What Is The Best Bait For Trout Ice Fishing?
UPDATED 20 NOVEMBER 2021
by Bill Laney
Unlike many other freshwater fish species, trout love cold temperatures, and don’t retreat into deeper water during winter.
It’s quite common to find them feeding actively in shallow water of 3 to 4 feet, and this provides a great opportunity for ice anglers to target them in winter.
However, in order to catch trout successfully through the ice, it’s essential to have the right trout ice fishing baits at your disposal.
This is especially important on lakes with heavy fishing pressure, as you’ll want to use ice fishing baits that set you apart from the other anglers, in order to entice pressured trout to bite.
In this article we’ll cover the best baits for ice fishing trout, and explain how to fish them, to help you choose the best options for your purposes.
What is the best bait for ice fishing trout?
The top baits for catching trout through the ice are:
- Salmon eggs
- Ice fishing jigs
- Acme Kastmaster Spoon
- Northland Rattle Spoon
While there is a wide variety of baits that can work well for catching trout in winter, you don’t need to bring all of them every time you go ice fishing. Just try to test as many as you can from the list above, and then narrow it down to the 2 or 3 top performers that work best for you.
Now let’s dive into the details, and look at each of these trout ice fishing baits more closely.
Live bait for ice fishing trout
As true coldwater fish, trout remain very active during the whole winter, and feed more aggressively under the ice than most other fish species. Because of this, a great option for catching them under the ice is with live bait, since the combination of movement, color, and scent of a tasty worm or grub is hard to beat when it comes to getting trout to bite under the ice.
While nightcrawlers don’t work well for all species when it comes to ice fishing, they are one of the top ice fishing baits for trout. The great thing about them is that you can set up several rods baited with crawlers as deadsticks, and then wait for trout to cruise by and grab your bait.
Since the average size of trout in most lakes ranges between 1 and 2 pounds, it’s best not to use a whole nightcrawler as trout bait. Instead cut off 1 to 2 inches of worm, and thread that onto your hook. It’s best to use a bait keeper hook for this, so the worm doesn’t slide off again.
If you’re using a bottom fishing rig, make sure that the worm floats above the bottom (either by injecting air into it, or adding a small marshmallow to the hook to make it float).
Mealworms come in close second behind crawlers when it comes to ice fishing live bait for trout. Unfortunately they don’t tolerate cold temperatures very well, so you’ll need to find a way to keep them warm. A great option is to keep them in the pocket of your jacket, and this also works well for nightcrawlers.
Once you put them on your hook, you can use a single large mealie (usually around 1 inch long), or several smaller ones at the same time. Another option is to use mealworms to tip your jig or trout spoon, which can work extremely well in some cases.
One of the great things about wax worms is that they tolerate cold temperatures very well, which is why you should always bring along some wax worms on your ice fishing trips. Similar to mealworms, it’s easy to get wax worms in both tackle stores and pet stores.
While wax worms tend to be better for panfish, they can also work well for trout, and a great strategy is to tip your tungsten jig with a wax worm or two. In some cases you’ll end up catching panfish and trout in parallel, which is a whole lot fun.
Small minnows can be a great bait for trout, but it’s best to keep them as small as possible (in the range of 1 to 2 inches), since otherwise you’ll end up with more walleye than trout. When using small minnows, you can also expect to catch crappie, which often like to feed in similar areas to trout.
The great thing about using live minnows as bait is that they move around actively, which attracts the attention of any trout patrolling the area. The best way to hook a live minnow is either through its top lip, or just behind the dorsal fin. This allows it to move around in the water, resembling a small wounded bait fish.
In some cases, when the trout are keyed in on eating insect larvae and other invertebrates, you may not get any bites on the minnows, which is why it’s important to test several baits in parallel if you have more than one rod.
Spikes (a.k.a. maggots), are an extremely versatile live bait for trout ice fishing, since it’s easy to get them in most tackle shops, and they survive cold temperatures quite well (though you shouldn’t let them freeze).
Another great thing about spikes is that they often come dyed in several colors, including white, red, and yellow, which allows you to experiment to find out what colors the trout in your lake like best. Spikes are also one of the best baits for tipping the hooks of trout lures, since they stay on the hook much better than most other baits, due to their tough skin.
Salmon eggs are top trout bait all year round, and also work extremely well for trout ice fishing. If you’re ice fishing on the great lakes, baiting your hook with 3 or 4 salmon eggs is one of the best strategies for targeting trophy brown trout under the ice, and they also work well for kokanee salmon.
Salmon eggs are most often bright red, but you can also experiment with yellow and orange ones. Finally, you can add some scents to the eggs to make them even more attractive to trout. Finally, you can also use them to tip the hooks of your lures, such as spoons and jigs.
Powerbait is an excellent bait for stocked trout, since it resembles the food they got in their hatchery. The great thing about powerbait is that it comes in many different shapes, colors and sizes, so you can test many different variations to determine what works best on your particular lake.
Also, you can add bait scents to your powerbait to make them even more attractive, which is particularly effective for trout. Among the best scents for trout are garlic and shrimp, but there are many others you can try (incidentally, scents can also help to make your live bait, or even your lures, more effective for triggering trout bites).
See also: Ice fishing tip up setup
Trout ice fishing lures
One of the best strategies to catch trout through the ice is to tip a lure with one of the natural baits discussed above, so we decided to discuss the 3 best trout ice fishing lures that are ideal for tipping with bait.
All of these lures should be used in the 1/16 to 1/8 oz. size range for trout, and can be tipped with any of the baits described above.
Ice fishing jigs
Tungsten jigs are one of the most effective and versatile lures for trout ice fishing, since you can combine them with a wide variety of plastic lures and/or natural baits. One of my favorite presentations is to add a mealworm or nightcrawler fragment to a tungsten jig head, and then scent the combo with garlic or shrimp bait scent.
Ice fishing jigs tipped with natural bait can be fished either actively, by jigging them up and down, or left passively on a deadstick, which is another advantage of this kind of bait combo. If you’re fishing a tungsten jig actively for trout, it pays to experiment with many different baits to tip the hook, ranging from salmon eggs to power bait and minnow heads.
Acme Kastmaster Spoon
This is one of the best trout spoons ever, and it not only works for summer trout fishing, but is also an excellent choice for jigging vertically for trout under the ice. The design of the Kastmaster spoon gives it an erratic flutter when raised and lowered in the water column, which seems to be irresistible to trout.
Another great strategy when using the Acme Kastmaster for trout ice fishing is to fish it actively on one ice hole, while using a baited hook or jig head on a second ice hole nearby. The flashes and vibrations of the spoon as it’s jigged up and down in the water helps to attract trout, and if they come closer, they’ll have a second option to bite.
Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon
This spoon has a built-in metal rattle that creates clicking sounds in the water, which is extremely effective for attracting the attention of any trout in the area. Not only is it a great bait for attracting trout, but if you tip it with natural ice fishing baits such as mealworms, spikes, or salmon eggs, you’ll trigger a lot of bites directly on the rattle spoon.
This concludes our article on trout ice fishing baits. Remember that personal experience is always better than theoretical knowledge, so the most important thing is to start experimenting with the different types of baits and lures available to you, and then to build on the results that you get by testing further variations of the top performers.
See also: Walleye ice fishing (complete guide)