hard water hall 1By Mike Hall

UTAH FISHING & OUTDOORS - December 31, 1991

Well that time of year is here and. as usual there's a dilemma at my front door. The shotgun is still next to my favorite fishing rod. The ice is firming up on the best fishin’ holes, but the geese are still on the pond. Decisions! Which one today — my favorite hunt or cherished pass time a out on the ice?

Anyway, mid-January will be here soon, the hunting season will close and I can settle down to more important priorities— ice fishin’, winter fishin’ and more fishin.’ Hard water fishing begins most years in the lower valleys around the first week in January or a few weeks earlier at the higher elevations and that means it’s time to go ice fishing! This is exciting entertainment for the whole family and you will rarely fish on hard water without some success.


There are a few rules of caution to follow that will ensure your outing is safe and comfortable Use caution and never presume that any ice is totally safe. Three inches of good quality, clear ice or six inches of cloudy grey ice will be safe. Because someone else is already out there on the lake does not mean that the ice is all right Proceed slowly and test the thickness of the ice as you go onto any body of water.

I don’t mean to panic you away from what can become one of your most enjoyable fishing trips but a swim in the icy depths in winter is not the best thing for anyone’s well being.

ice fishin tentSafety must come first whenever you are on the ice. The equipment for ice fishing should include a length of rope (minimum of 20 feet), U.S.C.G. approved life preservers, first aid kit and a solar blanket. Sounds like just a lot of extra stuff but when you or someone else depends on any of these items for their life you will be mighty glad you brought them along. Hypothermia or drowning can be prevented with the help of this essential equipment.


Here is a list of equipment you might consider taking with you onto the ice:

Safety equipment, ice auger with sharp blades, dipper for removing ice from the hole, chair or bucket to sit on, shelter or wind break, portable heater, trash bags for litter and fish, something warm to drink, your trusty fishin‘ map with hot spots marked and maybe a portable fish finder to see which of those 10,000 holes you are going to drill has all the fish under it.

By the way, don‘t forget the bait — wax or meal worms, night crawlers, cheese, salmon eggs and an assortment of jigging lures and ice flies (but more about that later). Then you will need your ice rods, reels, line, swivels, sinkers, bobbers, wife or kids (optional), filet knife, lunch, hook sharpener, pliers, tool kit, cooler, tackle box (full of all the above mentioned stuff (except lunch), and a great big sled with high runners or skis to float over the snow and carry all that stuff.

Now, don‘t break open the piggy bank and kiss each coin of your life’s savings good bye. These items can be purchased inexpensively and a few at a time, Personally, I’ve been working to complete my fishing equipment purchases for several decades now and still find new items to add to my list each year.

Ice fishing lures

Ice lures only come around once a year on most retailer’s shelves. So, if you don’t like leftovers, better get to the store right away There is no way to predict which lure will he the top producer each year but here are a few suggestions to help when you are buying new lures for your tackle box.

Color of lures should be considered to cover the different water conditions, Top producers include silver, brass, pink. white, Chartreuse, black and glow in the dark. Also consider natural finishes. They not only look good, they’ll catch fish!

Sizes of ice fishing lures are usually smaller than the ones you use in the spring or summer. The smaller versions of your favorite jigging lures will work well for the more lethargic winter fish and fishing Conditions.

Big predators like lake trout, walleye and splake generally like larger lures. Panfish like crappie and yellow perch go for the small to medium-sized lures and bluegill and rainbow trout go for smaller offerings.

There are almost as many kinds of lures for ice fishing as there are ice fishermen. Tear drops (ice flies) are the top dog for fishin’ through that round hole in the snow. Be sure to try several different shapes and styles as the actions will vary slightly. This slight variance in lure action can be the ticket for finicky winter fish.

Make sure you buy quality lures that will last for several seasons. The crippled herring, the needlefish and the Krocodile are lethal weapons in the ice arsenal. Used separately or along with any tear drop, these lures (in the smaller sizes) attract fish from greater distances than the smaller tear drops by themselves. The fish may bite that ice fly but they come to visit because of these lures. These larger attractor lures will add to the number of fish that visit the end of your string, and on the plus side, work Very well year round for casting, jigging or trolling.

Fishing tips

Make sure you begin the ice fishing season with a strong, sensitive and narrow diameter line, Line should have these qualities to accommodate the clearer water, smaller lures and very light bites of winter fish. You’ll want to consider just how tough that favorite string is because the edges of that ice hole are sharp and hungry, Then there are those coils of line that turn into neat little birds nests when the weather is cold and the fingers are stiff. Bird nests heck, the Eagle has landed!

Berkley Trilene Cold Weather Line meets the demands for performance in winter fishing. You‘ll have to look for it though. Not all dealers stock line suited for the tough conditions found in ice fishing. However, quality is ever important and worth the effort. Remember, there’s only a thin line between you and the fish.

Sharp hooks will always add to your success 7 most notably in winter with the light bite tactics of the fish. Lure makers do not resharpen hooks after the plating and painting processes. Usage, rust, corrosion and handling all take their toll on the sharpness of the hook point. A good hook sharpener is a necessity for all serious anglers.

Bobbers or floats need special attention when rigging your rod for the ice. Most times you can breathe harder on the line than a winter fish will bite. The rig you choose should be sensitive enough to indicate even the slightest bite. Keep several sizes of bobbers in your box and select the one that will barely float with the lure you choose. Watch the bobber carefully and set the hook when you see the slightest movement.

Rods for ice fishing are not all short in length. Short rods work well only in shallow water. If you plan deep water fishing, try a longer rod. This helps to overcome the line stretch experienced in deep water fishing. I’ll personally have both sizes of rods with me on the ice to cover any depth I decide to try.

Actions will vary considerably in rods used for hard water. Softer actions are a must for soft-mouthed trout and crappie in shallow water. Stiffer rods are needed for hard» mouthed walleye, perch, larger fish or deep water.

Stay away from the noodle-type actions. They can cost you fish. Their response time is slow and they have poor hook setting capabilities. Response time is the amount of time the rod takes to bend before the line moves and the hook is set. When the rod bends for a long time the hook is often not securely set in the fish‘s mouth resulting in LDR‘s (long distance releases). Frequently with noodle rods, the fish has already spit the hook out before you can set the hook and all you have is the privilege of feedin‘ em your bait. Hot spots come and go every year but you don’t have to sit empty handed all day just to have the fellow next to you say, “Ya should a been here last year. They were really bitin’ then."

12 hot spots

Here are 12 places that produced well this fall and should produce lots of fish this winter:

Bear Lake is top on the list provided that ice comes before the Disco spawn (in mid January). The fish are hungry and more active in the years that the lake ices early. The years when the lake freezes during or alter the spawn are not as productive for the ice angler. The reason for this seems to be that the fish are able to gorge themselves on cisco before hard water enthusiasts can access the lake. During the cisco spawn and for several weeks after, the fishing is generally slow. However, once the cisco disperse the catch rate improves dramatically. Bear lake has some mighty big fish, including Whitefish, lake trout and cutthroat trout. A minimum line strength of ten pounds is recommended as you may catch trout up to 20 pounds.

Good places to drill a hole or two include the rocks along the east shore and the Sweetwater Resort area.

Causey Reservoir is known {or quantity. The rainbow trout are small (mostly 7 to 10 inches) but boy are there a lot of them. The smaller size of the rainbows is of no consequence when compared to the nonstop action.

This water has been known to produce a nice brown trout on occasion also. Areas to check out include the stream mouths and the deep water next to the dam. If you are after bigger fish, get away from the crowds and work the mouths of the various arms, ledges and drop-offs.

Pineview Reservoir should receive your attention because of the hoards of perch. Here again the size will be mostly small but the action will be fast. Crappie fishing is also good if you‘ll bring the lantern and fish the shallows after dark. This water should be one of the hottest perch producers in the state. Willard Bay is definitely a sleeper. Recent low water years have brought ice fishing to nearly a standstill. However, the water level is up this year which should bring things around considerably. Expect some fat walleye and a few monster crappie but don't expect fast fishing. This water will still need a couple more years before the fishing rebounds.

Deer Creek Reservoir is a top pick but not for the perch it has been famous for in the past. The yellow perch have declined with the illegal transplant of walleye, the introduction of smallmouth bass and the drought induced water fluctuations. Look for smaller and harder to find perch but expect excellent rainbow trout and walleye fishing.

Fewer perch means more food for the rainbows and meager forage for the walleye. Translation — the trout caught will be a little larger and those walleyes that are usually hard to catch will be hungry and will find the end of your line more regularly.

Areas to try are the open boys for the rainbows and the rocky points for the walleye and perch. Remember, fish early and late for the trout and after dark for the walleye.

Fish Lake always makes my list — but not just for the usual excellent trout fishing. Yellow perch were illegally planted in this water a few years ago and they have grown in size ever since. Expect to catch perch over one pound and please plan to keep all the perch you catch. They just shouldn’t be in Fish Lake and they need to be harvested.

Trout will be abundant and include rainbow (to 5 pounds), lake trout (to 30 pounds) and splake (to 5 pounds). An outing to Fish Lake is always fun, the scenery is fantastic and you can stretch your string to your heart’s content with the excellent fishing here. Plan a full weekend and stay in one of the lodges. You‘ll be glad you did!

Otter Creek Reservoir is the lake for big rainbows this year. This water is supreme for two or three pound rainbows and the occasional five or six pound fish. There are lots of big fish in this water and Otter Creek is the right choice to beat the crowds on that get—away weekend. Try this place once and you’ll understand why anglers in southern Utah get tight lipped when you ask them how fishing is down there.

Hyrum Reservoir is also known for its big rainbow trout. Some fish in this water are genuine wall hangers. Although you won't sink the ice sled with a cooler full of these beauties, the few fish you will catch will be worth the effort. There are yellow perch in this lake too, so if trout fishin’ is slow, hunting down a school of perch will undoubtedly improve your outlook on this water.

Newton Reservoir is the spot for panfish in northern Utah, It has a good number of perch, bluegill, rainbow trout and catfish. The perch and bluegill are the fish to go after in the winter. This is a smaller water that is ideal for family ice fishing outings. Look for hand-sized bluegill and lots of fat perch, The rainbow trout will run up to about 3 pounds.

Soldier Creek arm of Strawberry Reservoir is the four star head of the list for Utah. The rainbow and cutthroat trout have done very well in this water since the recent treatment. Expect lots of fish in the 15 to 18 inch range. Remember to release all the cutthroat trout you catch. If we want Strawberry to become a world class cutthroat fishery, all the cutthroat must be returned to the water so they can mature and spawn in a couple of years.

Cutthroat trout in the frying pan just don't spawn very well. Please release those cutthroats. Now, I haven‘t written these words so they can be read and quickly forgotten. They are written by someone that truly enjoys sportsmanship, fishing and our wildlife resources. I have taken time to talk to hundreds of fishermen on the lake and in the classroom and I have heard over and over again, “In Utah all you get are higher license fees and second class huntin' and fishin.” But not this time! The wildlife resources people have left this one in our bucket. The catch and release regulations are not mandatory. The DWR has left it up to us to decide if we want good fishing or not. Take all the cutthroat trout home and fishing will be marginal — release the fish and expect a world class fishery to develop over the next few years. It’s up to us!

Maybe it’s time for the Utah anglers to do the unusual — release those fish — encourage the angler fishing next to you to do the same! If the fishing at Strawberry doesn’t come up to our expectations there can only be one direction to point the finger and it won't be at the fisheries biologists!

Flaming Gorge Reservoir is the best of picks for trophy fish. There are world class rainbow, browns, lake trout and kokanee. The crowds are rare in the winter and you may want to bring someone with you to share the excitement of what could be the biggest fish of your life!

Because of the slot limits on taking lake trout, please do not use gaffs on these fish. Lake trout require careful handling when being unhooked and released in an ice hole and gaffing them usually means death for these giant trout.

Pond fishing fun could surpass anything else you can attempt this winter. There are numerous small waters close to home that you might have fished with the kids during the summer. Try them this winter and you may be pleasantly surprised. Along the Wasatch Front try 21st Street pond in Ogden, Kaysville ponds, Holmes Creek Pond in Layton, etc.

Well, that’s the dozen best spots for this hard water season. Some will, of course, be better than others but then all will provide some entertaining fishing for anglers who try them.

Remember to preserve your future thru catch and release. Fish are like a bank account when you leave them in the lake. The interest grows and multiplies, withdrawals may be made anytime. It's up to us to make sure the bank doesn’t go broke!

Take some time to make outdoor memories this winter and be sure to take a friend with you. There’s plenty of hard water, ice lures and hot spots to make some fantastic fishing memories.

I'll see you on the lake!