For those of us that do not want to spend our days hunched over a hole in the ice, there are still options for open water fishing. Even as the temps go well below freezing winter trout are still a possibility at the end of your line.
I spoke with Jon Michiels an avid brown trout fisherman about the techniques that he uses to target these beautiful fish in the winter months on open flowing water. Jon fishes waterways in north central Wisconsin. Many of the small creeks and streams in Wisconsin are fed by groundwater and will remain mostly unfrozen all winter. As temperatures go well below freezing as they always do, finding open water is not very difficult.
When you do finally find your spot, and decide to target arguably the prettiest fish in the river, you will have to adjust your tactics from regular season. Fish low and slow as the water temperatures drop so will fish activity level. You may have to pound a single spot to get a bite. Target deep holes, one hole could produce multiple fish. Jon stated that on a recent outing he was able to catch four trout in four casts after finding a nice pocket in the river. Look for natural eddies, the slow moving water behind a rock or on a bend in the waterway. Trout can be found in these pockets as they wait to strike from behind a rock or log.
Jon utilizes very flashy french spinners with a very shiny gold or silver blade and they seem to do very well. Be aware of the time of year and what the fish will naturally predating on. For the most part, the only food source for trout that are active during the winter months are other fish. Jon also recommends using Rapala Countdowns when going at fish in deeper waters, as this mimics the smaller fish that naturally hide in these deeper spots out of the current.
Winter water will be much clearer so do your best not to kick up silt if you are wading. Jon will only walk up stream when moving from one spot to another to prevent any silt from scaring fish. For those wading or fishing from the bank also be mindful that shadows will be greatly exaggerated against the white snow that will be on the banks.
The most difficult part of winter fishing for trout will not be enticing the fish, rather keeping your equipment in working order. Spinning equipment is not designed for the conditions that you will likely be facing. You will quickly see your line guides clogged with ice, your reel not wanting to spin, and your line getting extremely stiff.
There are ways that you can combat some of these common problems. As far as the line guides there are plenty of tricks that old timers will tell you, an old trick used by steelhead fisherman is to spray your line guides with cooking spray. Something that you may likely have on you already that you can use to prevent ice is Chapstick, which can be applied to the guides lightly. For your reel use winter reel grease. Frabill sub zero is known to work great for ice fisherman. Monofilament line will be the best for below freezing conditions, especially ice specific line. Line for ice fishing will not cast as well but will alleviate many of the problem with stiff line.
When you do finally land that early season trout do your best to never take the fish out of the water. Very low temperatures can cause almost immediate damage to the gills of the fish. Also, never fish ice shelves over moving water as there no way to accurately tell the strength of the ice. Always fish with a buddy, you not only will need someone to take pictures but also someone to help you out of the water if things were to go wrong.
Author: Austen Doherty
Special thanks to Jon Michiels for providing much of the infomation in this article.