With all the excitement about our Kalispell, Montana fly-in adventure, we didn’t spend as much time as we normally would discussing fishing strategies—so I thought I’d share a little of that here!

But first–in case you’re not familiar with them–a few words about cutthroat trout. The fish on our trip averaged about a foot long, although we did ice a couple hard fighting, broad sided cutthroat measuring around 16”, and I’m told they can get much larger, with fish approaching the four pound mark occasionally taken through the ice. Their glistening, brilliant purplish-pink flanks scattered with black dots closely resemble rainbow trout, but upon closer inspection you’ll notice the black spots are oddly concentrated toward the tail—and the bright crimson colored slashes under the gills make the history behind their name obvious.

In terms of location, I found cutthroat behaved quite similarly to stocked rainbows, and weren’t too difficult to figure out. While we did catch a couple fish suspended over deep water, the majority of our fish were discovered actively cruising shoreline littoral areas in search of food, so by focusing efforts around distinct shoreline contour turns such as points, fingers and bars, we were able to intercept fish with regularity. Any such areas offering additional cover and providing suitable substrate for holding leeches or insect larvae, such as boulders, vegetation, rock slides or downed trees, were especially productive and not difficult to find in the clear water using sonar and underwater cameras.

We simply drilled grids of holes running deep to shallow, focusing on productive looking shoreline contours, noting productive features and depths and adjusting our efforts as patterns were revealed. We fished mainly 24-28” light power, moderately fast action Polar Fire Select graphite ice rods—with space being limited in the birds, we needed to remain rather compact. Still, the moderately fast graphite blanks made it possible to maintain close contact with our presentations and detect strikes with ease, and the slower, lighter powered taper provided enough strength to set the hook and fight the fish, yet was soft enough to follow the fish and help keep the line tight whenever they made sudden runs or rushes. These were teamed with Polar Fire or HT Accu-Cast spinning reels spooled with four to six pound test mono and a four pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader attached via a small barrel swivel, which also helped reduce line twist.mjdib

The most productive lures included HT’s white fire tiger #12 Marmooska Tungsten Diamond tipped with either wax worms or spikes, and dark colored, slightly larger profile marabou jigs tipped with plastic tails. With any of these designs, we worked them throughout the water column from just under the ice to bottom, using a finesse jiggling motion to attract fish. Often, aggressive individuals would rush in to attack them, and we’d simply note the depth and focus our activity at that level. With less aggressive feeders, I discovered gently raising the jig while continuing a moderately subdued but similar jigging motion would tempt strikes. Alternatively, with really tentative fish, I learned to trigger a reaction by dropping down and lightly pounding the bottom before raising the jig just a couple inches off bottom.

With these basics now established, I’m really looking forward to a return trip, when I plan to try some “upscale” presentations to target some larger, more evasive cutthroat!!

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Tom Gruenwald

Tom Gruenwald

Tom Gruenwald is truly passionate about the outdoors and is recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the sport of ice fishing. Throughout the years, his expertise has been sought for in-depth ice fishing presentations, seminars and advanced contributions to various outdoor periodicals throughout the world. He’s appeared as a guest on numerous radio and TV shows, authored four ice fishing books and now hosts his own TV show, “Tom Gruenwald Outdoors,”. TGO is the first program of its kind dedicated solely to ice fishing.