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 Fish in the forecast

Where, when and how to catch walleye in 2009

Drew Cushing
Drew Cushing is a wildlife biologist who focuses on Utah's warmwater fisheries. He works with other DWR personnel and angling groups to ensure appropriate and consistent program direction. Drew is an avid angler and hunter.

Walleye fishing has become more popular in Utah, and it’s easy to see why. These large fish can be tricky to catch, and they’re really tasty! When I want to fish for walleyes, I usually head to Starvation Reservoir. It’s often less crowded than some of the other walleye fisheries, and the fishing is great throughout the summer.

Walleyes reproduce quickly and are very effective predators. If their populations aren’t kept in check, they tend to gorge on prey fish and eat themselves out of food. This is why we see boom-and-bust cycles in our walleye waters. You can help limit these cycles by taking home some walleyes!

Walleyes grow large in Yuba Reservoir. Here's one we netted during a 2008 survey.

Walleyes grow large in Yuba Reservoir. Here's fisheries biologist Mike Hadley with one we caught during a 2008 survey.

Depending on where you fish, the walleye fishing peaks at different times of the year. Here’s a quick look at the best times, places and techniques for walleye in Utah:

Deer Creek Reservoir
Population status: Good
Forage/food supply: Yellow perch
Regulations: Limit 10, but only one walleye over 24 inches
Best fishing period: May–July

The walleye population in Deer Creek Reservoir is estimated to be approximately 6,000 fish. The fish are growing very well. The perch population is rebounding and should provide an excellent food supply this year. The abundance of perch could negatively affect angler success.

Lake Powell
Population status: Excellent
Forage/food supply: Threadfin shad and gizzard shad
Regulations: Limit 10, but only one walleye over 24 inches
Best fishing period: May–June

There is an abundance of shad available in Lake Powell right now. Because of this shad boom, the walleyes are in incredibly great condition right now and are larger than in past years. The tradeoff for having large healthy walleyes is that they have a reliable, plentiful food source. This can make them a little harder to catch. As always, the further north you are in Lake Powell, the better the walleye fishing tends to be. Although the walleyes spawn about a month earlier at Lake Powell than they do in any other waters in Utah, the really good time to catch walleyes at Lake Powell is still May and June. Work 15- to 25-foot deep ledges along or near the main channel with 1/8 – 1/4 oz. crayfish-colored jigs or troll 10 to 20 foot deep flats in the bays with shad-colored lures like Little Macs, Wally Divers, or Shad Raps for the best success.

Starvation Reservoir
Population status: Excellent
Forage/food supply: Utah chubs, crayfish and insects
Regulations: Limit 10, but only one walleye over 24 inches
Best fishing period: July–September

Walleye numbers in Starvation are very high this year. The Utah chub population continues to be depressed, due mainly to predation by walleyes. Yellow perch were illegally introduced four years ago and seem to provide a stable food source for the walleyes. However, last year’s population survey indicated that the walleyes may be depressing the perch population, too. This means there should be a good number of walleyes that are hungry and easy to entice. Please keep a full limit of walleyes in an effort to reduce predation on chubs and yellow perch. Sampling of the Utah chub population continues to show little or no survival of young chubs. At over 5,000 feet in elevation, Starvation is the highest walleye water in Utah. As a result, it is the slowest to warm in the summer, and the best fishing period (July – September) is delayed. This give Utah’s walleye anglers a real advantage — they have good fishing over a longer stretch each year.

Utah Lake
Population status: Fair
Forage/food supply: White bass
Regulations: Limit 10, but only one walleye over 24 inches
Best fishing period: March–May

Although our walleye sampling has been limited on Utah Lake, there appears to be a stable population with a good number of walleyes. Most walleye fishing occurs in the spring. Utah Lake is usually an excellent fishery in late spring because the walleyes’ food supply is limited, and the water temperatures are warmer. Warmer water temperatures increase walleye activity and their need for additional food. Hungry walleyes mean more walleyes that are willing to bite lures and baits offered by anglers. Try trolling in 6–10 feet of water with shallow to moderately deep running crankbaits like Thinfins, Wally Divers, Shad Raps and Berkley’s new Frenzy lures. The Wally Divers and Frenzys both have rattles in them that will help attract walleyes in Utah Lake’s turbid water.

Willard Bay Reservoir
Population status: Fair and improving
Forage/food supply: Gizzard shad
Regulations: Limit 6, but only one walleye over 24 inches
Best fishing period: April–July

Historically, Willard Bay has had a very large walleye population. However, due to the lower water levels in recent years, walleye numbers are expected to be lower this year. On the bright side, there’s been limited boat angling the past two years, which should produce some larger fish. Willard is actually where I caught my largest walleye! The best time to consistently catch walleyes at Willard Bay is during April and June. Most anglers catch walleyes by trolling bottom bouncers with a crawler harness along the rip-rap. As the bite slows along the shoreline in late June, try trolling out in the open water. Trolling spinner rigs or crank baits in the upper half of the water column — out in the 22- to 25-foot deep main lake basin — is the most productive technique later in the season. Just go out a half-mile from the nearest shore and start trolling. If you have a fish finder, look for areas with schools of shad and bigger fish suspended under them and troll those areas. Troll at 1.5 to 3 miles per hour and cover lots of water until you catch some walleyes. Then, keep working that area until they quit biting. Expand your search from that point until you find some more. This may be the only water in Utah where this open water fishery for walleyes exists.

Yuba Reservoir
Population status: Fair and improving
Forage/food supply: Yellow perch
Regulations: Limit 10, but only one walleye over 24 inches
Best fishing period: May–July

The walleye fishery is fair and improving at Yuba. We need to keep the walleyes in balance with the yellow perch population and feel that it’s an achievable goal. The yellow perch have had three very successful spawns the last three years. The walleyes are fat and have plenty to eat. Unlike Deer Creek, where the perch population has rebounded and the walleye catch has dropped off, Yuba’s walleyes continue to bite well during May and June. The perch and walleye populations will likely remain stable until we enter another drought cycle. On a side note, there is also a large population of trophy-sized northern pike in Yuba. These fish are a top-level predator and need to be harvested. They are susceptible to the same techniques as walleye, but they remain active for a greater period of the year.

5 Responses to Fish in the forecast

  1. Drew,
    You make me want to visit Utah again! Thank you for such a detailed and informative post. Now I know about Walleyes. Working with nature has its fun moments, doesn’t it? ‘Utah Wildlife’ is my new blog to read. Great stuff, but please post more often!

  2. Two years ago I spent a lot of time in Utah for the entire year of 2007 on business. I haven’t been back since and your post is definitely giving me the itch to get back to Utah.

    I especially fell in love with Southern Utah!

    Thanks for the informative post!

    Hope to get back soon!

  3. Do people really use crawfish as fish bait up there? I see that’s part of the forage/food supply at Starvation Resevoir. We pay over $5/lb to eat those things down here, that would be some expensive fish bait.

  4. My 11-year-old son went with his father and older brother for watersports at Starvation this past weekend for a four-day get-away and had a great time. They came home last night.

    Today he has been sort of moody and has multiple lesions on his arms, face, back of head. They appear somewhat like huge pimples at a head without the body and they have occasion to itch.

    In searching via the Internet I’ve never had an issue locating information until now. Do you have any idea what could be causing this and what can be done to expedite healing?

    Thank you.

  5. What you’ve described sounds a lot like swimmer’s itch. Does it match the symptoms on these pages and look like the photos?

    http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=23301
    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/medical/IM01535

    Cory Maylett
    Utah Division of Wildlife

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