When all other fish begin to slow down in the winter chill, trout fishing is just starting to heat up. After seeking refuge in the depths to escape summertime temperatures, winter ice brings renewed vigor to these cold water game fish.
Rainbow trout, brown trout, tiger trout, brook trout and other species offer immense angling opportunities in many lakes throughout the country, especially in the northern states. Rainbow trout are one of the most widely stocked fish in the United States and are also some of the most thrilling to chase under the ice.
Ready to catch your share of trout this ice fishing season? I promise it won’t break the bank and all it takes is a selection of the finest ice fishing lures that always catch trout.
Here is a quick run down of the best ice fishing trout lures that should be a staple in your tackle box.
- Acme Kastmaster
- Swedish Pimple
- Northland Tackle Buckshot Rattle Spoon
- Rapala Jigging Shad Rap
- Trout Magnets
- Tungsten Ice Jigs
- Tungsten Scud Flies
Keep scrolling when you’re ready to see what makes these lures out fish all others.
Few lures have ever reached the level of revere as a Kastmaster. Whether you’re trolling, jigging or casting from shore in open water, the Kastmaster is one of the most versatile lures ever to hit the water. It is almost impossible to fish them wrong.
They work for saltwater and freshwater fish of all sorts but trout are particularly keen to the unique action of a vertically jigged Kastmaster spoon.
These lures are made of brass and finished with a complex electroplating process. The attention to quality and detail means each lure will handle the abuse of many seasons on and off the ice.
How to ice fish with a Kastmaster
There really is not a wrong way to fish a Kastmaster. I like to fish it just off the bottom for trout. Occasionally, I will fish it half way down the water column when trout are actively cruising shallows.
Sharp pops with the rod tip give the lure the most erratic action. Let it free fall before jigging again and don’t be afraid to smack the bottom every once in a while to stir up a bit of sediment and create some commotion.
My favorite Kastmasters are the 1/12 and 1/16 ounce sizes in gold, silver and their new UV baitfish colors. When trophy fish are a possibility, try sizing up the presentation to a 1/4 ounce or heavier. The Rattle Master is another spoon variation that adds vibration. Few hungry trout can resist the temptation.
It may seem like a weird name to call a lure but there is nothing funny about the Swedish Pimple’s ability to slay trout through ice.
Two brothers from Sweden created this lure over 50 years ago and it has been an ice fishing staple ever since. Now, the Ba de Noc Lure Company has produced a full lineup of colors and sizes for everything from bluegill to lake trout.
The fluttering action of the Swedish Pimple coupled with the classic red “flipper” mimics a dying baitfish and it drives trout crazy.
How to ice fish with a Swedish Pimple
Vertical jigging gives the Swedish Pimple the most dynamic action. The classic way to fish this spoon is by tipping one of the hook points with a little bait. A minnow head, wax worm or piece of nightcrawler are popular choices.
Start with smooth, quick jigs and let it flutter back down in a controlled motion. The goal is to mimic a dying bait fish so change up the jigging pattern when fish approach.
In my experience, subtle presentations are more effective with the Swedish Pimple. Use small sizes such as the 1/10 ounce for most trout and scale up to slightly larger if you are fishing deeper water. The most productive colors are silver, gold and any of their “Crushed Ice” colors.
When using electronic flashers or fish finders, watch how fish respond to this lure. I like to tease trout into rising to the lure by pulling it up with short rapid jigs or bouncing it in place. The flipper adds an enticing noise as it clicks against the hook and spoon and usually triggers trout to strike.
The Buckshot Rattle spoon is not only a worthy addition to the list of best ice fishing lures for trout, it’s a worthy contender for the best of all time. I use this lure as my “search and destroy” bait anytime I fish a new spot.
Nothing calls the attention of fish over a wide area like the Buckshot Rattle spoon. The built in brass rattle adds a sharp tick that resonates far and wide. As a bonus, these lures have a bright reflective finish and the perfect profile for mimicking foraging minnows.
How to ice fish with a Buckshot Rattle spoon
Like the other spoons on this list, it is ideally suited for vertical jigging. The 1/8 ounce size is my favorite but some situations like clear, shallow water call for the 1/16 ounce size. Of all the colors available, you can’t go wrong with the Super-Glo Firetiger or Super-Glo Rainbow for trout.
Don’t be afraid to use the rattle to your advantage. Try starting with aggressive jigging to really engage the rattle. Once you have trout that are interested, tone the presentation down a tad to initiate a strike. Add more commotion if needed by gently tapping the bottom to imitate a foraging minnow.
The Buckshot has a versatile range of action that simultaneously calls fish to dinner while also serving up a fine meal for the even the most picky eaters.
Unlike most fish, trout feed aggressively in the winter. They move into shallow water and devour anything they deem edible. Without a doubt, the Shad Rap definitely qualifies as a tasty treat for trout.
The Shad Rap is designed with ice anglers in mind. The brawny profile and the slow spiraling decent when jigged can seduce even the most lifeless fish. It is also a great option when the bite is hot and you want to grab the attention of cruising trout.
How to ice fish with a Jigging Shad Rap
Ice fishing with a Rapala Jigging Shad Rap is not rocket science. However, it does take some practice to dial in the action to entice more strikes. You can fish it aggressively or you can give the lure a tantalizing slow spiral.
Just be aware that aggressive jigging, by snapping the rod upward, imparts a fast darting action on the fall that wards off finicky biters. You can also miss a lot of hook sets doing this. When trying to attract fish from a distance, an aggressive jigging method may work to bring them in but slow down the jigging action once they are in the zone.
You can even give it staccato twitches to induce vibration. The Shad Rap looks like a minnow and random movements that imitate a distressed baitfish trick most trout into striking.
For vertical jigging through the ice, I prefer the the 1” or 1 1/2” size in glow perch or glow clown colors. To get a better looking minnow profile when fish are picky, I snip off the end hooks and leave just the treble hook. You miss some hook ups but cutting them off may help increase the strike rate.
There aren’t many lures on the market that fool trout as well as Leland Lure’s Trout Magnet. This tiny, 1/64th ounce, jig with a soft-plastic split tail body is designed to slay trout on spring streams. However, you will find equal measures of success with it on the ice.
The unassuming simplicity of the Trout Magnet is its key to success. It closely resembles larvae and crustaceans that inhabit most northern trout waters. Full kits with jig heads and a variety of body colors are inexpensive and a must-have for any serious open or hardwater trout angler.
How to ice fish with Trout Magnets
On open water streams and rivers, the recommended method of fishing with trout magnets is using ultra-light line and an E-Z Trout Float to keep the bait just off the bottom.
Through the ice though, it should be used as a finesse technique. Jig it with gentle twitches or use a hands-off approach and leave it on a deadstick rod. The split tail causes a gliding motion that is very life-like with minimal movement of the rod tip.
A variety of colors are available. Get a small kit with a few choice colors that suit your water conditions. I prefer natural colors like wax worm or white on pressured fish and brighter colors on aggressive trout.
The tungsten ice jig is a modern day staple of the ice fishing community. No tackle box is complete without an assortment of sizes and colors. Though there is often debate about tungsten vs. lead for ice fishing, the tungsten jig has proven its worth and is here to stay.
Several manufacturers have flooded the market with custom designs and shapes. Some of our favorites are the Acme Tackle Rattlin’ Google-Eye, the Clam Outdoors Genz Drop-Kick and Kenders Outdoors tungsten jigs.
The real benefit to tungsten is its high density that allows a smaller jig to be fished with bait for a truly finesse approach for light biting fish. This makes it ideally suited for panfish. Although, it is just as deadly on trout when precise application is needed to fool wary fish.
How to ice fish with tungsten jigs
When it comes to putting live bait in front of fish, nothing beats a tungsten jig. The extra weight punches deep and the added sensitivity lets you feel every bite.
Try fishing with tungsten jigs for trout tipped with several spikes or waxies. The 4 or 5mm sizes are a good starting point but scale down to 3mm in shallow water or for light biting fish. You can also use plastic baits like the Makiplastic Craigi.
Don’t get to hung up on color though. For trout, I prefer chartreuse, pink, glow or gold. A small selection of sizes and colors are all you need.
Use a smooth jigging action with short movements. When fish approach, just bounce it rapidly in place or slowly lift it to induce a chasing strike.
7. Tungsten Scud Flies
Our final entry on this list is no slouch on the ice but it is one of the most overlooked lures for producing tons of trophy trout and everything in between. The scud fly mimics small larvae that are the main course for trout in most lakes.
The tiny tungsten scud fly is small but mighty and nothing compares to its natural presentation. As an ultimate finesse lure, it is best reserved for the toughest bites under the ice. Although, you can use it anytime to out fish almost every lure you have.
Find them at many dedicated fly shops or you can hand tie them with basic fly tying equipment. Check out BassPro Shops 1 Source article for instruction on tying a great scud pattern.
How to ice fish with a tungsten scud fly
Weighted scud flies can be fished like a tungsten jig but use much smaller movements and twitches. Sometimes gentle slow lifts with a control fall is better. Most bites will happen on the fall.
The scud fly is also a great option for a second deadstick rod or a tip-up bait. Use dull natural colors like green, brown, tan or grey.
Either way, fish it near the bottom and don’t be afraid to tip it with small pieces of bait.
Ice fishing for trout
Successful trout fishing on hardwater requires a slight change in mindset if you are accustomed to targeting panfish or walleye. Now that you know what lures are essential for catching trout, take a look at our tips for putting them to use.
Finding trout under the ice
Trout excel at cold water adaptation. Unlike walleye, bass and panfish, the cold does not slow them down. If anything, trout fishing picks up in the winter.
Summer temperatures push trout into the deep, cool water but once first ice forms, the water temps drop to a comfortable 32.5°F to 35°F in the shallows. At those temperatures, cold-adapted trout can freely stalk the shallows to feed on larvae, invertebrates and other forage.
Setup early over shallow flats adjacent to deep drop offs. Drill a series of holes before first light or before sunset to intercept trout leaving the safety of open water as they head for shallow feeding grounds.
We already discussed how to fish each lure but here are a few more tricks to up your game.
- Fish two rods next to each other: Use a tungsten fly or baited jig on one pole and an attractor lure, like a Kastmaster, on the other. Use the flash to get their attention and the other to offer a delicate meal when they won’t commit.
- Start shallow: Most anglers drop their lures straight to the bottom. In most cases this works but you are missing out on some serious action. Often, trout feed in 2 to 6 feet of water right at the surface. Drop your lure just below the ice and very slowly jig your way down to the middle of the water column. Bigger fish tend to hold above smaller ones.
- Use electronics: You certainly don’t need flashers or fish finders to catch fish. However, they are an indispensable tool for detecting passing fish and watching how they react to bait presentations. Just remember to turn down the power output on the sonar in shallow water. It can scare fish away.
Live bait options
After all this talk of artificial lures, it’s easy to forget how effective live bait is on the ice. Sometimes just a plain hook with a nightcrawler and a split shot puts more fish on the surface than any lure.
Always keep a live bait option in your arsenal. Whether you fish the bait by itself or use it to spice up a lure, it pays to have some handy.
Take a look at our recent post to learn about the absolute best live baits for ice fishing.
Summing it up
There are so many awesome lures that it is almost too hard to choose a favorite. Hopefully, our top picks have helped you narrow down the choices and will prove to be worthy additions for your next ice fishing trip.
Want more top lure recommendations? Check out our 7 best ice fishing lures for perch!