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Hook a rainbow this spring

At Flaming Gorge, different techniques catch tasty trout.

Ryan is a fisheries biologist whose work focuses on both the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir. He loves to hike, hunt, fish and play in the surrounding hills when he's not at work.

SPRING IS A TOUGH TIME of year. After a long, cold winter, we’re ready for warm, sunny days on the water — rod in hand, of course. Unfortunately, springtime means we’re riding the weather rollercoaster. Sunny, 60-degree days are followed by days with bone-chilling winds and snow.

We may have to handle the moodiness of Mother Nature, but spring is still one of the best times of the year to wet a line. The ice has just come off Flaming Gorge Reservoir, and its coldwater fish — particularly its rainbow trout — are now very active. They move to the shoreline, feeding on abundant aquatic invertebrates. This is also when the older, bigger fish prowl the shallows for a quick meal.

Flaming Gorge is one of Utah's most scenic, popular fisheries.

Spring fishing on the Gorge can be phenomenal when the weather and fish come together. As daytime temperatures rise, rainbow trout begin to concentrate on shallow main lake points and in the backs of bays, possibly where a perennial stream enters the lake.

Where you find one fish, you’ll typically find others. Several hundred yards of shoreline may prove unsuccessful, and then you just can’t keep them off your line. Watch for surface activity — it’s a good indication that active fish are present.

Successful techniques vary like the weather. Bait-fishing, trolling, spin-fishing and fly-fishing are all effective. Shoreline anglers are also extremely successful. Right now, they might have an advantage over boat anglers, who periodically get grounded by high winds that are common during the spring.

When trolling or casting, try the following lures:

  • Shallow-running crankbaits like Rapala Shad Raps and Husky Jerks
  • Jigs like grubs, tubes and marabou/hair jigs
  • Spoons like Needlefish and Kastmasters
  • Spinners like Rooster Tails and Panther Martins

Fly anglers can select a number of streamer and nymph patterns. Woolly buggers and leech patterns work great. Start by choosing your lure colors in tones of red, purple, black and brown. Finally, I won’t leak any major secrets of shoreline bait fishermen, but rainbows have a hard time resisting a good ol’ nightcrawler/marshmallow combination!

This is my friend, Cory Hays, with a 22-inch rainbow he caught while casting crankbaits in the spring.

If you’ve never filleted and consumed a Gorge rainbow, you’re missing out. Their fillets are fire-engine red and make a great meal whether freshly grilled, battered and fried, or smoked. One of my favorite meals is to take a fresh rainbow fillet, place it on a soaked cedar plank, brush the fillet with melted butter and honey, season it with garlic salt and lemon pepper, and then grill it for about 10 minutes. It’s like candy, and you’ll be wishing for more.

So, the fish are out there — I can vouch for that. Now it’s just a matter of connecting the rest of the dots: good weather, technique, tackle and, of course, a little bit of effort. There’s no better way to celebrate spring than spending a day at the Gorge, catching tasty rainbows. Hope to see you on the water!

5 Responses to Hook a rainbow this spring

  1. Ryan, do you have any tips for catching salmon at the Gorge?

  2. It has been so long since I have been to Utah. One of the most beautiful Stats! My last visit was in the small town of Kanab near the southern border. What a beautiful place!

  3. Nice article. Interesante!

  4. An informative article, thanks Ryan. I think a rainbow fillet will taste good. It’s nice to know that you can keep catching fishes by noting some of the points you mentioned.

  5. I was just at the Gorge a couple of weeks ago, targeting lake trout. I had great success catching a couple keepers at around 8 lbs they fillet out nicely, taking up the hole cookie sheet pan. we smoked them on a ceder plank as mentioned above, and they were mouth watering, the best fish I have had in a long time. Just wanted to remind everyone that the Lakers are good eating as long as they are not over 12 to 15 lbs, once they get that size they seem to get very fatty and oily. just some food for thought.

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