Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Rainbows in the dark of night on the ice? Spooky, but fun

When fishing for trout at night on ice, the writer uses glow colors with all of his baits, whether he has an artificial light down the hole or not. (Photo by Vic Attardo)


I don’t mean creepy or scary, just spooky.

When you walk on a frozen lake at night and the only light comes from the pinpricks of distant stars, it feels spooky.

Suddenly the ice begins to rumble and you imagine that the frozen floor beneath you could fall away.

But you eventually settle down, pick up your auger, drill a half-dozen holes, and drop a line into this intimidating void.

As the stars skid over the sky there is a tap on your line. The rod that seemed silent now shouts with a hard, reactive pull. You’ve hooked something big. It takes a few minutes but you gain the upper hand and triumphantly lift the fish free of the cold, cold water.

Only now turning on your headlamp, the broad reddish stripe on the fish’s flanks lights up like a backlit cloud at sunset, and you can whistle at its size. A rainbow in the middle of winter. A large rainbow trout that’s made all your effort and unease so worth it.

If you’ve caught trout during the day on a frozen lake but never at night, let me say this is a whole new experience. And one worth pursuing.

First, safety on the ice is always a concern, but night on the ice takes caution to a different level. I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer some words of extreme discretion: never, never go out on the ice at night alone.

No one from shore can see you out there, no one is looking for you and if something happens it might be until the next morning before even the hope of assistance arrives.

Also take your phone.

That said, gather some friends and head out for an amazing adventure.

You can catch trout at night using the same gear and same offerings you do during the day, but there are better.

Instead of the subtle tiny tungsten jigs that are excellent in many conditions – daylight, shallow water, in open and weedy water – I’ve done markedly better using lures that are more attractive to fish from a distance.

Lures that “call in” fish, get their attention from yards away, then offers them a tempting up-close target. I’m thinking of rattle spoons, jigging raps, hard-body minnows – baits with a bolder profile, lures that create noise and vibrations.

On the most basic level there are two distinctions to make considering how to night fish: whether you’ll fish with a submersible, underwater light or fish without.

For night, I use glow colors with all my baits whether I have an artificial light or not down the hole.

An LED light such as a Hydro Glow brings macro invertebrates, minnows and eventually gamefish to the eerie green glow.

With or without a light I go for larger, broader profile lures such as shad raps and hardbody minnows. Baits that make noise like rattling spoons or horizontal hard bodies with internal rattles are good.

In addition to lures, you’ll also want some form of live bait, either insect larva such as waxworms or spikes and minnows and – this might be surprising – nightcrawlers, yes worms.

I like to work jigging rods but I also like to have two or three tip-ups dangling live minnows while I’m jigging. Get the type of tip-ups with a small light attached to the flag pole.

When the fly pops, the light is easier to detect than just a piece of flag cloth or a plastic flag. If you like to put your jigging sticks in some kind of holder over the hole also attach a small light or glow stick to the rod so that it’s noticeable when set off.

Many ice fishermen haven’t used a horizontal hard body minnow or a shad rap, so I’ll spell these out. These baits vibrate intensely when lifted on a tight line. The vibrations are felt through the rod.

You know when one is working, or is inoperative with weedy attachments.

The question is, how much vibration should you impart to these baits, because you can overdo and underdo it, with overdoing certainly unnatural at night.

Any lure I use with artificial light I tend to work a bit more aggressively than any lure without the assistance of additional light.

If no fish is showing on the outer limits of the sonar cone or a similar appearance on a Live Scope, I work the bait vigorously for an extended time by raising and shaking the rod tip a vertical foot, then lowering the rod so the line doesn’t go slack.

Another technique is to bounce the rod tip several inches at a time, raising it higher as you go. This latter technique is, I think, the most effective and when a sonar mark does appear there is no need to alter the progression as the fish get closer and closer.

When using an underwater light that is already attracting baitfish to the area, I prefer to shake or wobble the lure with only repeated 2- or 3-inch lifts.

For night, I use glow colors with all my baits, whether I have an artificial light down the hole or not.

Trout fishing at night on the ice can get downright addictive. And if you’re not catching fish, it’s a good place to study the stars.

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