The eastern brook trout is Maine’s heritage fish and certainly a favorite for open water anglers. But for many, once ice envelopes Maine’s lakes and ponds, they turn their attention to other fish such as pickerel perch and bass.

Some avoid fishing for trout because they feel that these fish are too finicky for ice fishing, or perhaps they tried a trout pond years ago and came up empty and cold and haven’t tried since.

The truth is brook trout fishing in the winter can offer some fantastic fishing opportunities, you just have to change your traditional ice-fishing tactics to maximize your chances of catching these fish.

Of course, rule number one is that you have to find a pond that contains trout. Some trout ponds that support native, breeding populations of brook trout are closed to ice fishing, but there are many ponds that are stocked with brook trout, or stocked to supplement a brook trout population that has some wild reproduction.

A good place to find these ponds is at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website. The complete stocking list for the past year can be found at Look for a pond in your area that was stocked this last October with 12- to 14-inch brook trout.

It’s also not a bad idea to cross-reference that pond with the law book, not only to find the current regulation, but to verify if that pond’s regulations include that all trout and salmon caught during October and November must be released alive at once. That practically ensures that trout are there during ice-fishing season.

And then, of course, you need to change your traditional ice-fishing tactics.

“Don’t expect to go to the middle of the lake and fish in 30 to 40 feet of water and catch brook trout,” says IFW fisheries biologist Jason Seiders. “The brook trout just aren’t there.”

Seiders says anglers can get frustrated because they don’t know where to go.

“Think shallow, shallow, shallow, shallow,” says Seiders.

Unlike many other fish, brook trout are not as dependent on foraging for minnows to survive in the winter. They will cruise the shallows, feasting not only on minnows but caddis larva, stoneflies and just about anything else they can find.

“You only need to fish in 1 to 3 feet of water, and if you can find an area with a gravelly, rocky bottom, that is even better,” says Seiders.

And once again, you don’t want to stick to your traditional choice of hardwater baits.

“While they will feed on minnows such as small shiners, night crawlers are extremely effective, particularly on smaller bodies of water,” says Seiders.

While certainly many anglers will do well with traditional ice-fishing tip-up traps, Seiders suggests supplementing your traps with a jigging stick.

“You are more likely to catch fish by jigging,” said Seiders. “Small Swedish pimples, marabou jigs, kastmasters – any of these are effective. Try tipping it with a bit of worm or a small minnow.”

Seiders also mentioned that in shallow water, you can often see the fish watching your jig right through the hole.

While that can be exciting, it can also be a bit frustrating if you are seeing fish crowd your jig, but hesitant to strike.

“Alter your jigging motion. Sometimes slowing down or stopping, or erratic jigging, can draw a strike from a fish that seems disinterested,” said Seiders. “We really don’t see people jigging too often and the people who do hammer ’em.”

And don’t be worried if you want to keep a trout or two for dinner.

“It’s up to the angler. But on many of these ponds we stock in the fall, the fish won’t survive the summer, so feel free to take one home with you, or release it and someone else may catch it later this winter,” said Seiders.

So in 2015, make a resolution that you’ll keep, and try some new tactics when fishing for brook trout.

Mark Latti is a Registered Maine Guide and the outreach coordinator for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.