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Tips to catch trout during ice off

If the sky stays clear and the wind stays calm, "ice off" — that 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.

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 May.

Roger Wilson, Aquatic Section chief for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says lower and mid-elevation waters open first, followed by waters at higher elevations. "Depending on where it's located," he says, "a body of water will typically experience ice off anywhere from mid March to mid May."

Staying updated

You can stay updated on which waters are experiencing ice off by checking daily and weekly fishing reports.

Two websites — bigfishtackle.com and utahwildlife.net — are two of the best places to check. Anglers visit these fishing forums daily to share information about their latest fishing trips.

Another great resource is the Division's online fishing reports. DWR personnel across Utah update fishing 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.

"Also," Wilson says, "when you visit a water, pay attention to what the anglers around you are doing. If 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."

Be patient

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

"You have to be patient in the spring," Wilson says. "You 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 your bait or lure."

Tips for success

Wilson provides the following tips for success:

Bait

If you're fishing for rainbow trout, PowerBait and nightcrawlers are excellent baits to use during ice off. Wilson 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.

You 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.

Drew Cushing, warm water sport fisheries coordinator for the DWR, says cutthroat trout, tiger trout, lake trout and splake are predatory fish. "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, put a bobber on 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 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 your line, and then crimp a small split shot below the bobber. The split shot will prevent the bobber from sliding down on your lure.
  • Tie your 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 back to you. Watch the bobber; as soon as a fish takes your lure or fly, the bobber will start to move, or it will go under the water. When it does, pull back on your rod and set the hook!

Scent

Wilson suggests coating your lure with Smelly Jelly or another type of scent. Also, placing a piece of nightcrawler onto your lure's hook is another great idea. "This is especially 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."

Cast onto the ice

Wilson 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 your bait or lure onto the ice, and then retrieve it towards you until it falls into the water at the edge of the ice.

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