Ice Out Trout!
by…. Steve Robowtham.
You’re in your own little world, your eyes are focused. You wait patiently, yet posed to strike. As that little clear float drifts down the river, it rockets under and you set the hook. This is when you feel those head shakes that you have waited all winter for. It’s time for “ice out trout.”
All winter long, hardcore steelheaders will be checking flow charts, and making marathon drives to find rivers that are open for a drift. They brave arctic temperatures and the frustration of freezing guides for the chance of landing a single fish. This isn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love steelheading, but my favourite time of year is March. The creeks are starting to thaw, and the majority of the spawners will begin to enter their home tributaries to begin their journey. The first day of a thaw can be one of the best days you will ever experience, and here’s why:
Most rivers are frozen up until late march, and when you get a few days with above zero temps, the thaw will be well on its way. My best days on the rivers have been the day of the thaw. Case in point, last year I had been following the weather patterns and found a day at the end of March when I thought the rivers would have thawed out. I drove over an hour to my favourite creek only to find it locked up still. Overnight, the temperatures never dipped below freezing, and I decided to make the drive the next morning again. When I got there, most of the ice was gone, and the water was that green colour that we all dream of.
Two nights prior, I had spent hours tying up my bait of choice, a simple roe bag. My two favourite baits for spring steelhead are worms and roe. It seems so basic, but there is good reasoning behind it. In the fall, I will often use roe or flies such as wooly buggers. Its all about food availability. When the ground thaws in the spring, the worms come out to play, especially during a rain, so worms become an obvious choice. The latter of my two favourites also has a very basic principle; the trout are in the rivers to spawn.
The best part of the first thaw is that the river still has some ice on it, it doesn’t just blast away all at once. This remaining ice forms cover for the steelhead to hide under, and feel comfortable. It also provides a guide for your float, and keeps you in the strike zone all the time. On this particular day, I brought a 13 foot 3-piece Rainshadow blank with a Mykiss centrepin reel. The reel was spooled with 8-pound Ande monofilament line, and I ran a 3 foot fluorocarbon leader of 4 pounds Raven leader line. I used small peach coloured roe bags with about 6-8 salmon eggs and a small Blackbird glass float. I got to my favourite drift and both sides of the river were frozen, but the middle was wide open. I would cast upstream to the opposite side of the river and watch the float drift along the ice until it would go under. I don’t remember it ever making it to the end of the drift. I caught well over 40 steelhead that day, and I think any other angler there could have done the same. I believe it’s all a game of timing, and at the right time, anyone can capitalize and reap the benefits. Do your research, be patient and your big day isn’t too far away!