Coming out of ice water they'll be unusually tasty, but after four or five trips for panfish, it can get a little dull. You know where they are and what they'll bite, and shortly you'll be looking around for something new and different. Rainbow trout are definitely new and different.
The Division of Wildlife has been stocking rainbows in selected lakes and reservoirs for long years now, and while many are caught out of each spring and sometimes fall stocking, a fair number aren't. They survive and grow until some places almost certainly have trout that will reach several pounds. One of these battlers on lines end (or even a 12-incher) would be a welcome change from your average six inch bluegill.
How do you find such lakes? The easy way is to Google up "Ohio trout lakes", and find which lakes in each district are stocked each spring and sometimes fall. The southern ones probably won't have safe ice most years, and a fair number of the northern and northcentral ones won't allow ice fishing. So, If all this sounds like a good idea, and you have a lake or reservoir in mind, your first step will be to make sure ice fishing is allowed. A call to the nearest police department or your local wildlife district office should answer this question. One lake that's been stocked for many years with both rainbow and golden trout is Punderson Lake in Punderson State Park over near the northern Pennsylvania border. It holds some dandy trout and ice fishing is allowed there.
A second choice is private lakes. Many fish and game clubs around the state stock their lake(s) each spring and sometimes fall with rainbows, and allow ice fishing all winter. These are for members only, so you'll need to join first, but most of these clubs not only offer ice fishing as well as normal fishing, but hunting, a place to sight in your weaponry, and maybe even sporting clays. They're worth the money.
Wherever you seek winter trout, whether you fish them on the ice or if there's none, in open water with a boat, you'll find catching these lively and hard-fighting fish a little differently from ordinary panfish. First of all, rainbow trout have excellent eyesight and in super clear winter water, you'll need thin line indeed, 2 pound test, 4 at the most. These winter fish are feeding mostly on very small provender, like zooplankton, so you'll need small lures to attract them. A tiny glow-white micro-tube jig is a good choice, as are other jigs, brightly colored ice flies, and tear drop shaped ice spoons, and since trout love mealworms, tip them with a single worm.
They like waxworms and maggots too, and you can do very well with various Berkley Power Baits that smell of fish or cheese or other tasty items. If there's snow on the ice, causing an extreme low light environment below, you might want to stick with glo-white lures and take a few other colors that glow, like chartreuse and yellow.
If the ice is clear and smooth causing good lighting below, then turn to black, brown, silver, and pink. Take various kinds and colors and try several until you find the magic one. You'll always want to use two rods and fish one just a foot or so off bottom, because often they're down there probing for insect larvae in the mud. Be prepared to have the bait attacked by an occasional perch or other panfish when fishing deep.
But trout often suspend and swim at mid-depths or even higher seeking those zooplankton, so start the second several feet above bottom, and every five minutes or so, move it a couple of feet higher. One or the other should start making contact sooner or later, then you can switch the second rod to that depth. To keep down guesswork, use a fish locator if you own one, and if there are blips at mid-depth or higher, make sure one rig is stationed there.
They're simple rules, but they should make for lively fishing.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You also can visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.
HOOKS & BULLETS
• An e-mail from Paul Wyczalek of Westlake, Ohio asked for publicity on an annual decoy show and collectors event sponsored by the Great Lakes Decoy Association. The show will be held on March 14 through 16 at the Hilton Double Tree, 110 Crocker Road, Westlake. There will be opportunities to buy, sell and swap decoys and accessories, an auction, vintage decoy contest, a cocktail party and decoy exhibit, and contest categories for various kinds of decoys. For more information, call Paul at 419-602-0890 and for info on the Hilton Double Tree, call 440-871-6000.
• Any adult, group, or conservation club who has an interest on taking kids fishing should consider becoming a certified Passport to Fishing instructor. A certification course is being offered on Wednesday, March 20 at the Division of Wildlife District Two Office, 952 Lima Ave., Findlay. The event is a one-day instructor training program that qualifies individuals to become instructors. The workshop will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and participants are encouraged to bring a lunch and dress for the weather. It's free of charge, but pre-registration is required. To do so, call Andrea Altman at 419-429-8321.
• Steelhead fishing has been good whenever the rivers have been free of ice, and that's likely to happen again within the next few weeks. Anglers who are less than expert on the sport might be happy to know that you can fish for them just as you would for catfish, suckers or other species by sitting on a bucket and tightlining into a likely pool. Bottom fish with a small ball of Berkley trout Power Bait on one rod and a small jig with maggots on the hook on the other fished below a float and just above the bottom. It's simple but effective.