Early Ice Trout

Early ice trout

Early season is a very exciting and rewarding time. For most people trout rule the ice out west. They are fairly easy to target, fight well and make good table fare. Early in the season the oxygen levels are high, food is very abundant and trout feel the urge to eat.

Trout are notorious cruisers. They will cruise the shorelines looking for food. The first steps I like to take is to look at a topo map and find a point that gradually gets deeper with a sharp dropping inside bend. This will cause cruising trout to hang out and mill around while they are deciding which way to go. Another good option is a small flat, especially after the early morning bite is over. Fish will cruise the flat all day, the bite might not be fast and furious but it could be consistent. 

Their diet is bugs, minnows and crawfish, this gives us plenty of lures to be successful with. During this time, it’s not as important what use but how to use it. There is generally an abundance of young crawfish. A great lure to use in this situation is a Leech Flutter spoon. Drop it to the bottom and just wiggle it never losing contact with the bottom. If fishing over weeds put the spoon on the top layer (or just underneath if the weeds are sparse) and wiggle it. The flash and vibration will attract trout. The hits will be vicious, trout like to ambush crawdads so they can’t get in a defensive position. Chrome with a splash of natural colors will suffice.

Minnows are also a very easy bait to imitate. Tubes, spoons and jigging minnows all do a great job. I like to keep these baits moving slowly around the bottom or just over the weeds. These hits will be a little softer but don’t be surprised if they try and take the rod out of your hands. 

Bugs are a mainstay in trout’s lives. Small hair jigs and tubes are a great option here. I will hang these down near the bottom and dead stick them with very little movement. I like to use a strike indicator if not in a stealth hut. The bites are very soft, if you’re not watching their tip or the jig you might not see it.

Early season colors are very simple. You just can’t beat white, chartreuse or black. Later in the season the brighter colors seem to work very well. 

Travelling light is very important on early ice. Up until I find 6” of ice my spud bar will work great, this also helps me check the ice as I move around. A small one man shelter like the Clam Kenai, Mr. Heater portable buddy, 2 rods and a few jigs are all I need. 

I like to get out very early and drill a few holes in various depths, this gives me the opportunity to move around without scaring the larger spookier trout.

If you haven’t tried trout at early ice, give them a try. They are willing biters and can put up a great fight. 


The mind is a terrible thing, or why I needed logbooks

I remember catching 20 fish one morning weighing over 200 lbs. in Lake Granby. We were averaging 10-15 fish a day weighing around 150 lbs.  I do not however remember the depth, but I do the location and the techniques along with the lures. The other things I do not remember

what we were doing before we learned this technique.


     When I started chasing large fish, one gentleman told me to go buy a day timer. It has a daily calendar which would keep fishing logs for numerous years. The beauty to these is after a few years of keeping this style of log book in my truck, I’ve been able to look back at a particular week and see 3 years of fishing. This gives me a great opportunity to go chase the best bite. 


     Items I write down are simple.

Location, depth, weather, results, what I used, any info I was told about (if I thought it was real). I also started using a GPS back then and Id give my waypoints a code. It is something like PHrds23s. The first letter(s) would be location (Pumphouse) then structure (road, south would be the south end of the road bed) then the depth at full pool (23). Depth at full pool is very important out west because I’ve rarely fished the same lake elevation on lake Granby from year to year.


     By keeping a simple written log book I’m able to glean information about my trips for the past 20 years. This has helped me turn tough bites into a manageable bite. Its also given me the opportunity not to think about what’s happening where, I just look it up.


     I’m not saying networking isn’t important, it is very important. If everyone we fished with kept a written log, wed never miss that very hot bite we always talk about. 

The fall season is just beginning, get yourself a day timer and start writing down your experiences. In a few years it will pay huge dividends.


It’s just after Labor Day which means we have less then 100 days before we’re walking on ice. I am not one to wait till last minute to get my gear ready. Over the weekend I spent a little time in the garage assessing my gear. I moved the hitches, extra buckets, chairs and stuff like that to the snowmobile trailer. In the weeks to come it will be time to inventory rods, reels, line and tackle. 

While inventorying rods I will check the guides closely for any damage. The reels will get last year’s line stripped off of them, cleaned and lubricated for the upcoming season. After that I will look at the line inventory, if I have enough ice line I will respool them as U get time. 

The tackle is the best part of the inventory. A few years ago, I started using Clam’s jig boxes and soft plastics wallets. These do help keep me organized.  If I’m lucky I put the tackle away in the boxes they belong in, if not it will be taken care of during a preseason game. After organizing my tackle, I can take a quick inventory and make a list on my phone of anything I need to restock. 

Every fall tackle manufacturer’s come out with their new shapes and colors. It’s always a challenge to see what we can’t live without. I tend to be a “shapes and size “guy more than a color guy. By understanding what you like to use, it helps keep your new orders in budget with your wallet.

While the weather is still warm, it’s a good idea to pull out the tents. Are they dirty, torn or just in need of a little tlc? Now is a good time to take note and get these ready. Look at the stitching closely making sure its not coming apart. Are the windows in good shape? How about the zippers? Did you bend or break any poles last year? Are the tubs cracked or worn down?  You still have plenty of time to get these in shape for the season. 

Later in the season I will go through the snow machines and service them. Along with a service I will spend time looking at the body to make sure I did not crack anything last year. Check the hitches closely, these go through a lot of stress during the season. I also start my machines once a month throughout the summer to make sure the fuel does not evaporate and dry out the carbs. 

This is a list I use to get ready for the ice season. It allows me to move at a comfortable pace and be ready when the ponds freeze up here. I always find more to do but that’s the idea, start slowly and keep moving at your comfort level and you won’t be in a last-minute panic. The other advantage of Labor Day is the water is starting to cool down and that great open water fishing will be getting warmed up. Don’t forget to harass those fish and while you’re out there look for new spots to ice fish. 


Keeping fish for dinner? prep it right.

A lot of people like to eat their catch, Im one of “those guys”. Years ago I would catch my fish, put them on a stringer or in a live well. At the end of the day would fillet them. I did notice the fish would be “mushy” and not taste very good. After a fishing trip with a couple older guys I learned a very important lesson. Fish prep before you're off the water. Here are a few steps I do to keep the fish cool and more desirable to eat.

  1. After catching the fish, I slit its throat and put it in the live well. The fish will generally bleed out in a few minutes. Bleeding the fish out gives us 2 results. Keeps the lactic acid from entering the meat. It also keeps blood from getting on the cleaning area, less mess to clean up.

  2. Keep your live well pumping, the water in your well will get very warm and nasty.

  3. I then throw them in a cooler UNDER ice. I always put meat under ice, this helps keep the meat as cold as possible.

  4. Ice fishing is a different animal all together. Frozen fish is tougher too fillet. In the winter immediately after the cash I will slit their throats. After they bleed out I will put them in a cooler.

When you get to the cleaning station your fish will be very cool and firm but wait there’s more. After cleaning your fish rinse them off thoroughly with fresh water. This washes off bacteria that will start breaking down the fish. Put them in a plastic bag, under ice, when you get to the campsite or home the fish will be in excellent shape to eat.

If you are freezing the fish for a later meal, either vacuum seal the fish or freeze them in water. We put our fillets in a plastic bag (with the species name and date on it) fill them full of water then force water out of the bag while zipping it shut. This keeps air out of the bag and prevents freezer burn. When thawing out our fish, we will put the bags in cold water. This will help it thaw faster without damaging the meat.

By following these simple tips your fish just might taste a little better. Please remember selective harvest is important. Let hem big fish go so we can have more smaller fish to eat in the future. If your interested in so fish recipes try these.

Organizing, Cleaning and sharp hooks

A few years ago my buddy and I were pre-fishing for a walleye tournament.  The bite was soft and light. He caught about 5 to my one before I decided to check the hook on my jig. I either didn’t check it before the first cast or the hook point hit a couple rocks. It was so blunt it rolled over my thumb nail. To this day he reminds me every time we go fishing to check the hook. 

After that fateful day I’ve become very aware of dull, rusty or bent hooks. I will also keep a close eye on my leader for twists, fraying or nicks. A couple minutes here and there might help keep that trophy fish pinned on your hook. I always tell my clients there are 3 points of release. Bad hook set or dull hook. Bad knot, twisted or weakened line. A drag that’s too tight or to loose. (We won’t talk about netting in this article)

Let’s start with some tips on hook maintenance. When a hook comes out of the package, I like to line the point of the hook up with the eye. Grab a pair of pliers and push the hook from the base of the bend right or left just a little bit. I’m a firm believer an off-set hook grabs more fish. When selecting your lure, jig or plain hook take a moment to look it over. If you see rust around the point grab a hook file and grind it off. While you’re at it check the sharpness of the hook. I do this by running the point over my thumb nail. If the hook scrapes or slides over it, I spend a few seconds sharpening it. Sharpen the hook away from the point so it will not form a burr on the point. If you keep your tackle in boxes make sure they are waterproof boxes or the boxes that drain and breathe. This will help with rusty hooks. To keep hooks sharp protect them by burying the hook in foam. Pipe insulation from the hardware store works wonders. 

Line can create its own set of problems. When fishing clear water for anything I like to use fluorocarbon. I must admit, I have a love hate relationship with fluorocarbon. Its more sensitive and abrasion resistant then mono, but its memory can drive me nuts. We vertical jig tubes for lake trout, the tubes are terrible line twisters. Keep an eye on twisted line, if and when it starts twisting up and causing problems cut it off and retie. Watch the bottom few feet of your line for nicks or fraying, if you see anything change it. If you’re a sports fan, watching a game on tv is an excellent opportunity to learn new knots. (A little practice hear helps land a few more fish.) If you’re still using fluorocarbon or mono from last year this would be a great time to change it out. Fall is right around the corner and those big fish will be looking to break a few hearts and create more stories. When I replace my line on the spools I color coordinate my line. All 6 lb. will have a green tint, 8 dark or smoke, 10 clear. This helps me look at a spool without wondering what’s really on it. 

I always loosen the drag on each reel at the end of the day. This keeps the washers from warping and gives me a smoother drag. Just make sure to adjust it when arriving at your spot. Run a cue tip through your rod guides, if they pick up the cotton there is a nick that could cut your line. 

Have you ever pulled on a snag only to retrieve a nasty old lure? I always throw them in a bucket and let the plastics dry out. When they dry out you will have the opportunity to see the actual color. Waterlogged plastics turn white in the water. This leads to another cool tip. While using tube jigs I always have a few in a zip lock bag of water. As the tube starts to lose its color I will pull it out, put a hook in it then fish it. Those muted colors can really get fish excited at times.  

All my crankbait, jig and hook boxes are vented, there is nothing worse than finding a box that got water in it and developed rust. Once a month I empty my entire boat, clean the storage compartments then restock it. This helps me keep clutter down to a minimum. If I haven’t used something in a while, I ask myself “Am I really going to use it or is it going to sit there”. There is no use in having your late fall gear in the boat during the month of August. While you’re at it check your life jackets. If your using inflatables check the green or red indicator, then act appropriately. Is your fire extinguisher charge good? 

These are some practices that might help catch a few more fish, make your day on the water a little more pleasant or at least help you clean your gear on occasion. I’ve adapted them, it makes me a little more efficient on the water.  My wife just told me she wishes id put as much energy in cleaning the house as I put in my boat. At least she notices.

Water level effects on Lake granby

It was fun this year seeing Dike 3 recede back into the depths.  It rises like a beached submarine every four to six years only to dive back to the depths a couple of years later.  I started guiding over twenty years ago and I have seen it all.  High water, low water, and everything in-between. 

What I haven't seen is horrible fishing.  Each year is not the same, but the fish remain and the habitat withstands the test of time.  Everyone notices the lake trout losing weight and gaining it back but did you ever stop to think about how water levels affect a lake like Granby and specifically a fish like the Lake Trout?  With so many changes, why doesn't lake trout fishing success change? The story is complex and includes two main acts.  Water levels affect feeding patterns of all species but also affects the recruitment at spawning time.  Let's start with how water levels affect feeding behavior.

It all starts with microscopic organisms known as the Phytoplankton (immobile microscopic organisms). These microscopic organisms are not mobile and stay in the top zones of the water column.  Zooplankton (mobile microscopic organisms) eat Phytoplankton but also avoid light.  They migrate up the water column to feed in the evenings and then drop down again to avoid the light in the mornings.  Since sunlight rarely penetrates more than 30 feet into the water the Zooplankton can be found in the top 30 feet of a lake.  

The next level of knowledge necessary to understand lake biology is the Mysis shrimp.  These small organisms were introduced into Lake Granby to feed the kokanee. But Mysis live at the bottom of the lake and Kokanee do not so the food source never materialized.  Instead, Mysis shrimp eat zoo plankton and here is the first detail where water levels come into play---if the water levels are low,   then there  is more of the lake in the 30-foot depth.  With more of the lake at this depth the Mysis are at the same depth as the Zooplankton (who migrate every day) and the Mysis shrimp eat more of the Zooplankton.  

Now we are finally to the Kokanee Salmon.  The Kokanee are filter-feeders and use their gills to filter vast amounts of microorganisms from the water.  They feed mainly on zooplankton and if you follow kokanee on the sonar they follow the daily migrations of the Zooplankton.  Kokanee also prefer a very narrow temperature range.  Their preferred temperature is 54F. At times this temperature range puts the fish outside of the depths of the Zooplankton and they do not feed.  When water levels are down the Mysis eat more of the Zooplankton and the Kokanee struggle to
get their fill.  When water levels are up, Mysis have a tougher time feeding on Zooplankton higher in the water column.

Finally, the Lake Trout prefers colder water (48F) and except at ice-out typically lives in waters 40 feet deep or more.  At extremely low waters levels these fish would be pushed to marginal waters in the deepest parts of the lake.  In some lakes the low waters would warm too much and the lake trout would struggle to stay alive.  Since Granby has many areas with great depths the typical low-water year does not exterminate the lake trout, it just pushes them to new locations.  Small lake trout
(less than 21" in length) often feed on Mysis shrimp and larger lake trout feed on Kokanee

With this knowledge it is easy to see how each part of the food chain operates and  that in low water years more of the feeding zones overlap creating competition.  

To win the competition for food your species must have had a good year for reproduction (called recruitment).  This is the second piece of the puzzle and the key player is the Kokanee Salmon.  The Kokanee only live for four years.  At the end of the fourth year they move upstream to reproduce and, like all salmon species, die after reproduction.  In high water years Salmon do not reproduce well.  So, even with consistent water levels there will always be a shortage of Kokanee four years
after a high water year.

Mysis Shrimp thrive in low water years because their habitat overlaps more with the Zooplankton.  When Mysis levels are high Kokanee suffer from lack of food.  Are you following me here?  High water levels and low water levels are rough on Kokanee recruitment.

High water levels the lake does not stratify. The kokes and plankton lose there "protection zone" the shrimp will live deeper and nothing will eat them. They travel u[p at night and eat the plankton. Then in the morning the kokes have nothing to eat. Low water levels the lake does stratify and the kokes and other fish can eat the Mysis shrimp. The plankton has warmer water and can reproduce.  The kokes do not spawn well in Granby, stocking is the only real way to keep these fish in the lake.
The kokes have crashed, but the CPW is stocking 1.5 million kokes in Granby  this spring. 

Falling water levels reduce lake trout recruitment.  Lake trout lay their eggs in 20 to 40 feet of water during October and falling water levels can put those eggs in jeopardy, especially as water engineers drop lake levels for winter.  When lake trout numbers are down Kokanee thrive because fewer of them are eaten by the lake trout.  Falling water levels also stress larger fish creating the potential for losses at that end of the spectrum too.  

        Low Water Recruitment  Low Water Feeding  High Water Recruitment    High Water Feeding
Mysis Shrimp          Good                 Excellent                      Poor                                    Poor
Kokanee Salmon      OK                     Tough                        Poor                                   Great
Lake Trout               Poor        Ok, if not too warm                Good                                 Good

Too many low water years in a row, combined with lake trout mortality from hooking, fighting, and trips to the hot oil will eventually decline the overall lake trout  population.  These low water years will eventually slow down lake trout recruitment  as well leading to a decline in the fishing success.  While this is possible, we have yet to see more than two low water years in a row during the last few decades. 

Now that you know the details, how does all of this affect lake trout fishing success?  It doesn't!  Since Granby has enough depth to support lake trout even in low water years, the lake trout will only be skinnier or fatter

Life and times of a lake trout bum or How my addiction got fueled

Lake trout spawn in the fall when the water temps fall to 48-57 degrees, eggs hatch about 140 days after being laid. This is a useless piece of information. I thought it would be a good idea to throw it in here, its how my mind works. For years I walked the shorelines of our reservoirs out west. Catching rainbows, browns, lake trout, salmon and pike.  

Sometime in the 70’s a Dave Leman and I saw our first float tube. We saved up money and had one before the next spring. Shortly after that we figured out how to rig a sonar units on them. In time we learned how to move the transducers around to look for shallow fish at ice off. Shortly after that we were fishing Green Mountain reservoir, drifting over a deep point when we saw some marks on the bottom. We got the heaviest spoons we had in our box, dropped them down and were ignored until we started reeling them up. We both got hit, we had no idea how much this would change our lives. 

About that same time Joe Butler wrote a book about trophy trout. I quickly learned casting big minnow imitating jerk baits was a great way to catch early and late season trout. Following Joes recipe for success after the jerk bait bite was over we switched over to paddle tail baits and lead heads. Having descent success with these techniques we were in heaven. 

Sometimes in the late 70’s or early 80’s a gentleman named Dick Gasaway was down at Lake Powell fishing for stripers. During a very successful trip he ran out of spoons, reaching in his box he decided to try a tube jig. The stripers tore them up, fishing was even better with these things. His buddy was headed to Flaming Gorge the next week, Dick reminded him to try those tubes for lake trout and the most famous lake trout jigging lure was discovered. Dick guided on Granby for a few years, then decided he liked fishing more than guiding. 

We heard the commotion about tubes and trout so we went and purchased a few. WOW! These things caught everything. One of our first trips with these was to Williams Fork reservoir near Parshall Colorado. We spent this snowy day walking the shorelines with tubes and caught over 50 fish. As time went on we fished them in our float tubes and figured out how and where to catch larger fish. 

Around 1985 we started seeing paper topo maps. We ran to the stores and found some of our favorite waters. After looking at places we caught fish, then looking for more spots like that we started to figure out what structure fishing was all about. I started a log book, where I would draw tie points to the spot I wanted to fish. This worked very well but the book would occasionally get wet and the ink would run. 

In the early 80’s I was given my first boat. It had fallen out of a pick-up and was in very bad shape. With a lot of help from a great friend (Curt Gallagher) and a few tubes of silicone we made the boat sea worthy (kind of). I could not afford a motor so I rowed everywhere I went. About a year later my dad gave me a 7 hp motor. Now I could go anywhere. After spending afternoons and sometimes an entire night on a windblown bank (The wind taught me the same lesson a lot of times. I learned to watch the weather and get off the lake before I almost died.)

I found an electric motor at a garage sale, built a small deck at the front of the boat and had a great boat. The boat ended up leaking A LOT! This taught us mobility, we could only fish one spot for a little while. We would have to get the boat on plane, pull the plug and drain the water out of the boat. Life jackets and throw cushions were on the bottom of the boat to help keep our feet dry. 

One late September evening a friend of mine and I went out to fish for browns at night in Columbine Bay on lake Granby. There were low clouds, rain and a little wind. Perfect weather for browns. As the night got later the fog came in, we could not see 50 feet. It was so dark we could not find our way out of the last “pond” in the bay. When we finally did we got back to my trailer, I called and ordered my first GPS, this changed everything. 

Now we could use our sonar units, the paper maps, my drawings to locate spots and mark way points on the GPS. I remember going out for hours locating structure and marking it. After a short while I realized the info I was putting on the GPS was a bit incomplete. I had so many waypoints I could not remember what was what. A friend mentioned putting names to them. We started naming spots some were common local names others were just made up. We then realized it would help if we added the depth at full pool this would help us know when to fish what spots. A waypoint might read “GRCC85” This included the lake, the spot and the depth at full pool. It was easy and quick.

In the late 80’s I found a 16’ Starcraft with an 80 hp motor on it. After putting a Lowrance LMS 350a and an electric motor on it, we were off. Then on a curious twist of fate on my way to the lake one day my truck blew a head gasket. That cancelled fishing, I took the truck to High Country Motors in Granby and had it fixed. While I was in the shop the owner came out and asked if I wanted to guide for him. He told me he just purchased an outfitter business for the hunting but needed a fishing guide.  I asked him “Why me” he stated “You are the only one dumb enough to go out every day”. That was my interview and I started guiding on Lake Granby. 

I was just hoping to make enough money to pay for a couple fishing trips out of state. After a couple years I figured guiding also bought new rods and reels. In 2003, guiding was getting busy enough I went shopping for a new boat.  A friend of my brothers was a sales man for Colorado Boat Center, he found out I was looking for a boat and called me. I stopped by looked at what was then a Tournament Series 192. Really liked the lay out and purchased it. The boat center put me on their pro staff, gave me a discount on the boat. All I had to do was work a couple boat shows for them. This is when I met Terry Wickstrom, he was full of great insight and advice in the business. He still invites me on his radio show to share fishing reports and stories. 

The following year I found myself guiding on Grand Lake, Williams Fork and Granby. Working almost 7 days a week between my day job of Utilities manager at Snow Mountain Ranch and guiding. The ranch was having a lot of problems with the water system and the swimming pool on the weekends. My boss came to me and made me an offer I could not refuse. I started working Friday thru Monday and guiding during the week. This opened up even more opportunities for me to guide.

In 2008 I met my wife Leesa while on vacation in Florida, after a couple dates and about 6 weeks we decided to get married. Within about 3 years she convinced me to quit my day job and follow a passion. We bought a house close to Lake Granby, and with great apprehension I started guiding full time. Guiding got busier then I could handle so I started bring a few people on board I thought I could trust. Now we have a great team with Dan Shannon, Randy Hall, Jake Foos and Sam Hochevar. 

I started writing this article on lake trout and the spawn, that subject did not get far. But that’s how fishing goes. Plan on doing one thing, then change to another. I never thought that guiding would give me the career it has. With any luck we can supply enough education, laughs and fish to make everyone happy. Our motto has always been “Learn something, have fun and catch fish”.