written by: Tony Gill
Fishing in Utah doesn’t stop when the mercury drops.
The water most often associated with Utah winter is typically that which is rapidly cooled from a gaseous state. The resultant feathery ice crystals (aka “pow”) are renowned for their low density, great for frolicking about with all manner of planks and webbing strapped to one’s feet. Less heralded during the colder months is the frozen water found atop the state’s abundant rivers and reservoirs. Well-trafficked by boats and swimmers during warm summer days, these bodies of water appear tranquil during the winter.
As it turns out, Utah’s bountiful fisheries are anything but dormant when the temperatures plunge. Tourists, hobbyists and casual enthusiasts may abandon their posts at the end of a rod, but the committed fisherwoman or the visitor with shrewd timing can reap the benefits of uncrowded environments and hungry fish. For those willing to endure the elements, ice fishing and winter fly fishing are full of opportunity.
Utah Ice Fishing
When I was growing up, I did a little ice fishing on some frozen Midwestern lakes. My version of the activity mostly entailed fruitlessly chipping away at the ice for hours on end before dangling ineffective bait in the water and narrowly avoiding hypothermia. To avoid replicating that nightmare scenario, it’s best to call up Justin Harding at Utah Ice Fishing. Harding takes guests to Rockport Reservoir, just outside of Park City, and does all the heavy lifting to put together an experience far more comfortable, warm and enjoyable than the normal DIY day on the ice.
Eskimo gas-powered augers help guests quickly break the ice and get down to what matters: relaxing in a pleasantly temperate shanty while the fish practically catch themselves. Quickfish three- and six-person ice shanties provide shelter from the elements thanks to propane heaters, snacks and hot chocolate. “The tents are warm enough that people can comfortably take their coats off even when it’s really cold out,” Harding says. “We’ll set up two tip-ups for each person, one inside the shelter and one outside, so people can bounce back and forth or wait in the warmth until they hear the tip up go off.”
Pulling brown and rainbow trout from the water with Utah Ice Fishing is a great activity for families or as a down-day adventure after skiing has turned your legs to Jell-O. Either way, Utah’s abundant sunshine and temperate climes mean ice-fishing season is relatively short, running from mid-January until the end of February, so book your trip soon. Rates start at $95 per person.
Winter Fly Fishing
“There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing,” says Chad Jaques, owner of Trout Bum 2. “We fish year-round, and November through February is the secret season.” Seasonal anglers typically get started sometime in March, but Trout Bum 2 runs trips through the winter with most of the same offerings as in the summer. Throw in the added bonus of more fish and fewer fishermen to compete with, and Jaques is onto something.
December and January can be brutally cold and the fishing difficult, but late winter and early spring storms coincide with low pressure and abundant insect hatches, so the fish become especially active after a long stretch with minimal food. Most of the trips are half-day affairs since it’s tough to keep your hands warm all day, but Jaques says the reward is more than worth the effort. “If you can endure it, those stormy days have the best fishing all year.”
Trout Bum 2 operates out of Park City with guided trips on the Weber and Provo Rivers, but the real gem of the “secret season” are the trips on the Green River near Flaming Gorge. “On our Green River Floats, it’s unusual to even see other fishermen, so you get to see a lot more wildlife like moose and bald eagles out there, which really adds value.”
Guided winter fly fishing trips start at $275 per person and include everything you need to have a great day on the river without turning into an icicle in the process.
4343 UT-224, Park City, 435-658-1166, troutbum2.com
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See more inside our 2018 Jan/Feb Issue.