Spring fishing fever
Discover the ice-off fishing secrets of an aquatic biologist.
Calvin Black is the DWR's Aquatic Biologist in southeastern Utah. He helps coordinate the region's sport fish and Aquatic Invasive Species Programs. He is an avid hunter and angler.
Can you feel it in the air? The temperature is warming, the grass is beginning to green, songbirds are singing and flowers are blooming. I’m not talking about the type of spring fever where some are itching to get out and start gardening or to clean the house. I’m talking about spring fishing fever!
I catch the fever every year. I love this season for early ice-off fishing. I’ve put away the summarized ice auger, greased up the ice reels and stacked them in the corner.
There is something about spring ice-off fishing that I can’t quite describe. The aggressive fish, the methodical rhythm of casting and the wide variety of angling opportunities — in short, it’s just awesome.
Most years, ice-off fishing opportunities last all the way into July. Efforts will be rewarded to those anglers who venture out to newly open water.
Lower elevation lakes and reservoirs will begin to open in late March and early April. Places like Utah Lake, Huntington North Reservoir and Willard Bay are prime examples. Mid elevation reservoirs will begin to open in late April to mid-May. Scofield and Joes Valley Reservoirs provide incredible ice-off fishing opportunities — those are a couple of my favorite places. High elevation lakes could open up as late as June and July, but it’s still worth the wait. Lakes across the Uintas, Boulders and Manti have a variety of fish and many angling opportunities no matter what your experience level.
I love to fish — period. But springtime provides some of the best fishing of the year. My techniques change depending on what reservoir and type of fish I’m fishing.
The first few weeks, the fish will be aggressive, and so will I. This is when I’ll work the entire shoreline when possible. I like to cast tube jigs tipped with sucker/chub meat or nightcrawlers from shore, and retrieve at a fast pace. My favorite colors are white, green, black and chartreuse. If tube jigs aren’t your thing, use a marabou jig in the same colors. This method will work for a range of fish including splake, tiger, brown, brook, cutthroat and large rainbow trout.
If using a jig doesn’t produce large fish, try casting spoons and lures. I like to use bright-colored lures (Kastmasters, Thomas Cyclone spoons, Krocodiles and Rapalas) like white, chartreuse and orange. While walking the shoreline, if you encounter murky water near an inlet of a stream, prepare yourself for a feeding frenzy. Cast the brightly colored lure right on that mixing line of murky and clear water. In the spring, fish will stack up in the murky water for cover and feed along the clear/murky line.
Some of the biggest fish I’ve ever caught have come from using that technique.
Spring fly fishing can produce giant fish. As the ice recedes, I also like to cast a streamer with my fly rod to the edge of the ice, and retrieve it back to shore. This technique mimics a small minnow or trout and large fish can’t resist. White, green, black and purple are my recommendations for this type of fishing. If you’re not seeing action from that, try adding a little weight to the line and fish a little deeper. Hold on to the rod because it’s not going to be long before a big one will strike!
As soon as the water warms up a few degrees, the cutthroat and rainbow trout will spawn. Try using an egg pattern with a strike indicator in areas with gravel, along dams and boat ramps.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with the tried and true bait fishing approach. Casting a bubble with floating bait and nightcrawler will always produce rainbow and cutthroat trout.
But here’s a different idea to your bait fishing approach: instead of nightcrawlers, substitute chub or carp meat. The very same fishing technique will result in very different catches, like splake, tiger and brown trout. Sometimes I don’t even use a bubble. I’ll take a large hook, cut a two-inch piece of chub meat and cast it out. The weightless hook will slowly flutter to the bottom. A lot of times, fish will strike while the bait is falling, or they’ll pick it up off the bottom.
This approach will work even better later in the year when fish become more skittish.
So there you have it. I’ve shared all of my secrets with you. Well, maybe not all of them, but definitely some of the best. Now you’re equipped to be an expert fisherman yourself. Just remember to be aggressive and try different tackle and bait. All of them will produce large fish; it’s just a matter of what’s working that day. Now get out there, and I’ll see you on the water.