Before getting into the details of walleye fishing in Utah Lake, it is appropriate to spend some time considering the structure of the lake itself.
Utah Lake is a shallow, silty, mud-bottomed water with almost no aquatic vegetation (thanks to the ever-present carp) and very little structure. You might say that most of the lake is one giant mud flat.
The forage base in the lake is limited and the overabundance of predator fish restricts it even more. This ecological imbalance grows even more acute in years when drought causes the water level in the reservoir to drop to dangerously low levels.
All in all, Utah Lake is not a model walleye water, yet the walleye have adapted and even grown to trophy proportions in its murky depths.
Now for a few generalizations about walleye. Walleye are an opportunistic, nomadic fish that are constantly on the move. Fish abundance and movement is controlled by water temperature, water quality, oxygen content, food availability and cover or deep water retreat lanes.
Walleye are most active at night, run in schools and will work together in pursuit of a school of forage fish.
Walleye spawn shortly after ice off in the early spring (when the water temperature is between 40 and 60 degrees). Pre-spawn walleye congregate on shallow flats near spawning sites. The actual spawn occurs (almost exclusively at night) up tributary streams on gravel banks and on rocky structure wherever it is present in the lake. The walleye will move right in to the shore and can be caught in just inches of water when they are spawning or actively foraging (again, mostly at night).
Pre-spawn walleye slowly move away from the pre-spawn flats and spawning grounds (movement depends mostly on food availability and water temperature) and disperse throughout the lake.
As the lake water begins to warm (as summer approaches) the walleye move onto deep flats to feed. During the day they hold on breaks or on deep flats over some structure (if available).
By mid summer the walleye will have moved deep to avoid the increasingly warm water and the glare of the summer sun. During this time they will be found in the deepest portion of the lake holding on break lines and in deep holes during the day. At night when actively feeding they will move onto the flats where the forage fish are most abundant.
As the water cools in the fall, the walleye again return to the shallow flats to feed.
Now let's relate all of this information to Utah Lake.
First the forage base. The two most abundant species of fish in the lake are carp and white bass. Consequently, these are the two fish the walleye must feed on most consistently. Carp are ubiquitous throughout the lake but the young carp (the size a walleye could readily eat) are most concentrated on the shallow flats near shore.
White bass are a social fish that run in large schools. They are found mostly in the open lake. However, when they spawn in the spring they will move up the tributary streams in great numbers. Most of the year they are found on the shallow flats trying to feed on the same small fish that the walleye are eating. In Utah Lake it is mostly a case of big predators eating little predators. There simply isn't a good forage fish in the lake.
The walleye feed opportunistically on any fish small enough to eat and that includes their own young.
The spawn on Utah Lake usually is well under way by the last week in March and peaks during the first week in April.
Pre-spawn walleye seek out flats near the spawning beds where they feed actively in preparation for the spawn. Unfortunately, Utah Lake has limited spawning gravel available for the walleye and many of the walleye are forced to spawn on man-made dikes. The dikes at the various boat harbors and the bubble-up area and dikes behind Geneva Steel are heavily used by spawning walleye. Unfortunately, the large cobbles along the dikes are not ideal spawning beds because many of the eggs fall down between the cobbles and are covered by silt (cutting off the oxygen) before they have a chance to hatch into fry.
The beat known and most heavily fished structure in the lake is Bird Island. Again, the island provides gravel and cobble spawning grounds for the walleye and thousands of walleye spawn around the edges of the island each spring.
The island is also one of the most heavily fished areas of the lake and fisherman take a large number of walleye from these beds each year.
The most overlooked and least fished flats and spawning grounds occur along the west side of the lake and along the western side of Lake Mountain (with the exception of Lincoln Point which receives more than its share of attention).
When looking for obscure spawning grounds along the west side of the lake, check out the mouths of the gullies, sides of slopes that run down into the lake and gravel deposits laid down by Lake Bonneville.
Again, most of the walleye spawn at night and if you want to have the beat success—fish after dark.
Many walleye run up the tributary streams. One word of caution: check current fishing regulations before fishing tributaries. At the time of this writing the streams just above Utah Lake are closed during the walleye spawn. Boat fishermen may be able to catch staging fish in the lake out from stream mouths.
Once the spawn is over (by mid to late April) the walleye begin to disperse throughout the lake. This is the time most anglers simply quit fishing for them. The lake is so big and the flats are ao extensive that the walleye become difficult to find.
The secret to catching walleye through the summer months is to fish early and late and to troll over the deeper flats—slowly. Trolling is the best way to cover a lot of ground and to put your lure in front of a lot of fish but most Utahns are use to trolling for trout and they troll much too fast and don't get their lure deep enough.
To consistently catch walleye you have to troll very, very slowly and your lure has to be literally bouncing along the bottom. If the lure isn't hitting the bottom every few feet you are moving too fast.
Walleye spend most of their lives within a foot or two of the bottom and if your lure is cutting through the water several feet over their heads they simply won't expend the energy to chase it down. Get your lure right down to the fish.
Any of the standard walleye lures will work well on Utah Lake. Fish catching colors change with the season and the mood of the fish but white (or pearl), metallic, pumpkin, chartreuse and smoke with sparkle are good colors for tubes and grubs.
Minnow-imitating lures should look like small carp or white bass. Again, good colors are pearl, metallic, chartreuse and pumpkin.
Bait rigs are one of the most effective walleye catchers when you are trolling. Tip your rig with sucker meat or with a night crawler and let it bounce along the bottom —once again trolling as slowly as your motor will go.
If you want to consistently catch walleye after the spawn you are going to have to experiment and spent a lot of time on the water in the late evening and early morning hours. Patience will be rewarded and you will begin to catch walleye consistently when you have figured out which flat the fish are feeding on and just how fast to move that lure in front of their noses.
One of the most frustrating things about walleye is that they are consistently on the move. Just as soon as you find them and figure out how to catch them, they will be gone and you will have to go back to searching for them all over again. Sometimes it is more of a hunting trip than a fishing trip. 76% of your time will be used up in trying to locate feeding fish and only 24% will be used in actually fishing to fish, but it will be worth it.
Best of all, you may catch a new state record. Walleye have been in Utah Lake for as many years that there has been plenty of time for some of them to grow old and big.
If you are lucky you could catch a walleye between 16 and 20 pounds—a once in a lifetime fish.
One last word of caution. The water level in Utah Lake is as low as it has been in a long, long time. The effect this will have on the walleye is unknown but it will probably concentrate them into the few good spawning areas that are left in the spring and in the deep central portion of the lake in the summer. You may have to hunt extra hard to find the fish this year. Good luck!