to have the bait attacked by an occasional perch or other panfish when fishing deep.

But trout often suspend and swim at mid-depths or even higher seeking those zooplankton, so start the second several feet above bottom, and every five minutes or so, move it a couple of feet higher.  One or the other should start making contact sooner or later, then you can switch the second rod to that depth.

Panfishermen follow a routine of jigging one rod up and down several inches, then let it rest while they jig the second.  Trout might be spooked by such fast moving lures, so it’s better to just twitch the bait a little, maybe holding some line in one hand and moving it gently occasionally.  And when you get a strike, have a loose drag and a gentle hand in landing your fish.  Give a 15 inch rainbow something to pull against, and they can snap 2-4 pound test line like thread.

Here’s a final thought. Many lakes and upground reservoirs have a good population of walleye, so if you like a mixed bag, fish one rod for trout, the other for walleye.  In low light conditions, a glo-lure, maybe a very small jigging Rapala or  spoon tipped with a minnow, can bring you a good catch, and in high light conditions, use ordinary jigging lures with a minnow.  A mix of trout and walleye should send any angler home smiling, and mke a welcome change from pond panfish.

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