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Troll or drown worms for Ackley Lake trout

7/25/2005
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    Ackley Lake is finally full, and that means central Montana trout anglers can harvest limits of 2-pound rainbows, with a few larger browns filling out the creel.

    This irrigation reservoir located south of Hobson is one of the most consistent trout waters in the region — when it's full of water, that is.

    It has been one of the many victims of the extended drought that's parched fisheries all across the Judith Basin. But the May and June storms that flashed across the area filled the lake, and because the crops in the irrigation district also got water the natural way, Ackley isn't expected to be sucked down by irrigators too far this summer.

    "We fish here every year, early in the spring after the ice goes off and then a couple of times in the summer," said Moore angler Jerry Fawles.

    "It hasn't been too good for the last few years but this year we're hitting fish every time out. I think the fact that the water is up in the willows is bringing fish up and making them pretty active."

    Fawles and his nephew were just stringing up their rods to fish from shore when I contacted them two weeks ago, but they said at that time the best fishing was from shore. They recommend dunking a worm off the northern shore, either at the main vehicle access or just east of the boat ramp.

    They said that Ackley is a better trolling destination in July and August. They pull lead-core line and either smaller Rapalas or Wedding Ring spinners tipped with a worm, and claim that the hardware appeals to a slightly larger fish than the worm-and-marshmallow combination that works from shore.

    Dave Snyder at Don's (406-538-9408) in Lewistown, Mont., notes that trollers are taking 5-trout limits of 2- to 3-pound trout regularly on Wally Diver crankbaits trolled on leaded line or behind a jet diver.

    "The lead-line guys say they're putting out about five colors of line to get down to the fish," he said.

    Ackley Lake is managed as a "primitive" Montana state park, which means there are some amenities, but not too many. There is primitive camping, picnic tables and a gravel boat ramp, but don't come here expecting to plug a camper trailer in or to have running water or a shower room.

    Dunk a worm: One of the problems with having so much water in Ackley Lake is that the shoreline access is a little problematic.

    The full pool has backed water up into shoreline willows, so if you're fishing from the bank, you'll need to find a spot where you can make a clean cast into open water, and a spot where you can pull a fish in without getting snagged on the timber.

    The entire north shore is good, especially if the wind is blowing — which is just about any day you care to visit Ackley. The wave action tends to create a mud line about 20 feet from shore, and trout will stack up along that line and feed on aquatic insects and crustaceans that are churned up by the waves.

    "We'll cast out beyond that dark line and reel in just a little," said Fawles.

    "We just fish a third to half a worm on a size 8 hook and we'll usually add a colored marshmallow either above the worm or on the hook point to give it some scent and flavor."

    Then Fawles and his nephew stick their rod butts in holders, have a snack and wait for their rod tips to jiggle. They've had some luck casting spoons and Panther Martin spinners from shore, but they both say that soaking bait is a more consistent method for collecting fish.

    Trolling

    If you troll, stay toward the middle of this bathtub-shaped lake.

    The shorelines tend to have gentle gravel shoulders, so snagging the bottom isn't a big issue, but if you work the shoreline too close to the willows, you'll almost certainly run into trouble with the woody debris.

    Ackley Lake isn't overly deep even when it's at full pool.

    The deepest portion of the lake is about 40 feet deep, but the lake is large enough that you can make some extended trolling runs and have plenty or room to turn your boat around without fouling your lines or running into another angler.

    Fact is, you'll probably have the lake to yourself, as long as you fish on a weekday. Weekends can be busier, both from fellow anglers and from water recreationists who tend to say along the northern shoreline.

    Troll with hammered-copper and nickel spoons, bright spinners such as Mepps Aglias, silver Panther Martins and Wedding Rings, and any of a variety of 3-inch crankbaits, said Snyder.

    Fly fishing is also an option at Ackley. Float tubing is catching on, and anglers who dredge nymphs or smaller Woolly Bugger and leech patterns do well.

    A more popular activity is fishing in the evening when the lake's hexagenia mayflies hatch.

    Fish a large mayfly pattern such as a Parachute Adams or Quill Gordon in size 12 to 14 for these large, cream colored mayflies.


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