Without a doubt, the most exciting and yet frustrating time for fishing at Strawberry are the two to three weeks after the ice leaves the sprawling reservoir.
From a Facebook post by the folks at Strawberry Bay Marina, by the time you read this column the “ice-off” period may well have begun. Let’s take a refresher course on how to maximize your efforts and not waste a lot of time trying to locate and catch fish.
You must first understand that in the very beginning, when the ice is slowly but surely leaving, most of the opportunity is from the shore.
At that point, you must find an area perhaps on or near a point where there is some shallow, medium and deep water nearby, and try to cast your lures onto the ice, slowly bring them to the edge and allow them to topple into the water.
The fish seem to congregate near the edge of the ice and at times will aggressively chase down anything falling into the water from above. The best lures to use from the shore in this scenario are black marabou jigs or white or green 1/4-ounce tube jigs (tipped with a tiny piece of night crawler).
If boats, kayaks, paddle boats or float tubes can be launched, then the same lures will work but there are creative ways to present the lures.
Other lures enter the picture that might work even better. Allow me to explain.
Think about what happens as the reservoir wakes up from a long winter under the ice. Most species want to come shallow not only to feel the warmth of the sun but to see what food might be closer to shore: aquatic insects, plankton, crayfish or even last year’s minnows.
That is one reason fishing from the shore is a great idea. By throwing your lures out into deeper water and bringing them from deep to shallow, you mimic the behavior of other forage species.
Also, black lures mimic not only aquatic insects but leeches. Just after ice off at Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone National Park, I have cleaned lake trout that had up to a dozen black leeches in their stomachs. The same thing happens at Strawberry.
The reason you don’t see those leeches as often is simply because the big majority of fish caught at Strawberry are released due to the slot limit on cutthroats or due to angler concern for preserving the quality of the fishery.
My guess is that rainbows in the early spring will have a lot of daphnia (plankton) in their stomach like at Flaming Gorge or other cold-water impoundments statewide. However, rainbows may very well eat leeches too if they are readily available.
From a boat, things change a bit.
Throwing to the shallows and bringing the lures out to the deep gives the fish a different look at the lures. If everything is moving towards the shore and then something is going against the grain brings attention to the “odd ball.”
Also, from a boat, you can move around and find many points, flats, cove openings, or channels that can hold more fish.
All the lures mentioned above will work from boats as well (including a fly and bubble rig with a black wooly bugger), but don’t forget about minnow-type lures, specifically jerkbaits. Ice off is a great time to throw “suspending” jerkbaits.
The only difference from other times in the year is the speed with which you retrieve the lurer. In the early spring, I fish extremely slowly. After I jerk my rod tip a few times as I begin to reel (and the lure gets as deep as it will go), I “twitch” the lure, stop and wait up to 15 to 20 seconds before moving on.
As long as travel restrictions don’t keep you from fishing Strawberry (like me), get out there and take advantage of the great early-season opportunity at some great fish.
Ice off is finally here! Enjoy!