The more things change…
Fishing now for recreation more than survival, but methods the same
For all of our modernism, much of what we do as fishermen hasn’t changed since the beginning of man. Maybe our intent has, but not so much the method.
Today our intent is mainly recreation. For early man, the intent was mainly survival, as in eating. Actually that time was not that long ago. It wasn’t until the 1900s that fishing gathered momentum within the populous as a recreational pursuit.
Why we do what we do today for recreation is different, but how we do it may not be that much different than what the food provider engaged in.
Take for example, one of the most basic tenets of lake fishing is that the fishing can be very good for a brief time when the ice leaves the lake.
I can imagine a scene playing out where an ancient, fur-coated fisherman threw his bait into the open water edges of a mostly frozen lake and not only caught fish, but a number of them, and probably of better-than-average size.
Is what we do today much different? Our foreknowledge and gear are greatly different, but our method not so much.
Of course, not all parts of the world experience this cycle of nature, because lakes do not freeze over in the winter everywhere. Even in the varying altitudes of Colorado, which is generally considered to be a high-altitude and winter-weather state, many plains and lower-elevation regions of our wonderful state have lakes, just not of the frozen kind.
But where we do, then oh boy, this is a good time to get out and play.
So the first question is: When? The answer varies each year in two ways.
First, there is the general season, the changeover from winter to spring. Whether you consult the almanac or your grandfather’s quirky knee, at a given location or elevation winter isn’t over, but spring begins to dominate. What is the same every year is the lengthening hours of daytime. What is different is the jet stream and the passing storms that alter the warmer temperatures that cause the frozen lake to melt away.
A second variation is the condition of the specific lake. Such things as the depth of the insulating snow cover, the thickness of the ice and the exposure to the daily spring sun all effect when that first open edge of water begins to show.
The prime ice-out time comes a few weeks earlier or later than the year before. But not that much — someone with a decade or so of history can predict with reasonable accuracy what week of what month the water might open.
Adding to the question of when is the question: What altitude? Lower-valley impoundments will ice off in early March, even late February. High-mountain basins can delay until June.
Add to that our modern era of instant communication, where all it takes is one person to be at the lake to spread the news of “not yet” or “better go now.” This is especially true of lakes with a well-traveled roads nearby for all to see, even if they are not fishing, but just passing by.
High-altitude or remote lakes are more difficult to predict because they are not regularly visited.
Stories abound of anticipated ice-out hiking or horseback trips to the high country only to find upon cresting the basin’s lip that the ice came off weeks ago.
Or worse, you can’t fish at all because the ice is still there.
While every destination has its followers, probably the most popular ice-off destination I know of is Blue Mesa Reservoir.
The No. 1 reason is big fish. In a relative sense, every lake has its average size fish and its big fish. What is different and makes Blue Mesa popular is lake trout. A medium lake trout, also called lakers or mackinaw, is bigger than most other fish in Colorado. Spring ice out is the time to get them in the shallows.
Although lake trout commonly are targeted in the summer, it generally requires a motor boat with specialize equipment to get to the depths they haunt.
Most of this has to do with temperature — deeper is colder and more to their liking.
Summer shallows are too warm, but at ice off, not only is the temperature cool enough to their liking, smaller fish are in the shallows for mealtime.
The difference in laker summer fishing and spring ice out is accessibility. Casting from the bank can be very productive.
Also, shallow-water cruising along the edges in a small boat or canoe is the one time of year when the fish are there, and one need not get out on the main body to find fish. In other words, it’s safe in a small boat.
Casts need not be far or deep. However, shore structure can be important. Look for cliff edges or points where water depth changes rapidly. The reservoir level is usually being lowered this time of year, so each time you go, the shoreline is different.
Be a hunter and find the spot, and don’t assume the spot is good just because it was last year or someone else said so.
Make the typical cast straight out, but also cast in an arc parallel to shore. And do not assume when the lure is close to shore that the game is over, and it’s time to finish the reel-up and cast again. Many strikes happen just as the lure is about to escape in the shallowest water at the end of the retrieve. Be watching the water because the strike may be so close that you see it.
Getting down with weight and sucker meat is effective. Cast and wait.
Lakers aren’t the only lurking big fish. Rainbows and browns have the same predictable behavior.
Vary your lure, vary your retrieve speed and vary your jigging motion. By lure, I am also including flies, big flies. A large fish can easily engulf a lure or fly of several inches. Upsize your line strength for durability and breaking strength.
Early morning is best. Be prepared for a cold wind in the early times.
And remember: It’s April. You need a new license.