MudTrout-O-Rama in Newfoundland

The (inland fresh waters) ice fishing season for trout opened on February 1, so on Tuesday January 31 it was again time for our annual road trip to the central part of the island of Newfoundland to pursue Muds (a.k.a. Brook Trout).  Post-glacial biogeography left Newfoundland with few freshwater fish - only Mud Trout, Arctic Char, Atlantic Salmon, Rainbow Smelt, Banded Killifish (rare), sticklebacks, and American Eel are native, and we have (thankfully) only two introduced fish (Brown Trout restricted to the SE part of the island, and Rainbow Trout introduced to a few ponds on the Avalon peninsula near St. John's). Yes, we have no minnows, catfishes, bass, walleye, pike, suckers, whitefishes, inconnous, ciscoes, perches, ling or bowfins et c. on this giant island the size of Michigan.  Newfoundland: not a great place to be based for a big lifelist on roughish.com, but interesting for fishing nonetheless.



Mud Trout are abundant and ubiquitous on the island, and most ponds have small 6-8"ers with few large fish, although remote lakes may have some large 18-24” Muds in the 3-4 pound range that persist with lack of fishing pressure and old age.  Lakes on systems with river connection to the ocean have 'sea trout' (a.k.a. 'Sea-going Muds', a.k.a. Brook Trout anadromous form [= 'Coasters' in Michigan]) not to be confused with the introduced 'sea trout' (sea run Brown Trout invading from a 1890s introduction on the Avalon Peninsula at the SE end of the island) - these systems often have anadromous Atlantic Salmon, smelt and relict Arctic Char in lakes. The Sea-going Muds (our target species) are larger and fatter than fresh water resident fish - and are excellent eating.  They occur in systems in the central part of the island, hence our road trip ‘inland’ from St. John’s on the bleak windswept Avalon peninsula…

Taiga near the isthmus...

OMG, full-sized trees!

Sunrise was at 0740h so we hit the pond at 655h and had the holes drilled and were actively fishing by 0715h.  In Newfoundland you are allowed three holes per angler. With a breeze on and temperature of -12C (-10F) frequent clearing of the ice from the holes was required. Water depth about 14’.

I use a deadstick rig based on a ‘gad’ of red-osier dogwood that my Ontario friend Larry Speers showed me 36 years ago.  This rig, which was originally for 90’ depth Lake Trout fishing with Red-bellied Dace minnows, works well on every ice fishing type I’ve tried.  The gad, about 3’ long - is very flexible (even at -18C), shows the slightest bite, gives minimal resistance to wary fish, as well as gently moving the line in the wind to give the bait some action.  The gad base is a small mound of chips and slush from ice hole cuttings - freezes in about a minute.  I've added a bell which emits a distinct alarm sound when bites occur, and also tape to catch the breeze and enhance the jigging action.  Locals normally hang their all their baits from fixed deadsticks, or (rarely) use wind-activated jigger deadsticks improvised from flexible paddles cut from vinyl house siding material.  



I use nightcrawlers as the main bait, sometimes small chunks of smelt.  Locals use nightcrawlers, cooked shrimp, moose meat(!) and smelt. No live baitfish are used or are present in Newfoundland, and the regs say you can only use ‘one hook’. Worms et c. are normally hung on hardware - a spinner (Mepps) or spoon (e.g. Daredevl).  I had to forget my mainland assumptions about trout fishing - most locals hang worms from a medium sized stationary spoon or spinner you’d normally associate with bass or pike fishing (i.e., 1/4 ounce - 1/2 ounce) with a 1/4 ounce sinker often added for good measure (I refer to this as 'mackerel tackle’ but it works!).   My rig of choice for deadsticks is currently a #4 circle hook on the line about 6-8 inches above a hookless attractor (recall - only one hook allowed here).  This was the first year I switched entirely to circle hooks and they really do reduce hook-swallowing and injury to fish.  Attractors I’ve used successfully include silver plated Mr. Champs, Sutton Co. flutter spoons, Eppinger Daredevls, Acme Sidewinders, Lindy Darters, Northland Buck-Shot spoons, and various spinner blades (painted or unpainted metal).  I have successfully used stealthier rigs with just a single split shot at the end, as well.  For my rod hole I have successfully used lures in the 1/8-3/8 ounce size, including jigging Rapalas, Mr. Champs, PK PK Spoons, PK Panic articulated spoon (great success in 2017 with a blue one, resembles a smelt!), Northland Sliver Spoons, and 1/8-3/16th ounce jig heads with Berkeley Powerbait or Gulp minnows - these are all always decorated with a chunk of worm or smelt.  I do believe less is more when it comes to jigging action with my ice rod - mostly moving the tip about 1" only with occasional 1-2' lifts to flutter the bait for attraction purposes.  Also effective in my jigging rod hole is the deadstick circle hook and attractor rig mentioned before.  I’m thinking these sea going Muds are after small smelt in the 2-3” range, or where smelt are absent sticklebacks, so the lure choice is to match this.

The jigging Raps, not sure if they count as one hook and are legal?  Other than smelt, sticklebacks are the other small forage fish here so a metallic greenish lure seems to be called for.

The dawn bite on day started before sunrise and lasted to about 1000h then things died down with less than one fish per hour after that until sunset.  Results:

This^ was my biggest fish - 15", 1.4 pounds - a typical Sea-going Mud from central. Gills infested with sea lice, might explain why the fish is a bit skinny. Caught on a worm on a #4 circle hook with a hookless Northland Buck-Shot spoon as the attractor - with the rod - very subtle jiggling motion with a two foot lift about twice a minute.

In Newfoundland, Ouananich (lake resident Atlantic Salmon) replace perch as the irritating small bait pecking parasites...

My first Ouananich - this^ is about the typical size (8") - caught on a deadstick rig with a gold Mr. Champ attractor. Extremely skinney and back down the hole ASAP.  In a few years at this site we have caught Ouananich in the 1-2 pound range, in some other systems these lake resident forms can get to 3-5 pounds.

About 0930h my buddy caught a real anadromous Atlantic Salmon (24" female kelt spilling eggs on the ice) which was quickly released.  In this system we have life history variation in salmon with some fish smolting and ocean going, and others remaining as Ouananich (a.k.a. 'Salmon Peel').

Sea-origin Atlantic Salmon^ are caught from time to time (hell of a fight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqPE6VsIeus) during lake ice fishing in systems where runs occur, but they are usually 'Slinks'; very dark coloured, thin and sickly looking.  This^ 24" fish was unusually bright coloured and had eggs - raising the hypothesis that we have winter run fish here (the fish spilled about 50 eggs on the ice at capture, one visible here^ beside a 9" ice hole).

And then another Ouananich...

WTF? These really resemble the purpledescent finish on a Scatter Rap Minnow, go figure, what were they thinking?

And another Mud...

Mid-day slack period...

Fished from 0715h - 1730h on DAY ONE (Feb 1). Totals - (me): Mud Trout 8, kept 1 (15" fish^), Ouananich 3; (buddy): Mud Trout 6 (kept 2), Ouananich 1, ocean type Atlantic salmon kelt 1 (released).  The daily AND posession limit is "two pounds plus one fish" so we generally release anything under 12".

Day One 1730h-ish, comparing notes with a ski-doo guy and a space alien vistor...

 

DAY TWO, fished 0715 - 1200h.  Results...  

Winninish again...

And my second decent fish:

Day two - totals - (me): Mud Trout 6, kept 1 (14" fish, 1.2 pounds^), Ouananich 3; (buddy): Mud Trout 6 (kept 2), Ouananich 3.

Summary: good numbers of Muds were caught, but few keeper Sea-going Muds this year - average size was much smaller than usual (9", why?) and we caught more Ouananish this year than our total for the previous ten years (why?), and a fresh Atlantic Salmon kelt though an ice hole in February (unusual?).

 

 

Species List: 
Salmon, Atlantic
Trout, Brook

Comments

Outdoors4life's picture

Thank you for sharing this. I love road trips for ice fishing. It is difficult and tiring with every fish a victory.

Corey's picture

Very cool fishing report, I like learning about the techniques and baits you use out there.

Goldenfishberg's picture

That was a great read! Truly a unique area you have up there. Super neat to see some land locked Atlantic salmon being targeted through the ice! I'm sure many of us midwesterners are jeaous, I know I am! That deadstick rig is very cool and super interesting. Simple and effective always pays off espeically in the dead of winter. Awesome report man, you guys up in Newfoundland sure know your stuff! 

Moose439's picture

Wow. This is an awesome write up man, really cool to see some hardcore low tech ice angling like that. Keep the posts coming if you are up to it!

Eli's picture

Awesome. 

Gotta visit the rock one day.