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Plenty of Room to Ice Fish

Lake Trout caught ice fishing
Lake Trout caught ice fishing

Several waters provide plenty of space to stretch out and fish

Plenty of waters close to your home will provide great ice fishing this winter. Those waters might draw lots of anglers, though.

If you're looking for some space this winter, several waters-including two in south-central Utah and two in northeastern Utah-have lots of room to fish. And two of them are surrounded by spectacular scenery.

"One of the waters, Browns Draw, doesn't receive much fishing pressure," says Randy Oplinger, sport fisheries coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "Flaming Gorge doesn't tend to draw big crowds either. The remaining waters can draw lots of anglers on the weekends, but they're large waters with plenty of space to spread out and have a great experience."

If you're looking for some solitude this winter, Oplinger encourages you to visit the following:

South-central Utah

Fish Lake (rainbow trout, yellow perch, splake)

Weeds in Fish Lake extend from the shore into water that's about 15 to 20 feet deep. Then, the weeds end. The outside edge of those weeds-the weedline-is where you want to place your jig or bait. "Find the weedline," says Richard Hepworth, regional aquatics manager for the DWR, "and you'll catch fish at Fish Lake."

Hepworth says you don't need a fishfinder to find the weedline. "Once you get on the ice," he says, "look for lots of ice fishing holes. That's likely where the weedline is."

After finding the weedline, drop a small jig-or even a plain hook, with PowerBait or a worm threaded on it-close to the bottom. Then, watch the tip of your fishing rod closely. If it starts to twitch, raise your rod, and set the hook-a rainbow trout, splake or yellow perch is likely on the end of your line.

The chance to catch a variety of fish-in a beautiful, mountain setting-draws anglers to Fish Lake year after year. "That's what makes fishing at Fish Lake so much fun," Hepworth says. "You never know what you'll catch. The fish on the end of your line might be a small, tasty yellow perch-or it might be a 30-pound lake trout. You just never know."

Hepworth says safe ice usually forms at Fish Lake between the Christmas and New Year's holidays. That may not be the case this year, though. Check fishing reports at utahfishinginfo.com/dwr/fishingreports_south.php for current ice conditions.

Otter Creek Reservoir (rainbow trout)

Otter Creek Reservoir provides some of the best rainbow trout fishing in Utah. Hepworth says plenty of rainbow trout-many of them 18 inches long and weighing two pounds each-are available to catch.

During the winter, most of the rainbows in Otter Creek are fairly close to shore. Hepworth starts searching for them in water that's three to five feet deep. If he doesn't catch fish, he moves a little farther from shore. He never fishes in water that's more than 15 feet deep, though.

"Rainbows at Otter Creek stay fairly shallow throughout the winter," he says. "Focus your efforts in water that's less than 15 feet deep."

Another tip is to look for rocky points that jut into the reservoir. Once you've found a point that looks promising, tip a small jig or ice fly with a meal worm or a nightcrawler-or place PowerBait or salmon eggs on a plain hook-and then fish it at various depths, from the bottom of the reservoir to just under the ice.

"I usually start close to the bottom," Hepworth says, "but if I don't catch anything, I'll reel the lure or bait up and fish it higher in the water column. Rainbows at Otter Creek can be found at almost any depth."

Ice is forming late in southern Utah this year. To stay updated on ice conditions at the reservoir-part of Otter Creek State Park-visit www.wildlife.utah.gov/hotspots/reports_sr.php.

Northeastern Utah

Browns Draw Reservoir (tiger, brown and rainbow trout)

Browns Draw is the perfect place to go to escape the crowds and catch a variety of trout.

Natalie Boren, regional fisheries biologist for the DWR, says the reservoir's tiger, brown and rainbow trout average about 15 inches in length. "The fish aren't huge," she says, "but there's a nice variety to catch."

Browns Draw is also a quiet place to fish. "Not only is the reservoir remote," Boren says, "but the only parking area is on the south end. If you're willing to walk, you can park on the south end and walk to the north end. You'll probably be the only angler there."

To catch trout at the reservoir, various techniques, such as threading a Berkley Power Tube on a small jig, and then placing a wax worm or a meal worm on the lure's hook, should work well. "Fishing small ice flies, tipped with bait, should work well too," Boren says.

You can also place PowerBait on a plain hook, crimp some split shot above it, and fish only with bait. No matter which tactic you use, drop your lure or bait to the bottom of the reservoir and start there. "Fish at that depth for awhile," Boren says. "If you don't get a bite, reel the lure or bait up a few feet. Keep reeling until you find the fish. If you don't, move to a new location."

Most anglers reach the reservoir by traveling through Roosevelt and up the Neola Highway. Google Earth will help you find it. Simply type Browns Park Reservoir, Neola, Utah, into the search bar.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir (lake trout)

Plenty of lake trout up to 25 inches long are waiting for you at this scenic reservoir on the Utah, Wyoming border. The first step to catching them is getting a lake map and studying it thoroughly.

The area you'll want to study first is the north end of the reservoir, between the confluence (where the Black's Fork and Green river arms meet in the reservoir) south to the area called Buckboard. "The best lake trout fishing usually happens at the start of the ice fishing season," says Ryan Mosley, the DWR's lead fisheries biologist at Flaming Gorge, "and that's the area that freezes first."

As you study the map, look for contours, main channel points and flats that are adjacent to the main river channel and in water that's 50 to 80 feet deep. "Those are the areas you'll want to fish," Mosley says.

Before you head to the reservoir, make sure you have an electronic fish finder that will help you spot lake trout under the ice. You'll also want a medium action fishing rod with a reel spooled with fishing line that's 8-pound test or stronger.

To get your offering down fast, use 1/4- to 1/2-ounce lures. Various jigging spoons, swim baits and jigs work, but the traditional go-to lure is a white tube jig that's 2 1/2 to 3 inches long. "Always place a small piece of sucker or chub meat on the lure's hook," he says. "The meat will entice fish to bite your lure."

Mosley says lake trout are usually found close to the bottom. "That's not always the case, though," he says. "Sometimes, they'll suspend just 15 to 20 feet under the ice. When you see fish on your fish finder, don't be afraid to reel your lure up and fish closer to the surface."

Mosley uses a variety of techniques, from aggressive jigging to subtle jigging with lots of pauses. Occasionally, he lets his lure sit still.

When fishing through the ice at Flaming Gorge, you can use up to six fishing poles or tip-ups. One tactic Mosley often uses involves at least two poles. After placing a small piece of sucker or chub meat on the hook of a lure, he lowers the lure close to the bottom and then lets the pole sit still. In a second hole drilled close to the first hole, he lowers a jig to the bottom and starts jigging it.

"This technique draws fish in and gives them a couple of options: they can take the lure I'm jigging or, if they're not in an active feeding mood, they can easily take the lure that's sitting nearby and isn't moving," he says.

Mosley says lake trout can be finicky. "But once you find them," he says, "you can do really well. Let the fish 'tell' you what they want by trying different techniques."

If you're fishing with more than one line at Flaming Gorge, please remember that your name must be attached to each line. Also, if you're from Utah, but you want fish on the Wyoming side of the reservoir, make sure you have either a Wyoming reciprocal fishing stamp or a Wyoming fishing license.

To improve fishing at the reservoir, Mosley encourages you to keep your limit of smaller lake trout.