Spring is in the air, and with spring comes one of my favorite fishing opportunities of the year; ICE OFF! There is something special about the ice coming off of the many mountain lakes in Colorado that have been ice capped for the last two to four months. The rainbow, brown, brook, and lake trout that have had a limited food supply under the ice find many more feeding opportunities at ice off. The water temperatures are now optimal for these trout to search for food at all depths, especially shallow! This is one of the best opportunities of the year to target numbers of fish and big fish!
There are two parts to ice off. If you time it right, you will find the ice receding from the shoreline while most of the ice still remains on the lake. Once there is enough open water to make a cast, you will often find good numbers of fish cruising this open water. These fish are hungry and haven’t seen a horizontal presentation for several months so they are very susceptible to artificial presentations. This situation usually doesn’t last long so take advantage of it! Once the remaining ice melts you are left with the second situation. The entire lake will be in the 40-50 degree range with little stratification. This is ideal for trout to cruise everywhere, which would make one think that fish would be harder to locate. But that is not the case! These fish know that melting snow is going to wash food into the water along shoreline and inlet areas. For that reason, you will find the majority of the fish shallow! Focus your efforts on the backs of bays, points, rip rap shorelines, and anywhere you find food washing into the lake.
The second situation lasts a little longer, sometime several weeks. The fishing is often fantastic! Melting snow in the high country is beneficial for two reasons. Naturally, run off pushes lots of food into the water all around the lake. The second benefit is the wind. As the warm spring temperatures meet with the cold snow on the mountain peaks you get strong spring winds. While that wind can be cold and frustrating to fish in, it puts the trout in feeding mode and often creates some incredible fishing! Since the snow starts melting mid-morning and the wind usually starts blowing around noon, you will usually find great fishing all day long if you start and finish in the low light periods of morning and evening. This makes up for the high gas prices you have to pay to get to these lakes!
During the spring, the fish typically like to work the shoreline and shallows in schools. It is important to cover water quickly and effectively until you find an area with fish traffic. If the water temperature is still in the low forties, throwing a spinner like a Mepps, Panther Martin, or Rooster Tail and reeling it just fast enough to make the blade work is most effective for covering water.
You can also slowly work a Kastmaster or Pk Spoon with an occasional rod jerk to trigger strikes. When this method results in follows and the fish seem sluggish, try working a tube or marabou jig off the bottom. If the fish seem fairly aggressive or the water temperatures are in the mid to upper forties you can cover more water and trigger bigger bites with a reaction strike bait. One of the most fun techniques for doing this is throwing a jerk bait like a Rapala X-Rap, Lucky Craft Pointer, or Smithwick Rogue. Every day is a little different so play around with your jerking cadence. With suspending baits experiment with how long you pause. Sometimes you have to pause the bait for 10 to 15 seconds when the water is cold. Make sure you always maintain contact with your bait on these pauses because the bite can be very light.
Good ice-off lures
Another fun option for aggressive trout is snap jigging. You can utilize this technique with a spoon (Pk Spoon, Luhr Jensen Krocodile, Kastmaster) or a jig (marabou or gulp minnow). Make a long cast, let your spoon or jig sink for a few seconds and then pop your rod from the two o clock position up to the twelve o clock position repeatedly. Once again, play with the time between jigs and the aggressiveness of the jig. Essentially you want your spoon or jig to violently fly upwards and then flutter back towards the bottom. This technique can put a lot of fish in the boat when they are in the right mood!
It won’t be long before this spring fishing opportunity is upon us. So respool your reels and stock your tackle boxes! As with all forms of fishing, make sure you do some experimentation to fine tune your presentation to the given situation. This will build your confidence in new colors, sizes, lures, etc. and make you a more versatile fisherman. This window is short so make sure you take advantage of these long productive days of fishing excitement! Fish On!
Author with ice-off brown