Ice-fishing Friday: How to pick the prefect rod for catching lake trout


Twice last winter, I was out on the ice with friends jigging for lake trout when they felt double-digit demons slam their lures—only to then lose the fish. The first time, a laker walloped my friend’s Williams Whitefish spoon so hard it precariously bent her rod over. She thought she was setting the hook in the process, but the gangly walleye rod was simply absorbing the power. And since she didn’t drive the point of the hook into the fish’s mouth, the line went limp and the trout swam away.

On a different outing, another friend hooked a bruiser along the edge of a sunken rock reef in approximately 70 feet of water. After fighting the fish to a standstill, he finally gained the upper hand. When he started applying pressure to force the fish up from the bottom, however, it erupted like a volcano. At that, his heavy-action trout rod sprang back, throwing slack into the line. Goodbye lake trout.


In both cases, my friends were using rods ill-equipped to hook and land wintertime lake trout. Here’s how to properly arm yourself to avoid similar disappointment.


Unlike most of the warm- and cool-water fish species that spawn in the spring and slow down dramatically (metabolically speaking) in the frigid waters of winter, lake trout are at, or near, their peak condition. These are powerful, rugged, robust fish that love cold water and feed heartily under the ice. They also have a bony mouth that resists the penetration of any hook that isn’t driven home with force. And when you lean hard into a big lake trout that’s bulldogging down deep, it will instinctively try to relieve the pressure by rapidly closing the distance between you. So, you better not be using a rod that recovers like a diving board.


The first way to balance the hooksetting rigidity and fish-fighting suppleness you need in a hardwater laker rod is through its length. Basically, the shorter the rod, the less chance you have of getting the balance right. For this reason, I’ve settled on 38 to 42 inches as the ideal length for my lake trout rods, opting for the shorter version when I jig inside a shelter and the longer one when I fish outside.



Selecting just the right action for your laker rod is slightly more challenging because there are no industry standards. For example, one rod maker’s heavy-action might be another’s medium-heavy. That’s why I always recommend you test the action yourself at the tackle shop before making a purchase. To do that, bring along a friend and roughly 10 feet of monofilament fishing line.

Hold one end of the line against the handle and run the other end up through the guides, then have your friend pull down steadily on the line. Ideally, you want to see that the lower three-fifths of the rod—from the handle up towards the tip—doesn’t bend or flex. That means the rod will have the backbone to set the hook with authority when you feel a lake trout swipe your lure.

The upper two-fifths of the rod are equally important. As your partner pulls down steadily on the line, you want that part of the blank to bend consistently. Next, have your friend mimic a lake trout that’s just below the ice hole by pulling the line in one direction, then quickly shifting to another while you lift the rod and keep tension on the line. The rod tip should remain curved at all times, and never spring back.

Now when you watch a laker appear on your sonar screen and take the bait, you’ll be able to feel your hook slide like a needle into the fish’s mouth. You’ll also be able to keep your rod bent, absorbing every wild run the laker makes beneath your hole. And when you finally pull the magnificent trout up through the hole, you’ll be happy you took the time to pick the ideal ice rod.