Winter Ice Fishing Tips for Targeting Specific Species

ArrayFebruary 4, 2022 at 2:04 pm

Maine is such a beautiful state with so many opportunities to get outdoors! One of the most anticipated seasons of the year is winter ice fishing. No matter if you’ve never been, you’re just getting started, or have been ice fishing your whole life, here are some tips and tricks for fishing specific species in the Maine winter. If you are new to ice fishing, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Ice Fishing here and winter ice safety tips.

Along with being known as “vacationland”, Maine is known for spectacular fishing. With the changing seasons fish feeding and behavior patterns often change. If you hope to target a certain species, you can choose the depth, bait size, and location such as near shore or around points of land that extend into deeper water to increase your chances of catching that species. Here are some tips from the experts at Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife:

General tips from the experts:

  • Pack more than one (non-lead) depth sounder just in case you misplace one. Before you head to the ice, go over your tip-ups and re-spool old, weak fishing line so you don’t lose the fish of a lifetime.  
    – From Fisheries Resource Supervisor Kevin Dunham
  • Before fishing a new water look online for a depth map. If you’re fishing for brook trout, target shallower water and set traps or jig near the shoreline or structure.
    – Fisheries Resource Supervisor Liz Thorndike
  • Find a fresh spot on the lake or pond. Anglers who explore and fish new shores that have not been fished yet usually have good consistent fishing and may find larger fish.
    – Fisheries Resource Supervisor Gregory Burr
  • When hitting the ice don’t forget about safety! Regardless of your excitement, always be sure of the ice thickness that you are on. Bring a chisel to check the ice thickness as you travel across the ice and it is recommended to carry ice picks with you. Read more about ice safety.
    – Education and Outreach Coordinator Chelsea Lathrop


Brook Trout:

  • The number one tip when it comes to ice fishing for brook trout is STAY SHALLOW. Brook trout like shallow, near-shore habitat in the winter, your best brook trout water is going to be between 4 and 12 feet. Although some prefer less than 5 feet of water!
  • Brook trout are especially hungry in the winter months, so using worms or live baitfish on tip-ups and small jigs can be very effective (be sure to check the regulations to ensure these baits are allowed on the water you are planning to fish).
  • Another tip when it comes to brook trout through the ice is to keep your bait small. Small minnows or pieces of nightcrawler work just fine. You can certainly bait-up with a big shiner, but just know that brookies may keep picking at that bait without getting hooked. A small bait works best for brook trout.

Lake trout (togue):

  • If you are fishing for lake trout (togue), try fishing around points of land that extend into deeper water. Focus on water depths of 15-40 feet off these landmarks. Large togue cruise these areas searching for food and can often be caught close to the surface as well as near bottom.
  • Ice fishing for lake trout can be quite productive in water depths between 10 and 100 feet. Effective gears include smelt, shiners, suckers, or silver, white, or copper jigs.
  • Lake trout can be found in a variety of depths, so fishing with a combination of traps and jigging can help you identify which depths they are feeding at.
  • Make sure you have several feet (some anglers prefer 6+ feet) of monofilament or fluorocarbon leader line tied directly to your hook to reduce the visibility of gear. Tie the leader line to the ice fishing line with a small swivel.

Landlocked salmon:

  • Landlocked salmon are frequently caught “under the ice” and should be targeted within the first 15 feet below the ice.
  • Ice fishing for landlocked salmon in the winter can also be quite productive using smelts or other similarly sized legal baitfish, such as common shiners, golden shiners, or eastern silvery minnows.
  • Ice anglers also have luck jigging for salmon. When jigging use small, colorful spoons or flashers as attractors.
  • Two to five feet of 6- or 8-pound fluorocarbon line after the ice line and tied directly to the hook will minimize the visibility of the gear and may lead to more flags. A #8 hook size is ideal when using small smelt.


  • Splake are a hybrid trout resulting from the cross of brook trout and lake trout. This coldwater species is easy to catch and provides excellent winter fishing opportunity.
  • In the winter, splake can be found in most any depth or location. Fishing with a combination of traps and jigging and at a variety of depths can help you identify where they are feeding.
  • Splake feed primarily on smelts, white perch, yellow perch, and minnows.  So jigging with lures that mimic these species can be very effective.

Brown Trout and Rainbow trout:

  • Successful methods used while ice fishing include the use of traps or jigging in water that is typically relatively shallow (under 15 feet) with the target depth being close to or on the bottom. 
  • Brown trout can be one of the more challenging species to catch in the winter, and can be found at a variety of depths and locations.
  • If you are fishing traps and getting a lot of hit-and-run activity, then try smaller minnows or other forms of bait like worms or salmon eggs.
  • The recommended bait for catching rainbow trout in the winter are live minnows, mealworms, wax worms, or any lure that replicates these species.
  • When targeting rainbow trout in winter, look for large shallow flats or shorelines with soft sandy bottoms, ideally in 4 to 8 feet of water.
  • Jigging is typically far more effective than traps when targeting rainbow trout.

Warmwater fish:

  • Warmwater fish such as bass, perch, chain pickerel, and sunfish can be found throughout the water column (various depths) during the winter months. However, these fish typically favor areas with lots of cover such as woody debris, weed beds, and rocks.
  • Using a sinker on the hook of your trap or jig rod, find where bottom is and place your bait about 2 to 10 feet off the bottom.
  • When ice fishing for these species, use of live bait such as minnows or worms and jigging in shallow water of 5 to 20 feet can be very effective.
  • A go-to hook size is a #6 for various warmwater species.

Be sure to check out the Fishing Resources section of our webpage to learn more about: