Early spring means BIG FISH

April 7, 2006 - Early spring means BIG FISH

If you'd like to catch some big fish this year, grab your fishing pole and start looking for a lake or reservoir where the ice is melting.

Ice-off is one of the best times to catch big fish, including brown trout. And Red Fleet, Starvation and Steinaker reservoirs in northeastern Utah are three of the best places to try.

"The first few weeks after ice-off are one of the best times to fish for brown trout - big brown trout," says Ron Stewart, outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR). "It might not be the fastest action, but it can be worth the wait to hook into a 5- to 10-pound fish. Browns up to 26 pounds have been taken from these Uinta Basin reservoirs in recent years."

While Stewart recommends trying Steinaker, Red Fleet and Starvation reservoirs for big browns, he said other good waters across the state also offer great early spring fishing for big browns, rainbows, cutthroats and walleye.

"Almost every big water has the potential to produce a big fish, so just look for a big lake or reservoir near you," he said. In the early spring, all of the water levels in a lake or reservoir are cold. This cold water brings big fish up to where anglers can reach them by trolling or casting from the shore. These large predators are feeding actively after being dormant throughout the long winter.

Shore fishing tips

Trolling for big browns provides anglers with an advantage; they can reach additional areas and cover more water. However, some big browns are caught every year by shore anglers; shore anglers just need to be more selective in where they fish.

"Look for two types of places; one with water flowing in or one that has underwater structure, such as ledges or rocks," Stewart said. "Inflowing streams are a real attraction for browns as they move into the inflow searching for spawning fish and their eggs. A rocky point is ideal as the fish often follow the shoreline and the point brings them in close.

"Graveled slopes are also attractive during the spring as some rainbows and cutthroats try and spawn in these areas. Their efforts attract other fish, including the browns [which spawn in the fall]."

Tips for trollers

While anglers can catch big browns from the shoreline, trolling is still the method of choice. "There are a variety of ways to try trolling," Stewart said. "Some anglers prefer trolling with just a lure while others swear by flashers and other attractors," he said. "Try a medium to large-sized flatfish, rapala, spoon or crankbait. In the early spring, a monofilament line usually works, as the fish are higher in the water column. As the spring progresses, try adding weights or a weighted line to get the lure down deeper."

According to Roger Schneidervin (UDWR fisheries manager) the technique used for most of the big browns caught during the glory days at Flaming Gorge Reservoir was to troll a rapala or crankbait 100 to 200 feet behind the boat on a monofilament line. This technique is called long-lining.

Schneidervin provides a few other secrets too. "The time of year is critical for long-lining browns," he said. "There are two slim windows for most waters*just after ice-off and just before it freezes again. This is usually April to early May and late October through November.

"Second, time of day plays a role. Browns are most active at low light levels, around sunrise or sunset. Some serious brown anglers even continue fishing after it gets dark. This is when the browns move in shallow to feed on smaller fish.

"Trollers need to get in close to the banks and really work the points, over channels and around areas where streams enter," he said. "Trolling speed can also be a factor. Troll a bit faster than you would normally. This gives the lure more action, which can help in low-light situations. The predator browns may also think their prey is trying to escape, so they hit harder."

Canoes and kayaks work too

To most, trolling means puttering about with a boat and motor, but you can troll from non-motorized craft too. "I like to fish from a canoe, and kayak fishing is also getting popular," Stewart said.

"A couple years ago, I traded my boat in for a couple of kayaks," says Ed Johnson, UDWR fisheries biologist. "The kayaks are outfitted for fishing, and my son and I have caught some big fish trolling behind the kayak as we paddle along. We can also stop and jig or cast toward the shoreline.

I don't think the kayak scares the fish as much as a larger boat with a trolling motor does," Johnson says. "Not only do we catch a lot of fish, we get some good exercise."