By Zach Lazzari
It’s no secret that stillwaters produce some serious trout. The big waters can often be intimidating, leaving many anglers to concentrate on rivers. But ice out presents a completely different scenario, and it’s a major opportunity to catch big fish. The trout are shallow, concentrated, and flat-out hungry. Anglers can find some serious stillwater opportunities with fish feeding on the surface or just below the surface during ice out.
Choosing Gear and Lines
The exact scenario varies based on the type of water but a simple 6-weight or 7-weight fly rod with a floating line will be perfect for most trout fisheries. A steep dropoff between the ice and shoreline might call for a sinking line but even in deep water zones, a floating line is typically the best choice as the fish are located within a few feet of the ice.
The biggest advantage you can bring to ice-out conditions is a good pair of gloves and warm layers beneath your waders. Some days are warm and pleasant but plan for cool weather and chill winds on the water during the spring. Boats can help, but walking the shorelines and fishing on foot is often equally effective.
Simple Ice Off Tactics
The beauty of ice-off conditions is the simplicity. As the ice recedes, you can simply fish the open water between the shoreline and ice shelf. Walk the shoreline and cast right up against the ice. Trout will cruise along these ledges, feeding on insects that are melting out of the ice. They will also cruise right up against the shore, so be cautious of walking too close or wading out where fish might be cruising.
Fishing on a slow retrieve is ideal, making it easy for trout to intercept your fly. If the fish are really moving slowly, utilizing a strike indicator within a few feet of the ice is extremely effective. The indicator suspends your flies, leaving an easy target for slow-cruising fish. Drop your fly anywhere from 5-10 feet off the indicator and play with the depth until you find the perfect range. On warmer days when the water temperature makes a slight jump, a faster retrieve can prove successful.
Fly selection is a breeze during ice out. The hatches and natural food sources are very limited during this time. Damsel and dragonfly nymphs, most mayflies and even many of the big chironomids are dormant. Small midges and ice preserved insects are the focus but matching the hatch exactly is not necessary. The fish are unpressured and flies like buggers with a hot bead head will produce consistently.
If the fish are being fussy, try fishing a zebra midge or general chironomid pattern on a slow retrieve or suspend the fly under an indicator. Exact matches are rarely necessary and fishing flashy nymphs and your favorite attractors will have you hooked up on many stillwaters during the ice-out season.
Recommended Fly Rods
When it comes to fishing on lakes or reservoirs, there’s nothing better than our Flagship, M-Series fly rods. Whether you’re casting to cruising trout at ice out, or fishing damselflies later on, the M-Series rods are great for stillwater fishing.
Our M-Series fly rods are 10’ 3” to help you battle lakeside winds and provide the extra reach over big water. The medium-fast action carries plenty of power and the quick recovery allows you to lay down a straight leader with accuracy.
Take a look at our M-Series fly rods to learn more.