ICE OFF TROUT – The cure for cabin fever as well as a great meal!

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Suffering from a case of cabin fever?  Take hope, spring is here and timing your fishing trips to coincide with ice-off can result in some of the best fishing of the entire year.  Sooner or later almost every sportsman will contract a case of the dreaded disease buttstagnantas loco, or as it more commonly known, cabin fever.  The symptoms are varied, but typically include mild depression, muttering expletives, deep sighs, and inability to concentrate.  As everyone knows, cabin fever usually strikes during the winter months and is caused by spending too many days planted on the couch.  Oh sure, watching hunting and fishing videos help, but that really just alleviates the symptoms.  The only known cure is a large dose of fresh air, a tug on the end of a fishing line, and the realization that six months of outdoor activities lie ahead.  If at this moment you are suffering the effects of cabin fever and cannot bear to watch one more white tail, bass or turkey video, I have four words to give you hope: Ice-off is here!

Depending on location, altitude, and weather conditions, ice-off on Utah’s many lakes and reservoirs happens from early March to mid-June. But regardless of when it happens, it’s a magical time when spring is in the air, trees are budding, open water is available for the first time in months, and best of all: The fishing can be fast and furious.

To a large degree, fishing at ice-off is a matter of timing. The best action lasts only a short time after the ice recedes. There are lots of lakes and reservoirs that you can drive to where fishing at ice-off can be red-hot for hungry rainbow and cutthroat trout. Here are three of my favorites in Utah:

Scofield Reservoir

This reservoir is a year round favorite with Utah anglers eager to catch feisty trout in a scenic location. Scofield Reservoir, surrounded by beautiful aspen and pine forests, is located in Carbon County next to the historic coal-mining town after which the reservoir is named. At an altitude of approximately 7,600 feet, anglers can expect the ice to begin retreating around the first of April with ice-free conditions shortly thereafter. A quick call to the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) fishing hotline will confirm when the ice has receded.  Usually, the best places to fish are along the West Side of the reservoir between the Scofield West Subdivision and the State Park at Madsen Bay. Be aware there is private property in this area so if you are fishing from shore take care to avoid trespassing. Shore angling is productive year-round on this reservoir, but is usually great at ice-off. Once the ice has receded, try fishing from a float tube or small boat. Last spring, while fishing from a porta-boat between Madsen Bay boat ramp south to the first point, I caught nice rainbows all day long. The key to success was to set the trolling motor as low as it would go and slowly pull a nightcrawler and red anise-marshmallow combination about 25 feet from shore. Float tubers using fly gear should try woolly buggers or streamers, in various colors and fished at various depths either trolled or stripped in slowly. There are size and limit restrictions on the Cutthroat Trout at Scofield so please read the 2014 fishing proclamation before heading out.  Also, all of the tributary streams entering the reservoir are closed to anglers through July 15th to protect the spawning beds.

Currant Creek Reservoir

This small reservoir is located near Strawberry and is a good alternative if you are looking for some solitude. The reservoir is located in Wasatch County, 16 washboard miles of dirt road North of the town of Fruitland.  Current Creek Reservoir begins to lose its ice cap in early spring, and since it is a small body of water it quickly becomes totally ice-free.  Fishing can be good from the shore, especially along the West Bank.  Another productive area is along the two coves at the north end where small streams flow into the reservoir. This reservoir is also ideal for float-tubes and small boats.  I have enjoyed tremendous success using white or red tube jigs fished on lightweight, super-flexible rods.  Used correctly, these fiberglass “noodle rods” impart a realistic swimming motion to the lure that the trout can’t resist.  Be ready for the strike, which can be subtle, and usually comes on the downward portion of the jigging motion. When the fishing is fast, take a pair of pliers and pinch off the barbs on the jigs so you can practice safe and ethical catch and release fishing after you have enough for your meal.  If you decide to visit this reservoir in the spring, or any other time for that matter, be sure to take your fly-fishing gear along.  Current Creek, which flows out of the south end of the reservoir, is usually one of the first streams to clear up after runoff. It has an artificial-lure only section that contains a nice population of Brown trout.

Strawberry Reservoir

This is the Granddaddy of trout fishing waters in Utah and can be especially hot during ice-off. Strawberry is located off US-40 about an hour and 15 minute drive from Salt Lake City.  At an altitude of 7400 feet, the ice is usually off the reservoir by the middle of April. The Soldier Creek arm is generally the first area to have open water.

For Strawberry ice-off aficionados (and there are few fanatics out there) it sometimes becomes a race to see who can cast the first line into the reservoir.  I know a couple of guys who drive to the reservoir every few days to see if the ice has melted.  I think this is a little excessive, sort of like watching a pot of water come to a boil, but these guys are always the first on the water.  Being first on the water has its benefits: The best fishing at Strawberry occurs when the ice has retreated just 20 to 30 feet from the shoreline. This can happen overnight or it could take a few days, depending on the temperature, wind, and the original thickness of the ice.  I have had good success using a black metal-headed jig with yellow, orange or white eyes and a black feather body.  Cast the jig onto the edge of the ice and “plop” it into the water.  Once in the water, give the jig a good up and down action and retrieve slowly to shore.  Again, the strikes can be subtle and often occur during the downward part of the jigging motion.  Also, most fish seem to strike either at the edge of the ice or when the jig is just a few feet from the shore.  If you prefer fly-fishing, try a dark colored woolly bugger or streamer pattern and cast as mentioned above. Bait can also be productive but we have found the fastest action is with jigs, lures, and flies.

These are just three of the many great spring fishing destinations in Utah. I have mentioned a few of the lures and tactics that have worked for me, but in truth, if you time your trip right and the fish are biting, almost any of your favorite baits or lures will work.
The trout in these reservoirs, hungry after months under the ice, are eager to shake off the effects of the long winter. Ice-off is a great time to get out of the house and go fishing. Make it a point to be there. It’s just what the doctor ordered.
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