Head south for a great winter getaway
OK, so it's gray and gloomy outside and so cold that it seems the snow crystals from the smog penetrate right through your longjohns! A typical January/February day in northern Utah.
So what's the solution? Escape to the south!!
Go south where the sun shines most of the time, where the fish are biting and the gray gloom is gone.
We did just that a short time ago to check out several southern Utah ice fishing hotspots. We found sunshine, fun fishing and very few people.
And it's surprising how quickly you can be on Koosharem, Otter Creek, Fish Lake or Piute Reservoir from the Wasatch Front. If you're willing to get up at 5 in the morning, you can get in pretty much a full day's worth of fishing on any of those waters and be home that same night.
And if you want to stay over, there are plenty of nice places to put up for a night. One place, near several good fishing spots, is the Richfield Travelodge. It's close to Otter Creek, Fish Lake, Piute and Koosharem. Close by the motel is the Grand Western sporting goods shop that has everything you need for fishing, including all sorts of bait like sucker meat and meal worms — very important for ice fishing.
At the Grand Western you'll also find advice about where to fish and what they're hitting. They know about all there is to know about fishing in the region.
Dale Hepworth, Division of Wildlife Resources fisheries manager for the Southern Region, says fishing pressure has been fairly light in most of southern Utah. Fish Lake seems to be getting the most pressure, he said, and concern exists about the lake trout at Fish Lake being hit too hard with ice fishing. But generally anglers have been spread out and fishing has been fair to good.
With perhaps the exception of Fish Lake, which is being carefully monitored, Hepworth said he doesn't think winter ice fishing is having any more impact on the fishery than the formerly crowded opening weekend.
Here's a look at ice fishing at four southern Utah waters:
Don Auxier, from West Valley City, and a friend were the lone anglers on Koosharem when we went by on a bright, sunshiny Saturday at midmorning. They were fishing by the dam and were using nightcrawlers, salmon eggs and cheese.
They were enjoying roasted pine nuts and keeping warm with a portable heater. They had moderate success with three or four nice fish in a bucket. The ice was plenty thick and the snow was not as deep as in northern Utah.
Hepworth said Koosharem is typical of the southern Utah waters. Fishing has not been real hot, but Koosharem has some big fish, he said. Some sort of bait is necessary to catch trout through the ice. Best fishing is off the bottom. Most anglers use a spoon or jig to attract attention and the bait gets the strike.
Mitchell and Edna Hodges and Joe Stott, all from the Fillmore area, were having a great time Sunday on Piute Reservoir at the north end on the east side of the reservoir. The sun was warm and the skies clear and only scattered groups of anglers were on the reservoir.
Mitchell had the lucky hole. Within a relatively short time, fishing on the bottom in 19 feet of water, he had a limit of four beautiful rainbows running up to 17 inches. The trout seemed to become very active for a short time and then action would stop. Hodges wasn't sure if schools of fish would swim by and activity would increase or the fish were down below all the time and simply went inactive at times.
The Hodges and Stott used a small bobber that allowed them to see even the slightest nibble or bite. They waited until the bobber was pulled under before trying to set the hook. The best bait was ice flies tipped with meal worms. This group had dozens of different ice flies, but red ones seemed to work best.
The Hodges and Stott each had a nice ice fishing sled. The Hodges had a sled with rod holders and a soft, padded top that could double as a seat.
Mitchell Hodges said he loves to ice fish. "I fish more in the winter than I do in the summer," he said. "We're too busy in the summer." He thinks yearround fishing has been great for the sport.
Hepworth said most people fish at the south end of Piute, not the north end where the Hodges' party was. He said fishing has been rather spotty, but some nice fish are being taken. Smallmouth bass have been stocked in Piute to help fight the trash fish, but they are apparently growing very slowly. It could be four or five years before they are numerous and of catchable size.
Trash fish have been a problem in Piute. It is on the main stem of the Sevier River and thus it is impractical to treat the entire Sevier and all its tributaries. Hepworth said probably the best thing that could happen to Piute would be for it to be drained every six or seven years. That could happen in very dry years.
Otter Creek was nearly deserted. There were a couple of people fishing near the marina and a few others scattered around the lake. Fishing was not real fast, maybe one and a half fish an hour, but the fish caught were nice.
Sam Webb, general manager of UTAH FISHING, caught his limit — four fat, beautiful rainbow between 17 and 18 inches at the Tamarisk Point area on the west side. One was a darkcolored, hook-jawed male.
We fished in 15 to 18 feet of water about 50 yards off shore using a leadhead chartreuse jig tipped with a meal worm. The trout were biting very lightly and a bobber was very helpful in detecting the nibbles. If you use an ordinary red and white bobber, just run the line through the guide hook on the round end and the line will slide through it if you catch a fish. You won't have to stop and unhook the bobber.
We missed a lot of strikes and the fat, healthy fish were good fighters, especially on light gear. A thick, 18 incher is a lot of fish.
It was a beautiful day on Otter Creek. We shed coats and gloves as the sun warmed us.
Hepworth said the chub problem is getting bad in Otter Creek. It was last treated more than 10 years ago. Ideally, the reservoir ought to be treated before too long for better long-term fishing, he said. However, Hepworth said he doesn't want to treat the water while it is producing well. If a very low water year comes along and the reservoir is drawn down considerably, it might be a good time to treat it, Hepworth said.
Fish Lake is one of Utah's all-time great fisheries and it has become a very fine winter fishery, especially for splake and rainbow. Probably 100 or so anglers were scattered around the lake on this Saturday. It was a little chilly in this high mountain country when the wind blew, but otherwise the sun was warm and bright.
Todd Schwendiman and Dan Pedersen, of Salt Lake City, were using octopus and airplane jigs, mostly white and green, tipped with chub meat. They had done well for splake (cross between brook trout and lake trout), hooking and releasing several fish, and were going deeper for lake trout. The lake trout were more difficult to catch, but they had a couple of "pups."
Derek Rhodes, age 7, of Centerville in Davis County, pulled out a very nice rainbow as UTAH FISHING reporters happened by. He was fishing with his dad, Dave Rhodes, and a couple of friends. The Rhodes had caught about 15 fish by mid-afternoon and released most of them. They were also using jigs tipped with chub or sucker meat.
The nice thing about Fish Lake is that the possibility always exists to catch a very large lake trout. It doesn't happen often, but the monsters of the deep are in there. That adds a little excitement.
However, Hepworth said a lot of local people are concerned about the lake trout population. They fear that ice fishing will deplete the big fish and some would like to see ice fishing prohibited at Fish Lake.
Hepworth said those concerns are not being ignored and the DWR is doing some gill net studies to determine how the lake trout are being impacted. He said he hopes most people will go after splake and rainbow at Fish Lake and not try too hard for lake trout, which are very difficult to catch.
He said Fish Lake has chubs, Utah shiner and perch, so no shortage of good forage exists for the big lake trout. That's one thing that makes the lake trout difficult to catch, he said. There is abundant food, so the big trout are not hungry and not as likely to bite unfamiliar bait.
The best fishing anywhere in the state occurs when the fish's natural food supply gets low. Then fishing gets good. That happens in cycles, not every year.
Hepworth said the splake in Fish Lake have done well, but haven't grown as quickly as biologists had hoped. Most are 10 to 16 inches. "We had hoped they (the splake) would get on a fish diet and grow more quickly," Hepworth said. That hasn't happened as was hoped.
However, the splake are still a great winter attraction and are fairly easy to catch. People also like the table quality of the fish — the color of the flesh and the taste. The splake have added a new dimension to Utah fishing.
All in all, it was a nice weekend of fishing. So if you are tired of the smog and fog, head for southern Utah.