ICE FISHING for big trout is a great winter sport but you need to use caution in what you choose for gear as the conditions are a lot trickier than open-water fishing!

The first consideration is safety out on the ice! As you go out from the shoreline, we suggest cutting sample holes to make sure that there’s plenty of ice thickness! Personally, we like at least six inches of ice depth but you should know that ice thickness varies a lot in most bodies of water.

Next, your line and leader are the most important thing. If you are careful and skillful in playing a big fish, your chances of ending up with a prize are greatly increased by using the stealthiest and lightest of leaders. Some of the new braided lines can go down to as light as three-quarter-pound test. My advice would be to stay away from that, but to go as light as three or four-pound test is definitely our pick.

And the new fluorocarbon lines would also be one of my considerations. But no matter how great your gear is, playing the fish, especially bringing it through the hole and up onto the ice, is a very critical time!

Keep your sinker weights and swivels if you need one, to the smallest sizes. If you’ve ever had a big fish on your ice fishing line and had a too-large swivel or sinker catch on the ice rim at the bottom of your ice fishing hole you know exactly what we’re talking about here! A nice fish will throw the hook or break your light leader so easily when it’s on such a short leash!

We personally avoid using any unnecessary terminal gear — and swivels are often not necessary unless you are fishing some very active live baits, such as live smelts.

To avoid your use of a swivel between your line and leader, a good attachment knot is a double uni-knot — often called a “uni on a uni.” If your line and leader are of similar size you can tie them together with a blood knot.

If you are using tip-ups, pay attention to their ease of both tripping the flag and spooling effortlessly. Smart fish will quickly spit your bait if your spool triggers with a hard release or if the spool doesn’t spin with ease. Spools can be bent back to original shape if bent or they can be replaced. Lubricating with waterproof light grease is recommended. The tripping mechanism also can be adjusted so the slightest tug on the line will trip the flag.

If you fish with rod and reel, it’s important to also use light gear and that every part of your system is checked. One thing that is often overlooked is the line guides on an ice fishing rod. With a bit of rough handling, the smooth insert to the line guides can be loosened and fall out without notice. If your line is strung through such a line guide it will quickly shred and weaken it. For emergency, just remove the damaged line guide and do without it. Replace it if you are not in an emergency situation.

Rod tip-top guides can also get worn to a sharp edge with wear. And those inserts will also fall out of this guide. In an emergency situation, string your line through the next lower line guide and don’t use the tip-top guide. Replace the tip guide as soon as practical.

There are several ways of catching rainbow trout through the ice. One of the best but least-used ways is to fish a small crawler or trout worm suspended off the bottom a foot of so. If you are fishing with live shiners or smelt, these often work best when fished only a foot or two just under the ice. The third way and a method that is gaining in popularity each year is to cut a lot of fishing holes over shallow sandy bottom. Drop a determined amount of salmon eggs (two or three is fine) in each hole so they are visible to you when they reach bottom. In stained water you have to fish in shallower water than you would in clear water in order to keep those eggs visible.

Keep a light spinning or casting rig with a fine leader ready and patrol those holes, watching for missing eggs. You need to approach each hole as if a big trout is lying in wait. If the eggs are gone, drop your egg that has an egg hook embedded in it down the hole to the bottom. Often a strike will come so soon it will catch you off guard and you’ll overreact! Just keep your reel in free spoon and be ready to close it and the hook should set itself. Use the smallest egg hook you’re comfortable with.

A lot of rainbow trout are caught on Berkley Power Bait. Know that this bait floats and will often not look natural suspended over a sinker that is on bottom. The best power bait fishermen that I know use small weights embedded in the ball of power bait to keep it on bottom. Use your imagination in shaping your bait and try different colors. Some do well by shaping their power bait in a worm-like shape.

My suggestion for catching a winning lake trout? Use a six- to eight-inch saltwater smelt (dead) or a similar sized dead shiner or sucker fished right on bottom. Try a little cut-up chum to attract your fish. You also could catch a kick-butt cusk using this method.

Ever wonder why most of the larger fish are often caught in the first morning of a tournament? One reason is that those fish will be impacted and scared by the amount of activity on the ice. Smart fishermen will try to avoid crowded areas and, if you can find a place all of your own, you have a much better chance of getting that prize fish.

We hope that you observe the best of ethical behavior out on the ice and do not impact your neighboring anglers. And although the ice is good in most places, travel, especially by snow sled or ATV should be done with care.

Drop us an email at DoDuckInn@aol and please stay in touch!

Guide Lines appears in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email DoDuckInn@aol.com.

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