fish lake splakeBy Dave Webb

At 8840 feet, Fish Lake is located on top of a mountain where the summer breeze is always cool and the winter winds are always cold! It’s a great place to escape the summer heat and find good fishing. But it’s when temperatures drop down below zero that the fishing really gets hot! Fish Lake is one of the best places in the world to ice fish for big trout. Big rainbows, bigger splake and nice lake trout are often pulled from its frigid waters.

As an added bonus, the lake occasionally yields a big brown. It also offers zillions of small perch, which are easy to catch.

Splake, in particular, provide an excellent opportunity to target big fish through the ice. They can be caught year-round at Fish Lake but it is during the winter that action is best. They are a cross between lake trout and brook trout and they grow big in the deep, cold lake. They have added a nice component at the lake, particularly to winter fishing, and now make up 50-60 percent of the trout caught.

Most splake caught at Fish Lake are less than 18 inches long, but of course there are bigger ones available. DWR netting studies always turn up a few over 10 pounds. The big ones are hard to catch — you’vie got to put in a lot of hours to catch a trophy.

The lake offers a healthy population of lake trout and 30-pound fish are caught occasionally. However, 16-18 inch lakers are much more common.

Brown trout seem to be making a comeback in the lake. In the 1960s there was a concerted effort to get rid of them. Workers trapped the spawning run and almost totally eliminated the fish from the lake. It took years for the browns to come back. Now 4-6 pounders are caught occasionally and there are a few browns in the lake that weight over 10 pounds. They are usually found in more shallow parts of the lake, in or near weed beds. It’s hard to target them – they are most often caught inadvertently.

Fish Lake has offered consistently good fishing during the past few years and the action should be good, as usual, this winter.

Typically, the big lake freezes in late December and people start showing up on the ice during early January. The weather has been strange this year so use caution. Fishing is often very good during the first few weeks after the lake freezes, and action usually slows as winter progresses.

A thick ring of weeds grows in shallow areas around the lake. A good place to start fishing is the deep-water edge of the weed line. People fishing the weed line commonly catch any or all of the various species in the lake: perch, rainbows, nice-sized splake and lake trout-perhaps even a brown. It can be very fun to drop a hook into the hole and see what comes out.

Ice flies tipped with mealworms or a piece of night crawler account for the most fish caught at the lake. Drop a small fly down into the water and you may catch a tiny perch or a big laker or anything in between.

Big fish are often found at depths of 40-60 feet, or even deeper, and heavy lures are needed to get down to them. A gitzit-type jig tipped with a dead minnow or sucker meat can be very effective. Heavy silver spoons tipped with bait also work well. We’ve had good luck with a gold-and-black Rapala jigging lure fished slowly near the bottom. Gold seems to be a good color for splake. A gold Kastmaster tipped with sucker meat or a nightcrawler can be deadly. You can fish with dead yellow perch at Fish Lake, and that can be very effective. Splake prey on the perch.

Jigging your bait occasionally can increase your productivity. Experiment with various actions until you find what is effective that particular day. Start with a short, gentle movement; just raise your rod a foot or so and then lower it. Let your lure come to a complete stop before repeating the movement.

A portable fish finder is needed if you really want to target big fish. You’ll have to spend some time hunting them down. Ideally, you’ll see big fish move across your graph at a consistent depth. Your bait will show up on the screen so you’ll know when you get it down to the range where the fish will find it.

If you don’t have a graph, talk to people to find likely spots. Also watch for signs that others have been fishing in an area. Look for a spot where there is a concentration of old holes and signs that fish have been caught.

Big fish are usually found in deep water. The old standby technique of dropping your lure all the way to the bottom and then counting turns as you reel it up to the desired depth does not work well when you are fishing deep. It’s better to count turns as you drop your lure, if you don’t have a sensitive fish finder.

If you get bored and want to catch a bunch of fish, move closer to shore and fish right in the weeds. You’ll catch perch and an occasional rainbow. You can often catch buckets full of perch in a few hours if you work at it.

Perch were introduced to the lake illegally — probably by anglers using them as bait — and they have caused problems. They are overpopulated and stunted, so most are small. There is no limit on perch at the lake and biologists encourage anglers to harvest as many as possible.

The first hours of daylight are usually the most productive for splake and lake trout.

When the sun is out daytime temperatures may be relatively mild. But if the wind comes up or a cloud moves over, temperatures will plunge and it will be really cold. Nights are always very cold, so be prepared.

Camping at Fish Lake is a popular summer activity, but few people are hardy enough to camp there during winter. There are numerous lodges and motels in nearby towns. See the lodging database on this website for details:

The road is plowed to the lake but not beyond. After major storms it may take a day or more before crews get the road cleared.

The lake is also a popular starting point for snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. Some backroads are groomed for snowmobile use and provide exciting rides into very scenic country. Options range from short jaunts to extended adventures. Other roads are closed to snowmobile travel. Check the Forest Service recreation map for details.

Fish Lake is one of the highest major Utah fishing waters. Virtually every storm that crosses southern Utah collides with the the mountain, and it often snows there even into June. It is not uncommon for the temperature to drop below zero through the winter months. Go prepared for harsh conditions.

The lake is located in south-central Utah, about 200 miles south of Salt Lake City. It is a great destination for an adventure trip over a long weekend.