As ice melts, trout fishing flourishes

Ice covering the reservoirs at the Kirch Wildlife Management Area has thawed and refrozen two or three times, but with temperatures now holding on the warm side, one probably can be safe in saying that ice-out officially has arrived and with it some of the year’s best trout fishing.

This pattern will repeat itself during the coming weeks at such places as Eagle Valley Reservoir, Illipah, Cave Lake and eventually at other northern fishing destinations like Wildhorse Reservoir.

At ice-out, fish that have been surviving on whatever has been available below the ice need to replenish their energy stores and, after shaking the cobwebs loose, start looking for anything edible. Since ice generally melts from the shoreline out, the fish will move into that open water along the shoreline and thus provide good fishing for shore anglers as well as float tubers crazy enough to brave the cold water.

Fish also will look for the edges created when the ice begins to break up and form holes in the midlake areas.

The earliest I have fished the waters at Kirch is mid-February. Low-hanging clouds were spitting rain and sleet, and despite having several layers on underneath my waders, I had to leave the water every couple of hours to have warm soup or cocoa. The fishing wasn’t fast and furious, but the dozen or so rainbow trout I caught were nice fish. A couple pushed the 20-inch mark.

Through trial and error, I learned that it was too early in the season for most traditional fly patterns such as the Woolly Bugger and Prince Nymph. And it also was too early to use standard stripping techniques. When success finally came, it was with a small, dark-brown pattern I tied just for fun while reading from a how-to-tie-flies book when I first started tying. If I cast the fly against the tule stalks and then let it slowly sink, a fish would pick it up. I believe the fish mistook the fly for the small snails that cling to the tule stalks.

While spinners have provided some of the most productive days I have had when fishing after ice-out, it sometimes takes a week or so for the fish to become active. In that case, still-fishing with baits such as PowerBait or night crawlers might be the ticket. When the fish are hitting hardware, I prefer small spinners such as those made by Mepp’s or Panther Martin. My favorite is the Panther Martin with an all-silver colored body and chrome spinner blade. These are hard to find.

When fishing waters on which there still is ice, keep in mind the ice has provided the fish with a safe covering from aerial predators, and they feel safe under its reaches. Fish will hold along the edge of the ice where they can feed but quickly dart back under cover if they feel threatened. If you can reach them, work these edges with your bait of choice.

One of the most common mistakes I see when it comes to trout fishing, especially with anglers who are just getting started, is the use of line that is too heavy and hooks that are too big. Four-pound test monofilament is sufficient for most trout waters. This is small enough to be less visible to the fish but heavy enough to do the job. I prefer a sliding sinker setup with a hook no larger than a No. 16.

When preparing your bait, keep in mind that trout have small mouths, and some of the biggest fish take small presentations. If using PowerBait, prepare your bait so it barely covers your hook. If you plan on catching and releasing your fish, use a single barbless hook and leave the treble hook in your tackle box. Treble hooks are designed to keep fish on the line for good.

Also, wet your hands before handling the fish, and please don’t hold them with a rag. Doing so removes the protective coating — slime — from their skin.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at