HEBER — For the avid angler, winter is a time for patience, a soft touch and a willingness to roam. The payoff is generally good fishing.
Winter is a pretty easy time on anglers. No worry about casting or docking boats or anchoring over the fish when they are found. The toughest part of ice fishing is drilling the hole.
What some may not realize is that fish get cold, too. When there's an ice cap, fish aren't as anxious to move quickly. So, a lot of times when they do bite, it's more of a halfhearted attempt to tease. But sometimes it's impossible to detect a real bite from a gust of wind. The shorter winter fishing rods help, as do little tricks like holding the line on the index finger.
With fish being less willing to swim about, it sometimes becomes necessary for the angler to move to the fish. In these situations, a fish finder is priceless. If a locator isn't available, the rule is after 15 to 20 minutes of listening to the ice crack, when nothing has hit but frostbite, move to another ice hole.
Wise ice fishers also dress for the occasion. The recommended method is to layer, which allows anglers to take clothing off when it warms up and put it back on when it cools down.
Good gloves and boots are especially important, as is good headgear.
Tom Pettengill, sport fisheries coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, points out there are certain advantages to winter fishing.
One being, of course, that for those who don't own a boat and can't get to areas offshore in the summer, the frozen surface allows them to walk to their catch of the day.
Also, Pettengill points out, ice fishing doesn't require a big investment in tackle. All that's needed are small ice flies, spoons, wax worms and pieces of sucker or perch meat — on waters where perch meat is legal for bait — and all of it can be carried about easily in a five-gallon bucket, which doubles as a handy seat.
The only piece of specialized equipment an ice angler needs is an ice auger, used to cut a hole in the ice. Smart ice fishermen invest in a motor-powered auger.
To find the fish, Pettengill advises anglers to watch where others are fishing or, if there's no one around, to follow old tracks. Crowds always congregate over fish.
Along with finding fish, it helps to know what depth they are holding.
"Trout, for instance, can be found at any depth, from just under the ice down to the bottom. If you're trout fishing, try various depths," suggests Pettengill.
One thing anglers need to pay attention to is ice conditions. To safely support a group of anglers, ice needs to be about 4 inches thick.
"Ice thickness can be checked from shore by throwing a couple of large rocks onto the ice," Pettengill says. "The water level in our reservoirs is rising, and the thinnest ice is usually within a couple of steps of shore."
Anglers can also walk a few steps offshore and check the thickness of the ice by drilling a hole.
The way the ice looks also can help determine whether it's safe. Clear ice without a lot of air bubbles is the strongest.
Utah has many prime ice fishing locations.
"Scofield, Strawberry and Fish Lake are prime fishing spots in the winter, just like they are in the summer," Pettengill adds.
Good winter yellow perch sites include Fish Lake and Deer Creek, Echo, Newton, Hyrum and Pineview reservoirs.
Winter anglers are reminded that there is a 20 perch daily limit in Utah. The only exceptions are Deer Creek and Yuba reservoirs, where anglers may keep only 10 perch a day, and Fish Lake, where anglers may keep up to 50 perch daily. The statewide trout limit is four.
Along with reservoirs, streams and rivers can also produce some good fishing.
Flowing water makes is possible for avid fly fishermen to ply their skills.
The best fishing, says Pettengill, is typically on the warmest, mildest days when insect hatches often occur.
The rule for stream fishing is to use the smaller lures and flies. Again, because colder water slows the fish, they're more likely to take smaller bites.
Among the more popular flowing waters are the Ogden, South Fork of the Ogden, Logan, Blacksmith Fork, Weber and Provo rivers.