How to Ice Fish for Salmon

How to Ice Fish for Salmon
Kokanee are landlocked salmon that have lost their ability to migrate to the ocean. They're harder to catch than your typical trout, but the excitement of hooking one, and the unbeatable taste, make it all worthwhile. It's not unusual to find high concentrations of Kokanee in lakes where few are caught. King, Coho, and Atlantic salmon can also be found in freshwater, but they spend most of their time in the ocean. Many anglers expect to catch salmon with tactics they use on other fish. That's a recipe for failure. If you use strategies that cater to the salmon's preferences, you'll be hooked for life!


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Think Like a Salmon

Things You’ll Need:
  • Ice fishing auger
  • Light action rod and reel
  • Heavy action rod and reel
  • Spring bobber
  • 2- to 8-pound test line
  • Black fly split shot
  • Razor sharp hooks
  • Sharp hook file
  • Neon light
  • Swedish pimple and tube jig lures
  • Flashtrap spinners
  • Worms, maggots, grubs, corn, salmon eggs, and Jensen eggs bait
  • Flotation device and ice pick
Step 1
Know their habits. Salmon are cold-water fish that need temperatures at or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Kokanee salmon feed primarily on plankton, but they'll eat nymphs and insect larvae if plankton aren't available. Land-locked salmon are easier to catch while ice fishing, since dropping winter temperatures allow them to venture out of the pockets of cold water where they spent the summer months.
Step 2
Select your gear. If you have the wrong equipment, the subtle bite of Kokanee is easy to miss (this isn't a problem with King, Coho, and Atlantic salmon). You need a light-action, or high-sensitivity, rod and if this isn't enough, attach a spring bobber to your pole and make sure it's properly matched to your bait. A 2-pound test fluorocarbon line or Trilene XT monofilament line is strong and almost invisible to the fish. Black fly split shot can be added to your line to reach a desired depth. Larger salmon, such as King, Coho, or Atlantic, require a heavier action rod and reel, with a smooth drag, and 6- to 8-pound test line. Use a neon light to attract plankton and bring in the salmon.
Step 3
Choose the time and location. Salmon tend to favor deep water, so the middle of the lake is a good place to drill your hole with the ice fishing auger. Like many fish, they feed early and are most likely to take your bait between 2:30 and 9 a.m. Fishing this early will also increase the effectiveness of your neon light.
Step 4
Bait your line. If you're fishing for Kokanee, only the smallest lures, like Swedish Pimples and tube jigs, will do, and the best colors are nickel/red, fire/pearl, rainbow, and pearl/red. If you're fishing for larger salmon --- like king, coho or Atlantic --- Flashtrapspinners are very popular and effective. Tip the lure with a corn kernel, salmon egg, Jensen egg, maggot, grub, or a small hunk of worm for kokanee.
Step 5
Adapt your technique. Release your line until you're near the bottom, then start jigging as you work your way to the top. Reel in slowly and vary your speed and direction. When you feel a bite, gently lift your rod tip. Kokanee have a delicate mouth structure and jerking the hook, like you would for a bass, might tear it right through their mouth (this isn't a problem with King, Coho, or Atlantic salmon). A strong jerk is needed for a solid hook set if you're fishing for king, coho or Atlantic salmon.

Tips & Warnings

Keep your hooks razor sharp to maximize your results. The Sharp Hook File is the best tool for this purpose. Hold it parallel to the hook's point and use light one-way strokes to file every side of the point.
You're better off safe than sorry, so never go on the ice alone, always wear a flotation deviceand keep an ice pick within easy reach.

Article Written By Dan Eash

Dan Eash began writing professionally in 1989, with articles in LaHabra's "Daily Star Progress" and the "Fullerton College Magazine." Since then, he's created scripts for doctor and dentist offices and published manuals, help files and a training video. His freelance efforts also include a book. Eash has a Fullerton College Associate of Arts in music/recording production and a Nova Institute multimedia production certificate.

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