Utah's Best Ice Fishing Spots
Winter came cold and wet this year, and that means it's time to brave the storms and head for the ice. Action should be very good at a number of waters this year.
If you are looking for lots of big cutthroats and a few rainbows, you'd better head to Strawberry. Strawberry froze almost a full month early this year. However, that doesn't mean the whole lake is safe to walk on. Strawberry has this bad habit of freezing unevenly.
First the shallow bays freeze. They may have as much as three or four inches of ice and the main body of the reservoir may still have open water or worse, very thin ice. Caution is the key to a safe and successful trip.
Several years ago I talked to a couple of fishermen who ventured out onto the ice (Strawberry Reservoir) on a very foggy morning. The fog was so thick they couldn't see more than a few feet. They drilled a couple of test holes and found the ice was four to six inches thick plenty thick to support two fishermen. They moved out a little further and drilled a few more holes, caught several nice fish, and then the fog lifted. To their dismay they found themselves within about 20 feet of open water. They were standing on six inches of ice but 20 feet away the lake wasn't even frozen. Had they wandered out just a little bit further they could have easily fallen through and drowned.
Once you know the ice is safe, where do you drill your holes? Drill your first holes just out beyond the weed beds. The water may be as shallow as 10 to 15 feet but that's ok. The rainbows will be actively feeding and that means they will be cruising the shoreline just out from the weeds. If there are no weed beds, fish the shallows just before they drop off into deep water.
Fish with an ice fly tipped with a meal worm, small piece of a nightcrawler, cheese, marshmallow, or Powerbait. Use two hooks with two different baits until you discover what the fish like the best. Tie the dropper on a foot to 18 inches above the terminal hook. Lower the bait to the bottom and then reel in until the terminal hook is within an inch or two of the bottom.
Experiment with various jigging motions and rhythms until you find one that works. At first jig only every minute or two and bring the bait up only a few inches before you let it settle again. Let it come to a complete stop before jigging again.
If you aren't catching fish, bring your bait or lure further and further up off the bottom. Count the number of turns your reel handle makes as you bring your lure up so you can come back to that exact depth if you catch a fish. A portable fish finder can be a great help in determining how deep and how far off the bottom the fish are.
If you have been working one area for over a half hour and haven't caught any fish, move. Moving as little as three or four feet may mean the difference between success and failure. One year at Piute Reservoir I was fishing with a group of experienced ice fishermen. One person was catching all the fish and the rest of us weren't catching anything. To try to understand why this one angler was so successful, we set up an experiment. We drilled two more holes within two feet of the productive hole. The productive hole continued to produce fish and the other two holes went without a bite even though we were fishing with identical rigs and bait.
We decided it couldn't be the hole, it had to be the fisherman, so we made the guy catching all the fish switch holes. The new fisherman fishing the productive hole continued to catch fish. The other two holes didn't get a bite. Why? I don't know. I do know that having a hole in the right spot generally is the difference between a successful trip and going home skunked. Don't be afraid to drill lots of holes. Being in the right place is generally more important than fishing with the right bait or lure.
Strawberry should produce some of the best ice fishing in recent memory with lots and lots of one to two pound fish and plenty of three to five pound lunkers. If you get lucky you could even go home with a rainbow or cutthroat up to about 10 pounds.
Just after the ice becomes safe the fish will be cruising the shoreline and actively feeding. Drill your first holes just out from the weed beds (10 to 15 feet of water). Fish just off the bottom with any of the standard baits. A small piece of nightcrawler on an ice fly will generally take fish. Meal worms and Powerbait will also be effective.
Later in the winter the trout will move into deeper water and many will congregate around the mouths of incoming streams and around springs. But for now, the fish will be spread out all around the reservoir. If you aren't catching any fish, look for areas where the reservoir bottom changes depth rapidly. Drop offs, old channels, submerged hills, and ridges will all hold fish. Keep moving until you figure out where the fish are holding and you just might catch the biggest trout of your life.
There are a couple of things you should be aware of to make your ice fishing trip safe and enjoyable. First, the Strawberry side almost always freezes before the Soldier Creek side. The main reservoir will still have thin ice long after the shallow bays are frozen solid and the ice will stay island thin and dangerous around springs and the mouths of incoming streams for a long time after the rest of the reservoir is frozen solid. Keep checking the ice thickness it's better to be safe than sorry.
The road into the Strawberry marina is scheduled to be plowed all winter and access should be good except just after major storms. The road into the Soldier Creek marina will not be plowed and access will be mostly by snowmobile.
Be sure to release any cutthroats you catch. The best way to do this is to only bring the fish up into the hole far enough so its head is sticking out of the water. Reach down and unhook the fish then let it slide back down the hole. Don't bring the fish out onto the ice and don't let it flop against the sides of the hole. If you have difficulty getting your hook free, just snip you line.
Scofield has been an excellent fishery all fall and ice fishing should be dynamite. There's already six inches of ice on the reservoir so get up there and go fishing. The best fishing has been in the morning, between 8 a.m. and about noon. After lunch the fishing slows down.
Green Powerbait has been working the best. Ice flies tipped with salmon eggs or meal worms come in a close second. The fish have been shallow, in three to 10 feet of water.
Most rainbows are about a pound but a few three to four pound fish have been showing up. Look for the hot fishing to continue until about the first of the year and then fishing will slow as the fish move deeper and become less active. Still, if you get in the right place at the right time, you'll catch plenty of fish.
Don't be afraid to drill lots of holes until you find active fish. Once you do, fishing will be fast. Many of the bigger fish are falling for a combination rig with an attractor lure about a foot to 18 inches above an ice fly or gob of Powerbait.
3. Otter Creek
(Note: Otter Creek Reservoir was recently treated and restocked. Fish are not of catchable size this winter (2005-6) but will be by next fall. Otter Creek will soon return to its normal place as an excellent fishery.)
Fall fishing is usually excellent and when the ice is safe, ice fishing takes off. Look for lots of one and two pound rainbows with an occasional lunker up to about eight pounds. Green Powerbait has been working well and ice flies tipped with meal worms always seem to attract fish.
The Otter Creek RV and Marina will be open on weekends. They have lots of fishing supplies and information. For current conditions give them a call. Be sure to stop in to see what the hot lure is and to learn where the hot spots are.
The ice fishing at Panguitch should be fantastic. There already is about four inches of ice so get down there and catch some fish. Lots and lots of one and two pound rainbows will be caught and there is a good possibility for three and four pound fish. This could easily be the best ice fishing year Panguitch has ever had. For current conditions, lodging, food and super service call or stop in at the Beaver Dam Lodge. If you stay at the lodge they will drive you out onto the ice in a snowmobile, drill the holes for you and even bring you hot chocolate while you are fishing. If you are a first time ice fisherman or if you just like some of the comforts of home, give them a call at (801) 676-8339.
Since the special regs were adopted for Minersville the fishing has been getting better and better. Ice fishing this winter should be good with lots of 14 to 16 inch rainbows and some over the 20 inch minimum.
Remember the special regs there is a one fish limit and any fish under 20 inches must be released. Also you can only fish with artificial flies and lures. That means meal worms, Powerbait, nightcrawlers, etc. are not allowed. You'll have to work a little harder to get the fish to bite but once you get the hang of it, you'll catch plenty of fish.
6. Joes Valley
Lots of fat splake and rainbows should come out of Joes this winter. The splake are doing real well and go up to about 20 inches. The rainbow fishing should be excellent with lots of fish up to about a pound. Look for the rainbows in shallow water, 10 to 25 feet. The splake normally hang out about 10 feet deeper than the rainbows.
Joes Valley has a chub problem. Apparently somebody brought the chubs in as live bait and now they are found throughout the reservoir. To keep the chubs in check and to help keep the rainbow fishery alive the DWR has placed special regulations on the splake. Any splake less than 16 inches must immediately be returned to the reservoir. This will give the splake a chance to get big (about three years old) and to eat lots of chubs before they are caught and taken home.
Kevin Christopherson, of the DWR southeastern region, says there is a good chance the predacious splake will be able to keep the chubs under control. If the chub population continues to grow he is considering the introduction of tiger muskies. The tigers are eating machines that will grow up to about 30 pounds and they like to eat chubs. Joes has been an excellent fishery and lets hope these biological controls work. If not the lake will probably have to be treated with rotenone and that means all the fish will be killed.
Help the fishery out by releasing all the splake you catch under 16 inches.
Navajo contains lots of big brook trout and nice rainbows. Fishing will be excellent and there is the possibility that you could catch a four or five pound brook trout. Unfortunately, access will be difficult and the road to the lake will not be plowed. Snowmobilers and cross country skiers will have the best luck getting down to the lake.
Snowmobiles should not be driven out onto the ice. Park them near the edge and walk out onto the ice.
Navajo has this bad habit of becoming slushy and every year snowmobiles get stuck in the slush and a fun ice fishing trip turns into nightmares. Once your snowmobile bogs down in the slush, you are in trouble. If this happens be prepared for a long, cold walk back to your car or better yet, just don't drive that snowmobile out onto the ice.
This southern Utah water should be great for lots and lots of 10-inch rainbows and a few lunkers up to about two pounds. Newcastle normally doesn't become safe until late December and then the ice will only be safe until some time in February. The best fishing will be shortly after it freezes, some time around Christmas.
We throw this water into our top ten list just in case you want a new experience and a new kind of fish. Several years ago tiger trout were planted in this small water. Tiger trout are a cross between a brook trout and a brown trout. The tigers have done well and some of the older fish are pushing three pounds. Tigers are aggressive and not too difficult to catch. For more information turn to the story on page 14.
Access is difficult because of the deep snow and fishing for these unique fish will be an adventure. The tiger trout like flashy lures but will also take ice flies tipped with meal worms.
Other waters you ought to check out in the immediate area include, Electric Lake, Cleveland and Gooseberry (see map page 7).
10. Fish Lake
This old standby has gotten lots of bad press lately. There have been weed problems, changes in the lake trout regulations, fewer rainbows, etc., etc. but in spite of it all, the fishing should be good this winter, especially for the yellow perch. Normally people don't travel to Fish Lake to catch perch but if you want a place to take the kids where you know you will have lots of fast fishing, go after the perch.
The fun part is that while you are perch fishing you will probably catch a few other kinds of fish, like rainbows, splake and possibly even a lake trout. Look for rainbows in 20 to 30 feet of water and look for the splake and lake trout in 40 to 100 feet of water.
The rainbows will take meal worms, Powerbait, nightcrawlers, etc. The splake and lake trout will go after bigger jigging lures tipped with some kind of fish meat. Any of the jigging spoons or plastic grubs will attract fish.
The road into the lake will be plowed all winter so access should be good except right after storms.
Other area waters you should check out are Piute (map page 8), Johnson Valley and Koosharem (both on map this page). Fishing will be fairly slow at Piute but once you find the rainbows they will be big, up to six or eight pounds. Johnson Valley will be accessible only by ski or snowmobile, but fishing should be excellent for rainbows in the one to two pound class. Koosharem could be the sleeper of the whole bunch. It has been drawn down low and the fish are fairly concentrated. That could make for excellent early ice fishing for rainbows up to three pounds.
Oh, one more water. Steinaker, over near Vernal, is untested through the ice this year but could be hot for nice rainbows.
The water level's been drawn down for dam repairs and so the fish are concentrated. Action should be good using jigging lures, ice flies tipped with a crawler or meal worm, or with Powerbait.
Access is not a problem, just park along the highway (Vernal to Flaming Gorge), and jump down the steep bank onto the ice.