Strawberry Reservoir fished extremely well during the summer and fall, and should now offer good ice fishing. Strawberry is one of the best places to go if you are after big fish.
At the 'Berry the bays freeze first and the main lake follows some time later. The Soldier Creek side is usually the last to freeze. At this writing, Mud Creek Bay has ice and people have been fishing there, so the season has started. More of the lake will freeze every night but it may be Christmas before the entire reservoir is frozen solid. Even then there may be soft spots so be careful.
Strawberry can be fickle - fast fishing one moment and slow the next. Just when you think you have the fish figured out, something changes and nothing works. In general, the best fishing occurs early in the morning, in the bays where the water is 15-25 feet deep. Small jigs tipped with a piece of night crawler or wax worm can be very effective, but ice flies and lures and good old Powerbait can also work well.
The daytime air temperature at Strawberry can be relatively pleasant on a sunny, calm day. But it can get extremely cold in a hurry if the wind comes up or if clouds block the sun. Always go prepared for extreme weather.
There is often deep snow in the Strawberry Valley and access can be difficult at times. Highway 40 is plowed regularly, but is often snowpacked and slick during and immediately after storms.
Parking has often been a problem at Strawberry during the winter but should be better this season because of a joint effort by the Uinta National Forest, Utah State Parks and Recreation, Blue Ribbon Fishery Advisory Council, Habitat Council, Utah Snowmobile Association and Wasatch County. They have raised funds and hired a contractor to plow snow and maintain recreation access, with no parking fees charged. People are reminded not to park on Hwy. 40. If you do, you cause problems for snowplows and risk being towed. Park in the designated lots.
Wind can blow hard and cold at Strawberry, which makes conditions miserable. The wind seems to blow less frequently during morning hours - and that's often when the best fishing takes place. Ice shelters definitely make fishing more comfortable.
Snowmobiles are great for getting around on the reservoir. Be careful during this early part of the season because there may be spots with soft ice or open water. In March, as the season winds down, slush will flood over the ice making snowmobiling difficult.
Fish are often suspended 5-10 feet off the bottom. A fish finder can really help you determine where the fish are, and help you get your bait down to that exact depth. The fish move around, so there will be periods when no fish show on your screen, even when you are fishing a productive spot. But you should see fish regularly. If 15 minutes go by without fish showing up, move to a different spot.
Jigs are very effective when ice fishing at Strawberry. White colors almost always works. Yellow, green, black, red and glow colored plastic or feathered jigs may take their turn as the color of the day. Tip jigs with a piece of a night crawler or some other bait and work them with short, infrequent movements. If fishing is slow, experiment with different baits and movements until you find something that works. Tipping with a minnow tail sometimes entices big fish to bite.
Lures tipped with bait are also effective. Swedish pimples, Kastmasters, etc. The Rapala jigging lure often work even without being tipped.
Powerbait, salmon eggs, worms and other standard baits may also produce strikes.
For variety, try scuds, glo bugs, renegades and other fly patterns. Fish them much like you would bait, using a little weight to get them to the desired depth.
Use some kind of ice fishing bobber system so you can detect soft bites. Very sensitive wire bobbers are available at sporting goods stores. They will show a light bite that you may never notice if you just watch your rod tip or if you use a big bobber.
Watch your rod. I often see rods bend while anglers are off talking or getting food or drink. By the time the angler notices and gets back to his rod the fish has stolen the bait and is gone.
When I fish Strawberry I often spend the first 20 minutes talking to other anglers to find out what is working in that area that day. Most ice fishermen are gregarious creatures willing to share ideas. My notes from one such walkabout are given below. They are pretty typical.
The first guy I talked to was Ike from South Jordan. He had caught several nice fish in the Chicken Creek East area using various ice flies tipped with mealworms.
"I've been up here at least once a week all year long," he said. "Fishing was very good in the fall. Last year I came up and fished at night, and the fishing was better after dark." Chad from Farmington had the big fish of the day - a 26-incher. He was fishing in 26 feet of water and varying the depth of his lure from just off the bottom to about half-way up the water column. He was using a green Foxie jig tipped with a wax worm and was fishing in the Chicken Creek East area.
Andrew from Spanish Fork was the most productive fisher. He had caught 10, including several 20 inchers. He swore his secret was the jig he used, which he called a Gypsy jig, tipped with a mealworm. The jig was a small, elongated thing with a funny skirt. He used a glow-in-the-dark chartreuse color. He said the jigs are hard to find in Utah but are often used in the Midwest. The Strawberry marina store sales them but has a hard time keeping them in stock. Wal-Mart occasionally has them.
"I vary the depth until I find fish. I start at the bottom and jig it up a foot, then reel in some line and do it again." He lets the jig come to a complete stop between pulls. Andrew was fishing in water about 20 feet deep just north of the marina in Strawberry Bay. "Everything green works today," he said.
Don from Spanish Fork was just out from the ramp on Strawberry Bay and was fishing with ice flies tipped with wax worms in water about 40 feet deep. Most of the fish he saw on his monitor were down 25 to 30 feet.
Paul and Merv were fishing from an ice shelter. The day was mild and almost perfectly calm but the shelters still proved to be worthwhile. Every now and then the breeze would stir and exposed skin would quickly grow cold. Ice shelters can make your trip much more enjoyable. They were doing well using "Genz" jig heads in a chartreuse glow-in-the-dark color, tipped with worms. They were fishing just off the bottom in 26 feet of water.
"It's a light bite," Paul said. "If you don't watch closely you don't get them."