Come ice out, I look forward to the chance to cast a line and battle a scrappy rainbow or brown. And for the most part, these early season fish are willing biters.
The one and only catch is water temperature. Those first few weeks of the open water season the lake water is near freezing. Because fish are cold blooded, which means their activity levels rise and fall with the corresponding water temperature, expect them to be lethargic. Simply said, they won't move much to catch their food, but give a trout ample opportunity to eat an easy meal and you can be sure that there will be plenty of bites on the end of your line. The trick for catching early season trout is to slow the presentation down. Be it a fly, a lure or bait, something that is slow moving to not moving at all is the ticket into getting a trout to commit.
A strategy I like to use is to work around the lakeshore hunting out all the shallow areas, typically in water that's five feet deep or less. The shallow water warms faster than the deeper stuff, and because of this, I've found more trout and more active trout in these locations.
I've had a lot of success using a small trout worm fished below a bobber, be it a slip bobber or one of those smaller clip on varieties. Lately I've converted to using small nymphs suspended under those same bobbers. A bead headed prince nymph or a bead headed pheasant tail nymph in sizes 10 - 14 is often just the ticket to catch plenty of pothole trout. It's a finesse presentation that fools a lot of fish.
One thing I've noticed is at ice out, lakes do not warm uniformly. There will be warmer pockets and believe me, the trout know about these pockets and prefer to hang on them. A south facing shore warms up faster. A south facing shore that has a shallow dark bottom warms up faster still. Early in the season the warmer water holds a lot of appeal for trout and they will congregate in these areas. Because of this, figure out where the warmer water is and start your search for trout there.
It's a given that this style of fishing lends itself to a run and gun approach where you work shallow water, cover the area thoroughly and move on. There's no sense in waiting around in shallow water conditions. Either the trout are there and they'll bite or they're not and won't. Because this is shallow water fishing expect spooky trout. I find the best approach is from a boat of some sort. Drift into the fishable zone, anchor a cast distance away, then methodically work all promising waters.
My buddy Ross and I hit this tiny, non-descript bay last year that was loaded with rainbows. As fast as we could pitch the bobber and nymph was about as fast as we would hook a trout. Most of these rainbows were big, husky, three to five pound beauties. We never moved from that spot and over the course of three or so hours we caught at least a dozen fish each. We spent more time fighting fish than fishing for them. It was good fishing.
Because rainbows spawn in the spring, when you find one, there is likely to be more nearby. And as much fun as the big ones are to catch, I'd recommend taking a picture and letting them go. At the height of their spawn these rainbows are about as poor a table fare as they come. They will clean up by fall and are great eating then, but keeping one in the spring usually leads to disappointment.
You should note that not all rainbows spawn in the spring. There is a great population of what I call 'silver fish', which are rainbows, typically from two to four pounds that are exactly that, silver. These are the fish I choose to keep for eating and you'll find that their meat is pink and they taste great.
These 'silver' fish are non-spawners and it's a no doubter when you hook one. While not being as big as the average spawner, they are more explosive and powerful. They run like a possessed tiger and will fight hard from the word go.
When it comes to the best time of day to be fishing trout, early morning and evening do produce, but it's simply not the be all and end all. These fish bite throughout the day and an angler who fishes a slow deliberate style will catch plenty. This spring make some plans to hit your favorite potholes and get ready for a great day of trout fishing.