Most anglers are aware that in the summer when the waters are warming and the lakes and ponds are stratifying, different species of fish will occupy different depths and/or areas of the lake depending upon what they require for oxygen levels and habitat. Many of the salmonids like salmon and lake trout require lots of oxygen, which is carried by colder water, so these species can be found at greater depths. Warmwater fish such as bass require far less oxygen and may be found in the shallows. But when the lakes and ponds freeze and water temperatures aren’t a concern, where do these fish go? How do you set up to catch a certain species under the ice?
This is a common question for a lot of anglers, so here are some tips from some of our MDIF&W fisheries biologists!
In winter, fish like brook trout that are sensitive to water conditions can move into shore and still have plenty of oxygen. They prefer pebbly floors with some cover, and can often be caught closer to shore in water of four to twelve feet deep using minnows, worms, or copper jigs.
Lake trout, or togue, may be a little trickier to find under the ice. They typically hang out more in the middle of the lakes and ponds. But, they may be found anywhere between 10 and 100 feet deep, feeding on minnows. They are liable to take live bait or silver or copper jigs.
Landlocked salmon can be found almost anywhere in the lakes and ponds. They can be caught in semi-deep water or closer to shore, from five to 30 feet down. They are liable to take live bait, worms, or silver lures.
Brown trout and rainbow trout also may be caught either close to shore or out near the middle. But, more typically they can be found between five and twenty feet down. They are usually ready to take live bait, worms, or copper jigs.
Warmwater fish such as bass, perch, and pickerel may be caught from five to 20 feet down. Similar to the rest of the year, bass prefer under water structure and will likely be found around ‘humps’ in deeper water or places a little closer to shore where there is structure like big rocks, holes, and natural debris.
Larger predatory fish such as pike are more often found in deeper waters in the winter. They don’t require the structure that most of the other warmwater fish require. They are most readily taken with large live bait. If you are planning to fish for pike, steel leader is recommended to reduce the risk of their sharp teeth cutting through your line. Twenty to 40 feet is a good depth to fish for pike under the ice.
If you are into night fishing, cusk can also be readily taken through the ice. Normally found at profound depths, the bottom-feeding cusk come closer into shore in the winter to spawn and may be taken with dead bait at 15 to 60 feet down.
If you want to do some fishing for a specific fish species, you may find our Google Earth Fishing Guide useful, the link for which can be found on the side of this blog. Find nearby waters that have the desired fish, cross check to be sure of the rules and regulations for that water, then get out there and target that species according to the depth and location on the water that they prefer. Any day (or night) on the water is a good time, whether the fish are biting or not. Don’t forget to dress warmly and happy fishing! Flag!