Winter Trout Fishing

Winter trout fishing can be a rugged sport, but at times the action is so hot that many great Lakes fisherman are trying it every year. Some are developing an avid love for fishing in the snow.

November and December months bring wild restless winds, and a reminder that winter and snow is approaching. The first snow storm  has a universal effect on most Great Lakes fisherman. It sometimes causes confusion and at times even panic! Yet, snow indicates a change  and a barometric drop; a time for trout  to become active. Winter trout fishing offers a challenge that quickly separates an avid trout fisherman from the casual ones. It’s a sport that requires  the utmost in endurance, a great love of the out-of- doors, and a willingness to be alone much of the time. I have learned many things about when, where and how to catch trout in the winter months and in the snow.

 Clear water conditions are usually present in the winter. For that reason, low stretch eight pound test line rigged with a leader of six or 4 pound test will give more consistent strikes. In  half  light conditions, like in the morning or early evening, trout can be taken on almost any pound test line.  During bright daylight hours,  use only lighter line. In order to fight a trophy trout on this lighter line without losing every other one, a 10-12 foot light rod should be used to act as a shock absorber when a big trout hits and goes nuts. Because winter trout are are finicky feeders, a long rod with light line helps to feel the pick up.  My personnel preference is a 12 foot noodle spinning rod.

During  sub-zero weather, river and stream temperatures hover near freezing.  At that time, trout have a slowed metabolism and they seldom feed actively. Therefore, it is important to present a bait in a natural manner and to place it directly in front of the fish. Winter trout move slow to take a bait, but  when they do,  if any resistance  is detected it will quickly drop it.  In order to get  a more consistent bite  from dormant trout, there are two basic methods that work well for me: drift fishing and bobber fishing:

Drift fishing….. This presentation is made by bottom bouncing. A cast is made slightly upstream and across. The bait starts to sink until it is in a position directly across from you. A three-way swivel is used with a small split shot. This allows a heavier main line to be used, and a lighter line to the bait. A lighter line is also used to the split shot. The weight of the split shot varies depending on the water flow.  The length of the leader from the swivel on average is usually about three feet long. The slower the current the longer the leader, up to six feet, and as short as 18 inches. Here again, winter trout are often on or near the bottom and normally will not move far to take a bait. The split shot should always be bouncing the bottom for best results. This three-way swivel set up will let your bait drift naturally at the exact speed the water is moving, plus it will guarantee that your bait will be presented properly to a hungry waiting trout.

Bobber fishing….. At times when the river or stream bottom is loaded with debris and the drift method results in to many snags and hangups,  a better method would be to use a bobber. The bobber will help to keep your bait just above the bottom.   When using this method, a two way swivel is attached to the end of your main line and the leader is tied to the swivel. Good leader lengths would be from 18 inches to four feet, with two feet being average. A pinch on  type split shot is placed above the swivel on the main line. This method is probably used by most.

Below is a water filled plastic float designed for extra casting weight, and can be filled for a desired depth. This is the way to go when fishing shallower water and when distance is premium….. It can be used effectively with or without a weight.
Dress for comfort and warmth! 

Naturally you will need to stay warm and dry while winter trout fishing.    To fight the elements, I recommend a good snowmobile suit, a stocking cap, two heavy socks on each foot and if necessary use chemical heat packs between the two socks to help on very cold days….. Be sure to purchase a full size larger wader that will fit over your winter gear (snow suit). Studies have shown that a significant percentage of body heat can be lost from the top of your head. A stocking cap will retain this valuable heat and the cap can be pulled over your ears when they get cold. I don’t like wearing gloves when winter fishing but at times it is necessary. I recommend bringing an extra pair just in case one gets wet. To give you fingertip control for tying lures or for baiting hooks, the glove tips can be cut off.

The thought of wading in waist deep water in mid-winter doesn’t sound very appealing to most, but remember that the water temperature is much warmer than the air temperature. If you do feel a chill coming on while fishing, get out of the water and walk around, run in place, or do jumping jacks. The increased exercise will soon warm you up.

Baits and Lures

Natural Baits….. Using live bait is perhaps the easiest way to catch winter trout.    Live worms, especially night crawlers, are a good choice for the beginner, although other types of worms can be used effectively.  Use a small short shank hook, perhaps #8 or #10, and insert it under the darker band on the worm.  The best live bait if you can get them  are hellgrammites.  These larvae that are collected from a river or stream, are very hardy, and they are a favorite of trout and most game fish.  Hook the hellgrammites such that the hook point goes in one side of the hard shell behind their head and comes out the other.  Note: Hellgrammites can swim and crawl, and as such can easily get the hook caught under rocks, on logs, etc., causing you to lose your hook and bait. Also, they can bite!

Additional live bait are crayfish, other types of worms, crickets, grasshoppers, etc.  They can be fished in similar fashion to worms, though worms and hellgrammites are hardiest baits. Do not use exotic (i.e. baits not already living in the body of water you are fishing) minnows or other baits on trout waters.  This practice could disrupt the ecology if they were to escape and survive in the trout stream.  Note: Some states do not allow the collection of bait in a trout stream.

Other effective natural baits (though not exactly “live”) include corn (from a can) and salmon eggs. Salmon eggs can be live or from a jar.  These can be placed, several at a time, on a hook.  Weight the line with several split shot, depending on how deep/swift the water is, to get the bait to the bottom.  Keep a hand on the line/watch the line at all times to detect subtle strikes.

Spinners….. Small inline spinners are probably the easiest to use and most effective of all artificial lures..  Spinners are small lures that have a blade that revolves around a shaft as the lure comes through the water. They come in a variety of sizes and colors.  Generally, black, white, brown or yellow are good choices for the body of the lure, and silver or gold for the blade.  The best sizes to use are from 1/16 oz. (for tiny streams) to 1/8 oz. (the most versatile size), up to ¼ oz. (for use on the largest streams).  As you fish with a spinner, be sure you retrieve it fast enough to cause the blade to revolve around the shaft.

Lures….. There are several varieties of floating and sinking lures intended to imitate the movements of live bait.  The Rapala line of lures imitating small fish is a good example of these.  These can be floating or count down.  Other, less common, lures include crankbaits, spoons, jigs, and plugs that resemble minnows.

Flies…..Dry flies usually imitate terrestrial insects (i.e. insects that live on land, such as ants, bees, grasshoppers, etc.) or the adult versions of aquatic insects that have risen to the surface to fly away.  They are allowed to float on the surface with the current as you fish them, and as such, are probably the easiest and most fun to fish with.  Wet flies usually imitate an aquatic insect that is under the surface of the water, rising to the top to fly away.  These, along with nymphs (discussed below), are probably the most difficult to fish, since you often cannot see them, and the fish’s strike can be subtle.  Wet flies are allowed to drift in the current under the surface of the water.  Nymphs usually imitate the immature stage of an aquatic insect’s life in which the insect lives in the water. They can be fished with various amounts of weight on the leader to keep the fly in the same depth of water the fish are holding in.  Often, a small strike indicator (think of it as a small bobber), usually red or orange, is attached to the leader to allow subtle strikes by the fish to be detected.  Nymphs are also allowed to drift in the current under the surface of the water.  Streamers usually imitate minnows, or sometimes other, larger bait such as crayfish.  They can be fished with weight on the leader, if necessary, to force them to ride lower in the water.  Streamers are forced through the water by pulling the fly line with your hand, (carefully) letting the line accumulate in the water at your feet, ready for the next cast.  Note:When using fly line in a stream, try to keep as much of the line out of the water as possible, to avoid the effects of drag on the line.  For example, if your fly lands in still water, and your fly line lands in fast water, the line will be moving faster than the fly to the extent that it will eventually pull the fly through the still water.

Remember! A good time to fish for trout in the winter is when it’s snowing…..During the next storm when most fishermen are sitting home watching TV, why not get off your butt,  pick out a good sized stream and do some winter wading for trout!  Like everything else, the first time seems a little scary, but believe me…..You will thank me when you nail your first trout!

Someone once wrote this: Bass fisherman watch Monday night football, drink beer, drive pickup trucks and prefer noisy women with big tits! Trout fisherman watch the news channels, drink white wine, drive foreign cars with passenger-side air bags and hardly think about women at all! This last characteristic may have something to do with the fact that trout fisherman spend most of their time immersed up the thighs in ice-cold water!