At below freezing, having the right gear is not an option.
Fishing is as bipolar as an electromagnet, which is oddly why it’s so appealing to so many. It was the preferred method of meditation for Hemingway and Thoreau, and still is for countless world-weary souls. It is silent, subdued, tranquil.
Except when it’s not.
Pro fishing tournaments are filled with NASCAR-sized personalities, landing a fish elicits raucous celebration, and fishing trips are often just elaborate schemes to see how much of the mobile mancave can run on a gasoline generator. It is bright, loud, and crass—which also makes it a lot of fun.
Fishing has a manic-depressive versatility that makes it universally enjoyable, and nowhere is this more apparent than with ice fishing. Winter fishing itself is relatively simple—use tip-ups if you want to focus on something other than the fish; work the rod manually if you want the jig effect—but beyond baits and tactics, the fact that your gear isn’t restricted to what you can fit on a boat allows for limitless potential to tailor your trip.
Whether you crave the Bear Grylls Man vs. Wild experience of solitude with a touch of hypothermia, or prefer to bring the comforts of home (including kerosene heat and your new Xbox One) along with you, winter fishing is prepared to give you exactly what you want.
If you need some extra incentive, here are a few tips for new recruits. Regular skiing attire and winter boots should be enough clothing when visiting any of Utah’s ice fisheries, but check with local authorities to be sure. Ice should be clear and at least four-inches thick before venturing out on it and a minimum of 12- to 15-inches of ice is required to take a truck out to a fishing hole. If you don’t have gear of your own, you can rent equipment from utahicefishing.com or even hire a guide through the site as well.
Here are some of the top locations for ice fishing in Utah, leaving you little excuse not to get out the door and onto the ice. Have fun!
Mark and Michele bond over their icy catch. Photo provided by utahicefishing.com.
While other fisheries suffer a number of seasonal ebbs and flows, the superb fishing at Strawberry is as constant and universal as gravity. Located east of Provo in central Utah, Strawberry can support ice fishing from late December through February. The ice freezes unevenly, so anglers need to exercise caution early in the season. Anglers should fish in shallow areas over weed beds during the first few weeks, but move further out into deeper areas as the season progresses. By midseason the ice is typically thick enough to support heavy-duty ice shanties and snowmobiles.
Expect to find rainbows, cutthroats and even the occasional kokanee salmon at Strawberry as well as various non-game fish. The cutthroat trout were introduced to quash less-savory populations, so anglers are not permitted to keep any trout of that species between 15- and 22-inches long. The overall trout limit is four fish. Colored jigs (feathered or plastic) and lures tipped with minnows or night crawlers do well here in the winter months.
Scofield is the watery home to several monster fish, including some of the most predacious in the state. Tiger trout and cutthroats patrol the reservoir like aging trophy wives at a pool boy convention—ready to pounce on everything from ordinary jigs and lures to ice flies tipped with bait.
Scofield is roughly 100 miles from Salt Lake City, just southeast of Soldier Summit off Highway 6, and freezes earlier than all the other major reservoirs. The ice is typically solid underfoot from Thanksgiving into March, and the trout limit is eight fish with an accompanying slot limit—no tigers nor cutthroats between 15- and 22-inches.
A small reservoir found in Cache Valley near Logan, Hyrum doesn’t have the “Blue Ribbon” status of bigger fisheries like Strawberry and Scofield. What it lacks in official accolades, though, it makes up in convenience and all-around fun. The reservoir is so close to town, it’s as much a city park as state, and it’s one of the best places for winter perch fishing in Utah.
Ice flies tipped with meal worms, or jigs and spoons, or power bait, or cheese, or salmon eggs, or wax worms, or moldy leftovers, or pretty much anything you dip into the water will attract the menagerie of fish species that call Hyrum home. The indiscriminate fisherman can hunt perch, bass, bluegill, salmon or trout at all depths of the 300-acre reservoir with the assurance that at least one species will find the setup interesting enough to strike.
In 2006, park officials discovered burbot on the Utah side of Flaming Gorge. Since then, it’s been open season on the cod-like fish, and it’s actually illegal to put this invasive species back in the water if you hook one. One state’s environmental hazard is another’s recreation though, which explains events like the Burbot Bash: a 3-day fishing frenzy where teams of four compete for up to $20,000 in cash and prizes while trying to decimate the teeming burbot population.
How does this make Flaming Gorge one of the premier ice fishing arenas? Because in the winter months, burbot feed like Kobayashi at a hot dog-eating contest. Slap some sucker meat on a glow jig and you’ll be pulling up burbot every other minute. Flaming Gorge is located on the east end of the state near the border of Wyoming and Colorado and is also Utah’s best kokanee salmon water. The ice fishing is limited on the Utah side of the lake, but very popular from mid December into March on the Wyoming end.