By Ray Schelble
Local anglers have long known Utah Lake as a place to fish the spring "walleye run" and concentrate on catfish and white bass for the rest of the year. Larry Mullins, head of Utah Lake State Park, maintains that although catching walleyes on Utah Lake presents different problems from other waters in the state, anglers can find good fishing for the species at times other than the spawn. About 15 enthusiastic anglers at the state park heard Mullins explain the ins and outs on the evening of July 11.
"There are a number of anglers who regularly catch limits of good size walleyes during the summer," he pointed out. According to Mullins, walleyes grow fast in the lake's warm water and "good size" averages 1 1/2 to 3 pounds for males and 8 to 10 pounds for females. Because of the unique character of Utah Lake, he suggested some tactics that differ from approaches commonly used in other Utah waters.
Fishing in most lakes tends to slow as summer warms up the water and food chains swing into high gear. Since Utah Lake doesn't have a good forage base, the walleye bite can remain good throughout the summer, Mullins said. Utah Lake walleyes feed mostly on white bass, although mayfly and midge hatches and small carp also provide feed during certain times of the year.
When is the best time to pursue these wily walleyes? According to Mullins, during the brightest part of the day. His observations from scuba diving in the lake affirm that sunlight passes only about a foot into the turbid water. Since underwater visibility is so low, daylight presents the best chance for the scattered fish to see a lure or bait. He recommended scheduling trips after about two to three days of stable weather if at all possible. As Mullins explained, "Any weather change will affect both channel cats and walleyes," due to the shallow water. The lake averages only 9.2 feet deep when full, and much, much less during periods of drought.
Trolling gives summertime anglers the best chance to find the 'eyes, as they are scattered and always on the move. "I would be willing to bet you'll do as well on Utah Lake walleyes with lures as with bait," he said. Trolling with lures provides a relatively quick way to search large, dimly lit underwater areas for roaming walleyes. Lures combine vibrations with color to attract fish and trigger strikes. Fluorescent chartreuse and lime green have proved to be the best colors for the lake. As examples of good choices for the lake, Mullins mentioned vibrating lures like Cicadas and diving, minnow imitating lures such as "fire tiger" colored floating Rapalas. Three to four inch lures match the general size of the Utah Lake forage.
Live bait rigs such as the "Lindy" rig provide an alternative to lures for trolling. He suggested using a larger spinner blade with the rig to get as much vibration as possible. While Mullins recommended floating Rapalas and crankbaits, the shallow water makes floating bait rigs unnecessary. Walking sinkers and bottom bouncers coupled with live bait rigs are virtually snag-free in the lake, he added.
To catch spooky shallow water walleyes, Mullins suggested using an electric trolling motor or other technique to cause less disturbance. He also pointed out that a small group of anglers were using side planer boards to catch their share of the lake's walleyes. The boards move trolling lines far out to the side, away from the boat noise. Since the fish can show up in water less that a foot deep, stealth becomes an important factor for success.
Although most of the lake has a mud and silt bottom with little structure, Mullins reminded anglers that dikes and other rocky areas provide opportunities for catching summertime walleyes. A night crawler, leech or dead minnow under a slip bobber can be a good way to ply these areas, especially for anglers without a boat. Dead white bass can be used for bait on Utah Lake only. Fishing jigs from a boat or from shore also can catch walleyes along the dikes. He suggested casting jigs parallel to the dikes when possible to keep them in the fish-holding zone for the maximum time.
A basic rule for finding fish on any water is to find out where the meal lives, since bait fish draw predators to an area. Waves washing against a shoreline or dike dislodge feed, which in turn often attracts baitfish and can draw predators such as walleyes. Mullins commented that when the wind kicks up, most people move to the side of the dike facing away from the wind. To improve the odds of catching walleyes, he recommended fishing the side facing into the wind.
Traditional fishing spots on the lake include Pelican Point, "the Knolls," the Lincoln Beach-Bird Island-Spanish Fork River area, the lake around the Provo River inlet south to about Provo Bay, and the "Bubble-Up" vicinity behind Geneva Steel. Mullins explained that warm weather walleyes could be found anywhere on the vast mud flats of the lake, though.
A word of caution when boating on Utah Lake: stay current on the location of underwater hazards as the water level varies. Hidden, rocky reefs lurk in the Bird Island/Lincoln Beach area, hoping to ruin your day. In addition, murky water makes extensive shallow water areas around the shoreline and other hazards almost impossible to see. A question at a tackle shop or marina can prevent a boatload of grief for those not familiar with the lake.