Ice out is one of my favorite times to be fishing in the Sierras. You ever gone all day with out eating? By dinner time you are just starving, you will eat anything. That's how I think fish feel when the Ice finally melts. The poor fish haven't seen the sun for about five or six months. The water is just above freezing and most life stands almost still in the bottom of the Lake. As soon as that ice melts and the first rays of sun penetrate the water, throes fish really start moving around. The gaps between the ice and the shore provide excellent feeding lanes for cursing fish. This is the best time of year to find really big fish near the shore. Also the fish aren't very weary of anglers because they have not seen any pressure for months.
As the ice melts, it releases lots of insects that have been trapped in an snowy grave. Smaller fish come up to feed on the bugs in the scum lines the melting ice forms. If you are fishing a lake that has big fish, they come out to feed on the small fish that are cursing the shore looking for the bugs. Ice off is your best chance to catch a big brown or a Mackinaw on a Fly. I have seen some huge fish come out of a couple feet of water, and right off the shore. In fact unless you are a master of fishing really deep, with really big flies, ice out is probably your only chance to catch a Lake Trout (Mackinaw) on the Fly.
This past May John Copland and i were out fishing ice off on one of our local lakes. We had spent all mourning pounding the creek inlets and gaps in the ice. A couple small browns were our only reward. Around noon we decided to make a break for a small patch of thaw we could see near the back of the lake. We got there and started casting. Nothing. So we decided to take a little break and eat out lunch. We were sitting on a rock overlooking the pool when all of a sudden a huge shape appeared. We thought it was the rainbow of a lifetime. It was piloted on either side by two small browns. It was John's turn to cast so he calmly grabbed his rod and fired a cast out past it and to the side. As he began to strip his fly it caught the fishes attention. The giant fish began to lumber towards the fly. Our hearts were racing with anticipation as the fish neared the fake minnow. Just when we thought he was about to grab it, one of the smaller browns shot out and smacked it. John being the expert angler he is resisted setting the hook and let the smaller fish spit it out. He knew if he hooked it the big one would spook for sure. He got one more shot at the monster fish but his fly didn't sink deep enough for the fish to see it that time. It was a heart breaker. We sat around for at least another hour hoping he would come by again. To no avail. Upon reviewing the footage, we concluded it was a giant Mack. It was strange to see him being followed by two brown. Scavengers waiting to feed on the scraps of his next big kill i would suppose. Either way it was exciting enough to make us want to return next season for a rematch.
Even some of the smaller lakes can provide good action. Above are some shots of a small high country lake that Loren Elliott and I backpacked into. Luckily a camp site was thawed near the lake so we spent the night. The action for small Cutties was hot. They were all over emerging water boatsman beatles. The skated caddis was the ticket. Once we figured out what to through at them it was on. The takes when fish are chasing boatsman are insane.
Check out more about Fishing the Ice Out in FISH EYE 3 Get Bent!