Beginner’s guide to ice fishing: ice fishing for rainbow trout

Rainbow trout rival landlocked salmon in terms of how difficult they are to catch through the ice. This is not a result of rainbow trout being inactive during the winter or difficult to locate (they’re not) but rather due to the fact that they are notoriously light biters, are particularly adept at spitting hooks, and typically bite only during an hour or two after first light. For these reasons, icing a decent-sized rainbow trout is something of an accomplishment for both novice and veteran anglers.

Above: A pair of small rainbow trout caught from a Vermont lake in 2008.

Above: A pair of small rainbow trout caught from a Vermont lake in 2008.

Typical size

As is the case when targeting most species of fish, a bulk of an angler’s catch will consist of small to medium-sized fish. In lakes and ponds that are regularly stocked, most rainbow trout will be less than two pounds in weight and between 10 and 15 inches in length. Occasional larger specimens will be hooked and iced by anglers who possess an abundance of both skill and luck.

Tackle, lures, and bait


Whether fishing with tip-ups or with a rod and reel, light tackle is crucial. Tip-ups should be set to spring at the gentlest of bites, as finicky rainbows will often expel bait immediately upon feeling resistance. Additionally, tipi-ups should be rigged with light 4-6 lb test leaders and small, size 6-10 hooks.

Anglers who intend to jig for rainbows will be well equipped with an ultra-light rod and reel combo spooled with 4-6 lb. test.


The same small, shiny, jigs and lures that are effective for panfish and brook trout will also be effective on rainbow trout.


Small baits tend to be most effective for rainbow trout. Small worms or pieces of night crawler are perhaps the best baits for rainbows, but small baitfish and single salmon eggs are often also effective.

Fishing methods

Ultra simplified, ice fishing for rainbow trout boils down to, fish early, fish shallow. While there are exceptions to every rule, rainbow trout are typically most active in the gray light hours before dawn until 9 a.m. at the latest. To further improve the chances of hooking into a rainbow, fish 1 to 3 feet below the ice in 10 feet or less of water.

As table fare

See notes for brook trout and landlocked salmon (4)