2016: Year In Review

What?  It's over already?  They say time flies when you're having fun and 2016 blew right by, so I must have had a stellar year of fishing!

The first couple of months foreshadowed no greatness, as I had a very difficult time catching fish on ice.  It wasn't until late March when my fortune finally started changing for the better.

For the first trip of the year, Currant Creek only gave up one small rainbow to me.  Only one fish for Holdsworth too:

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Aaron's tiger:

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Much like 2015, the early months of the year provided better fishing on quick lunch break stops than it did for all-day weekend trips.

Here we have a large channel cat that lives under a road.  Surely a new personal best at that time, though I failed to gather any measurements before releasing it.  I believe I caught it again later...

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A trip to Fish Lake was also a bit of a flop for me.  Holdsworth and I caught a small number of small rainbows and splake, but my friend J caught a 22" lake trout and quite a few small bows/splake as well.  We ended the day with a need for faster action, so we worked the weedline for aggressive perch, just to get something out of the trip.

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I'm not sure what's wrong with me, but I never do well here on ice.

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At the end of January, our valley got a new blanket of white, causing my family's preexisting condition of cabin fever to nearly tilt us over the edge.  Our only hope was to escape the winter prison and play in the desert.

The drive was scary over a mountain pass in a snowstorm, but it was so very worth it to see dry red rock.

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We had a great time, stretched our legs, and recharged our spirits to endure the rest of the frosty months.

Some other ice trips followed for Aaron and I, but they were largely uneventful.  Even the use of a fish finder and power auger (on loan - Thanks, J!) couldn't tip fortune to our favor, but a couple of fish were caught, this cutthroat from Strawberry being the only one worth noting.

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Barely within the slot on that one.

Next up, history and a hunch told me to drive us down to Minersville Reservoir with our tubes.  The previous year, it was open water and good fishing.  This time, the only open water was 3ft deep or less and the rest of the lake was still capped.

To salvage the day, we checked out Corn Creek, which was pretty cool looking, but very slow, with only a few small fish caught between us.  It's always nice to try new places though.

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In order to satiate our need for better weather and "soft" water, Aaron met my family and I down at Sand Hollow State Park for our first real taste of St. George fishing.

It was a stormy frozen week up north and down south it was much more bearable, although still stormy and a bit cooler than it should have been.

Between rain showers, Aaron and I enjoyed our first float of the year and I pulled in a few largemouth in a great setting.

Day 1:

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Day 2:

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It was a fun camping trip and I'll be glad to visit again.  Cool place!

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I will surely return.

At long last, news of a receding cap of ice at a favorite family spot prompted us to embark on a journey to Joe's Valley Reservoir.

Like usual, we made a stop at our Picnic Spot on the creek, which is always a welcome sight.

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The reports were accurate and we enjoyed a fishable amount of water, though the day was still cold and windy.

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A few fish were caught before we decided to hit the sand.  The San Rafael Swell was calling.

We made it to the spectacular area around "Pictograph Panel" with very little time to do anything, but enjoyed the sunset and fading light from within the Swell.  Our mission was to see it before it was dark and we accomplished that much.

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And more.

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The only issue with that day's adventures came as we were driving out of the Swell, when my boy got sick with zero warning.  It made for a gag-inducing mess and a lingering smell to keep us company for the remaining 2hr drive home.  Yuck!  Poor kid.

Next up was a neat little gathering of my friends and my cousin Aaron from Phoenix.  We all met at a cabin that a friend rented for all of us, right by Panguitch Lake.

That being my first trip to the lake, the Aarons and I quickly got to work at the only open water accessible from shore, by the dam.

Fat rainbows were all over the place and we had fun catching a bunch of them in a short amount of time.

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It was a great way to spend a weekend and my friends were quite happy to gobble up every scrap of fish I prepared.  I almost didn't get any!  Good times. (Filleted, dipped in egg wash, breaded with crumbs and grated Parmesan, fried in coconut oil.  Mmmm, hmmm!)

Another lunch break turned up a mighty catch with this 10lb northern pike at 32".  It was my first measured catch over 10lbs or 30".  Pretty cool, I thought.

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Not exactly what you'd expect to catch on the Provo River.

The next real trip led Aaron and I southward to fish some open water at Otter Creek Reservoir, but after a couple of hours and only one missed bite, the Sevier River in Kingston Canyon seemed like a better venue.  It was.

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It sure is a pretty canyon.

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Aaron and I then went to Starvation Reservoir, where I was sure we'd do well for big angry rainbows, but we again had to settle for a river instead, after getting worked at the lake.

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Could be worse.  We both caught some fish, though mine were small.

The slow fishing thus far was really getting to me.  It was well beyond time for a "good" day on the water and our next trip surely met the demand.

We hiked our tubes through the lingering snow to satisfy a deep craving for big brookies.  Finally, we were not disappointed.

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A nice cutthroat also found my hand.

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Several good sized brookies were caught, even this one on the fly!

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Aaron got in on it as well.

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With a really good trip finally under our belts, it was the perfect time for yet another family getaway to Goblin Valley.  Aaron came along for this one and we were glad he did.  We got to show him the Wildhorse Window and we all got to see the Goblin's Lair for the first time.

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View from above camp:

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Around the back side of GV to find the Goblin's Lair:

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Within the Lair:

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From the entrance:

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From the entrance, facing the other direction:

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On the day we left, we made sure to take the Behind the Reef Trail (road) and explore some possible campsites for the future.  I think we may have found a winner.

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Always a pleasure to go to the desert.

Aaron and I fished Currant Creek Reservoir the following week without a lot of action, but this tiger was cooperative, at least.

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Our next journey led us to another "new" spot for us.  A lake of lore, we had high hopes for big brookies.  Though the day was very slow overall, I scored a 19" chunk and Aaron got a few.

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Any time we can get down to that part of the state, we will.  Sometimes, even when we shouldn't.  What's not to love?

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Adhering to the "brookies in new places" theme, we set off on another trip to the south and took a good hike to a hard-to-find puddle on a hillside.

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A beautiful natural lake with beautiful residents, we were quite pleased with the results of our ambition.

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Most fish were between 14-16 inches, but Aaron made sure to show off and pulled in 2 really good ones.

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Mine topped out at 17 inches, but these were healthy fish and loads of fun to catch.

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Gorgeous lake!  I'd love to camp here.

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My wife and I reserved the next weekend for a date.  The object was to get down to the desert, but also to fish for the first half of the day.

We ended up just going to the desert.  It also happened to be the hottest day of the year so far, so it was a real oven out there.  Totally worth it.  Capitol Reef is an incredible place to spend the time.

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Instead of going home the way we had come, we decided to make a giant loop and take the back road to Hwy 24, where we passed through Fruita, then stopped in Torrey for a bite at Slacker's Burger Joint.

I really wanted to take Sonia through Torrey.  My first time through, I knew that she would love it (and I secretly wish to live down there, someday).

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That's a satisfied customer.

Another trip to Boulder Mountain was in order for the following weekend, where Aaron and I fished another "new" water.  Big tiger trout were the draw, but the only big one I saw shook the hook before I could get it in.

We still caught fish though, and got to float in a beautiful place.

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Aaron has a knack for catching brookies where they aren't supposed to be.  He didn't disappoint.

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A father and son trip to Strawberry and Currant Creek Reservoir followed.  Strawberry was dismally slow, so the boy and I tried several spots on Currant Creek Reservoir, eventually figuring that our best chance to catch something would likely be near the cold inlet.

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It took quite awhile, but he eventually caught a cutthroat.  It's not his favorite thing to come fishing, but he likes one-on-one time with his Dad.  Eventually I'll be able to show him a proper day on the water, where he can catch multiple fish without taking all day.

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Love that boy.

Aaron and I took a drive to the Uintas for our next trip.  We abandoned our original plan and went up the Murdock Basin instead.  Aaron had never caught a golden trout and I hadn't done so for awhile.

The road is a beast and the last leg up to Echo Lake is even worse, but we made it and it wasn't too long before we had gold in hand.

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Echo is a beautiful natural lake, but the brookies in it have stunted severely.  Catching fish on every cast is possible, but they will not be very big.

Hoping to find some bigger fish, Aaron and I hiked up the steep hillside to Joan and Gem Lakes.


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Gem Lake looked good and plenty deep, but it seemed lifeless.  Perhaps we'll try that one again someday.

Joan was doing fine though and we were happy to catch fish frequently, with an average size much larger than those at Echo.  Joan is also a pretty lake and the hike is a bit more work than it looks like from the map.

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Another fun trip to the high country.

Aaron joined my family on a hike to our waterfall during the following week.  It's a great hike that's close to home.  Pretty falls, spring water, and a good quick workout.

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The next trip was a big one.  Aaron and I had been planning it since last year.

~Red Castle~

For months, I had been researching maps and absorbing all the information I could dig up about the area, including speaking with DWR biologists and collecting data from them.

We knew the hike would take most of a day, but were hopeful to have enough time to fish a handful of the lakes at the top of the East Fork, Smith's Fork drainage, over our 3 day journey.

Though we got to the trail head early enough, prepping our gear had unexpected delays that put a major dent in our departure time.

Within only a mile or two of the TH, Aaron had a setback with his hiking boots, which had already rubbed some serious blisters into his heels.  That required a lot of time to deal with, having to reapply his moleskin and socks.

We also had super heavy packs and required a lot of rest stops, so making "good time" was a pipe dream.

As the daylight started to fade, this was as close as we could get to our desired campsite, which was still about 5 miles farther up the trail:
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It was still nice to be able to place our eyes upon our target.

We setup camp in a great spot, actually.  We had good flat ground that wasn't too rocky, a solid fire pit, and even some pre-cut firewood neatly stacked for us.  Can't complain there!

In the morning, we cursed our heavy packs and eventually convinced our aching bodies to move us to the camping area.  We broke camp a couple hundred feet away from a lake I hoped to visit that evening, G-49.  That would have to wait though, as we had bigger fish to fry.

The main goal was to hike to Upper Red Castle Lake, perched at about 11,570 feet.  My hopes were to catch big Yellowstone Cutthroat and tiger trout.

The scenery leading higher and higher was spectacular beyond words.  Whether or not we even got a chance to fish, being able to see the Red Castle (mountain) with our own eyes would have been reward enough.

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What a magnificent formation!

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This guy earned a break.  Yes, those are waders.  Yes, he packed those and even his float tube and fins as well!  All with huge evil blisters that hurt constantly.  Yes, he's a mad man.

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Getting to Red Castle Lake (proper) felt like a feat in and of itself, but we weren't done.  Skirting along the western shoreline, we followed the faint trail across the scree and made our way higher and higher still.

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Finally, the prize was in sight!  Upper Red Castle Lake lie before us, in all it's glory.

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Getting to a good spot to cast from shore, it didn't take long before I was holding skinny tigers.

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It didn't really matter what I threw, but they especially liked a prince nymph on the fly rod.  I stayed bent for most of our visit.

Aaron fished it from his tube for at least an hour, also catching plenty of fish.  The big ones evaded us, but it didn't matter.  It was hard work to get up there.

The day was growing shorter by the minute, so we made our way back down, stopping to catch a few small fish from RC Proper while we were at it.

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Watching the castle turn red in the evening alpenglow was especially satisfying.

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Back at camp, Aaron tapped out and agreed to work on food while I scratched an itch with G-49.

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G-49 was neat.  Being just a few yards downstream from where the stream surfaces, I knew I'd have a lot of fun catching brookies at the inlet.

I started with jigs, but quickly realized that I could do even better with my fly rod.  Having very little experience fishing dries, I had a riot hooking fish after fish with surface flies.

What a neat lake!

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It was a great trip, even though we failed to fish most of the lakes we were hoping to.  We still put in 30+ miles.  I'll never forget it and I'll probably be back for that unfinished business.  Next time, I'm giving myself at least five days for the journey.

My next trip was a fun float at Huntington Reservoir, where I caught a bunch of healthy tiger trout.

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It's a pretty place and I didn't expect to catch such nice fish, but I ended up with quite a few over 18" and even lost a couple of 20"+.

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As always, watching the light fade from the summit is breathtaking.

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The next week was a family camp out on the Wasatch Plateau, accompanied by Aaron.  This was a really fun trip.  We setup camp really close to a great lake with aggressive tiger trout up to 3lbs.

An evening float was enjoyed, as Aaron and I put the hurt on many fish.  The scenery was great, the lake was great, the whole trip was great.

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Plenty of this on day 1:

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Day 2 held its own adventure, fishing a different lake that had skunked me, every time I'd visited previously.  Aaron was in the same situation, so it was a relief to catch anything at all, let alone a nice tiger like this:

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Unfortunately, I lost a huge rainbow that would have easily been my biggest.  The real heartbreaker was having it on the line and up to my tube several times before it finally broke me off after a few minutes.  Such is fishing.

Next was a long day trip to the Boulder Top, where Aaron and I explored several lakes and had a great time hooking many brookies and even some grayling.

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Aaron did a lot better for grayling than I did.  He was on a roll.

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What a great place to spend a summer day.

Next trip was Strawberry, where I only caught a few fish and Aaron did about as well, except he lost an expensive rod and reel (Stradic Ci4) in one of the deepest parts of the lake.

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This is a photo of Aaron smiling, but otherwise unaware that his gear just went overboard.

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Ouch.  That smarts.

We had another really good trip the following week, hiking into a semi-remote lake that nobody goes to.  We just went for fun, expecting small fish all day.

To our surprise, we ended up catching a bunch of healthy brookies all day.

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Even on the fly!

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It was a great time.

Next week: Boulder again.  We hiked into a couple of lakes we'd never fished and the first was pretty tough fishing.  We still caught some fish, but it wasn't automatic.

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This was a really neat lake to float.  Incredible topography below the surface and crystal clear water to view it through.

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Beautiful cutthroat within:

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Aaron even found a tiger.

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Just down the hill was another lake, where we dominated pudgy handfuls of brook trout.

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One after another, they were basically lined up to get a taste of what we were throwing.  Non stop action.  It was bliss.

Not only was the fishing great, but we enjoyed an incredible sunset as well.  Just gorgeous.

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The next trip was another Boulder jaunt, where we hit yet another new water with nice brookies.

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Another family trip was due, so I loaded up the clan and made for the hills.  We fished a spot on the Wasatch Plateau that I'd driven by a few times, but never stopped to fish.

The last of the fall colors gave us a beautiful show on the ride up.

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Once we made it to the lake, it only took two casts to set the tone for what kind of day we would have.

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A lot of nice brookies were caught, plus a couple of cutthroat and a rainbow.  My family didn't fish, but after I caught a few, my boy took interest and eventually caught a small brookie.

For a place I'd never fished, my expectations were exceeded by far.

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Aaron and I went back to Boulder to squeeze in one last trip before the seasonal closure of many of those lakes.  We fished a lake we tried last year and one we didn't have time for last year.  Another new lake for 2016.

Brookies, splake, and cutthroat met our hands and we stayed busy trying for stacked up fish around inlets (no harm no foul - sterile fish).

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We both caught fish, Aaron getting the biggest and most colorful ones.

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I still caught quite a few fish throughout the day.

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November 5th:  A day I'll remember until my synapses stop firing.

Aaron and I felt the need for one last float on our favorite brookie lake, so we geared up and got stomping.  Upon arrival, I decided to throw a few casts from shore before getting my fins on.

My rod already had a 1/8oz jig head on it, which I consider too big for that application.  Still, I was in the mood for a couple of casts right away and with only a bare jig head, the only properly sized jigs I had that wouldn't require me to cut the line were bright yellowish green curly tail grubs that I use on lunch breaks for bass fishing.

Chuckling to myself, I launched a long cast as far as I could and worked it just above the weeds.  About 30ft away from me, it got smacked and it didn't take long for me to figure out I had a big brookie on the line.

As I pulled it in closer, the battle grew more and more intense, attracting Aaron's attention.  He came over to observe and we got pretty excited when the brookie's snout was buried in the bottom of my net, tail still several inches above the rim.

With my personal best brookie weighing 3lbs, 10oz, I was pretty sure I'd beaten that, hoisting the large female up for the first time.  Breaking 4lbs was the goal and I nearly broke 5lbs!

Folks, this is a 4lb, 13oz brookie of 21.5 inches.  Just look how small my fingers appear under that fat belly.

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What a toad!  Made my year.

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Topping that one will be difficult.

My family and I decided to camp in the desert one more time for the year and naturally, Goblin Valley was our first choice.  Yeah, we go there a lot.

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This time, we took a crappy side road to explore the buttes to the east.  Molly's Castle, I believe it's called.

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Cool stuff.  It's always a good time out there.

Aaron and I made our way north to fish Birch Creek Reservoir for big tiger trout, but they weren't playing.  I ended up with a bunch of small rainbows and one small tiger.  Aaron ended up with much of the same, except for this hog rainbow of 4lbs.

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Sweet fish!

Aaron and I had a hunch that some ice would be thick enough to fish on at the brookie spot.  Technically, we were right, but it was scary thin.  We planned to meet up with my buddy Dan and we took a lot longer than expected.  He'd already been there for a couple of hours when we arrived.

With a little less than 2" in some spots and about 3" in others, we walked gingerly and got it done.

Aaron scored first with a smaller brookie.

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Then I got a pretty big one, but its fins were a bit ragged.  Great colors anyway.

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The real treat came after we'd been there all day and were close to leaving.

Aaron caught the perfect brookie.


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What a beauty!  I couldn't have been happier for him.  Unbelievable fish.

The next week, he and I went to Starvation and floated it, catching nothing but a stiff breeze that pushed us to the dam from the State Park boat ramp.

Once again, after getting skunked at Starvation, we hit the river for the last hour of daylight, where we at least caught some fish.

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Having heard of ice forming at Panguitch Lake throughout the following week, I suspected that the intense cold of late would promote rapid ice development, so Aaron and I went down there and fished a solid 4-5" of clear ice.

We actually did pretty well, but the only fish that were biting were mid-sized cutthroat.  We never found any of the nice tigers in there and only caught a couple of rainbows all day.  It wasn't until we were about to leave that I actually hooked something a little bigger and that was a stout 17" rainbow.

Still, we had a good time and the action was pretty steady.

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On Christmas Eve, we went and poked some holes at Strawberry, which had recently frozen over.  The ice at the Ladders was right around 3 inches thick and there was a small crowd of tents about 200 yards from the mouth of that inlet.

We decided to setup shop closer than they did and got to work chiseling out a few holes in the channel with Aaron's new spud bar, which worked really well.

The bite was really slow and it was about 45 minutes before I hooked up with a 21" cutthroat.

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After awhile, the tents out farther started collapsing, one by one and their inhabitants made their solemn march back to their cars, mostly reporting only one or two fish, if that.

We ended up doing much better than that, but it was mostly pretty slow.  Aaron had some missed bites for the first couple of hours and that was frustrating, but then he found a magic hole that kept pumping out 20-21" cutthroat, sometimes on consecutive drops.

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Aside from his short burst of bites, we averaged about 3 fish per hour.  By the time we left, there was only one person left at the Ladders, who showed up about 2 hours before we left and fished our first holes for his stay.  He left right after we did and drove off while we were still packing our gear.

It wasn't a "great" day at the Berry, but it was fun and much needed, since I didn't get to fish at all for my birthday, the day before.

The final trip of 2016 was today (Dec 31).  Despite being sick all week, Aaron rose to the call for one last go, this year.  We went to Currant Creek Reservoir, where we hoped we would catch some huge tiger trout.

We covered a lot of ground and fished three different areas of the lake to find the fish.  After all was said and done, our slow day ended with only 4 fish on the ice, none of them very big.

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Alas, my very last fish of 2016 would be a small cutthroat that hit a pink shrimpo tipped with a meal worm.

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Aaron's last fish was his only catch for the day, a small tiger.

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It's been an incredible year filled with amazing fish from amazing venues.  I can only hope for similar activity in 2017!  Thank you so very much for reading and sharing these trips with me.

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Happy Fishing, Humans.

1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year Justin. Thanks for taking us along on some fantastic trips!


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Some Background...


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 creatures 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.

Happy Fishing, Humans.