By Sam Webb
The water started to boil just off the side of the boat. Small shad began to leap and tail-stand in the middle of the boil in a futile attempt to climb out of the water. Then I saw the dark form of a large fish just under the boiling water. With amazing speed the monster rolled on the surface, inhaling the small shad. My mouth dropped open as I saw the length and girth of the fish. Its tail slapped the surface water as it dove after the fleeing shad. I estimated its breadth at about 10 inches. It was a BIG catfish, easily in the 12 to 15 pound range, and it wasn’t sitting on the bottom eating pond scum or dead and rotting fish.
This was as aggressive a fish as I have ever seen and it had a school of shad on the run, much like a large walleye or tiger muskie would do. That’s why Bill Furniss, our host on this outing, suggested we fish with Rapalas. With the catfish aggressively chasing shad, a shad imitating Rapala would be the ticket.
We had come to Willard Bay to chase down some wipers but couldn’t resist a little catfishing first. Bill suggested we cast the Rapala parallel to the dike and out from the rocks six to ten feet. "Reel and pause, reel and pause" Bill said. "When you pause, the Rapala will slow and start to sunk (be sure you are fishing with a sinking variety). Many times the catfish will pick up the Rapala as it drops so keep the slack out of your line and be ready to set the hook," Bill suggested.
It only took a cast or two and we were into the fish. Gary DeJong caught the first one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much longer than his Rapala. Bill said that we would have to put up with a lot of fiddlers because they were everywhere." Just keep on fishing and you’ll catch your share of big ones," he said. Sure enough, it wasn’t long and we were into some four and five pound fish. Now, I’ve caught a lot of catfish in my day but none stronger than the fish we were battling at Willard — big, fat, hard fighting submarines that just didn’t want to come to the boat.
The trip would have been a great success with only the fantastic catfishing, but we were just getting started. As the sun crawled lower on the horizon and perched on top of Antelope Island, Bill said it was time to find the wipers. I was having so much fun with the catfish I almost protested, but decided to keep my mouth shut. I was glad I did.
Bill pointed the boat toward the North Marina. As we flew across the water, Bill said the wipers were herding the shad into marina. In the enclosed bay, the water was like glass and immediately we started seeing small boils. By the time we moved into the middle of the marina and had rigged our rods, the entire bay was boiling. I was astounded. Everywhere I looked there were shad trying to climb right out of the water in an attempt to escape the schools of foraging wipers.
I cast toward a boil and almost instantly had a hit. It wasn’t a hit like I thought it would be. The wiper must have been traveling at about 100 miles an hour when it hit my lure. I didn’t have time to set the hook. By the time I raised the rod tip, my drag was singing and line was being stripped from my reel. As I fought to gain control of the fish, I thought, "How big are these wipers? These fish are fighting as hard as the four and five pound catfish I was catching."
In a minute or two I had my answer — about 12 inches. Again I was surprised. "How could a 12 inch fish fight so hard?" Time after time I was surprised by the power of the hit and the strength with which the wipers fought.
I wasn’t thinking about catfishing any more. As a matter of fact, I didn’t want to stop fishing long enough to take some pictures. I never caught such a hard fighting, scrappy fish as these wipers. And these were just 10 to 12 inch fish. In just a few years these 12 inch fish will grow to 6 to 10 pounds. They’ll be huge and easily the hardest fighting fish found in any of Utah’s waters. They are already amazing fighters and its only going to get better and better.
As darkness settled over the marina, Gary released his last wiper and began to break down his rod, "next time I see Tom Pettengill I’m going to give him a big kiss," he said. Tom is the fisheries biologist responsible for bringing the shad and wipers to Willard Bay. And, what a fishery he has created.
The wipers should continue to chase that shad around for another month or so. That gives you plenty of time to head on up to Willard and set your hook into a few.
- Fish with any lure that imitates a shad — crankbaits, plastic grubs, big streamers, and spinners will all take wipers.
- Good colors are silver, chartreuse, pearl and white.
- Keep the size of your lure under 3 inches. A one-and-a-half to two inch lure is best.
- Fish fairly close to the surface. The wipers wont be holding on the bottom.
- Wipers will be chasing the shad all over the place so don’t worry if you aren’t seeing any boils in your area. In just a few seconds the wipers will be chasing the shad past you and your lure.
-Use a six or seven foot light action rod with a sensitive tip and food casting ability. You’ll want o cast a light lure want to cast a light lure as far as you can. Longer casts let you keep the lure in the water longer. The longer the lure is in the water, the better chance you have of catching.
- Try four pound test line and make sure it is in excellent condition. These fish aren’t big, but they are extremely powerful, and fun on light tackle.
-Retrieve the lure fairly quickly. Wipers are great swimmers and they wont have any trouble keeping up with your retrieve.
-Don’t worry about setting the hook, the wipers will so hard they will hook themselves.
-If you don’t have a boat, use a float tube or fish from the bank. Once the fish start boiling, you will be able to cast to them even if you aren’t on the water.
-The best boils occur at first light and again just at dark.
- The wipers will be chasing the shad all around Willard Bay but one of the best Places to catch them is in the North Marina.
- Next time you see Tom Pettengill, give him a kiss.