Early Spring Ice-Off Tactics
As a long winter slowly draws to an end, the anticipation of fishing the interior of British Columbia’s trophy stillwaters becomes almost unbearable at times. The most painful years are the ones where spring seems to be constantly interrupted by weather we would usually be experiencing in late February, and the lakes take their precious time shedding a thick layer of ice. One of the most discouraging feelings as a dedicated stillwater angler is rolling into your favourite lake with hopes that the ice will have lifted only to find out there’s still hard water for all those nice rainbows to hide under for another short while. On the other hand, some of the best fishing of the year can take place in the first few days after ice-off. Early spring is a gamble, but here’s a short list I’ve compiled to help you find them in the precious time frame between ice off and lake turnover.
Maybe next week…
- Prepare – Mid-April in the city can be quite balmy, but remember that when you’re climbing in elevation the conditions are going to change and sometimes rapidly. I remember once leaving town seeing that it was a manageable 10C, only to find myself staring at a big fat 0 on my truck thermometer upon arrival at the lake. Luckily 2 pairs of wool socks, 3 layers of thermal pants, 4 top layers, gloves and a toque kept me warm enough to offset the cold temps that peaked at 5 degrees that day.
- Before You Go – Travelling to a lake in hopes that the ice has come off can be a gamble at the best of times. Sometimes a recon mission to other lakes at a similar elevation can pay huge dividends. Consider the elevation, how much sun the lake receives & how much wind it gets on a regular basis. Wind & sun play a huge part in how rapidly ice can melt off a lake.
A gorgeous early season rainbow caught in 4 feet of water
- Don’t Overlook the Flats – Right after ice-off, a good number of fish will be found in the shallows foraging for food. Most of my early spring fishing is done in less than 10 feet of water. Especially if you’re lucky enough to have a sunny day, the shallow flats are going to warm up substantially quicker than the deep water.
- Staple Food Sources – Some lakes more than others offer exceptional chironomid hatches right at ice off, but for the most part fish will be seeking out their staple food sources. Shrimp, leeches & bloodworms are just of the staple items that our fish can count on all year. Other good ice-off patterns include small chironomids, immature damsels, water boatmen & dragonfly nymphs.
Micro Leeches are a must have for early season stillwater fishing!
- Strike Indicators Are Your Friend – 90% of my ice-off fishing is done with strike indicators in the shallows. Since fish are going to be moving at a fairly relaxed pace they will often only mouth the fly for a split second, so set it immediately upon the indicator dropping. Fish in very cold water will be very “soft biters” which means the indicator will not bury itself like a ton of bricks like we see in chironomid season, instead it will either just barely submerge or it will twitch on the surface as the fish is mouthing the fly. I highly recommend giving a solid hook set on any movement of the indicator that looks abnormal, most times it will result in a fish.
- Banker’s Hours – One of my favourite thing about stillwater fishing (especially early season) is the “first light bite” is usually non-existent, and peak activity will generally be during the warmest part of the day. Don’t feel guilty about endlessly smashing the snooze button at 6am, I usually aim to be on the water by 10 or 11am and capitalize on the most productive parts of the day.
Boat launches are usually vacant at the “crack of noon”
- Perspective – Don’t set your standard sky-high or lose your patience because the fishing isn’t how it was in early June last year on the same lake. Remember how many days you spent dreaming of open water over the winter time, it’s not always about numbers. The first few trips of the year are there to knock the rust off and hopefully run into a few fish in the meantime!
Hopefully this small write-up can shed a bit of light to those hoping to get out on their favourite stillwater for the first trip of the year. A huge thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this. If you have any questions feel free to drop an email in the contact section or leave me a comment, I will be happy to help. Until then happy fishing!