We all hear the stories about big brookies caught in the winter, but the tales rarely live up with reality. Catching a true trophy brook trout, one that weighs 5 pounds or better, is not a job for the timid. It will test your patience, your physical endurance and your friendships. Of course, it's all worth it when that big blob finally hits the ice. There are some tricks that can help you catch a truly giant spec this winter. Here are six of my favourites.
Trophy Lakes = Trophy Brook Trout
A simple rule, but the most often over looked. You have to fish lakes that have trophy brookies to catch them. Yet the vast majority of trophy brook trout lakes are tough fishing and people avoid them. Expect a skunk - or close to it - three out of four trips. Why? Brook trout grow large by having abundant forage with little competition. A lack of angler pressure never hurts. Stocking lists can help you locate remote lakes, but word of mouth is usually the source of the best information. Good luck with that.
Shallow Water Is Where It's At
The shoreline of a brook trout lake holds 90% of the cover and practically all of the food. Fallen timber, exposed tree roots, boulders, sand spits, mud flats and aquatic vegetation are home to the stuff squaretail prey on. I’ve caught trout in water so shallow you could hardly put a bait down. A few years back, my fishing partner jerked a 7 pound spec from less than four feet of water. I watched it swim by my bait, over to his. If your auger is hitting bottom, you’re probably in the right spot.
Big Bait, Big Fish
Small minnows occasionally catch large fish, but big chub or red-belly dace (where live bait is legal) will call in a honker spec like nothing else. I’ve had 4 inch minnows chomped by 2 pound brookies. Winter brook trout are voracious, and the more food energy they can get the better. Don’t be afraid to use a large hook when fishing with jumbo bait. I like a #6 or even #4 treble hook when trophy hunting. I always carry a dozen dew worms in my pocket, just in case. Worms are great for sweetening spoons.
Keep Moving Till They Bite
Ice fishing, by design, requires you fish vertically instead of horizontally. Covering the water is a real job. Put a whole pile of holes in at once along a good stretch of shore. Then, working with a partner, methodically work down the shore with both still and jigging lines, leap frogging from hole to hole. This works especially well if you seek large, trophy fish, as they tend to be cruisers.
Take a Peek
Most brook trout lakes are crystal clear, and this gives the patient angler a chance to see what the fish are doing. A dark tent works best for watching fish, but a blanket or jacket thrown over your head also helps you see what’s happening. I’ve watched brook trout circle jigs, blast spoons and suck up worms while staring down an ice hole. It’s amazing what you can see once your eyes adjust. There are times that I've figured out how to hook light biting trout by watching how they grabbed the bait. I never tire of seeing brook trout under the ice.
Break Out the Metal
Winter brook trout anglers, by design, like to fish with bait. Yet there are times when the specs are just not interested in a minnow, waxworm or crawler. Jigging spoons can often trigger specs that are suffering lock jaw. My favourite spoons are the silver/blue Hopkins Shorty, the gold Rattle Snakie, the green/glow Buckshot Rattle Spoon and the blue/silver Little Cleo. The best winter spec trip I ever experienced - which saw several fish over four pounds iced - occurred on a day when the fish wanted spoons and nothing else. They swam right be set line with fat chubs to slam steel. It was awesome. Use a good quality clasp, medium action jigging rod and at least ten pound test line for this. When a big specs grab a spoon, the strikes are nasty.