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Fishing on the edge

Reports are coming in, "the ice is melting on the lower elevation reservoirs." This usually brings a smile to the more experienced anglers. Good fishing is here!

Ice off at Steinaker Reservoir

Ice-off is a great time to fish—especially for trout.

Photo by Ron Stewart

"Ice-off is a great time to fish, especially for trout" said Ron Stewart, conservation outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "Just as soon as you see a span of open water, it's fishing time. I've caught some fairly large fish in less than two feet of water.

"Another great thing about fishing ice-off is the angler can begin fishing the lower elevation reservoirs and then move up in elevation as the weather warms and melts out the mountain lakes and streams. This provides several months worth of great fishing."

Stewart said trout and other species of fish often cruise along just under the edge of the ice.

"My guess is the fish are attracted to the light and cruise along the edge hoping for insects or other forage to melt out and drop in," Stewart said. "These fish are probably hungry, which gives the angler an advantage.

The ice edge shows the angler where to fish, he just needs to figure out what the fish are looking for.

"I've had good luck using small, brightly-colored lures," Stewart said. "Yellows, reds, oranges and chartreuse seem to work well. I've also done well fly-fishing using small, black artificial flies, ant or mayfly imitations, on both lakes and streams. I've seen black ants crawling around on the ice and rocks on many a mountain lake. Baits, like a nightcrawler, meal worm or some of the artificial baits also work well.

"Truthfully, I'm not sure color matters too much as long as the water is clear. Often the keys to success seem to be in the placement of the lure and/or the depth and speed of retrieval. Cast your bait, lure or fly right to the edge of the ice. Baits can be suspended just below the surface by using a bubble or allowed to go to the bottom where they can be suspended by a marshmallow or floating bait. Vary your casts with some traveling parallel to the edge and others coming from or going to the ice. Another trick is to cast parallel to the bank.

"Try retrieving the lure slowly, but still fast enough to give it some action. Remember these fish are cold-blooded and so have slowed down due to the cold water. Vary your depth by how long after the lure lands before retrieval. Sometimes the fish are just under the surface so you would want to start the retrieval immediately. Other times they are a few feet below or all the way down to the bottom. By waiting for a few seconds after your lure strikes the water, you can vary the depth. Try a variety, you can keep track of your depth by counting off the seconds.

Fishing the edge does require a few precautions.

"Go prepared for the weather, especially when fishing ice-off in the mountains," Stewart said. "Weather in the mountains can change quite suddenly, especially in the spring. I've seen it go from bright, sunny and warm to a blizzard in less than an hour. This isn't a reason to stay home, just be prepared by bringing extra clothes, food, and water. Also know what can be used as a shelter like a tent or car and bring along blankets or a sleeping bag.

"Another consideration is the roads. Being the first one to fish a lake or stream isn't a good reason to rip up a road. Every year land management agencies in Utah spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair ruts in roads. Just think of how much more could have been done if that money was spent managing the resource."

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