Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bait & Switch

We stepped foot on the lake as the first hints of dawn were creeping over the hills. And for the first time in over a month, dragging gear across the ice was easy. The right combination of mixed precipitation, thawing and refreezing had packed the snow well.  My power auger got its toughest workout of the season boring eight-inch holes through 30 inches of snow and ice. I punched holes in a tight circle and Jon cleared the mass amounts of slush. We then sat over 55 feet of water and got to work trying to catch our bait for the day.

Jon and Aaron had some live shiners as a backup plan, but the real meal tickets for trout in this lake are land-locked rainbow smelt. Smelting can either be a blast or flat-out frustrating. This trip started out as the latter. We had light-action jigging rods with spring-bobber extensions to aid in strike detection. Our small jigs and ice flies were tipped with fish meat and dropped down to the appropriate depth on the fish finder. Then we imparted little action and waited for the tiniest depressions of our rod tips to let us know that smelt 30-feet below were nibbling our offerings. 

On this particular morning they were not cooperating. We set some tip-ups with shiners anyway and waited for any type of bite to turn on. Confidence for flags flying was low without smelt on our traps, so we continued to try and crack the code. Around mid-morning, as if someone turned on a switch, we finally started getting them to eat, and one by one we switched out our shiners for fresh smelt. It did not take long before flags started to pop. 

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Both the smelt and trout action continued to pick up as the morning wore off.  Though not awfully big, these trout sport some awesome colors thanks to the cold, clean water and their healthy smelt diet. It keeps me coming back knowing what a real trophy out of there could look like. Unfortunately, we had to leave them biting, as all three of us were headed to the same obligation that afternoon. But before packing up, Jon capped off the outing with a nice 16-inch holdover brown on his first-ever smelt. It goes to show that having the right bait can sometimes be the difference between a skunk and a decent day. The leftovers didn't go to waste; I bagged them up individually and put them in the freezer when I got home, as dead smelt are better than no smelt.  


  1. Are land-locked smelt an introduced species or are they native?

    nice writing.


  2. Thank you, John. The landlocked smelt in CT are introduced. Two lakes here have them. The native anadromous smelt we once had in the Sound stopped coming strong in the 60's.