Ice fishing at Steinaker, just out of Vernal in NE Utah, has been very good for nice rainbows. Most of the fish are fat 13-15 inchers, but a few run bigger. A six pounder was caught there on Dec. 17.
Orange Powerbait has produced the best results, but meal worms and red salmon eggs have also been effective. Locals who fish the reservoir often say Powerbait is generally good early in the ice fishing season, but its success tapers off later. At that time meal worms and nightcrawlers often work better.
Fishing is ok all around the reservoir, but has been particularly good out from a rocky cliff down near the dam. Rainbows have been hitting 2-3 feet off the bottom, in water about 46 feet deep.
Jeff Depper of Vernal has had excellent luck putting powerbait on a jig hook, lowering it down until it touches bottom, then reeling in a few turns to raise the bait up off the bottom. Let it sit for a minute, bounce it, then let it sit again.
There is six to eight inches of hard clear ice on the reservoir, with a bit of open water or soft ice around the edges and on the upper end. The ice really is hard, you need sharp blades on your auger to drill through it. If your blades are marginal, drilling a hole is a two man job which will take 20 minutes and wear you out.
The ice is clear enough in most spots you can shoot a fish finder's sonar right through it, before you drill a hole. That helps, as you track down the fish. Just kick the snow away in a spot, pour a little water on the ice, and then push your transducer down firmly onto the ice. You may need to pour a little more water around you transducer. You want a tight contact between the transducer and ice, and the water forms a seal which will transmit sonar signals.
Use the sonar to find a likely spot, then drill a hole. Fish move in and out of an area — you might not see any fish but still decide the spot is worth trying. After you drill a hole and start to fish, watch the sonar to see if fish move through. If you don't see fish within 15 or 20 minutes, move to a different spot. Sometimes a few feet makes a big difference.
Most of the action is in close to shore. From the shoreline, the bottom usually slopes down sharply, then levels off. The spot where the sharp slope ends and the bottom levels out is often good. Sonar really helps find such spots. It can also help identify underwater ridges and gullies. You can often do good fishing the sides of a ridge and the bottom of a gulley.
The water level in Steinaker was dropped down low for dam repairs. That concentrated the fish and helped produce good conditions.
Spring fishing at Steinaker should also be good. There are a lot of nice fish in the water.
There is a state park at Steinaker, which offers camping and boating facilities through the spring, summer and fall.
The Vernal area offers a lot of attractions; it's a fun place to take the family. Nearby Red Fleet Reservoir usually offers good fishing for bluegill and fair to good action for rainbows and bass. Red Fleet is a scenic reservoir surrounded by large sandstone cliffs, and the state park there provides an excellent place to camp during the warm months. There are dinosaur tracks in the sandstone across the lake from the campground.
The dinosaur quarry at Dinosaur National Monument, located just east of Vernal, is fascinating, as are the exhibits at Dinosaur Gardens in Vernal.