It was snowing in Daniel's Canyon as a group of Varsity Scouts headed to Strawberry Reservoir on a Friday evening. That did not particularly bode well for our overnight sleep-in-tents fishing outing on the big pond. After all, we were used to balmy Indian summer weather and the snow we saw was the first of the year.
But we went on, and the weather actually got better as we came to the turnoff that leaves the highway to the main Strawberry marina (now shut down).
Instead of driving down to the marina, we turned off to the right on a paved road that is in good shape. The road goes for some distance around the western side of the lake and one turnoff goes over the top of the mountains, eventually to Diamond Fork and Hobble Creek or Spanish Fork Canyon.
At the East Portal Bay area, right across the bay from the main marina and not far from Haw's Point, we were able to drive right to the lake's edge.
Strawberry has always been a good fall fishery. As the summer heat leaves the water, the big cutthroats come in close to shore late in the evening and early morning and fishing with a fly rod or spinning gear with a fly and bubble are usually effective.
As we pulled into the East Portal Bay area, there was a great deal of surface action. You could hear big splashes all around, although it was dark and you couldn't see much.
Two fellows were fishing by lantern out of their pickup truck's camper shell a short distance away. They were baitfishing worms, cheese and marshmallows off the bottom and were having sporadic success for medium to large cutthroats. "It doesn't usually get good until after 10 p.m.," one of them said. They were obviously planning to fish late into the night.
Clouds were moving rapidly across the sky and snow flurries came sporadically. At the times the clouds broke up, a full moon splashed across the water and you could see the fish jump in the narrow path of moonlight bathing the lake.
It was at that point we made our first mistake. We should have started fishing immediately, when the surface action was so abundant. But we were tired and chilly and so we climbed into our tents and sleeping bags, talked for awhile, and hit the sack.
The full moon lasted the whole night through and the splashes of big fish breaking water also continued all night.
By daylight, when we got up, the water was calm and pretty. But, alas, the fish seemed to have quit feeding. Nary a rise could be seen all morning.
Still, we tried a lot of flies and nymphs and a few spoons, jigs and spinners. We paddled and drifted around the bay in a canoe pulling flies and nymphs behind.
Finally, after more than an hour of bad luck, I got a nice hit on a gray woolly worm with a red tuft and I knew I had a big fish. I was using a spinning rod with bubble and 4 lb. test. The fish was big enough that I had no desire to muscle him in. When he wanted to run out into the lake, I gave him some line.
It took several minutes to tire him out and bring him to the bank. It measured 20 inches and was fat and healthy. The Scouts were excited. It was the biggest fish some of them had ever seen.
I suggested that we return it to the lake for someone else to catch, but the Scouts didn't like that idea, especially because we were under the impression that Strawberry would be treated next surnmer and the big fish might just die of the poison. Better it should grace someone's dinner table.
Richard Bunderson was the most persistent fisherman of the Scouts. He fished hard all morning, casting a borrowed dry fly and then a black gnat. The water turned choppy, but he got a hit on his small dry fly and pulled in a beautiful, silvery 18-inch cutthroat.
Then he got a hard hit on the black gnat and set the hook, only to have his line flip back at him, no fish and no fly on it. The tip of the line was curly where the fly had obviously pulled off. Richard sheepishly admitted that his hands were cold and he hadn't tied the black gnat on very well.
But, undeterred, he tied on another black gnat, this time properly, and caught a 20-incher, almost identical to the one I caught earlier.
That was it for the fishing. We couldn't beg a bite the rest of the morning.
But it was fun visiting the big pond again. We were surprised at the number of fishermen on the lake and around the shores, even though it was a cold, blustery day. And the big fish Strawberry is famous for are obviously still in there. But you have to be there at the right time and place with what they want.
Hopefully, fishing at Strawberry will remain good through 1988 and into 1989. Division of Wildlife Resources officials say they are seeing massive numbers of chubs and suckers in the lake, but they say fishing should stay acceptable.
"I believe we won't see a complete crash, but more of a slow decline," said Bruce Schmidt, DWR fisheries chief. But after 1989, if the treatment isn't accomplished, a total collapse might occur, he said. The first thing to watch for will be a decline in growth and condition of fish. If Strawberry fish begin to be thinner, anglers will know the rough fish are damaging the fishery.
Copyright Dave Webb, 2005