John McDonald of Concord recently caught and released this beautiful brown trout at Lake Almanor. John was trolling a Rapala near the tip of the peninsula with Captain Bryan Raccucci of Big Daddy’s Guide Service. This is just one of many big browns Bryan’s clients have hooked in the past few weeks. Photo submitted

Ice melt on local lakes offers unique opportunity

The gods do not deduct from man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing

~ Babylonian Proverb

In last week’s report, I focused on Lake Almanor. Almanor is still a good bet. Fishing is not red hot, but patient anglers trolling near the surface or fishing from shore are picking up some very nice browns and rainbows.

The shallow water in the west lobe of the lake offers the best clarity and the slightly warmer water is holding more feed. That is the place to be although the north side of the peninsula is producing some nice action too.

But there is another excellent opportunity this time of year for the adventurous angler.

Ice-out fishing can be fantastic, but it doesn’t last long. And many of the higher elevation lakes are in the process of ice melt.

Think about the changes a lake goes through when the ice first begins to melt. The ice has literally acted like an airtight lid on the lake for several months. The ice severely limits the amount of food and oxygen entering the lake all winter long. When the ice begins to melt and pull back from the shoreline the lake is able to receive food and oxygen that had not been available for months.

The first week or so after the ice begins to melt is a great time to be on the water. The trout are eager to regain the weight they have lost during the winter and the increased oxygen gives them the energy and the urge to pursue food sources more actively than they have been able to do for months.

Baitfish respond to the same changes in the lake and the larger trout will cruise the shoreline looking for them. This is a time of great change in trout habitat and behavior. They are less likely to be locked into a single food source and more likely to be feeding opportunistically. Wolly buggers, wiggle nymphs and zug bugs are some of my favorite flies. Insect activity is still limited so I shy away from insect imitations and dry flies unless I seem some midges or small mayflies.

If I am spin fishing, I like smaller spinner and lures. Kastmasters are my favorite because of their versatility. They can be fished at various depths and cast superbly. They always have a nice fish-attracting wobble at any speed, even when jigged.

Try casting toward the inlet and retrieving the lure or fly as the current carries it into the lake. If there is a breeze on the water, try a small jig under a bobber. The ripples on the surface of the water can give the jig a very enticing action.

Fish tend to cruise the shoreline during ice-out. That is a good strategy for the angler too. Keep moving until you find fish. Spend a bit of extra time near inlets. That inlet current carries feed and holds more oxygen than the still water. Food and oxygen are both high on the trout’s list of priorities this time of the season. The still water gives the fish the opportunity to suspend right next to the current without expending much energy so working the seems of the current is a good bet.

Outflows act somewhat similar to inlets. The water may hold a bit less oxygen but the outlet flows tend to concentrate the feed. If you prefer to fish from one spot, a suspended night crawler or power bait floated off the bottoms will attract cruising fish.

So where should you go to experience some good ice-out fishing? Lake Davis and Frenchman are two of the better and certainly safer options. Both lakes are currently full and spilling over right now and they are partially accessible by road. There is not yet road access to the full shore, including the inlets, but the dams can be reached by road.

Safety is a key issue for ice-out anglers. Most of our high elevation lakes are still snowed in. There are a variety of methods for over-snow travel, ranging from quads and snow machines to skis and snowshoes. All of these methods can become difficult if not dangerous in deep, soft snow. Do not travel alone. Make sure someone knows where you are going. Cell phones do not work in most of our mountainous backcountry so do not rely on them. Be sure to carry the appropriate survival gear. If you are not an experienced backcountry traveler, it is best to stick to the lakes with plowed road access.

This is a great time to get out and shake off that cabin fever. Watching the mountain ecosystem wake up from a long snowy winter is just icing on the cake.