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Trip Report – 2024 Cold Lake Ice Fishing Tournament

I’ve only fished for lake trout three times in my life, and I’ve never tried to catch them through the ice. So why not enter a big ice fishing tournament and kick things off with a bang!

Going into the 4th annual Cold Lake Ice Fishing Tournament, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I’ve enjoyed fishing for lake trout in the summer from my kayak and it was pretty common to be finding and catching fish all day. I would even go as far as saying that it was easy! Fishing lake trout in the winter, on the other hand, is an entirely different ball game. While it’s common to catch multiple fish throughout the day all through the summer months, it is just as common to go days without a bite during the winter. Lake trout can be pretty tight lipped once the snow flies!

The tournament is a 3 day event and runs from Friday at 12 am to Sunday at 3pm. With a midnight start Thursday night, I really wanted to maximize my fishing time by staying overnight on the ice. While I have camped overnight in my Otter hub before, I wasn’t keen on spending three days on the ice without any idea what the weather would do. My only safe option was to rent an ice fishing shack, and for that I searched the Ice Fishing Directory to see what was available. After making a few calls I found that Angler’s Bait and Tackle had one shack left for the weekend of the tournament. With that booked, I was ready to go!

Lake trout caught in overnight ice shack
My first and biggest lake trout of the tournament. Too bad it was a few hours before the start time!

Having no experience ice fishing for lake trout, I really can’t say that I know what works. There are, however, three things I learned on this trip that will definitely help me strategize my next trip out there and I’d like to share them with you.

Lessons Learned

First, the morning bite is key. Except for the first fish I caught from the shack, all of my lake trout were caught in the morning when we first started hole hopping. I utilized my Active Target a lot to search for bait and to stay on top of schools of lake trout. Even though I was on fish for most of the day, they were only actively biting in the morning. The rest of the day the trout would come investigate but would not commit. Very frustrating!

Lowrance Active Target Explorer series
Finding fish was east with Active Target – getting them to bite on the other hand…

Move, move, move. My second tip is don’t stay still. Even if I wasn’t using live sonar, I would not have caught anything throughout the tournament if I was not moving. Every time I moved to a new spot and dropped my lure down for the first time, that was the moment I would hook up – or at least the closest I came to hooking up! As I said, the bite was tough, but that initial drop of my lure piqued the interest of the lake trout in the area more than anything else.

Third and most important – just because you’ve found bait it doesn’t mean you’ve found fish! What I learned the first night I spent in the shack was that Cold Lake has a lot of bait. That fact was confirmed when I met with our host, Kim, the next day. As a local to the lake, he confirmed that there is indeed bait everywhere and the lake trout have no shortage of menu items.

ice fishing lake trout
Not all that blood belongs to the fish!

Fishing was a lot tougher than I hoped with every bite a result of a lot of effort. However, it was a ton of fun to stay in the ice shack and fish for 24 hours a day. A big thanks to Kim at Anglers Bait and Tackle for the accommodations and the fishing tips – we will definitely be back for more next year!

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