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Bass fishing and bass waters abound in southern Utah


Bass fishing and bass waters abound in southern Utah

May 18,2006 - Bass fishing and bass waters abound in southern Utah

Quail Creek, Sand Hollow and Gunlock reservoirs-all in Utah's Washington County-provide the state's best largemouth bass fishing. Add to them two of Utah's best smallmouth bass fisheries at Newcastle and Upper Enterprise reservoirs (all five of these waters are within a 70-mile radius) and you have one of the best bass fishing areas in the western United States.

Broaden that 70-mile area, just a little, and it includes Lake Powell to the east and more smallmouth bass fishing to the north at Minersville, Piute and Otter Creek reservoirs.

If largemouth bass fishing in small ponds is something you'd enjoy, you can add the Sand Coves (near Gunlock), Ivins Reservoir or some of the community fisheries within cities in Washington County to your list.

As you can see, if you like fishing for bass in Utah, southwestern Utah is a great place to be!

Quail Creek, Sand Hollow and Gunlock reservoirs

Quail Creek Reservoir is probably southwestern Utah's best-known bass fishing water. It's produced good largemouth fishing, and big fish, since shortly after being impounded in 1985.

Quail Creek is eight miles west of the city of Hurricane, and 10 miles northeast of St. George, just off I-15. The reservoir covers 590 surface acres and is 185 feet deep when full. A state park boat ramp and campground are available. The park entrance fee is $7 per vehicle.

Sand Hollow Reservoir is the newest of Washington County's largemouth bass waters, located just a stone's throw south from Quail Creek and even closer to Hurricane. A state park entrance fee of $7 per vehicle is required to enter the park, but as one of the Division of Wildlife Resources' weekly fishing reports said in 2005: "If you can't catch fish at this water, you might as well take up golf."

Sand Hollow began filling in 2002 and will be more than 600 surface acres when full. It opened to fishing in 2004. Eight- to 16-inch bass are extremely abundant and a surprising number of larger bass, ranging up to more than five pounds, are also caught.

In addition to the bass, bluegill are abundant and are easily caught, even by novice anglers.

Gunlock Reservoir was constructed in 1970 and has a reputation for big bass with a temperamental attitude. The bass at Gunlock are typically hard to catch. Fishing appears to have changed for the better in recent years, however, as regulations now require that anglers release most of the bass they catch.

Some local anglers say they fish mostly at Quail Creek and Sand Hollow, but they actually catch a lot of fish at the less publicized Gunlock.

Gunlock Reservoir is 17 miles northwest of St George, past the town of Ivins and alongside the paved road that leads to the town of Gunlock.

The Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation maintains a boat ramp and a parking area at this 260-acre reservoir.

Largemouth bass

Largemouth bass have been difficult to maintain in many of Utah's waters. Many largemouth fisheries start out well, but they slowly decline over the years. The exact reasons for the decline are not be well understood, but it probably has a lot to do with habitat.

Utah's irrigation storage reservoirs, with their fluctuating water levels, don't provide the same habitat that Florida's bass swamps provide. Lakes in Washington County, with their warm climate and long fish growing season, do have an advantage over Utah's other lakes and reservoirs, however.

To give the bass an even greater chance for long-term success, restrictive fishing rules were imposed at Quail Creek Reservoir soon after it was constructed. DWR biologists wanted to provide every chance possible to see if a good bass fishery could be permanently sustained. Rules were set that required the release of all bass between 10 and 20 inches long.

More than 20 years later, the same rules still apply and fishing at the reservoir is still good. The success of the regulations at Quail Creek resulted in similar rules at Sand Hollow and Gunlock reservoirs.

Conservation agencies, including the DWR, hope to accomplish three objectives when conducting fishery management. First, they want to maintain a healthy fish population. Second, they want to provide good public fishing. And third, they want to allow the liberal harvest of sport fish if that harvest can be maintained.

In some cases, including Quail Creek Reservoir, over-harvest of largemouth bass could threaten the fishery and result in a loss of fishing opportunity. In cases like this, DWR biologists believe it's best to sacrifice taking some fish home to make sure a good fish population is sustained and everyone can have fun catching and releasing fish.

Smallmouth bass

In contrast, smallmouth bass have flourished in many of Utah's irrigation storage reservoirs. The smallmouth bass seem to thrive, even with changing water levels and little aquatic vegetation.

Smallmouth concentrate on rocky shorelines and often do well on dams that are covered with rip rap. Fishing regulations on all of southern Utah's smallmouth bass fisheries are the standard, statewide limit of 6 bass of any size.

Even with these generous limits, bass at reservoirs like Newcastle (224 surface acres) remain abundant with fish ranging up to five pounds. Taking a few fish home to eat is encouraged and doesn't threaten these populations.

Newcastle and Enterprise (390 surface acres) are west of Cedar City off of state routes 56 and 219.

Minersville Reservoir (990 surface acres) is west of the town of Beaver on SR-21.

Piute and Otter Creek reservoirs (both 2,500 surface acres) are south of Richfield and are adjacent to state routes 89 and 62 respectively.

All of these waters have boat ramps. Enterprise, Minersville and Otter Creek reservoirs also have campgrounds.

Fishing forecast for 2006

The recent drought caused temporary losses of some smallmouth populations in 2004, but fishing should be good at Newcastle and Enterprise in 2006. Smallmouth bass were restocked during 2005 at Minersville, Piute, and Otter Creek reservoirs. The adult bass that were planted in the spring of 2005 may have already reproduced.

Minersville and Piute were good producers of smallmouth bass in the 1990s and should quickly rebound now that the reservoirs have been refilled. Somewhat like Gunlock Reservoir, how well bass were doing at these two waters was not well known, but they provided great success for the few anglers that found the fish.

Otter Creek Reservoir is a relatively new location for smallmouth and has not been tested with good reservoir water levels. Since its elevation and climate is similar to Piute Reservoir, this should be a location to watch in the near future.

Crayfish provide a basic food source for bass at all these locations, so the forage is not limiting. Some of the lakes also contain sunfish and bluegill. Others contain Utah chubs and shiners. Most are also stocked with trout. Bass actually help the trout by keeping the minnows under control.

May and June are two of the best months to fish

Largemouth and smallmouth bass both spawn in May and June. Spawning is later than commonly thought because of cold inflows that come into the reservoirs from high elevation streams.

For smallmouth bass, watch for the bite to turn on when the water temperature reaches 60 F, which usually happens in mid-May at most southern Utah waters. Before the water temperature reaches 60 F., smallmouth can be hard to catch.

For early spring largemouth, fish deep and slow. Big smallmouth are often taken deep, while smaller fish are most often shallow.

An exception to fishing deep in the summer is using a surface plug in the late evening near schools of bait fish. Few fishing moments are as exciting as the moment that happens when you twitch a plug a few times, let it sit still for a moment and then watch as a bass explodes from the surface of the water, becoming completely air born!

For more information about bass fishing in southwestern Utah, check out the weekly Southern Region fishing report at wildlife.utah.gov/fishing/reports.php or call the DWR's Southern Region office at (435) 865-6100.