Cleveland Reservoir Rainbows
(UTAH FISHING & OUTDOORS - December 1, 1991)
I almost went ice fishing on November 16. That would have been very early in the year — perhaps the earliest ever in Utah. But the ice I hoped to find had vanished during a warm storm. So, I fished open water, frozen in a cold wind, but caught nice fish and had an enjoyable outing.
I know I was rushing the season, but that's part of the joy of writing for this magazine. I'm expected to work a couple weeks in the future — to identify good fishing spots before they become hot, so we can tell you folks where to go and what to expect.
Most reservoirs don't freeze solid until about Christmas, but some of the high elevation waters become safe earlier. Scofield is usually one of the first to freeze; it often has safe ice by the first or second week in December. A couple years ago I fished through two inches of ice at Scofield on November 28.
Scofield was treated this fall and all the fish have been killed. It was recently stocked again but is closed to fishing this winter.
But it all depends on which way the wind blows. If the wind blows storms across the state — which has been the case so far this fall — the freeze slows down.
We had some pretty cold weather in late October and early November, and I heard there was a thin sheet of ice on Scofield on November 6th. But then a wet storm dumped slushy gunk in the mountains and the ice melted.
But the report was enough to start my brain working. Large, deep reservoirs freeze more slowly than smaller, more shallow waters. Scofield isn't particularly deep, but it's a good sized reservoir, by Utah standards. There are other, smaller, reservoirs up the mountain a bit — up where it is colder. If Scofield had a sheet of ice by November 6, perhaps some of the little reservoirs up the mountain would be frozen solid. Perhaps....
I decided to try Cleveland Reservoir, located along SR 31, just under the summit, because it provided very good fishing during the fall, and because it is located along a road which is open most of the time, even during stormy weather.
I talked a couple friends, Mitch and Joseph White, into coming along, and we sat out for adventure.
It had been rainy in Salt Lake City for a couple days, but the storm started to move out Friday afternoon and it was partly cloudy when we left that Saturday morning. Before we left we feasted on pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon, provided by a wife (Elizabeth White), who truly understands the heart of a fisherman. So we were feeling pretty good as we drove south on U.S. 89.
Until we got to Fairview, where we left the highway and headed up the mountain.
The storm was clearing out of northern Utah, but lingering in the south. A dark cloud sat low on the mountain, causing foggy conditions which made driving treacherous. It was so thick in spots that it was difficult to see vehicles just 20 yards away. There was snow on the road and in some spots it was difficult to identify the edge of the pavement. Not the most pleasant conditions. We wondered if we would even find the reservoir in the fog — snow on top of ice would make it look like just another meadow.
But the clouds were higher on the east side of the mountain — not right down on the road — so driving was much easier. Finding the reservoir was no problem, dark blue water against pure white snow.
Mitch likes to fish the small, high mountain reservoirs, and he's good at it. He puts salmon eggs on the bottom, patiently working the arch of water which can be reached from one point on shore. He has the concentration necessary to watch his line diligently, and has that sixth sense which tells just when to set the hook.
I prefer a more active type of fishing, casting lures and flies and jigs. So I started to work my way up the shoreline, casting and retrieving. Meanwhile Mitch chose a spot, set up camp, threw out his line, put his hands in his pockets, relaxed and waited.
The road follows along the north side of the reservoir. The water level is quite low, and the reservoir is shallow on that end, with a sandy bottom. My lures would often bump the bottom, or snag in moss, but I didn't see or feel anything that resembled a fish.
Mitch had been fishing out about 40 feet with no luck. After awhile he put on a bit more weight, so he could cast farther, and rocketed his eggs out 50 or 55 feet. That's when he started catching fish. He let out a hoot and reeled in a fat, 12 1/2 inch rainbow.
I wasn't doing any good, so I made my way back, just in time to watch Mitch pull in another fish. Frustration!
Joseph had been experimenting with various lures, but switched to eggs when he saw his Dad catching fish. He cast out and waited and waited and waited....
It was a cold, windy, gray day. Snow fell off and on. It didn't take long before I was feeling chilly, despite my two sweatshirt and a parka. So we decided to make a fire. That proved to be no easy task.
We broke small twigs from nearby pine trees, remembering our Scout survival training, which held that dead wood still on the tree is usually the driest around. But even that wasn't dry enough to light with a match, mostly because the wind blew our matches out before they had a chance to warm the tinder.
And that's when I learned the true value of Utah Fishing And Outdoors magazine. It can be a lifesaver when you really need a fire. Luckily I had a few extra copies in my car (Of course, I would never burn my personal copy!). The newsprint we put between the covers lit easily and burned with enough intensity to start our twigs. Soon we had a roaring fire.
That should settle once and for all the newsprint/slick paper controversy which rages in the letters to the editor section of this magazine — newsprint burns far better than non-organic, chemically treated, pollution causing slick paper. When your life depends on it, you'll be glad we use newsprint.
The fire was nice. Even my toes warmed up. It was motivation enough to keep me fishing in one spot for awhile. I cast out to virtually the same spot Mitch was fishing, to no avail. He pulled in fish after fish, and ribbed Joseph and me every time.
Then the sun came out and I decided to venture over to the other side of the reservoir, looking for deeper water. The bottom drops off quite quickly on the southeast side, and there are rocky spots. I worked my lures around the rocks, varying depths and retrieval speeds, and caught two fish, a 12 inch rainbow and a 10 inch brown. I had a couple other strikes and often saw fish chasing my lure, but not hitting it.
I love to fish with lures. It's a thrill to watch the fish chasing the lure, to slow it down or speed it up, or let it flutter to the bottom, trying to entice the fish to strike. Great fun.
But the afternoon was waning and we had to be getting back. So I made my way over to camp and discovered that Mitch hadn't caught another fish. Ha!
Still, Mitch was the undisputed champ. He stood in the same spot the whole time, casting a little to the left one time, then to the right, perhaps a bit farther out, or closer in, hunting down the fish. When he found a taker he would go back to the exact spot, putting his eggs right on the bottom, and giving the fish plenty of time to find them, play with them, and then eat them. All in all, he caught five fish — all rainbows. Three were 12 1/2 inches and two went 10 1/2.
We put out the fire, loaded up the gear and headed back up the mountain. Up into the clouds, which blanketed the road and made it impossible to see more than 10 feet ahead.
It was a good trip — a genuine adventure.
Cleveland reservoir is about 2 1/2 hours from Salt Lake City. It's a ruggedly beautiful area, with thick pines and aspens and snow-covered meadows. The snow often piles deep on that mountain, and it's paradise for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. Plenty of wide open spaces, steep trails and solitude. Cleveland should provide good ice fishing for the first few weeks after it freezes solid. But it may get fished out because it will draw some of the pressure normally directed toward Scofield, which is now closed, and Electric Lake, which is catch-and-release only.
Joes Valley Reservoir, located on the other side of the mountain, is larger and usually offers very good ice fishing for splake, rainbows and other species of trout. It features a good number of big fish, and can take considerable pressure. It generally freezes a bit later than other area waters, because it is located at a lower elevation. It is accessible from a paved road which is is almost always open. It's also worth a trip.