It was cold and gray and smoggy down in the Salt Lake Valley. But up at Causey Reservoir, and later over at Lost Creek Reservoir, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the air was clear.
And, best off all, the fish were biting!
Higher elevation northern Utah reservoirs are providing good to excellent early season ice fishing. UTAH FISHING magazine editors checked out Causey and Lost Creek the day after Christmas.
Both waters were pretty good for small rainbows, with an occasional nice cutthroat being caught.
Causey, which is about 60 miles from Salt Lake City, above Huntsville in Weber County, is home to some nice cutthroat. But mostly small 8-10 inch rainbows were being caught. Causey was very low, but you can still find deep water.
A couple of dozen ice anglers fished off and on most of the day at Causey. They used salmon eggs, meal worms and nightcrawlers, with salmon eggs and mealworms providing most of the action. However, the larger cutthroat generally went for the nightcrawlers.
Most anglers fished close to the bottom, although Bob Sato, from Ogden, was fishing at about 30 feet in 40 feet of water. He used an electronic fish finder and was having fair success with nightcrawlers.
Isaac Wayman, from Salt Lake City, was having good luck with salmon eggs in about 20 feet of water, not far from the dam. Glen Palmer, from Mantua, had close to his limit, including a nice cutthroat, using salmon eggs. He had released several fish. While most anglers simply let their bait sit still, Palmer used a slow jigging motion and had good luck with it.
The situation was nearly the same at Lost Creek, which is about 75 miles from Salt Lake City, up I84 and north of Croydon.
Several limits were caught near the dam, mostly 8-10 inch rainbows. Lost Creek still had a lot of open water in the middle part of the reservoir. The area near the dam had 5-6 inches of ice, as did the northern arm. Some observers theorized that most of the nice Bear Lake cutthroat in Lost Creek remained in the open water. Kelly Ransom, from Layton, had one nice cutthroat, and a few others were caught during the day, but most fish hooked were small rainbows. It appeared that within a few days all of Lost Creek would be iced over.
At Lost Creek, fishing was lousy at the northern end of the reservoir. Not even a bite was recorded. Most of the action was right off the dam in 25-30 feet of water. The ice at Lost Creek had come after the last snowstorm. So it was very clear, smooth and slick. You could have a great time with ice skates.
At the north end, there were dozens of holes where the ice was not yet frozen, some as wide as four feet across. Oxygen or some other gas was bubbling up from the bottom of the reservoir and keeping the water just riled up enough to prevent freezing. You had to be careful not to step on these holes. It's likely these holes will be frozen over soon.
You could see through the clear ice several feet into the water. We theorized that the fish could easily see us and our shadows in water less than 15 feet deep and were likely spooked.
The ice was very slick when it got a little water on it from a fishing hole. You had to be very careful or slip onto your behind. It was also very noisy with the ice groaning and cracking and making weird and scary sounds.
The trick to ice fishing is to detect the bite. The strike will often be very soft and if you don't set the hook at precisely the right moment your salmon egg or bait will be gone and the fish will, too. A small, light rod with light line is very helpful.
It's usually easier to see the bite than to feel it. Thus, most ice anglers prefer not to bold the rod in their hands. An empty five-gallon bucket makes an excellent rod holder. Lay the rod across the open end of the bucket with the reel hanging down in the middle. Then just watch the rod tip and don't get too far away from your rod. If you see the rod tip bob up and down, quickly set the hook. Don't let the fish play around with the bait very long or the fish will be gone.
Another good way to detect nibbles is to use a small bobber. Drop the bait to the bottom, then reel the bait up a foot or so. Grab the line just where it enters the water and attach a bobber there. The bobber will reveal even the slightest nibble. Again, you much hover over your rod and be ready to snatch it up and set the hook in a split second.
It's important to move around and try new places if you're not having any luck. There are two schools of thought here. One holds that schools of fish swim around and periodically come to your bait, providing good fishing until they move on. The other is that the fish hang around in mostly the same place, but the urge to feed comes and goes. Thus, fishing will be good for a time and then slow down.
Probably the right answer is some combination of both of these theories. In any case, it's probably better to try a lot of locations if you're not getting any bites than to spend the whole day at a fruitless hole. The great thing about ice fishing this time of year is getting out of the smog and gray of the valleys. Often, when it is 25 degrees and smoggy in Salt Lake City, it will be 40 degrees and gorgeous at your favorite reservoir. It does the soul good to get into the sunshine and warmth once in a while.