Ice Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout

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Video ice fishing lake trout lures

As fun as Lake Trout are to catch out of a canoe on open water, they are equally as exciting to catch through the ice. Winter is not a season where I am biding my time until the ice melts and I can get back to ‘real fishing’ again. I relish the opportunity to hike across a frozen tundra in search of these apex predators. Just like catching Lake Trout out of a canoe when it is warm enough to swim yourself in those same waters, catching Lake Trout during the winter months is something I anticipate all year.

Unfortunately, the winter season doesn’t open for lakes entirely within the Boundary Waters until January 1st and for lakes partially or fully outside, not until the second Saturday, two weeks later. The season closes on the last day of March, so trout can be targeted an entire month after Walleye and Pike are out of season on interior lakes. With the season here in Northern Minnesota only being about 12 weeks long, it is important to maximize the amount of time you spend fishing and use baits that are productive AND you are confident using.

Here are the baits I have found to be the most effective fishing deep (100-200′), clear Oligotrophic lakes where Lake Trout are feeding upon cisco (tulibee/tulipee), whitefish, smelt, sucker, shiner, sculpin, crayfish and occasionally small gamefish like bass, walleye and panfish. Remember, none of these baits work well if you aren’t fishing them properly. All of them will work well if they resemble what the lake trout are feeding on in that particular lake, which is the ultimate goal, to imitate baitfish they regularly pursue.

Cisco 1 Ice Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout
Stomach contents of large trout caught in Quetico. Notice the pearlescent scales and abundance of white. As Cisco are a favorite forage for Lake Trout, it is important to match these colorings in lakes where they are feeding on Cisco.
BaitSize Ice Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout
Lake Trout Bait Size: 4-6″ Baits between 1/2 and 1oz

Note on bait size:

Top 3 Lake Trout Baits:

1.) Flashy Spoons: Clam Leech Flutter Spoon, Little Cleo, Kastmaster

BaitSize scaled Ice Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout
1/2oz Clam Leech Flutter Spoon in Perch, 2/3oz Little Cleo Nickel Neon Blue, 1/2oz Kastmaster 1/2oz in gold

Despite my recent resounding success with jigging raps, I still have to give the number one spot to spoons, especially really shiny ones that have an enticing slow flutter on the fall. Spoons take the number one spot primarily for their versatility. I have caught trout on spoons while resting on bottom, pounding the bottom, jigging literally anywhere in the water column including right under the ice, letting the bait free-fall and on the quick retrieve (my most successful cadence for Lake Trout with any bait).

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Most spoons can be fished the exact same way – vertical jigging. A quick lift or jerk of the rod anywhere from six inches to four feet followed by quickly returning the rod tip to its original location. This jigging action should be repeated almost immediately, making sure the spoon is never sitting still for more than a half second or so. When “pounding bottom,” with spoons, occasionally let the spoon rest on bottom for a few seconds, to entice that timid trout that may be watching the commotion but not aggressive enough to hit the spoon while it is moving.

Remember, you are fishing at depths of 25-85′ deep. At the greater depths, there is likely going to be minimal light penetration, especially in heavy snowfall years when the ice has close to 100% snow cover. Any bait you use is going to have draw fish in from a distance. Between noise (rattle baits/spoons) and visual, I have found that flashy always out-performs noisy when it comes to all species of trout. I have had a little success with lures that glow or are treated with a UV paint, but as lake trout primarily feed during the day, I feel the flash of chrome, gold, silver or brass are the best options for attracting Lake Trout.

They also get bonus points for being effective without live bait or a hunk of meat. Your success rate may drop slightly without the organic matter to seal the deal, but if you keep that spoon moving, you will catch fish with it.

2.) Lake Trout Jigging Raps: Blue Chrome, Pearl White, Clown, Glow

3Spoons Ice Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout
In order of personal success: Blue Chrome size 5 (2″), Pearl White size 7 (2 3/4″), Clown size 5 and Glow size 7

If I had put this list together 5 months ago, jigging raps wouldn’t have even made my top 10 list for lake trout fishing, summer or winter. Since September, I have caught more Lake Trout on jigging raps than I have on almost any other bait. The only exception being spoons, which is why they also take the top spot on my canoe fishing top baits for lake trout list.

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Canoe Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout

Suffice it to say, I am sold on jigging raps for lake trout through the ice. I feel the jigging rap triggers some sort of hot fiery rage reaction in lake trout that makes fishing and catching with them that much more fun-because they almost always strike the jigging rap with full force. The size 5 jigging rap in chrome blue will continue to be the first thing I tie on my rod this winter, until it proves that it can’t catch fish.

3Spoons scaled Ice Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout
My new go-to bait for Lake Trout through the ice: Rapala Jigging Rap, Size 5, Blue Chrome

Don’t forget to tip the bottom treble hook on the jigging rap with a minnow head or chunk of belly meat. While the trout is in chase, it will smell the meat and be more likely to bite. When the fish are finicky and the jigging rap is the most effective fished stationary, that hunk of meat will swing back and forth under the bait, giving the trout a nice juicy steak to lock onto.

3.) Jig (3/8-1oz) and Soft Plastic (3-5″)

JiggingRapColors Ice Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout

1.) 3/8oz VMC Swimbait Jig with 3.5″ Berkley Powerbait Ripple Shad

2.) 3/8oz Northland Thumper Jig with 5″ Kalin’s Jerk Minnow

The big takeaway here is that the swim bait jig heads and paddle tail baits should be used more aggressively all over the water column. This will utilize the great action of that paddle tail in hopes of creating a scenario where the trout is chasing the bait from directly behind. This bait should be fished exactly like the jigging rap above, always aggressively, more often than not higher in the water column and never stationary. Once that fish appears on your sonar, engage the chase and wait for the trout to do the rest of the work.

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JiggingRapColors scaled Ice Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout
VMC Swimbait Jigheads, Northland Thumper Jig, VMC Spin Jig

The fork-tail baits with the Thumper Jig (or any jig head with a spoon flasher), should be fished more stationary near bottom to imitate a minnow foraging (small cisco, whitefish, sucker, sculpin). Even though trout love to chase their food, they rarely pass up on opportunity to ambush an unsuspecting meal dining out on its own dinner. These fish love to dig minnows out of the mud, and fishing on the bottom can be very exciting as the fish can sneak up on you without showing up first on your sonar.

JiggingRapCloseup Ice Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout
5″ Zman Shads in Emerald and Smoky Shad, 5″ Kalin’s Jerk Minnow in Chartreuse and White, 3.5″ Berkley Ripple Shad and 3.5″ Authentix Pulse-R Minnow

Both methods are incredibly effective, but generally not at the same time. If the fish are super active and you’re finding them willing to chase all over the water column, go with the paddle-tail bait and an aggressive action. If you “can’t get anything to chase” slow it down, switch over to the thumper jig and forktail with a little hunk of belly meat, and go make noise on the bottom.

Conclusion

There are thousands of Lake Trout baits on the market and I am sure every single one of them work just fine in the right conditions. I compiled my top three list so anyone can put together a tackle box with 10-15 baits to catch Lake Trout on any body of water in any weather conditions. I am confident that if you fish these baits (or something similar) properly, you will have success catching lake trout.

Please let me know if your list is different. I am interested to hear what is working out there and I always love to know when people are finding success!

TwoJigs Ice Fishing: My Top Three Lures for Catching Lake Trout
How I tip each bait with salted chubs, shiners, fatheads and suckers. Jigging Rap and Spoons get minnow head, swimbait jig gets whole minnow and Thumper Jig gets strip of sucker belly meat

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>