By Dan Potts
The "natives" or cutthroat trout now found in Strawberry Reservoir are not the same cutthroats that we all knew years ago. Those fish of yesteryear originated from Yellowstone Park and certainly were not native. Yellowstone cutthroat trout are primarily insectivores - fish that eat mostly insects. In fact, insect-like imitations like the old favorite double renegade were what most of us used back then.
The cutthroats found in the Berry today came from Bear Lake here in Utah, but are still not native to the Strawberry area. In fact, this specialized strain of the Bonneville cutthroat has evolved for the last eight thousand years to become a highly versatile generalist that shifts to eating primarily fish as it grows larger. At larger sizes it eats Bonneville cisco in Bear Lake. In Strawberry we all hope that it will shift onto Utah chubs and suckers to ultimately help the pond stay in balance and produce the incredible fishery we have all envisioned through implementing the new fishing regulations.
So, what are some techniques for catching (and releasing) these great, new fish before they ascend the tributaries to spawn in June? The easy answer is, "it’s easy!" Catching spring cutts is primarily a shoreline thing. Oh sure, the fish at this time of the year are spread out all over the place, with oxygen and comfortable temperatures plentiful at most depths, but as the temps increase, the fish need food before the rigors of spawning. The shallows provide more food faster for "impatient" cutthroats. The sterile rainbows do not have these demands, as they will not be spawning and have not donated most of their resources to the production of eggs and sperm.
Since most of us would rather catch larger fish, it makes the most sense to fish with baits large enough to NOT catch smaller fish. And, since it makes the most sense to release most (or all) of these larger fish, it also makes sense to use barbless hooks. I at least bend all of the barbs down with a pair of pliers or hemostats to not only prevent excess injury to fish, but also to myself and others, especially in the close quarters of a boat.
I prefer to use spoons and "stick baits" because of their "wounded fish" action, which gets more strikes. Casting large spoons is great for covering large areas quickly and efficiently, especially when cutts are more aggressive. I find the best colors to both attract fish and elicit strikes are in descending order: silver, orange, red, gold and white. So, one of my favorite spoons might be the classic red and white Daredevil. One of the all time best spoons on Yellowstone Lake turns out to work very well on Strawberry, a "hammered" silver spoon with a flourescent orange diagonal stripe. Spoons cut from thicker metal can be cast farther and have a more seductive wobble on the slower, steady retrieve that works better. It really helps to use high quality ball bearing swivels with cross lock clips for more action and reduced chance of losing the lure.
Stick baits (Rapala-like lures) are especially good when fish are not as aggressive, and need a little more enticement to strike. These minnow-shaped lures more precisely "match-the-hatch" for finicky cutts. I prefer floating baits, as they have more action on a slower retrieve and are not as likely to snag on the still-prevalent submerged sagebrush. With the barbs bent down, they are also more easily worked lose by changing angles on the lure before pulling hard enough to bury the hook too deeply. Favorite colors include: silver, rainbow pattern, gold and flourescent orange.
the only problem with most crank baits right out of the box is that they match hatch too well, swim just like a healthy bait fish. Predators cutthroats would rather chase easier prey don’ seem to be as healthy. So i either tie lure directly my line at an angle slightly down from horizontal or bend nose eye bit and use cross-lock clip. if does not run entirely straight simply towards side which tracking. these techniques greatly improve "make them look more susceptible."
I either cast and/or troll spoons or stickbaits from a boat. Along steeper banks I simply long-line troll a rod out each side, run one or two more rods on planer boards deployed towards the shore and allow one angler to cast towards the shore from the bow. Learning to use tethered or in-line planer boards to get your baits closer to the shore and/or away from your boat can take a bit of practice. I still curse every time I run my lures into the shore or bottom using planer boards, but they sure can improve your catch rate when the boat is spooking fish, or when they are closer to the bank.
In shallower water it sometimes makes more sense to anchor up far enough back in a bay that you can cast to shorelines in most directions. Everyone simply "fan casts" until the captain decides it is time to move again. Having more than one person casting out of a boat at the same time, however, is dangerous, even with experienced adult anglers!
My favorite thing, however, to do is simply stroll along any shoreline casting up and down the banks diagonally. Getting the captain to let off anglers on the shore to fish allows for more relaxed fishing for those left in the boat and provides for a more through coverage of what might be a remote, seldom fished area. Rubber knee boots keep feet dry in often wet and muddy springtime conditions, and are easily washed off before getting back into a clean, carpeted boat.
Fly fishing with large, bright streamers is also great. However, it reminds me of hunting elk with a blow gun. One could do it, but why? With the reduced mobility of a float tube (or even a kick boat), and the reduced casting distance, the fly fisher is tied to a smaller area and to waiting for the fish to come to him. One solution is to hike and cast along the shore lines. I like to make a cast forward, a false cast or two, and a cast back the other way as I slowly walk along. This allows me to fish both ways to pick up fish coming up from behind a well as in front. Again, brighter flies with white, silver, red and orange get more attention of aggressive fish, and black, brown and green ones when they are neutral. You cannot throw flies that are too big!
Everyone should stay aware of "surprise" spring thunderstorms! Nothing can spoil a great day more than having someone struck by lightning or being stranded for hours (or even over night) due to high wind and waves, that are both common on the Berry. Shore-walkers should always carry a light day pack with a raincoat (windbreaker), a warm hat, a bit of water, a little food, and a flashlight in case they are stranded due to a storm. Boaters should have a "bimini" cover if their boat does not have a cabin to stay drier in a downpour. Folk with aluminum boats and/or graphite fishing rods should NOT try and get back to the ramp or car if a storm comes up, rather they should beach the boat in the nearest protected area and proceed as shore-walkers, looking for cover away from the open until it all passes. It may even be necessary to lay your graphite fishing rod down rather than get shocked by high electrical potential or risk being struck by really BIG sparks. Again, rubber boots may do more than just keep your boat clean, they may save your life from lightning. The very best spring fishing can occur immediately after rainstorms, but let’s be cautious and safe.
Copyright Dan Potts, 2005