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Ray Grass: Cold-weather fishing hot at Strawberry

Published: Sunday, Oct. 27 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Matt Wray shows off large rainbow trout before releasing it back into Strawberry Reservoir.

Ray Grass

STRAWBERRY RESERVOIR — The fish are biting ... and flies, lures, baits and pretty much anything passing by.

It’s that time of year. Winter’s approaching, the fish are hungry and opportunities are limited ... even those who come with hooks attached.

Fish need to eat before winter really sets in, so they go after anything that resembles food, which could be flies, lures and baits.

Earlier this week, along the road wrapping around Jakes Bay at Strawberry there was one car and a single float tube just off shore. A month earlier, the road would have been clogged with cars and trucks and fishermen on and out of the water.

When the drift boat was launched, it was the only one within view. Again, during summer months there likely would have been several boats and tubers in the bay.

Right now popular flies and lures come in colors of white, black and red, and tube jigs in sand and white. Also being used are rainbow rapalas and flatfish trolled at slow speeds.

First in the water this week were black Woolly Bugger tied to sinking fly line trolled 30 yards or so back of the boat. Aside from a few nibbles, there was little interest shown.

Next came the bright red Woolly Bugger tied to the sinking line trolled about the same distance back, same speed and in less than an hour, eight rainbow bit and were released. Most of the eight were in the two-year age class, 17 to 18 inches and fat and feisty.

That report, said Alan Ward, project leader for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, was different from many coming to him from anglers.

“Most of the reports I’m getting are they’re catching mostly cutthroats hand over fist. Two weeks ago one, report was a couple of men caught 80 to 100 fish and most were cutthroats,’’ he said.

Matt Wray of Park City said a week earlier, in the same bay, in the late afternoon, “Two of us caught 30 fish in a couple of hours. A couple of the cutts were close to 21 inches. They were all nice fish.’’

Ward says he’s received several reports of boaters catching and releasing 40 to 50 fish in a single day.

That’s the way fishing typically goes in the late fall. That is, fishermen give up on rods and reels and begin winterizing boats, RVs and snowblowers, but fish step up their feeding pattern.

A number of fishermen, Wray included, agree that fishing Strawberry in recent weeks has been some of the best they can remember.

Most of the larger fish, adds Ward, are cutthroat. The reason?

“There are fewer of the larger rainbow in Strawberry. Most are in the two-year class and this year’s class. People have a tendency to take the larger rainbow because they can,’’ he says.

Strawberry regulations allow the taking of four fish, which would include trout and kokanee. All cutthroat between 15 and 22 inches must be released. Anglers can keep two cutthroat if they’re under 15 inches and can keep only one over 22 inches.

Gillnet surveys taken the week of Oct. 14 support Ward’s assessment.

“As always, we came away with good and bad news,’’ he reports.

The good: “The survey showed improvements in the number of cutthroat. Overall, cutthroat numbers were up and the biggest number of those were 2-year-olds ... 16 inches and larger. That year, class survived much better than we anticipated. We’re very pleased.”

The bad: “We saw a big increase in the 2-year-old chubs, about 30 percent. That’s because there were fewer large predators (the large Bear Lake cutthroat) in that age class. The result is we saw more chubs in that age class than we’ve seen in a while.’’

The fact that the cutthroat numbers are up bodes well for future years when they are large enough to feed on the chubs.

This week, the DWR will complete its 2013 planting program at Strawberry when it releases the final load of eight-inch rainbow. All total, 400,000 of the eight-inch rainbow were planted in Strawberry this year, along with 600,000 eight-inch cutthroat and 400,000 kokanee.

Ward also notes that the annual kokanee run this year was good, and roughly 1.8 million eggs were taken. Those eggs will be raised and the fish planted in Strawberry, Flaming Gorge and Electric Lake.

Good fishing is expected to continue at least until ice begins to form around the edges of the reservoir, which could be several weeks off.

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