Fishing Whitney Reservoir

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Lakes along Highway 150 usually open up in early or mid June. On this particular trip they were open for Memorial Day weekend - a little earlier than normal. Mother Nature gave us a rare gift – a couple extra weeks to enjoy the high country. And I was out to take advantage of it.

There is still considerable snow in the Uintas. The highest passes may not be negotiable for a few more weeks. But most of the trails are usable. The lakes are all free of ice and most streams are running clear – albeit a bit high with runoff.

I drove Highway 150 on Memorial Day, on my way to Whitney Reservoir. I saw people fishing – and catching fish – in almost every reservoir. But most campgrounds had just a few outfits – unlike the latter part of the summer when there are crowds everywhere the pavement reaches.

Tom Pettengill, DWR fisheries manager for the northern region, says all the lakes which are accessible by truck have already been stocked. Most lakes along 150 will be stocked every couple weeks during the summer, and should provide good fishing.

When I saw how much snow there was still on the mountain peaks, I worried that I might not be able to drive in to Whitney. It's located on a dirt road, two ridges over from the highway. But I didn't need to worry. The road was just one continual washboard, but there were no treacherous places. I drove my station wagon in with no problem.

Whitney has long been one of my favorite get-a-ways because it is a beautiful reservoir in a spectacular pine and quake forest, and it almost always offers fast fishing. It's a good sized reservoir, by Uinta Mountain standards, comparable to Mirror Lake. Its just the right size for a little car-topper boat. There is a dirt and gravel ramp where small boats can be launched easily.

I was surprised when I pulled in and saw the number of people camping and fishing around the reservoir. There must have been two dozen families camped in the area. The lake is big enough to accommodate that many – and more – but I was stunned because I always figured the lake was "my" special place. It provided exceptional fishing last fall for nice (12-14 inch) rainbows, and I guess its fame is spreading.

Most people were fishing from shore, using worms, eggs, marshmallows – all the standard stuff. There were two small boats on the water, and one guy out in a float tube.

Everybody had fish. Almost all were small, 7-8 inch rainbows.

It was about two in the afternoon when we launched our Wayak super canoe. We were all decked out with fish finder, downrigger and trolling motor – ready to go fishing in a serious way.

All that stuff is great, and vital in some circumstances, but hardly necessary this time. I am glad we had the trolling motor – a four horse Merc which runs as slow and sweet as you please. It provided the muscle to keep us on course, while we concentrated on fishing.

We started out trolling, figuring we would take a look around the reservoir and see where the action was. But we could only go about 50 yards and then we would have to pull up and play in a fish. Terribly frustrating.

I was dragging a woolyworm behind small pop gear. My friend, Tony Pulliam, had a brass Mepps spinner on the end of monofilament. No weight, no downrigger. Working it just under the surface.

The boat ramp is on the east side of the reservoir. After we launched, we crossed over to the west side and worked our way up the lake, staying about 30-40 yards off shore. Little rainbows were hammering our hooks every minute.

Tony's spinner seemed to be catching bigger fish that my wooly worm, so I decided to change baits. I put on a needlefish, chartreuse, with orange spots. It's one of my favorites because it often takes big rainbows. I threw it out and almost immediately had a strike from what turned out to be the biggest fish of the day, an 11 inch rainbow.

Then the action stopped. Just like someone had turned a switch off. No hits. No fish on the graph. Nobody catching fish. We had come around the top of the reservoir, and we were making our way up the east side. Nothing. We crossed back to the west side, back to where we had been catching fish like crazy just minutes before, and still nothing.

Then we noticed black clouds building to the north, moving right at us. Then lightning started to dance and thunder started to boom, and raindrops started to fall, and we decided to get off the lake.

That was about four p.m. We were only on the water about two hours.

We waited a spell, thinking it might blow over quickly. But the rain started to come down hard, so we loaded up and started for home.

How many fish did we catch? I don't really remember. A bunch. They were pan-sized, but fun.

Whitney is a great place to take kids because they will almost certainly catch fish. And, now and then, a 16 or 18 incher slams your line.

All the fish we caught were rainbows except one, and it was a cuttbow – a wild cross between a rainbow and cutthroat.

There is a population of wild cutthroats in Whitney, and its tributary streams. The tributaries are closed to fishing until July 11, to give the cutts a chance to spawn – helping to maintain good fishing in the reservoir.

Even with the rain coming down, the dirt road posed no travel problems. It's rocky and seems to drain well.

The sky had been crystal clear that morning. But the dark clouds rolled in during the afternoon, reminding me that we are already in a summer weather pattern. The crazy weather which has all the cycles running two weeks early this year has summer-like thunderstorms developing many afternoons. With the potential for killer lightning. Big trouble in the high country! Last summer a Scout was killed because he took refuge under a tree during a thunderstorm.

The high country is quickly opening up. This is a wonderful time to get out. The fishing is great and the mosquitos haven't yet become a problem. What more could you want?

Get out and enjoy, in a safe, responsible way. Go prepared for anything – rain, snow, hail, mud. The weather can change from hot sun to freezing snow is just minutes.

Obey a few basic safety rules, so we don't have to go looking for you. Tell someone where you are going. Don't hike alone – always go with a buddy. Take a coat, even if it is hot at the moment. Dive into a low spot if lightning starts to flash around you.

In the Uintas, fishing can be red hot one minute and completely dead the next. If success is poor in one lake, there is probably another close by that may have good fishing. Be flexible. Plan enough time to enjoy nature's cycles. You may have to wait through an hour of two of slow fishing before it turns on again and becomes good.

But it's worth the wait.