Utah experts report on winter fishing

By Ray Grass

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, March 9 2011 6:52 p.m. MST

ROCKPORT RESERVOIR — Out on the ice, a hit comes as little more than a shiver at the tip of the fishing rod — along the lines of a stiff breeze. But it could mean the bait, in this case a wax worm, has enticed a fish. That's when knowing when to set a hook comes into play.

Streams and rivers are different in the winter. There's more action needed by fishermen than from fish. Because it's cold and fish are less active, hints that fish may be near or indications of anything out of the ordinary warrant an angler's response. If it's a false alarm, a quick cast upstream begins a new cycle.

In some respects winter fishing is easier. But in some ways it's more challenging. That could be it is suggested that fishing in winter is becoming more popular than summer fishing.

Pass by Utah's mid- to higher-elevation lakes or reservoirs in the winter and you will see fishermen on the ice. The same is true of Utah's more popular streams and rivers: There are fishermen in warm boots, coats, pants and hats — with fishing gear. And their equipment could be simply a rod and reel or a more elaborate camp with shelter, power auger, fish finder and portable TV.

March is popular with Utah fishermen. Weather is warmer and the days are longer. It's also a time when more hatches take place so there's more surface action on moving waters.

Winter is also when fishing opportunities broaden. The lower-elevation waters are ice-free and open to more traditional fishing methods, such as fishing from boats and casting from shore.

Among the ice-free waters are Otter Creek, Piute, Minersville and Grantsville. Those with solid ice include such popular spots as Panguitch, Starvation, Pineview, Rockport, Scofield, East Canyon, Fish Lake and Strawberry.

Byron Gunderson, owner of Fish Tech Outfitters, said reports from shopping anglers indicate that one of the currently underused fishing spots is Flaming Gorge.

"The gorge is loaded with rainbow and smaller lake trouts. The reports we're getting show the reservoir from Buckboard south is ice-free. For those who want an option, they can fish on the ice on the northern end for burbot," he noted.

But overall, conditions are good. There's plenty of water in reservoirs and rivers, and good ice conditions on most of the popular fishing waters. And Roger Wilson, coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources' fisheries program, said, "We've planted a lot of fish. We've ramped up production with the rebuilding and modernization of our fish hatcheries."

Jim Karpowitz, director of the DWR, explained that last year the agency produced and planted 800,000 pounds of fish and "this year the division will produce and plant 1.34 million pounds of fish."

Utah hatcheries produce a wide range of fish, including several strains of rainbows and cutthroats, browns and brooks, as well as hybrids such as the popular tiger trouts, splakes and wipers.

There are now 13 state-run hatcheries in Utah. Karpowitz noted that when the Kamas hatchery resumes production, planned for late summer, "it will be the first time in 15 to 20 years we've had all our hatcheries up and operating."

Also, after the DWR lost its connection for tiger muskies, the agency has been working to establish an instate program that will produce more fish at lower cost.

Looking at some of Utah's more popular waters, Wilson called Rockport Reservoir "a little bit of a sleeper."

"It's not on a level with places like Strawberry, Scofield and Lake Powell, but it's one of the more important waters. The last survey we did, Rockport was, for the first time, among the top 10."

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