Spring is quickly approaching and so the ice is beginning to recede. For savvy trout anglers, this first phase of spring fishing is known as ice out. This is when the ice starts to melt and pulls away from the shoreline. Hungry trout begin to emerge from below the melting ice and are eager to regain their lost winter weight. The melting ice increases the waters oxygen flow energizing the fish and the rising water temperatures spike their metabolism. Aquatic insects, that had been dormant for the winter, begin to hatch. For these reasons, ice out is one of the best times of the year to go trout fishing. Prime time ice out trout fishing happens in the first 2 – 3 weeks after the ice begins to melt. This article will give you all the information you need for a successful ice out trout fishing day including ice off tactics.
Turnover is when the lower level warmer water mixes with the colder surface water. This begins when water temperatures warm above freezing, the ice begins to melt and then sinks. Warmer water temperatures, sinking ice and winds generate the mixing of water between the water levels. The nutrients are mixed from the different water depths and spread throughout the water column. Oxygenated water is sent to lower layers and sediment and nutrients from lower levels are brought towards the surface. After the long hard winter, trout seize this opportunity to go on a feeding frenzy. The first two weeks, when the density is changing, is one of the best times of year to target trout.
Choosing Time And Place
The hot spots are where the warmer water temperatures and food merge. Water along the shore is the first to heat up and the baitfish begin to move in. Trout always follow the food so this is a good place to start. Also, spring spawning trout begin to look for a location along the shorelines for their redds. Shorelines with wind coming off the water often hold the most fish. The wind churns up weedy and gravel areas releasing plankton, aquatic insects and forage. Trout seize this opportunity to eat. Surface layers of the water have the most oxygen. So, you will find most fish activity in less than 10 feet. The best time to fish for trout during ice out is during the afternoons. Once the sun has begun to warm things up, trout (and their food source) will be on the move.
Top Ice Out Trout Bait
Always consider the local food source and match the bait to the bite (also known as match the hatch). Pack your tackle box with an assortment of lures in various colors and sizes. Even the slightest difference in size and color can be the difference between a no bite and epic bite afternoon. If the trout aren’t biting after 20 minutes swap out your bait. In most situations, nightcrawlers are a good choice during the early part of ice out because they can mimic leaches. However, when the bugs begin to hatch switch your bait minnows, crustaceans and powerbaits. For tips on fishing with worms be sure to check out our article on How to Catch Fish with Worms. Jerk bait is good choice for ice out trout fishing. Cruising the flats, trout are chasing bait fish. Mimic this with your jerk bait using a twitching, pause and slow reel technique. Crankbaits are a good choice to help you cover the water. The Rapala Tail Dancer is one of our favorites. It is a wild action small profile bait with a good tail kick.
Top Ice Off Tactics
First and foremost, locate the warmest water. This is where you will find signs of life. The fish are emerging from their winter hideouts and insects beginning to hatch. Although warming, the water temperatures are still cold. Even during ice out the temperatures are still 10 degrees or so below ideal. Nothing in icy water moves fast, so keep your bait slow. Use a stationary or slip bobber (float) below your bait to maintain depth and a slow presentation. Fish along the ice edges. Trout are usually stacked by the receding ice where the water is warmer and deeper. Cast your bait directly onto the ice then retrieve until your line falls into the water.
Be patient & keep working the shoreline. Trout travel in groups (schools) during ice off. Once you find one trout the chances are high there are many more in that area. If the water is in its turnover stage it will be murky. So, the fish are more likely to be feeding the bottom. Use brighter colored bait and a sinker to present your bait just above the floor. The spring spawners (Cutthroat and Rainbows) will be on the move in the shallows looking for a spawning spot.
For ice out trout fishing use a sensitive ultralight rod and a lightweight spool reel. Water along the shoreline tends to be clear during ice out so choose a transparent 4 pound mono with a fluorocarbon leader.
Know the water’s current. They are driven by wind, gravity and tides and have a direct impact on fish behavior. Currents carry a food source to the trout as they face the flow waiting for an easy meal. Rivers and streams have an obvious current but lake currents are mostly developed by winds. Oxygen is confined primarily to the surface layer of the water. For this reason, most trout prey is found in depths of less than 10 feet and the trout won’t be far away.
Ice Out Trout Fishing Final Thoughts
Don’t miss out on the first big bite of spring. Get out there and fish for trout during ice out. They are hungry and on the move so take advantage. Know where to fish, what’s the best bait to use and the top techniques / tactics for ice off fishing. Once the winter ice begins to melt you will have prime time trout fishing opportunities for the next few weeks. Wishing you tight lines.