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4/3/14

Southern Utah Springtime


Last week

Curiosity got the best of me and I made my way to Koosharem Reservoir, near Fish Lake. Reports stated that the ice was receding and I needed a place to float, in search of large trout kind.

The reports were true and I spent a few hours throwing all sorts of junk into the water, never getting so much as a bump. The first official skunk of 2014 had been served (other than a few fruitless lunch breaks - they don't count).

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It was nice to get out on the tube again though. Koosharem holds some heavy fish, but coaxing them to eat what they don't already have is harder than one might think.

Not to be dissuaded, news of a small open window of water at the Twin Creeks inlet at Fish Lake led me to Plan B, where I was sure to catch something, I hoped.

Plan B worked out quite well and I spent a fair amount of time unhooking mid-sized rainbows, an awful looking lake trout from the hatchery, and THREE BROWNS!

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Catching browns isn't commonplace at Fish Lake, and most that I've heard about are total beasts of the 10+lb variety. Somehow, my own Fish Lake career has led me to a total of 4 browns, though mine have all been quite small.

Time ticked on and my day ended without much in the way of size. Somewhat of a letdown, it was still a beautiful day and checking on my favorite area was worth every mile.

With springtime officially underway, I've felt the need to scratch a soft water itch I've had lately.

My buddy J and I heard word of open water in an area I really like in Southern Utah, and we made plans to get down there for a long day trip on Sunday.

Along with J's friend Mark, we embarked in the wee hours on a 4+ hour drive through beautiful country. The target area being in the mid 8000's in elevation, the odds of us ultimately finding ice were very real.

Our main destination was a lake that sits in a deep bowl, fed only by springs and limited drainage area surrounding. The outlet is sub surface, filtering through the igneous rock that makes up the area's exposed geology.

Our hopes were to pump up the tubes and put on a catching clinic for healthy splake, cutthroat, and tiger trout. As we approached our parking area, the stiff winds and chill in the air prompted us to hike down to the lake in order to make sure there was open water first.

Lo and behold, the ice had held strong in that hidden basin and our long journey had come to a crossroad. A decision had to be made:

1. Move to another lake with different species, nearby.
2. Test the ice and find a way to make some holes.
3. Give up and find water on the way home.

Naturally, we couldn't possibly settle for option #3. The 1st option also seemed like an acceptance of defeat, so we started smashing shoreline rocks to make some sharp edges.

That's right, we chipped away at the ice with rocks by hand and made it work. The ice was about 6" thick where we first started pounding. It was 8" in the middle.

We came to fish that lake and that was exactly what we intended to do. Men on a mission. *Pounds chest while grunting*

This wasn't the first time I'd opened up some ice with a rock. A little tip for rock-holing:

Break a rock to expose a sharp or jagged edge/point. Using an angled stroke, chip away a circular basin in the ice, keeping the bottom as level as possible, while remembering to work away the sides as you go.

As the hole gets deeper, the angled stroke really helps, as you move your body around the hole to keep a good circle.

Take the time to remove the ice shavings periodically or you'll make less progress per stroke.

Water will start to seep into the hole from underneath during the last two inches. Instead of getting soaked by the splashes, take the point of the rock and face it downward, jamming it into place by hand or foot.

Try stomping it down enough to break through, then dislodge it and jam it into place, cross-wise.

More stompy. The rock should pop through, leaving a decent hole.

If the boots aren't doing the trick, grab another rock and heave it down onto the chipper until it goes through. These steps will save you a lot of time and sogginess throughout those last couple of inches.

Last tip: Wear Gloves! (Ouch.) I wished I had brought some. Bruises go away though.

With my first hole out of the way in good time, the moment of truth had arrived.

The moment the jig went below the ice sheet, I had action.

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We spent the next few hours putting on that catching clinic we'd hoped for. Seriously, EVERYTHING we dropped down the hole got attacked.

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It seemed as though one of us was either getting played with or catching a fish at all times. I don't believe a solid 10 minutes passed without some sort of action. Great fishing.

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Our toils led to spoils as countless little cutthroat came to hand. Occasionally, a good splake would find the jigs and the odd tiger trout would also make an appearance.

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We came, we conquered.

The best two fish of the day went to Mark, who nailed a 22" splake and another that was pretty close to that. Those were some nice fish.

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My best was a really pretty tiger trout, barely under the 20" mark by a few hairs.

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J didn't have quite as much action as Mark and I, but he made out alright as well. I'm pretty sure all three of us caught the lake's grand slam of species and more little cutthroat than we could dangle a jig at.

Those cutts were biting anything. I joked that it was a game to them, seeing which one could bite the offering first from the shiny hole of light.

Bare jig heads were nipped at even. It was almost ridiculous.

I got an opportunity to try out some plastics that were sent to me by Smokin' Jigz. They worked well. My intention was to try several different colors of the minnows they sent me, but the first one I rigged was so durable that I never had to replace it. Very impressive!

The plastics were softer than what I usually use, but had enough elasticity to stay together, even through aggressive bites and battles. If it slid down the hook, sliding it right back up worked just fine.

I'll be sure to use more of those in the coming weeks!

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Though the fishing was excellent, a severe storm moved in and dropped a lot of snow on us, blowing it in sideways with a vengeance. It was rough going and it chased us off.

The storm made me grateful that we decided to take J's truck, rather than my Sentra. We may have been stranded, otherwise.

The nearby lake with different species was a spot we'd also hoped to fish that day, so I took another little hike to check on its ice status while the others took a sandwich break.

The snow was coming in so hard that I couldn't see more than 100 feet in any direction. What I saw of the lake was open, but we didn't stay to check the fishing. It was a blizzard.

On our way down the mountain, we stopped at a pond with open water for a few minutes. It was too tempting not to, although the wind was terrible and casting was very difficult.
That being said, I still caught a couple of healthy rainbows and a cutthroat before throwing in the towel.

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Once we got off the mountain, we were treated to a wonderful display of "sandscapes" as we rolled along.

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The exposed layers of Earth laid out before us was quite impressive. We're so lucky to live in this incredible state.

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Opting for a longer route home, with more water along the way, we stopped at Millsite Reservoir to try for more splake, tigers, cutts, and rainbows.

Sadly for us, the storm clouds followed us and tormented us with frigid wind and snow/sleet. We were all skunked at Millsite, though both Mark and J had at least a bite.

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It was a brutal finish to a hard day of fishing, but we still wore smiles and stayed in good spirits, recalling the fantastic fishing at our first lake.

As for that, I never got my tube on it and I consider that unfinished business...

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Happy Fishing, Humans.

Some Background...

WHY FISH?

Why not go jogging, hit the gym, start a garden or whatever it is that normal humans do? What's so fascinating about these slimy little animals that live in the water?

Fishing is a bit more to me than a hobby or a sport. It's an essential part of life that helps me connect with the Earth in ways similar to the long practiced traditions of mankind. Wherever man has had a water source, there has been fishing.

It's only natural.

THE PAST

As a fingerling, I only fished a few times with uncles or my father. We typically never went out of the valley except for a couple of trips to Deer Creek, where I remember catching my first perch.

My Dad took me to the Provo River a few times and once up to Ruth Lake in the Uintas. It was always a fun trip, no matter where we went and it got us out of the house. I wish I would have asked to go more often at that age.

At age 14, I went with the Scouts to climb King's Peak, the high point of Utah. We had to hike some 8 miles with heavy packs to get to our campsite at Dollar Lake in the High Uintas. At that lake, I caught my first trout and never got around to fishing again for several years.

When I rediscovered the joys of fishing in my early 20's, a close friend named Holdsworth and I spent a lot of our time at a handful of places within a reasonable driving distance. The first lake that gave us any trout was Currant Creek Reservoir. The fish weren't huge, but they were gorgeous and plentiful once found.



We made it a high priority to fish there every weekend for much of the summer. Every time we went, however, the monkey on our collective back grew a little bit stronger while passing the intimidating Strawberry Reservoir.

Eventually, the seduction of the Berry's fame lured us to turn onto the Soldier Creek Dam Junction. Never having fished it before, we thought we'd start at the dam and test our luck.

We didn't get a bite for over an hour and I started to doze off. I was awakened when my Ugly Stik swept over to the other side of my lap from where I had it resting. Coming to, I started reeling and fought in a feisty rainbow of around 18 inches and fat. We'd never caught anything like it up at Currant Creek, so a new weekly destination was born.



Moving forward a few years, Holdsworth had since moved to Germany, but I continued to feed my passion for fishing. I joined a wildlife forum online, sponsored and run by the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). The DWR forum had an eclectic stew of sportsmen and women from all over the state and abroad.

Participating in the forum made me realize that my fishing license was valid anywhere in the state and that taking on a few new venues couldn't hurt. Ever since I joined, my summers have been spent trying out new waters in between trips to the usual haunts and fishing has never been better for me.

Much information was shared freely between the sportsmen of this online community and it was a good place to get in some useful reading. Being active in discussions there and applying new ideas really helped me develop into a better fisherman.

In the "Fishing Reports" section, you could read about recent trips to places all over the state. Reading the reports, I was inspired to begin recording my own experiences. Why not? Writing was always something I enjoyed doing plus I had a camera and web access...

From then on, I posted detailed write ups of my exploits quite regularly. Positive feedback prompted me to continue and now I have almost as much fun putting the report together, as I do actually fishing.

The DWR forum was shut down abruptly in September of '07 due to bureaucratic red tape. A slew of new "replacement forums" popped up in hopes of gaining the now disbanded 5000+ members.

Once the dust settled a bit, a clear replacement appeared when the former moderators of the DWR forum got together with a former member named "Petersen" to start the Utah Wildlife Network.



Quite a few members donate (myself included) and that helps to keep the site running. Additionally, we're not in any danger of the gov. stepping in and pulling the plug, as this forum is privately owned and operated by Petersen.

Once the news caught wind that a true replacement was found, the pages started looking more familiar with old screen names showing up left and right. It didn't take too long and we had our spot back, essentially.

Aside from the UWN, I also check in with a few other forums, including Big Fish Tackle, (BFT). This nationwide forum is full of knowledgeable anglers from all over the world and can be a great resource.

...But really, if I burn all of my time on the internet, there won't be any left for fishing!

Due mainly to the forums, my fishing eyes have been opened. Now more than ever, I really make it a point to explore new waters and fish the spots that nobody talks about. My day trips have gotten much longer and involve many more stops than before.

Please stay tuned for trip reports and feel free to explore the links in my highlights section, where I go into more detail about specific waters and areas.

Happy Fishing, Humans.

Feed my pets