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Tips for Catching Lake Trout Through the Ice

Jeff Gustafson with a beautiful Sunset Country lake trout caught through the ice. • Credit: Jeff Gustafson
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Tips for Catching Lake Trout Through the Ice

Try these techniques to catch more trout

Sunset Country guide and professional angler Jeff Gustafson shares his secrets for catching more—and bigger—trout this winter season.



One of the primary reasons that Sunset Country is a top destination for ice fishing is that we have excellent lake trout fishing. Walleye, pike, and panfish are found across the ice belt (most places don’t have fishing as good as we do). But there aren’t many places you can drive to that have excellent fishing for each of those species and lake trout.

A cold water fish, lake trout are active throughout the ice season (January 1 – ice out), which is part of the attraction for anglers. They bite pretty well throughout the winter but many anglers plan their trips around the January 1 season opener. We celebrate New Year’s Eve in Canada too and usually, the party is on the ice on January 1!

A beautiful Sunset Country laker - image credit Jamie Bruce

Where to go ice fishing in sunset country

Across the Sunset Country region, there are hundreds of trout lakes to fish. Most communities have lake trout water accessible fairly close. There are also a number of resorts across the region on prime lake trout water. The resort owners and guides can get you pointed in the right direction on the best waterbodies to fish and areas to drill holes.

If you don’t have a lot of experience catching lake trout through the ice, it’s probably a good idea to stay at one of these resorts that offer fishing trips and a place to stay. They’ll be able to direct you on where you can and can’t go to stay safe on the ice as well.

You'll catch a variety of sizes - from small to big!

Lake trout are found in a variety of waterbodies across Northwest Ontario. We have smaller waters that have excellent numbers of fish in the two to six-pound range and then other lakes that are more well-known for having big fish—up to twenty pounds. Thirty-pounders are caught every year on select waters. If you book a trip, a conversation with your host about your expectations is probably a good idea—whether you would like action, a shot at big fish, or a mixture of each. I like to mix it up between catching a bunch of fish and having a shot at a big one.

Many of the top trout waters are remote with amazing scenery in the form of classic Canadian shield rock and pine-studded shorelines. While there are some waters where you can drive a vehicle on the ice or walk to access fishing locations, most of the best waters require a snowmobile to access. If you are able to bring your own machine, great, otherwise it might be worth checking with a resort to see if they rent them or know of somebody in their community who does. If you have never been on a snowmobile before, they are fun to ride and the commute into most of the lakes that you’ll fish is an adventure of its own.

Snowmobiles let you access some of the best trout lakes in Sunset Country

How to catch lakers

Over the years there has been a lot of information shared about ice fishing for lake trout in print media and through videos where you can get a good idea of the baits to bring. A lot of the stuff you’ll find refers to Northwestern Ontario lake trout that many anglers travel to fish for each winter. Over the years, most TV fishing shows that produce ice-fishing content have also visited Sunset Country to catch lake trout.

Growing up, a white tube jig was always my go-to trout bait. The same could be said for many of my fishing partners and anglers across the ice belt. The tantalizing, spiraling fall of a tube jig is similar to how an injured baitfish might look. White, a somewhat natural color, is also bright and easy to see from a distance. Lake trout have great eyes and rely on them to find their prey. Tube jigs still work great today.

The author holding a lake trout caught on a white tube jig

In recent years, I have started to use more of the soft plastic jerk shads that we use a lot in open water for bass and walleye. These baits are a perfect resemblance of the cisco and smelt that are the predominant forage in many trout waters. They are natural and easy to use and the single jig hook is good to go on waters across the region. 

A plastic jerk shad can be an awesome bait for catching lake trout through the ice

If you visit Sunset Country it’s a good idea to look over the fishing regulations because there are many waters where only single, barbless hooks may be used for lake trout. The “single” hook can be a treble hook, its meaning is just that only “one” hook can be attached to your bait. If soft plastics aren’t your thing or you want to try something a little bit more fun, lake trout will bite spoons, rattle baits, and swimming jigs as well.

Native bait fish burped up by a laker as it was pulled through the hole!

Electronics are important because lake trout will suspend throughout the water column and show up just about anywhere from right under the ice to near the bottom. Sonar allows you to watch for fish, then get your bait in their vicinity when you see them as well as see when fish come in to check out your bait. If you get denied once or twice, you might want to consider a different bait or color. I’ve seen when a simple color change was the difference between a good day and a bad day. Other days, they’ll bite everything you drop down the hole.

Electronics are a must if you want to catch more trout

When I’m jigging, I’ll often start by letting my bait get all the way to the bottom, jig for a couple of minutes, reel up ten feet, jig a few minutes, and then work my way to the surface. As I said earlier, always keep an eye on your electronics for fish that could turn up anywhere in the water column. On the days when lake trout seem to be most active, usually, when it’s bright and sunny, I’ve caught more fish within ten feet of the ice than anywhere else.

If you fish in a portable shelter you can usually watch your bait clearly down to 20 feet and it’s really fun when you see a big lake trout come in and eat the bait right below your feet. When it comes to rigging up, you want to use a slightly heavier ice rod than you would use for walleye. Lakers fight hard and as I mentioned, they grow quite large on many waters.

Get out of the wind and cold by using a portable ice shelter

I like to use spinning reels because they generally have a better drag and are less prone to freezing issues. I like a 10 lb braided line, with a 12 lb fluorocarbon leader on most trips. If I’m on big fish water I might beef up the line a bit but you will get more bites if you use the lighter line, which presents your baits in a more natural fashion.

Lake trout are a good eating fish but they are slow growing and there aren’t a lot of places that you can drive to and catch them as you can in Sunset Country so we try our best to take care of them. If you catch a big one we ask that you take a quick photo and let them go. Keep a smaller one to eat and we’ll continue to have fun on the ice with lake trout for years to come.

A true Sunset Country giant caught on Clearwater West Lake // photo credit: Browns' Clearwater West Lodge

A great place to start planning your ice fishing trip is to request a free copy of the Sunset Country Travel Guide & Fishing map.

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