Coulson: Transitioning from ice fishing to open water fishing – The Coloradoan
February has been rather warm, maybe unseasonably so. As a result, up and down the Front Range we’ve gone from ice fishing to open water fishing within a two week period.
Even though many reservoirs and their boat ramps are now ice free, or soon will be, boating options are extremely limited due to required aquatic nuisance species (ANS) inspections. Consequently, most state parks such as Boyd, Jackson, Cherry Creek and Chatfield won’t open to boating until the first weekend of March. The same is likely true for Larimer County Parks, although no official announcements have been made at this writing.
However, for the early boating angler there are a few options. If you’re willing to travel a few hours, Pueblo Reservoir is open and often offers boating options all winter. That’s about it for those wishing to make a wake. But, if you’re just looking to do a bit of fishing from a boat, Lon Hagler, Lonetree, Boedecker and Douglas often open their ramps as soon as the ice is off. Before dragging your boat to any reservoir this time of year, give Colorado Parks and Wildlife a call, check FishExplorer.com, or drive by the reservoir to confirm you can launch a boat.
Shortly after ice off, while the waters remain cold, there are a few catching opportunities to consider. First, many of the boatable reservoirs along the Front Range get regular stockings of trout in the spring and fall. It’s not the stocking truck you should be following, rather the recognition that a number of trout will have overwintered and will remain shallow, near the surface and shoreline, for the next few weeks while the water temperatures are sixty degrees or less.
These overwintered trout are often 15 inches or better. Many of the Front Range reservoirs also have solid populations of shad or other forage fish. While many think of trout as insect eaters, and they are, they will also feed on minnows when available. Consequently, trout fishing area reservoirs at this time is often productive with spinners, streamers, spoons, or other minnow imitating lures.
A second opportunity that shouldn’t be overlooked is the walleye fishing, especially early morning or late afternoon into the evening. Personally, I prefer the afternoon/evening hours when it’s warm. Walleye typically spawn in early spring when the water temperatures are in the low forties. This usually occurs within the first few weeks after ice off, as in now.
As the waters warm, walleye seek suitable spawning areas, which are highly oxygenated waters with a clean substrate, such as gravel or broken rock. On our reservoirs, this is often the riprap face of dams and dikes, but can be other rocky shorelines. The best sites will face into a prevailing wind. Be aware that on some reservoirs, such as Carter and Horsetooth, you are not allowed to fish off the dam faces.
The approach is to fish these areas during low light periods, preferably when there’s a shoreward breeze. Favored lures are jerk baits, or other minnow style crankbaits, spoons, especially Kastmasters, and large streamers. Jigs can also be effective. It’s not necessary to get deep, but a willingness to be persistent, and endure a bit of chilliness, will go a long way to success.
A final opportunity I watch for is carp. They seek out the warmest waters. Find them, and they’ll often take a crayfish pattern. Even if they don’t, in early spring, their presence often indicates active bass or sunfish nearby.
Be it boating, trout, walleye, bass or carp, open water is here and it’s time to get out and enjoy these early spring opportunities.
Email Dave Coulson at firstname.lastname@example.org