Ice Fishing in Utah

Great in-depth ice fishing tips (4 part series)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Ice Fishing Tips - Find the Right Depth, and Don't Move Your Bait Much

Ice fishing success hinges on three things

Ice fishing in Utah is a favorite winter pasttime for thousands of Utah anglers. When the lakes freeze over, it offers a unique opportunity to shorebound anglers who do not own boats, to be able to access deep water and other areas away from shore where they normally wouldn't be able to fish.

Often ice fishing can be red hot even in the cold winter temperatures, especially just after ice-up, once the ice is thick enough to be safe to venture out on.

Putting your bait or lure at the depth the fish are -- and then not moving it much -- are the keys to catching fish through the ice.

And using some simple devices that will help you know when you have a fish on the end of your line is a big help too.

Drew Cushing, warm water sport fisheries coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says fish become lethargic when they're under the ice.

"Fish will often stay at a certain water depth all winter long," Cushing says. "Also, they aren't as willing to move fast to catch their food.

"Keep those two things in mind," he says, "and you should find plenty of fish on the end of your line this winter."

Also, during ice-off in the spring, there can be some excellent fishing for trout as well.


As you search for fish, and also after you find them, don't move your bait or lure much. Keep it still. If you do want to give your bait or lure a little action, don't move it up and down much. And move it slowly.

"Remember that fish under the ice aren't willing to expend a lot of energy to catch their food," Cushing says. "If you move your bait or lure too much or too fast, the fish might decide it's not worth its effort to catch what you're offering it.

"The best thing to do," he says, "is find the depth where the fish are. Then drop your bait or lure right in front of the fish."

Water depth

The depth at which you'll find fish varies depending on the species you're after. No matter which water you're fishing in Utah, you'll probably find the following fish at the following depths:

 Yellow perch

 Either right on the bottom of the water you're fishing, or no more than six inches above the bottom.


 Close to the bottom.

 Trout, kokanee salmon

 Suspended at various depths. You'll find trout and salmon just under the ice to as much as 15 feet below the ice. "Once you find the depth at which trout or salmon are suspended in a water," Cushing says, "there's a good chance you'll find them at that same depth throughout the winter."

 To catch trout and salmon, Cushing recommends starting by fishing your bait or lure just under the surface. If you don't get a bite, lower your bait or lure a few feet. Try that depth for awhile. If the fish still aren't biting, continue lowering your bait or lure a few feet at a time. If you're using the right bait or lure, and you're still not catching fish, you'll know trout and salmon aren't using that part of the lake at that time.

 Bluegill, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass

 Near brush, bulrushes, rocks and weeds. Look for vegetation that's sticking up through the ice or ridges that extend down into the water. To find the depth where the fish are, start by dropping your bait or lure all the way to the bottom of the water you're fishing. Then raise your bait or lure a few feet at a time until you find the fish.

 Burbot, walleye, tiger muskie, Northern pike

 Near the bottom of the water you're fishing. Each of these fish like to pick baits or lures up, swim a ways with them, and then drop them. Fishing with the bail on your reel open, or using a device called a tip up, are good ways to let the fish run with your bait or lure before you set the hook.

 If you're not sure which depth to try, ask anglers you see on the ice. "Most anglers are very willing to tell you the depth at which they're catching fish," Cushing says.

 Cushing also reminds you that fish aren't everywhere in a lake. If you drill a hole and fish for 30 minutes without getting any bites, move to a new spot.

 "Once you find a spot that has fish," he says, "keep coming back. More often than not, an ice fishing hotspot will stay hot."


Not only do fish move less under the ice, they also don't bite their food as aggressively. And that can make it challenging to know when a fish is striking your bait or lure. "If you're relying on your fishing rod to tell you when a fish is on the end of your line," Cushing says, "you probably won't know it's time to set the hook."

(Setting the hook involve pulling up on your fishing rod to set the hook in the fish's mouth.)

Fortunately, inexpensive items such as ice bobbers are available. Simply measure the amount of line that will put your bait or lure at the depth you want to fish. Then attach your bobber at that point on your line. The bobber will sit on top of the water with your line dangling under it.

"When you see the bobber move," Cushing says, "you'll know it's time to set the hook."

Tip ups

An item that will cost you about $15, but that's effective and fun to use, is called a tip up.

A tip up is a mechanism that you use instead of using a regular fishing rod. When a fish takes your bait, a mechanism on the tip up sends a small flag up, letting you know a fish is on the end of your line.

"Using a tip up makes it easier to fish in two holes," Cushing says. "You can drill two holes a ways apart and still know when a fish is biting the line in either hole."

Remember that in addition to your fishing license, you must have a two-pole permit to fish with two poles or two tip ups. Also, your poles or tip ups cannot be more than 100 feet apart, and you must be able to see each one clearly.

Here is a list of some of the more popular waters to ice fish in Utah.

We have instructions how to make a 'tip-up for ice fishing.