If you dream about catching big fish, fall at Flaming Gorge provides one of the best opportunities of the year. With the weather turning colder and the hunting seasons going strong, fewer anglers are working the waters, but those who get out can expect fast fishing in general and the chance to catch trophy lake trout, brown trout and other species.
Lake trout start to congregate near spawning areas in mid October and they can be caught trolling or jigging. Flaming Gorge offers some of the biggest lake trout in the world; a few 40-60 pounders are caught there every fall. Bear Lake and Fish Lake also have good populations of smaller lake trout, many running 10-20 pounds.
Big brown trout become more active and aggressive in October, as they prepare to spawn in November. They readily strike streamer flies and minnow-imitating lures. The Green and Weber rivers in particular are known to give up trophy browns in the fall; the Provo, Ogden and other brown trout streams should also offer good action. (We’ll focus on fall browns in a future article.)
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists at Flaming Gorge say lake trout are now moving into Linwood Bay. Sheep Creek Bay, Antelope Flats, Anvil Draw and the Stateline area are also good spots to look for the fish, which will be at depths of 60 to 110 feet over points and along the river channel. Special techniques are needed to get lures down to the fish at those depths. Trolling bottom structure using downriggers or steel line can be very productive. Try using a flatfish or crankbait, or a flasher trailing a squid or small lure. Another popular technique is to jig vertically using tube or bucktail jigs; sometimes it is effective to tip jigs with minnows or sucker meat.
At Bear Lake, biologists report red hot lake trout fishing. Anglers are catching good numbers of fish while trolling both the east and west sides of the lakes. Cisco Beach, North Eden and South Eden are productive spots on the east side and the "Rockpile" and Utah State Park marina are good spots on the west side.
Calling lake trout fishing "hot" is something of a misnomer. Lake trout fishing is always difficult – always challenging. When we say hot we usually mean the typical angler can expect to catch two or three fish an hour, and good fishers should be able to catch many more. Not so with lake trout. If you catch one trophy and several smaller lakers during your trip you will have done well.
A few people have mastered the sport and do much better than average. One group I talked to say they usually catch a dozen or more lake trout a day. What is their secret? Nothing special, really. They have good sonar on their boats and so they can identify active fish. They jig large buzz bombs and Kastmasters in chartreuse, pale blue and bright red. They use low stretch 20 pound line.
Their biggest secret is working the lure right down to the bottom. That's a challenge in deep water when there is a breeze bouncing your boat. Sometimes it helps to anchor. You’ll need to anticipate boat drift so you’ll be over the fish when your anchor line comes tight.
Early mornings and late afternoons are the most productive times to fish for lake trout. Linwood Bay is closed to fishing between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., from October 15 through December 15, to protect fish coming in to spawn. In other areas it can be productive to fish into the night.
Mostly, it just takes time and experimentation to find and learn to work the productive spots.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, you're right, it is. To catch big lake trout you have to fish for big lake trout. You seldom catch them inadvertently. You've got to be willing to focus, to persevere, to pay the price. You've got to do your homework, spend time on the water, and hope luck is with you.
Smaller lake trout are easier to catch. During spring and fall they move freely throughout the water column and are caught by people fishing for rainbows or kokanee. Troll a lure down 20-40 feet and you’ll catch a few.
The north end of Flaming Gorge freezes during winter and big lakers can be caught jigging through the ice.
Lake trout are often finicky. Hit them on the nose with a lure and they may still just sit there apathetically. But your chance of tangling with one is best during the fall, when they are concentrated.
Putting a lure in front of their noses is difficult because the big fish normally haunt deep water – during the spawn they might be down on the bottom in water just 60 or 65 feet deep, and during the rest of the year they usually stay near the bottom in water at least 80 feet deep.
It's difficult to control a lure at those depths. The easiest and most effective method is to troll with an electronic downrigger that automatically tracks the bottom. Such downriggers are expensive but they give you a real advantage that translates into more fish caught. At Flaming Gorge it's almost impossible to fish near the bottom with a conventional downrigger because the bottom contours are constantly changing – it's just too difficult to adjust your downrigger depth for every rock, hole or incline. An electronic downrigger uses sonar to measure the water depth and constantly adjusts itself. Set it for five feet off the bottom and that's where your ball and lure will stay.
Most people find it easier to jig. Throw out a marker when you find fish, then work that area. Just staying over the fish can be a tricky operation.
Drop your lure down until it hits bottom, they give it a good jigging action. If a trophy fish picks it up you are in for the fight of your life. People often battle a fish for an hour before losing it. Once in a while a person actually lands one of the monsters. What a thrill.