Beginner’s guide to ice fishing: Ice fishing for landlocked salmon

Genetically identical to their anadromous counterparts, Atlantic salmon, landlocked salmon are a prized catch among ice anglers with access to large, deep lakes. As a disclaimer, I will point out that I am by no means an expert salmon fisherman having caught exactly one of this species. I find them frustratingly difficult and time consuming to fish for and thus tend to concentrate my efforts on other species. That being said, I have talked with numerous accomplished salmon anglers and can thus provide at least a basic primer on fishing methods for them.

Above: The only landlocked salmon (top) the author has caught to date.

Above: The only landlocked salmon (top) the author has caught to date.


Typical size

While landlocked salmon can exceed 20 pounds in weight, most of an angler’s catch will consist of fish weighing in at less than 5 lbs. In places where salmon are regularly stocked by fish and wildlife departments, most of the catch will likely consist of fish in the 1 pound or less range.

Tackle lures and bait


Tip-ups are the most commonly used tool for salmon, especially where multiple lines are allowed by law. Tip-ups should be rigged with at least 150 yards of line as hooked salmon run fast and long when hooked and can easily spin all the line off an insufficiently supplied spool before an angler is able to reach his or her tip-up. Additionally, since salmon can be light biters, leaders of monofilament or superline such as Spiderwire or Fireline are essential and hooks no larger than size 6 should be used.

I have heard of some anglers jigging for salmon though this method is far less popular than tip-up fishing, at least here in the Northeast. If an angler is inclined to jig for salmon, a light to medium weight rod and reel combo replete with 6 lb to 8 lb test line would work well. Heavier gear should be used when fishing waters frequented by unusually large salmon.


The same jigs and spoons used for large perch and brook trout should work well for most salmon. Large, lake trout and pike sized lures may be effective for rare trophy-sized fish but keep in mind that large fish are often caught on small lures.


Most baitfish species ranging from two to five inches in length will be effective for salmon. Smelt seem to be particularly effective as salmon bait.

Fishing methods

I have found salmon fishing to be somewhat of a crapshoot. From talking to far more masterful anglers than myself, I have learned that during the winter, salmon frequently swim within a few feet of the ice, patrolling at high speeds for schools of baitfish. Pinning them down can therefore be frustrating and a great deal of luck is necessary for a successful trip.

The best salmon fishing method I know of is to set tip-ups in a manner that covers as much of a lake as is reasonably possible. Tip-ups may end up being set hundreds of yards apart. Bait should be dangled from one to four feet below the ice.

As table fare

The meat of landlocked salmon is far milder than that of salmon purchased from the seafood section of a supermarket. Rather than having a deep red color, landlocked salmon meat is usually white with a pinkish hue and has a flavor more akin to typical small to medium-sized trout than sea-run pacific salmon.

Like most salmonids, landlocked salmon is best when minimally seasoned and grilled or kippered.


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