The fish of choice here in Utah is the trout. Always has been, still is and will likely stay No. 1 for years to come. Utah fishermen like throwing their Renegade flies, Power Bait and silver spinners. And they like the cooler, high-country lakes.
Which is not surprising since most of the good waters are high. Still, with more warm-water fishing opportunities, more warm-water fish and a steady influx of people coming in from areas where bass are king, a shift would seem likely.But, it was 75 percent 20 years ago and it's still 75 percent in favor of trout.
"I think what's happening," said Tom Pettingill, sports fisheries program coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, "is we're getting a balance of people coming into the state - some like trout and some like bass - and the numbers are staying the same."
The last time a statewide survey was taken was in 1995. Figures then showed the overwhelming choice of fishermen was Strawberry, a trout fishery. Second was Lake Powell, a trout fishery turned warm-water.
Survey numbers show Strawberry received 416,759 fishing days (one fisherman spending one day equals one fishing day). Stretching it a little, it could be said each and every one of Utah's 400,000-plus license holders spent at least one day at Strawberry going for trout.
Lake Powell recorded 330,688 fishing days, with the main target probably the striped bass, followed by the largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie and walleye, in that order. All, of course, listed as warm-water species.
The remaining eight waters, with only an occasional showing of smallmouth bass, are all trout waters.
The Provo River, which is one of the few remaining stretches of "Blue Ribbon" trout waters left in the state, is No. 3, the high Uintas lumped together make up No. 4 and a newcomer, Jordanelle Reservoir, is No. 5.
A second response by fishermen shows the attraction that success has on a certain water.
Take, for example, Strawberry. In 1981, with far fewer fishermen in the state, the reservoir received 332,871 fishing days. The year the reservoir was treated, in 1991, numbers dropped to 181,638. Following the treatment and years of good fishing, pressure is back.
Pettingill says that while no formal count is available, consensus is that pressure is even greater on Strawberry this year.
Sixth on the list is Flaming Gorge. Back in 1991, it was the No. 1 fishing spot with 354,352 fishing days. Then Strawberry came back on line and fishermen began catching fewer fish at the Gorge. As a result, it dropped to only 179,454 fishing days in 1995.
"This is one place that can take more pressure. Fishing has been pretty good this year, especially for kokanee. We still have a concern over the lake trout/kokanee situation, but things are improving," says Pettingill.
Another lake that has shown a significant drop in pressure is Lost Creek. In 1991, it received 54,034 fishing days, while in 1995, it got only 25,297, a drop of 53 percent. Again, this can be tied to a drop in fishing success.
The drop in both Flaming Gorge and Lost Creek came during a period when Utah was one of only a few states showing an increase in license sales.
Deer Creek, which was No. 15 on the list, is another water that can stand more pressure. It showed a 16 percent drop in pressure to 56,069 fishing days. Fishing has been good for both trout and smallmouth.
Another lake that can take more pressure is Echo. Long considered more of a recreation water than a fishing spot, it did not even make the Top 20 list. And yet, says Pettingill, "We've put together a pretty extensive restocking program to help build it back up. We stocked 22,000 catchables this year, which is about twice what we stocked in Deer Creek."
All of Utah's rivers have shown an increase, the greatest being the Provo River. It jumped from 64,802 fishing days in 1991 to 220,580 in 1995, an increase of 240 percent. Among the reasons are the rising interest in fly-fishing, its close proximity to populated areas, a rise in the number of licensed fishermen and improved fishing.
The Green River is also drawing more fishermen. In 1981, the count was 30,282 fishing days, whereas in 1995 the numbers were up to 168,546. Even the Weber has been getting greater pressure. Between 1991 and 1995, visits jumped from 65,108 to 142,692.
Other waters Pettingill said could easily withstand more pressure were Utah Lake, Bear Lake and Rockport.
Utah's Top 10 fishing destinations
According to a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources survey of fishing days, Strawberry Reservoir is the 1990s favorite fishing site. Fishing days are counted as one fisherman spending one day at a specific body of water.
Site Fishing days
1. Strawberry Reservoir 416,759
2. Lake Powell 330,688
3. Provo River 220,580
4. Uinta Mountains 215,375
5. Scofield Reservoir 183,774
6. Jordanelle Reservoir 179,685
7. Flaming Gorge 179,454
8. Green River 168,546
9. Weber River 142,692
10. Fish Lake 132,505