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"Trout Approved" 5 Ice Off Stillwater Fly Patterns

As stillwater fly fishermen, one of the most exciting things we get to look forward to is the anticipated start of another fishing season. After a long winter spent hunched over a dimly lit fly tying bench, patching the gaps in your fly box, the cabin fever grows within and becomes almost unbearable. In my biased opinion, spring is the time of the year I look forward to the most, mainly due to one reason– ice off. Two simple words that bring so much thrill and excitement. Of course, those two words are attached to many different reasons of why we love spring; the official start to camping, campfires, longer days, warmer weather and insane days of fly fishing.

Rainbow trout caught fly fishing during ice off in the BC Interior.
Rainbow trout caught during ice off in the BC Interior.

Ice off proves to be one of, if not the most, enjoyable times to be on the water. It’s the special time between being unable to fish and the dreaded turnover. During this short window of time, oxygen levels within the lake are concentrated to a section just below the water’s surface, typically between 3’ to 10’ ft deep. Trout are confined to these shallow waters loaded with oxygen and begin eating almost anything in sight. It’s a feeding frenzy and a fly fisher's dream.

There are a few key fly patterns to keep in your fly box during this special time. Lucky for us, we were able to consult with the trout in our local stillwaters to find five “trout approved” fly patterns for ice off. Keep in mind, these are not in any particular order, but they will most definitely work. Go find yourself some ‘tippet breakers’ during this year's ice off!

1) Chironomid Pupa:

Arguably the king of all stillwater fly patterns, the Chironomid pupa is a spring time favourite when the ice comes off the lake. Although you may not see many Chironomids hatching at this time, you can certainly count on the pupa to be wiggling their way throughout the water column.

Sample of Chironomid Pupa from trout
Early Season Chironomid Pupa. Photo credit: Mike Green

Many different colours will work during ice off including black, green, chrome, and red. Another great early season pattern is the red-butt chironomid which imitates the transitional period between larvae to pupa. The Chironomid sizes in the early months of the year will usually start small, ranging between #14-20. ‘Match the hatch’ and find out which colour and size the trout are feeding on when you hit the water.

2) Chironomid Larvae (Bloodworm)

As the trout feed in the shallow waters of spring, hang bloodworms under an indicator as close to the muddy bottom as possible.

Example of Bloodworms which trout eat
Bloodworms. Photo credit: Phil Rowley

Trout use their nose to dig up the bloodworms' mud tubes and release them into open water for a quick snack. Bloodworms are typically dark red, wine, maroon and can even be found in green-ish colours. Tails constructed of marabou work great to imitate their squirming motion in the water. Bloodworms can grow to be quite big, size #12-14 on a straight shank or curved nymph hook will do the trick.

3) Freshwater Shrimp/ Scuds

Although available year round, trout tend to gorge on freshwater shrimp, aka scuds, in the early stages of the fishing season.

Scud for fly fishing
Size 12 Scud, bead head. Photo credit: Stanton Jack

Not only are they a fulfilling and abundant meal, but because many of the other aquatic insects haven’t made their presence known yet, the scud is a hot ticket item for hungry trout. Popular colours include different shades of green and olive in sizes ranging from #12-16 on a scud hook or curved nymph hook. Freshwater shrimp patterns are flies that are often overlooked, but they are fun patterns to imitate due to their erratic swimming behaviour. Grab your floating line with a long leader or your intermediate sinking line and strip in some trout on this important ice off pattern.

4) Water Boatmen

A stillwater specialty at two major times of the year; spring and fall. Water boatmen are a fantastic fly pattern to have in your box at ice off, as they live just under the ice during the long winter months.

Water Boat fly pattern
Water boatmen tied on a size #14 hook

When the ice melts they become an important target and food source for a cruising trout. Confined mainly to the shallow waters, water boatmen are at their largest size in the spring when they reach maturity. They are typically tied on a size #14 hooks in different shades of olive, black and tan. Their underbody is usually chrome coloured due to a trapped air bubble which allows them to breath under the water. Their most recognizable feature is the oar-like hind legs which propels them upwards to the water's surface to breathe and back down into the water again to feed.

5) Leeches

A staple throughout the year, the leech is without a doubt a ‘meat and potato’ type of fly pattern for early spring. What looks more appetizing to a deprived trout than a juicy leech casually swimming by?

Wholly Bugger fly pattern
Woolly Buggers are common flies used to imitate Leeches

Usually fished by either casting & retrieving, suspended under an indicator or even trolled around all areas of the water, leeches are a crucial fly pattern to have in your fly box. They are tied mainly on a size #10-14 hook in a variety of colours including; black, brown, maroon and olive. Some of our favourite leech patterns are the micro leech (BMW), woolly bugger, pine squirrel leech, Vampire leech and the red or green egg-sucking leech.

With the countdown to ice off underway, be sure to load up on these five “trout approved” fly patterns for early season success. FISH ON!


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