As Ice Melts, Fishing Heats Up

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Utah Department of Wildlife Resources Press Release

Ice is melting and pulling away from the shore at some of Utah’s mid-elevation waters. In the next week or two, additional mid-elevation waters will also experience ice-off.

As the ice leaves, the sun hits the shallow water near the shore. If the sun stays out and the wind stays calm, the water near the shore can warm quickly.

As the water warms, trout and other coldwater fish move into the shallow water in search of food. These fish are hungry, it has been awhile since they have had a decent meal.

“At many of the state’s waters, spring is the best time to fish from the shore,” says Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Aquatic Section Chief Roger Wilson. “It is a great time to take the kids fishing. They can catch a bunch of fish using simple techniques and simple fishing equipment.”

If the sky stays clear and the wind stays calm, ice-off, the period of time when ice starts to melt and pull away from shorelines at waters across Utah, can provide the best shore fishing of the year.

Fishing for trout and other coldwater fish can be fast and furious for one to two weeks. Then, as water across the lake or reservoir warms, trout start to move away from the shore.

An ice-off fishing experience can last a lot longer than one to two weeks, though. Anglers who stay updated on which waters are losing ice, can extend their ice-off fishing experience into May.

Wilson says that lower and mid-elevation waters open first, followed by waters at higher elevations. “Depending on where it is located, a body of water will typically experience ice-off anywhere from mid March to mid May,” he advised.

Stay updated on which waters are experiencing ice-off by checking daily and weekly fishing reports. The two best websites to check are bigfishtackle.com and utahwildlife.net. Anglers visit these fishing forums daily to share information about their latest fishing trips.

Another great resource is the DWR fishing report. Wildlife personnel across the state update reports on this site every week.

Stores that sell fishing tackle and stores at various marinas in Utah also have excellent, up-to-date information.

“When visiting a water, pay attention to what the nearby anglers are doing,” Wilson suggested. “If they are catching fish with a certain lure or bait, put the same thing on the line and use it.”

During ice-off, Wilson says trout often cruise the shoreline in groups called schools. For that reason, it is important to be patient.

“Anglers have to be patient in the spring,” Wilson said. “They can sit for awhile with no action, and then all of the sudden, it’s ‘pop, pop, pop as a school of trout moves through the area and hits the bait or lure.”

If fishing for rainbow trout, PowerBait and nightcrawlers are excellent baits to use during ice-off. Wilson recommends placing a large sinker on the line, a foot or two above the hook, and then cast the bait and let it sink to the bottom of the water.

Another strategy is to float the bait one or two feet off the bottom. PowerBait comes in a floating variety that will float at whatever distance it is placed the hook from the sinker.

Anglers can also catch cutthroat trout, tiger trout, lake trout and splake (a cross between a lake trout and a brook trout) with nightcrawlers or PowerBait. However, chub meat is much more effective.

DWR Warm Water Sport Fisheries Coordinator Drew Cushing, says cutthroat trout, tiger trout, lake trout and splake are predatory fish. “Chubs are one of the main fish they prey on,” he explained. “That makes chub meat one of the best baits to use during ice-off.”

Chubs and the four trout species live in the same waters. To catch a chub, put a bobber on the line about two or three feet above the hook. Crimp a split shot about one foot above the hook, and then use a small piece of nightcrawler for bait. Cast out and wait for a chub to bite.

After catching a chub, cut its meat into small pieces. Then, to catch a trout, place a piece of chub meat on the same hook the chub was caught on and cast it out. Let the chub meat dangle beneath the bobber.

If using a lure or a fly, use one that resembles a leech. Dark-colored tube jigs and grubs are excellent lures to try. For fly anglers, dark wooly buggers are the ticket.

To fish these lures and flies effectively:

  • Fill a clear plastic bobber about half full of water. The water will make the bobber heavier, but it will still float.
  • Slide the bobber about two to three feet up the line, and then crimp a small split shot below the bobber. The split shot will prevent the bobber from sliding down on the lure.
  • Tie a jig or fly to the end of the line, and cast it out.
  • After the jig or fly hits the water, it will sink below the bobber. Slowly retrieve the jig or fly. Watch the bobber; as soon as a fish takes the lure or fly, the bobber will start to move, or it will go under the water. When it does, pull back on the rod and set the hook.

Wilson suggests coating the lure with Smelly Jelly or another type of scent. Also, placing a piece of nightcrawler onto a lure’s hook is another great idea. “This is especially important if fishing with a plastic lure,” he said. “Even if a fish has already struck the lure, if the lure has some scent on it, there’s a good chance the fish will strike it again.”

Wilson says the open water near the edge of the ice is a great spot to cast the bait or to start retrieving the lure. If the ice is not too far away, getting the bait or lure to the edge of the ice is easy. Simply cast the bait or lure onto the ice, and then retrieve it until it falls into the water at the edge of the ice.

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