What Is Ice Off Fishing this Spring?

Tips for Ice Off Fishing this Spring
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
from The Fishing Wire

It lasts just a short time. But “ice off” can be a great time to catch lots of fish.

“Ice off” also gives you a chance to get outside and test the new fishing equipment you acquired over the winter.

What is ice off?

Ice off is a term anglers use to describe that time each spring when ice starts to melt off lakes around the nation. As the ice melts, the sun hits the shallow water near the shore. If conditions are right — if the sun shines for several days, and the wind stays calm — the water near the shore can warm up fast.

The warming water draws fish from deeper water, where they’ve spent the winter, into shallow water to feed. And these fish are hungry; it’s been awhile since they’ve had a decent meal.

Randy Oplinger, coldwater sport fisheries coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, says, at many waters, spring is the best time to fish.

“Just as the ice starts to come off the water is one of my favorite times of the year to fish,” he says. “Fishing can be great from both the shore and from a float tube. Ice off is also a great time to take your kids fishing. They can catch a bunch of fish.”

If the sky stays clear and the wind stays calm, fishing from shore can be fast and furious for one to two weeks. Then, as water in other parts of the lake or reservoir warm, fish start to move away from the shore and travel to deeper water.

Your ice-off fishing experience can last a lot longer than one to two weeks, though. If you stay updated on which waters are losing ice, and you’re willing to travel a bit, you can extend your ice-off fishing experience into April.

To stay updated on which waters are experiencing ice off, visit wildlife.utah.gov/hotspots. DWR personnel across Utah update fishing reports on this site every week.

Another great resource is bigfishtackle.com and utahwildlife.net. Anglers visit these fishing forums daily to share information about their latest fishing trips.

Stores that sell fishing tackle, and stores located at various marinas in Utah, also have excellent, up-to-date information.

Shore fishing

Ice off can be a great time to catch lots of fish from shore. And you might not have to travel far, to get in on the action: many of Utah’s best ice-off fishing waters are close to some of the state’s biggest cities. “Many of these waters have good shoreline access,” Oplinger says. “And many of them have restrooms and fishing piers too.”

Oplinger says three waters — East Canyon Reservoir, Rockport Reservoir and Steinaker Reservoir — should be especially good to fish at ice off this year. “Ice-off fishing, at any of these reservoirs, would be a great day trip for a family,” he says.

There are a number of tactics you can use, to catch fish from shore during ice off:

Tactic 1 — Fish the edge of the ice

Oplinger says the open water near the edge of the ice is a great spot to cast your bait or to start retrieving your lure. If the ice isn’t too far away, getting your bait or lure to the edge of the ice is easy; simply cast it onto the ice, and then retrieve it towards you until it falls into the water at the edge of the ice.

Tactic 2 — Use PowerBait or nightcrawlers

If you’re fishing for rainbow trout, PowerBait and nightcrawlers are excellent baits to use at ice off. Oplinger recommends placing a large sinker on your line, a foot or two above your hook, and then casting your bait and letting it sink to the bottom of the water you’re fishing.

Another strategy is to float your bait one or two feet off the bottom. PowerBait comes in a floating variety that will float at whatever distance you place the hook from the sinker.

Nightcrawlers or PowerBait will also work for cutthroat trout, tiger trout, lake trout and splake (a cross between a lake trout and a brook trout). However, chub meat is the most effective bait to use for these fish.

Tactic 3 — Use lures

Using lures can also be an effective way to catch trout at ice off. Dark-colored plastic tubes and grubs, fished on a leadhead jig, can often provide excellent results. Spinners and spoons are also very effective at ice off.

You can fish these lures simply by casting them out and retrieving them back. Or, you can try the following technique:

Fill a clear plastic bobber about half full of water. The water will make the bobber heavier, but it will still float.

Slide the bobber about two to three feet up your line, and then tie a swivel on the end of the line. The swivel will prevent the bobber from sliding down your line and onto your lure.
Before you place your bobber and swivel on your line, cut a three-foot piece of fishing line. After placing your bobber and swivel, tie one end of the line to the swivel and the other end to your lure. Then, cast your lure.

After the lure hits the water, it will sink below the bobber. Slowly retrieve the lure back to you. Watch the bobber; as soon as a fish takes your lure, the bobber will start to move. Or, it might go under the water. When it does, pull your rod tip up, and set the hook!

Float tube fishing

Many people also catch fish at ice off while fishing from a float tube.

“Float tubes can be a great way to fish areas that you can’t reach from shore,” Oplinger says. “You can use them to get around the lake and find two things, all in the same place: a place where fish are biting and that you can fish all on your own. Plus, they’re a lot of fun to fish out of.”

Many waters are good waters to fish from a float tube at ice off, but four—Lost Creek Reservoir, Strawberry Reservoir, Cleveland Reservoir and Panguitch Lake—should be especially good waters to fish from a float tube this year.

“When fishing at ice off,” Oplinger says, “most float tube anglers use flies. But baits and lures can be effective from float tubes too. If you use flies, dark-colored wooly buggers, or flies that resemble a leech, are some great choices.”

Tips for success

Regardless of whether you’re fishing from the shore or from a float tube, Oplinger has tips to help you catch fish at ice off:

Tip 1 — Be patient

During ice off, trout often bunch together and cruise the shoreline in groups called schools. For that reason, it’s important to be patient.

“You have to be patient and wait for the schools to swim through,” Oplinger says. “You can sit there for awhile, with no bites, and then—all of the sudden—you’ll get bite after bite after bite. Then, after the fish swim through, it gets quiet again.”

Tip 2 — Check your equipment

Before you fish at ice off, it’s important to check your equipment.

“Over the winter,” Oplinger says, “fishing line, tippets and jigs often become brittle and lose their effectiveness. Before your first fishing trip this spring, make sure you check your equipment and replace worn line and old lures.”

Tip 3 — Watch anglers near you

“Pay attention to the anglers around you,” Oplinger says. “If you learn they’re catching fish with a certain lure or bait, and you have that same lure or bait in your tackle box, get it on your line.”