With warm springtime weather and the mention of fishing, most of us make plans to fish either the Green, Weber or Provo rivers, or Strawberry and Scofield Reservoirs, to name a couple of the more popular trout waters in the state. These are some of the finest fishing spots in Utah. However, if you want to catch a fish that gives you the best pound for pound fight, try heading to Utah Lake for channel catfish.
Fishing for the big channel cats in Utah Lake starts when the ice comes off in March and April. The fishing is generally slow at first but the feeding activity of the catfish increases as the water temperatures rise. Before the spawn, catfish concentrate around warm springs and in the shallow bays where the afternoon sun warms the water and they stay in these areas until the lake's surface temperature reaches the mid 60 degree range. Two great places to look for pre-spawn fish are at the warm springs located at Lincoln Beach and the Bubble-up behind Geneva Steel.
The fish are really aggressive by mid-May, when spawning begins. This is one of the best times for shore fishermen as the fish range freely in the shallows. Spawning activity is in full swing when the water temperature hits the low 70 degree range. A couple of prime spawning areas are the American Fork Boat Harbor and the Powell Slough (a boat really helps you get into the Slough). The spawn generally lasts well into June. It is not uncommon to have fish rolling close to shore in the shallows during the spawn.
The fishing continues to be great from the spawning period through the summer months. After the spawn it becomes a little more difficult to locate the fish. When the fish spawn they concentrate near shore, which makes them very accessible to shore fishermen. When the spawn ends the fish move out into the lake. Anglers with boats do better during the hot summer months because they can cover more of the lake and find pockets of fish.
Bill Bradwisch at the DWR says catfishing usually remains good through the summer, then slows down as water temperatures start to decline. On a rare occasion someone will catch a catfish through the ice in winter. However, I wouldn't make a special trip expecting to catch a limit of them through the ice.
Catfish may feed actively all day and all night long. The bite seems to be best from an hour before sundown, throughout the night and into early morning, declining after the sun has been up for an hour or so. My friends and I catch the majority of our fish between 6:30 p.m. and midnight.
Utah Lake is centered in the middle of Utah Valley and is accessible from every city along I-15, from the Point of the Mountain south to Santaquin. The lake covers a large geographic area. It has slightly less than 100,000 surface acres of water with an average depth of eight feet. The deepest spot in the lake is about 12 feet. It is a popular place to fish.
In a few spots anglers stand almost shoulder to shoulder, especially when the walleye and catfish are spawning. But it's easy to get away from the crowds, particularly if you have a boat.
Other species of fish in the lake include white bass and carp.
The most popular and accessible places to fish Utah Lake are on the eastern shore, starting at Lehi, where the lake flows into the Jordan River. Moving south along I-15 you come to the American Fork and then Lindon boat harbors, with the Bubble-up behind Geneva right next to the Lindon harbor. South from there is the Powell Slough area by Orem. Next comes the Utah Lake State Park in Provo. Farther south and to the west of Spanish Fork there is Lincoln Beach and Bird Island. All of these areas are known for the potential of catching large channel cats. My favorite areas are the American Fork harbor and Lincoln Beach.
Utah Lake holds some big catfish. The state record for channel catfish is 32 lbs. 5 oz., and was caught out of Utah Lake in 1978. When my friends and I fish for cats we generally average between five and eight pounds a fish, with our largest being a 10 pounder caught last July at night at the American Fork harbor.
Some of the popular, and my favorite, baits for catfish on Utah Lake are carp meat, shrimp and nightcrawlers. Hot dogs, white bass meat, chicken liver and commercial stink baits catch catfish as well. In Missouri, my uncle and I used chicken livers with cinnamon and stink baits exclusively for catfish with great success. Growing up in Colorado we caught catfish on hot dogs! Some people swear by commercial attractant sprays that are available on the market, but my favorite spray is WD-40. It really seems to work.
Carp meat sounds horrible as a bait, but is usually doesn't cost anything except time and a worm to catch a carp. Occasionally it's as easy as walking up and down the shoreline looking for a dead one. Not the most enjoyable activity in the world for obtaining a great bait. Carp meat works best when it is cut into strips about 1 1/2 inches long and about an inch wide. It is a firm meat that holds on the hook really well.
Shrimp is also very popular. The only drawback is that it can be expensive. It generally runs about $4 to $5 per pound. (If you ask nicely, your local butcher may sell you shrimp which have become too old for human consumption, at a reduced price. The older and more stinky, the better.) Half a pound is adequate for a days trip if other baits will also be used. I prefer the medium sized uncooked shrimp that is available at the deli in the supermarket. I take the shell off and thread it on the hook from the small end by the tail to the large end with the hook embedded in the flesh. Shrimp doesn't stay on the hook nearly as well as carp meat, but doesn't do too bad. It is a good idea to check your bait every 25 to 30 minutes when using shrimp to make sure that it is still firmly attached or the hook.
Nightcrawlers have been used to catch catfish for literally hundreds of years. Thread one on your hook starting from the collar on the worm and go down the body with the hook slightly exposed. They are easy to obtain, and inexpensive if you have to purchase them.
Attractants give the bait more odor and permeate throughout the water, bringing fish to your bait from a farther distance. My fishing buddies and I use WD-40 exclusively for both trout and catfish and swear by it.
The biggest factor in selecting a bait and attractant spray is to choose one that you have confidence in. It's all a matter of personal preference.
Gear for catfish on Utah Lake is strictly a matter of personal choice. A stout pole and a real with a large line capacity is a must. A five pound cat will double over a medium action seven foot rod and strip off 50 yards of six pound test in a matter of seconds. Their broad heads, thick bodies and deep forked tails make them an extremely strong and powerful fish. It's amazing to feel a big channel cat shake his head on the end of your line. It's nothing but shear power! Line should range from six to 14 pound test. If I had to choose a line class just for catfish it would be 12 pound test.
Your other gear also depends on the setup that is going to be used. Sometimes when we go on a clam day we put the hook on the end of the line with either carp meat or shrimp and place a pencil bobber up the line about four feet. Then it's just a matter of sitting back and watching the bobber for any movement. At other times we use a slip sinker or casting bubble above a swivel, with the line attached to the swivel, so the fish feels no tension or resistance when he takes the bait.
For catfish your accessory gear will more likely include the following: slip sinkers, swivels, size two to 2/0 hooks, casting bubbles, both pencil and round bobbers, a net, rope for a stringer, bug spray, a lawn chair, and a flashlight or lantern for night fishing.
Everyone seems to have their own little secrets when it comes to catching catfish. Last year my friends and I were fishing at Lincoln Beach when a group of fishermen pulled up next to us. One of them had on a pair of chest waders. He would wade out with the rods of his friends until the water was about six inches from the top of his waders, then cast out. Then he would walk back to shore with the bails open to get their bait as far from the shore as possible. They did catch fish, but no more than anyone else. Others swear by certain baits or setups. I've seen people rub bath soap on their bait for a scent attractant.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different baits and setups. Some days one bait or setup works better than others. One thing that my friends and I have found to be successful is to each use a different bait when we start fishing. That way we can quickly determine what the fish are after on that particular day.
One good thing about catfish is that you don't have to catch very many to have a heavy stringer of fish. Fishing off the Powell Slough one day, three of use were in a boat, each using dead white bass minnows for bait, with a floating bobber. We had non-stop action until the wind kicked up and forced us back to the marina. We were constantly getting bites, but actually only landed three fish. But our stringer weight was over 20 pounds. We probably would have caught more fish that day if we hadn't left the worms and chicken livers in the truck. We were having a hard time getting a good hook set with the white bass minnows.
Catfish are a fine sport fish. They put up a great fight and will test your tackle to the fullest extent. They may not be the prettiest fish to look at but when you have a 10 pound channel cat on the end of your line you'll find out what a battle you're locked into and what...