For some reason, and no one is really quite sure why, fish are more interested in silver lures, marabou jigs and small hooks with light-brown wax worms hanging off the tips when the first crust of ice forms on the water.
Experience since year-round fishing opened in Utah in 1985 has shown that some of the best fishing and some of the biggest fish have been pulled from Utah waters within a few weeks after icing.One theory is that the fish haven't moved into a winter mode yet and are still moving around in shallower water where food sources are more abundant. Later, experience has shown, fish move deeper, become less active and are more difficult to catch.
Reports from around the state show that many of Utah's better fishing waters have iced over or are starting to show signs of icing. In one case the ice is safe, but in most it is not. Now, however, is the time to start monitoring conditions.
Ice fishing at Scofield, for example, has been good. Early fishermen have been doing well using jigs and baits. Otter Creek and Pineview also have thin ice coatings, and Currant Creek, old Strawberry, Electric Lake, East Canyon, Rockport, Deer Creek and Bear Lake are starting to show signs of icing.
Ice fishing is still new to Utah anglers. Prior to 1985, when year-round fishing was initiated, winter fishing was limited to a few streams and a couple of lakes, and was practiced by only a few fishermen.
Now, fishermen can fish anytime the elbow gets a twitch to yank a fishing line. And wintertime, they've found, is an excellent time to feed the urge. One reason is access. Anglers without use of boats in the summer can simply walk out to choice locations in the winter. Also, fishing is better in many places in the winter. Perch fishing at Deer Creek in the winter is excellent and Rockport, mysteriously always slow in the summer, yields bigger and more fish in the winter. Flaming Gorge is well known around the country for its big winter lake trout.
Recent regulation changes by the Utah Wildlife Board, too, has put winter fishing on the same level as summer fishing. Winter limit restrictions, in most cases half of the summer limit, were lifted. Now, only those waters listed under special regulations in the state fishing proclamation have reduced winter limits.
When fishing in the winter, out on the ice, there are a few tips fishermen might wish to follow, especially early in the ice's development.
Fishermen should be quieter and not move around as much as they can later, when ice is thicker and more clouded. Ice is generally clearer, so fish can see movement easier, and thinner, so sound isn't buffered as much.
Experience, too, has shown that best success is achieved when the lure or jig or hook is tipped with bait. The most popular bait is the bee mouth larva, better known as the wax worm. Night crawlers also work well, as does a chunk of perch meat or a perch eye when fishing for perch. Veteran fisherman catch cisco at Bear Lake to use as bait there for large Macks and rainbows.
When trying to locate fish through an ice covering, start drilling holes in closer to shore and work out. Fish, especially early in the winter, like shallower water. Also, it gives fishermen an idea of the thickness of the ice before they get out too far.
When fishing in the winter, the best place to hang the lure or bait is near the bottom. The suggestion is to drop the lure or bait until it hits bottom, then pull it up about an inch. Also, a bobber can be very useful when fishing through an ice hole. A bite is generally very soft, too soft many times for the fishermen to see or feel.
A shorter fishing pole, around three feet, works better in ice fishing. Reels are less important because usually fishing involves letting out and reeling in line. Ice fishing never involves casting.
Those planning to do some winter ice fishing may wish to invest in an ice auger. Chopping or breaking a hole in the ice, especially later in the season when the ice is thicker, can be long and exhausting.
The ice, of course, is something fishermen should pay special attention too. Ice, especially early in the winter, can be dangerous.
The rules are that two inches of ice will support one adult, three inches will support a small group, provided they walk in single file and remain spread apart, four inches is generally considered safe, and 12 inches will support the weight of a car, although there are not too many places where a vehicle can get onto the ice or too many fishermen willing to try.
Also, noisy ice is supposed to be safer. Ice that creaks and groans is growing thicker.
If you happen to fall through the ice, extend your arms flat on the surrounding ice; squirm the upper part of your body onto the ice; roll quickly to one side away from the edge; and get out of the wet clothing and get warm quickly.
If you see someone fall through the ice, find a rope, pole, branch, or something else to extend to the victim. Lie flat on the ice to keep weight distributed evenly, spreading arms and legs as you move toward the victim. Don't try to pull the person out or you'll both likely end up in the water.
As far as where to fish, many of the old standbys like Deer Creek, Flaming Gorge and Strawberry will be good. East Canyon and Rockport are both considered better winter fishing spots than summer area.
One fish not targeted much is the walleye. Once the secret to winter walleye fishing is discovered, it is expected that a whole new outlet to the winter fishing urge will be found. Walleye are a very good tasting fish, but are difficult to catch. There are, however, large numbers of walleye in many lakes and reservoirs, such as Deer Creek and Starvation.