Early spring is here in the Black Hills, as across much of the Ice Belt, fishing right after the ice has melted off the lakes can be some of the hottest time to get some casting in. Many species are back in the shallows or heading into their spawn patterns and looking to feed heavily after the long winter months.
The vegetation is starting to grow back as the sun’s rays heat up the water, which brings back oxygen levels to a normal level in the shallows. As more oxygen begins to accumulate, zooplankton and baitfish move shallower, followed closely by that which feeds on them.
For any fisherman or woman, now is the time to strike while the fish are eager to consume food and for some of us, trout are the first fish that we look to target at the start of the open water season.
For those of us who call the Black Hills home, this time period not only brings about all these factors but most importantly, it brings out the first spring hatches of bugs and other invertebrates that the local trout population will start to fill up on.
While the Hills are mostly known for their fly-fishing opportunities in the streams and creeks that meander through its pine-covered expanses, there is also ample opportunity to catch them with traditional fishing tackle in the lakes and reservoirs across the region.
I do not have a boat to get on the water with, but this time of year is one of the best times to catch them from shore as they are feeding heavily in the shallows.
Now, despite the disadvantage of not being able to be on the water with a large, outfitted boat, there are still ways to track down these hard-fighting fish using some simple tactics and some basic lake map reading.
For instance, in many of the lakes, the beginning of the spring signals the movement of panfish to head for their spawning grounds, usually in bays with ample vegetation growing in them. Trout likewise head for the bays where the fresh vegetation concentrates newly hatching insects and small baitfish.
Trout will also pursue unprotected fish eggs if they come across them. Points can occasionally produce trout as well, but I find that most of the fish are concentrated in the bays. if you can get high enough to see into the water, look for areas that have vegetation growing in them.
Most trout fishermen try to use treble hooks, bobbers, and salmon eggs to catch the trout, but I’ve never had much luck with this technique and have always preferred to cast spoons and spinners out from shore.
Once I’ve picked out the bay, I begin throwing out 1/8 oz. to 1/4 oz. spoons. Lures such as the Acme Kastmaster, Lil’ Jakes spoon, and Northland Tackle’s Buckshot Rattle spoon are my top spoon choices.
While most are surprised to hear about using the Buckshot in such a manner (it was designed as a vertical ice fishing lure after all), the spoon actually produces a lot of action when reeled back. Add in the rattling BBs for noise and it is often the spoon that produces the most trout for me.
Golden shiner and glow perch are my colors of choice with gold also being the best color in the Kastmaster and Lil’ Jakes as well. With these spoons, it’s important to reel them back at a good clip and throw in an occasional quick pause.
You want the spoon to be flashing and wobbling as much as possible to attract any nearby trout, which are curious by nature to sounds and flashes under water. I do occasionally use the tried-and-true Mepps, Blue Fox, or Panther Martin spinners that most associate with trout fishing.
They have their time and place, but the lighter weight of these lures limits their use when casting distance is needed, especially when the wind is blowing. On larger lakes, such as Pactola Reservoir, spoons outperform spinners for me. On smaller lakes or ponds, though, sometimes the smaller presentation of a #1 or #2 size Mepps can’t be beat.
If you do have a boat, I’d suggest giving these tips a chance as they also work if you’re on the water. I’ve used them from my inflatable pontoon with great success. Some days, casting into shore and bringing the spoons back out is better than the reverse.
I’ve also tried trolling in less than ten feet of water with these same spoons and have hooked a number of nice trout with this process. Sticking to the shallows in early spring can yield some great success regardless of if you’re on shore or on the water.
If you have lakes that have other trout species in them, such as brown or lake trout, sometimes you might even get lucky to catch them as they are swimming around in the shallows as well looking for an easy meal.
Early spring can be a great time to find aggressive fish and trout are no exception. They are hungry and, on the prowl, looking to gain back what was lost in body mass over the winter. By utilizing some simple location tactics and bright, noisy, or flashy spoons, you could find yourself catching good numbers of trout.
Look for green vegetation back in the bays or near points you can catch trout prowling around. Just because you don’t have a big boat or can’t bring it if you are visiting, doesn’t mean you can’t go to the shorelines and have a great time catching fish.
There is ample opportunity to catch trout in any lake if you do a little homework and look at a lake a little closer. Any of these techniques can be applied to your local lakes that have trout in them and for visitors and locals alike, as we get into the season, keep track of where you are catching them, because most likely, you can continue to catch fish there throughout the spring.
Enjoy the warming weather and get out and wet a line.