The opportunity to fish for walleye in Utah has expanded in recent years, with innovative management strategies paying off at several waters. Utah now boasts some of the best walleye fishing in the region — and it’s poised to get even better.
The old standbys — Utah Lake, Willard Bay, Deer Creek and Starvation — fish well year after year. Walleye populations have been on the upswing at Lake Powell and we expect fishing there will improve dramatically over time. All game fish at Powell should benefit because gizzard shad have now become established there. Yuba Reservoir has had pronounced boom and bust cycles and should be on the upswing right now. Work in 2002 to improve habitat should begin to pay off soon and so we expect good walleye action at Yuba during the coming years.
There are a couple myths about walleye, which keep some people from enjoying the tremendous sport they offer. The fist myth suggests walleye are hard to catch. They aren’t, once you get "onto them." The techniques that work well for walleye are different than those that work for trout. The typical angler in Utah was raised fishing for trout, and so must learn new techniques and perhaps change his mindset a bit before he will have much success with walleye. But the techniques aren’t difficult.
The second myth suggests the only good time to fish for walleye is during the spawn, in early spring. Wrong! The spawn isn’t even the best time to fish for walleye. Walleye can be difficult to locate in a large reservoir, and its true they are easier to find during the spawn. But they don’t feed aggressively while spawning, as they do at other times of the year.
The best place to learn to fish for walleye is at the Utah Walleye Seminars hosted by the Rocky Mountain Anglers fishing club, with help from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. These free seminars are usually held in March or early April. Watch www.utahoutdoors.com for details.
Walleye can be caught year- round. Some good fishing occurs just after ice-off, when the fish are in a pre-spawn condition and are hungry after a long winter. Post-spawn action can also be good, as the fish settle back into a normal routine. But walleye fishing can be good right through the simmer, and is usually very good in the fall. Walleye feed during the winter as they have opportunity and they can be caught through the ice, but they are difficult to find at the time.
Even though walleye are on the upswing in Utah, we still need to exercise care to maintain our fisheries. Walleye are not stocked in Utah waters. Populations depend on natural reproduction. If mature fish, which are capable of spawning, are over-harvested, the population will suffer. We encourage anglers to release mature walleye. People fishing the spawn often catch big females that have not yet spawned. Those fish should definitely be released.
Deer Creek Reservoir: Deer Creek has a good population of walleye but they aren't easy to catch. The walleye spawn in mid to late April. Anglers will start catching walleye in April by casting jigs along the shoreline and at the mouth of the Provo River. This reservoir has produced some real large walleye in the past and I suspect there are still several 10+ pound fish in this lake. The best walleye fishing at Deer Creek is post-spawn in June and July. Cast along the shoreline in Wallsburg Bay, in the upper half of the reservoir along the railroad tracks, and off the mouth of the Provo River with jigs tipped with a night crawler. Also troll these same areas with mid to deep diving crank baits. Perch are the predominant forage and perch colored baits work well.
Lake Powell: Lake Powell isn't known for it's walleye fishery but it has a good walleye population. Walleye are about evenly distributed all over the lake. With the shad population being down the last couple of years anglers have caught quite a few walleye incidental to bass and striper fishing. Last year the walleye were very skinny like the stripers. The shad are starting to come back and so is the condition of the walleye. The best walleye fishing is in May and June. Cast shad colored curly tailed jigs in 10-20 feet of water or troll crank baits at the same depths along the shore and over flats and humps. Best fishing for walleye seems to be along the main channel.
Starvation Reservoir: Starvation Reservoir is still a good walleye fishery but the population is dominated by small (12-inch) fish. There are still big walleye but some of these fish are getting very old. This fishery is struggling. Forage has been mainly Utah chubs. The adults chubs are approximately 20 years old and we don't know how much longer they will survive. They continue to spawn but predator's are consuming most if not all of the young chubs produced each year. This population of walleye needs to be thinned even more than it has to give the chub population a chance to rebound. Anglers are encouraged to take a limit of these small walleye when fishing Starvation. Best fishing at Starvation is late summer and early fall. Casting or drifting small jigs tipped with half a night crawler is the most productive technique.
Utah Lake: From limited sampling and fishing reports, Utah Lake should continue to provide good walleye fishing this spring. This is one water that produces several trophy-sized walleye each spring and should do so this year. Walleye in Utah Lake spawn in March like they do at Willard Bay. Prime locations are the Bubble-Up, Provo Boat Harbor, Bird Island and Lincoln Beach. Best catches are made casting jigs and trolling Thin Fins.
Willard Bay Reservoir: The population of walleye continues to be stable. Biologists have seen roughly the same number of adult walleye the last three years. The number of walleye over 20 inches has also remained stable. Summer shoreline sampling last summer showed more young walleye than have been seen for several years and this bodes well for the future of walleye fishing at Willard Bay. Willard Bay has a good walleye population and fishing should be good this spring and summer. Spawners should begin to move into spawning areas in late February or early March. Typically walleye at Willard Bay are spawning by mid-March. Good catches will be made by anglers casting jigs along shore in March and early April. Trolling with spinner rigs won't get good until May and will peak in June.
Yuba Reservoir: The last few years Yuba has been Utah's walleye hot spot. Results from last years netting and tagging studies continued to show a good population of walleye. Anglers are harvesting at least 40% of the adult walleye population annually. We continue to encourage harvest but anglers shouldn't feel a need to take a limit of these fish. Practice selective harvest, focus your harvest on the males (smaller, slimmer fish) and take only what you need for a meal or two. Save some fish for the next trip. Last year trolling in late May and June was phenomenal. Last fall anglers were catching quite a few walleye and several 7-10 pound fish were taken. Fishing should continue to be good this spring at Yuba. The walleye spawn later here than at Willard and Utah Lake. Spawning usually occurs in April. Anglers can start catching walleye at Yuba in March and April by casting jigs along the shoreline in the early morning and evening, but the best fishing won't happen until late May and June.