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Ice Off Means Hot Fishing near Shore


Ice off at Steinaker Reservoir
Steinaker Reservoir

It lasts only a short period of time. But, if you enjoy catching trout and other coldwater fish from the shore, you won't want to miss "ice off" this spring.

"Ice off" is a term anglers use to describe that time each spring when ice starts to melt on waters in Utah.

As the ice melts, the sun hits the shallow water near the shore. If conditions are right—if the sun shines for several days, and the wind stays calm—the water near the shore can warm up fast.

The warming water draws trout and other coldwater fish from deeper water, where they've spent the winter, into shallow water to feed. Remember, these fish are hungry; it's been awhile since they've had a decent meal.

Paul Birdsey, coldwater sport fisheries coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says, at many of Utah's trout waters, spring is the best time to fish from the shore. "Just as the ice starts to come off is one of my favorite times of year to fish," he says. "It's also a great time to take your kids fishing. They can catch a bunch of fish using simple techniques and simple fishing equipment."

Usually lasts one to two weeks

If the sky stays clear and the wind stays calm, fishing from shore can be fast and furious for one to two weeks. Then, as water in other parts of the lake or reservoir warm, trout start to move away from the shore and travel to deeper water.

Your ice-off fishing experience can last a lot longer than one to two weeks, though. If you stay updated on which waters are losing ice, and you're willing to travel a bit, you can extend your ice-off fishing experience into April.

To stay updated on which waters are experiencing ice off, check daily fishing reports at www.bigfishtackle.com and www.utahwildlife.net. Anglers visit these fishing forums daily to share information about their latest fishing trips.

Another great resource is http://www.utahfishinginfo.com/dwr/fishingreports.php or www.wildlife.utah.gov /hotspots. DWR personnel across Utah update fishing reports on this site every week.

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

Tips for success

Birdsey provides the following tips to help you catch fish at ice off, including one that's landed him lots of fish through the years. He also lists the best baits to use, depending on the type of trout you want to catch.

Be patient

During ice off, trout often bunch together and cruise the shoreline in groups called schools. For that reason, it's important to be patient.

"In the spring," Birdsey says, "you have to be patient and wait for the schools to swim through. You can sit there for awhile, with no bites, and then-all of the sudden-you'll get bite after bite after bite. Once the school swims through, it'll be quiet again."

Cast onto the ice

Birdsey says the open water near the edge of the ice is a great spot to cast your bait or to start retrieving your lure. If the ice isn't too far away, getting your bait or lure to the edge of the ice is easy; simply cast it onto the ice, and then retrieve it towards you until it falls into the water at the edge of the ice.

One technique that's landed Birdsey lots of trout through the years involves casting a jig head, with a 2½- to 3-inch white plastic tube impaled on the hook, onto the ice. After the lure lands on the ice, reel it slowly until it falls off the edge of the ice. "The fish normally hit the lure as it's falling," he says, "so you need to watch your line closely. I've caught lots of fish using this technique."

Bait

If you're fishing for rainbow trout, PowerBait and nightcrawlers are excellent baits to use during ice off. Birdsey recommends placing a large sinker on your line, a foot or two above your hook, and then casting your bait and letting it sink to the bottom of the water you're fishing.

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

Nightcrawlers or PowerBait will also work for-cutthroat trout, tiger trout, lake trout and splake (a cross between a lake trout and a brook trout). However, chub meat is much more effective.

Birdsey says cutthroat trout, tiger trout, lake trout and splake are predators. "Chubs are one of the main fish they prey on," he says. "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, attach a bobber to your line about two or three feet above your hook, crimp a split shot about one foot above your hook, and then place a small piece of nightcrawler on the hook.

Cast your offering out, and then wait for a chub to bite.

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

Lures and flies

If you decide to use a lure or a fly, use one that resembles a leech. Dark-colored tube jigs and grubs, fished on a leadhead jig, are excellent lures to try. If you're fly fishing, dark wooly buggers work best. To fish these lures and flies effectively:

Scent

Birdsey suggests coating your lure with Smelly Jelly or another type of scent. Also, placing a piece of nightcrawler on the hook of your lure is another great idea. "This is really important if you're fishing a plastic lure," he says. "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."

Watch those around you

Birdsey's final tip?

"Pay attention to what the anglers around you are doing," he says. "If you learn they're catching fish with a certain lure or bait, and you have that same lure or bait in your tackle box, put it on your line, and use it."