Ice fishing in southeastern Utah
Justin Hart shares his favorite ice fishing hotspots and tips.
Justin Hart is the DWR's Aquatic Program Manager in southeastern Utah. He helps coordinate the region's sport fish, native fish, and Aquatic Invasive Species Programs.
I’VE ALWAYS ENJOYED ice fishing. I grew up in central Kansas and ice fishing always came in spurts. You would get good ice for a couple of weeks, then the weather would warm up and the ice would disappear again. I had great trips for crappie, white bass, wipers, bluegill and the occasional walleye.
In Utah we’re lucky enough to have a long and consistent ice fishing season on most of our favorite waters. I’ve always been a quality over quantity guy, so I’ll share my favorite spots in the southeastern part of the state.
Joes Valley Reservoir
More than anywhere else, I love to fish at Joes Valley Reservoir. I can be there in an hour and the fishing is usually very good. You can always count on catching loads of small splake and cutthroat, but the reason I go is the chance at big fish.
Many of our waters hold big fish, but at Joes Valley I always feel like my chance at a monster is above average. I typically fish with medium-sized (1/4 oz and up) jigs and spoons tipped with chub meat. Normally I use two rods. The rod I actively fish usually has a smaller jig or spoon. My second rod is usually sized up to keep little fish off. I like using something larger on my second rod so I don’t have to constantly mess with it. Typically, if I have a bite on it, it’s a good fish.
I fish a variety of depths and spots, depending on ice thickness and snow cover. Two of my favorite spots are around the dam and the Seely cove on the west side. I’ve been fortunate enough to catch some large fish through the ice at Joes Valley, but I know there are bigger ones in there.
Scofield is the second place I’m excited about this year. Last winter, the state records for catch and keep and catch and release were both shattered for tiger trout from Scofield Reservoir.
I’ve ice fished Scofield before, but was never really excited about it. In the past I knew my chance at a big fish was there, but likely very low. That has definitely changed. Scofield has numerous large tiger trout, and the cutthroat trout we started stocking in 2009 are approaching the upper end of the slot limit (i.e. 17 – 21 inches) and fat. These are the kinds of opportunities and odds that get me fired up.
I approach ice fishing at Scofield the same way I do Joes Valley. I’ll use larger jigs and spoons tipped with chub meat. If you use smaller lures and baits like mealworms or nightcrawlers, you’ll attract smaller trout, and possibly chubs. I hear and read all the time about frustrated anglers who get swarmed by chubs or catch nothing but small trout. I always ask them what they’re using and it’s usually lures and/or bait that are simply too small. In most cases, they’re fishing with things I’d recommend for catching chubs and small trout through the ice. If that’s what you’re after, then have at it. If you want to avoid that frustration or target larger fish, then you have to size up your gear. The only time I’ve caught a chub on accident at Scofield or Joes Valley was when I was fly fishing.
Similar to Joes Valley, I’ll fish Scofield at a variety of depths and locations depending on ice thickness and snow cover. More often than not, I’ll fish the northern bay or somewhere on the southeast side of the lake.
This winter, I feel like trophy fishing potential is very high in southeastern Utah. There are times when catching lots of fish is important to me. Whenever I go with my kids I want to make sure the action is fast and we ice lots of fish. When I go alone or with friends, my objective is much different. As I have evolved as an angler, my focus has shifted to quality fish. Luckily, I’ve got several spots to choose from this year, and most are close to home.