One of my favourite spring activities is without a doubt, fishing for lake trout at first ice-out. If fishing in Ontario, you do need to pay attention to the zone fishing regulations as there some areas with limitations for when you can go. However, if you choose the right zone and water body, you can target them as soon as the ice disbands.
What I find particularly appealing about first ice-out fishing is that you don’t need to get your lure deep to find the fish. In general, I tend to target lake depths in the 20-40 ft range and at those depths there is absolutely no need for a big trolling boat, expensive downriggers or complicated diver tools. At bare minimum all you really need is 1 fishing rod, a reel (preferably a line counter or larger casting style reel) a couple of your favourite spoon lures and any type of boat where you can keep a consistent trolling speed. Without putting the lure in the mouth of the trout for you, here is my formula for catching these beautiful fish;
1. The Plan: Do a little bit of research before heading to the lake that you ‘heard’ has lake trout. Identify the lake that you would like to fish and review the zone fishing regulations that it is in. Once you choose the lake and where you are planning to launch, either visit the www.navionics.com – chart viewer or download the Navionics boating app to your cell phone. Take a bit of time and study the body of water that you’re planning to fish and identify a few ‘trolling paths’ that fall into the depth range of 20-40 feet. Again, this depth range should typically be used when the ice has first left the body of water that you are on. Ideally, you would want to choose a trolling path that stretches in your desired depth range for a minimum of 1km.
2. The Setup: As mentioned, you don’t need anything fancy to get the job done, but you will need a simple method to get your lure into the strike zone. My recommendation for this would be either a snap-weight or the use of lead core line. I typically use an 8ft medium action trolling rod, paired with a line counter reel in a #30 size. I like having the line counter as I know exactly how much line I have out and can easier replicate successful leads. My reel is spooled with 27lb test lead core line and I have a 10ft leader of 20lb fluorocarbon line attached to that. On the end of the line and doing all the hard work is either a Williams Whitefish spoon in the C70 size or a Williams HQ spoon in a 60 size. They both come in a wide range of colours which all seem to do the trick.
3. The Execution:
Now that you know your lake and have your setup, it’s time to put it all to work. Again, it does not matter what type of boat you are in, as long as you can maintain a relatively consistent trolling speed. Please also ensure that your boat is suitable for the waterbody you are on. It would not be safe to attempt to troll on a large body of water such as Lake Ontario in a small vessel on a high wind day.
Once you get to your spot, begin by letting out the first line until you have 4 colours into the water. Provided you are trolling at around 2.0mph, this should get your spoon down about 20ft. Lock your rod into the rod holder, turn on the reel ‘clicker’ and set your drag to an appropriate setting. Note that you would want your drag tight enough that line is not freely coming out while trolling, but loose enough to ensure the hooks are not being ripped out if one were to grab your lure. If you are lucky enough to have a second line that you can legally let out, I would recommend starting the second line out at 5 colours, which should get you down appx 25 feet.
During your first pass over your trolling line, you are almost looking for clues for where the fish are. If you caught fish only on one rod vs the other or were unsuccessful on your first pass, change something up. Reduce or lengthen the amount of line you have out to change the depth of your lure and/or adjust the speed of your trolling within a few tenths of a mph.
4. The Reward:
It is with these subtle adjustments that you will find success and when you do find the winning combo the action can be fast and furious. More often than not, I find that anglers will try to replicate the exact set up they ‘once’ caught a fish on and think that is the answer. Aside from starting with a certain setup, I would encourage an approach of the opposite where you are exercising versatility in your presentations until the lakers tell you what they want.
Tight lines and hopefully there is something in the way I approach first ice-out lakers that helps you put fish in the boat.
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