The familiar tug of a hooked fish
It's finally time for ice-off fishing!
Garn Birchell is an Aquatic Biologist in the DWR's Northeastern Region. He helps coordinate the sportfish, aquatic invasive species and Colorado River cutthhroat trout restoration programs in the region. He enjoys fishing, hunting, hiking and growing a vegetable garden.
AS AN AVID FLY FISHERMAN, I spend many hours during the winter months biding my time, waiting for fairer fishing weather by tying flies. Mostly I am tying patterns to replace what I used during the previous season, but I also tie new patterns to add to my ever-growing arsenal of flies.
During this time, always in the back of my mind is the anticipation of warmer days ahead, spending time fishing on my favorite waters. Now that the winter weather is mostly behind us, I decided to turn my anticipation into reality and venture out to one of my favorite northeastern Utah waters: Starvation Reservoir near Duchesne.
This winter there was a January thaw (yes, we do get January thaws in the Uinta Basin, though rarely) that broke up the ice at Starvation. As a result, anglers started fishing the open water soon after it developed.
One of these anglers is Tom Ogden — an avid fly angler and former Blue Ribbon Council member. Since January I have been receiving regular fishing reports from Tom about his trips to Starvation fishing from his kickboat. His first couple of reports indicated slow fishing, but his recent reports indicated that fishing is picking up. So now that daytime temperatures are reaching the 50s, I decided it was time for me (one who doesn’t relish the cold) to venture out.
I arrived at Starvation on Monday — it was partly cloudy at about 11:00 a.m. The lake was calm and when I got out of my truck midges started swarming around me. I unloaded my kickboat, put on my waders and rigged my fly rods.
Though the midges were there, I didn’t see any obvious feeding by trout on hatching midges, so I opted to rig up how Tom said they were fishing in his reports. He said they’d been fishing with fast to medium sinking lines using size 2–6 crystal and woolly buggers in various colors.
I launched my boat and made my first cast of the season. Fishing was a bit slow. I tried different depths and various retrieval speeds. I changed fly colors several times and switched to a Clauser minnow, but I could only coax a couple of hits — no hook-ups.
Finally, after about two hours, I felt the solid hit and pull of a fish after setting the hook. I played him with my reel and he was large enough to take some line as he made his runs in his effort to escape. Within a few minutes, I had him to the boat. After a quick photo op, I released him. I felt great — I’d just landed my first fish of the season.
Unfortunately the wind started to pick up at the exact time I landed the fish. I decided to head into shore, but I wasn’t quite ready to quit fishing. I drove over to Lake Canyon Lake to see if the ice had melted there. I was surprised to see the ice was completely gone.
Despite the wind, which was now blowing fiercely, I decided to fish. I used a floating line with a strike indicator and a size 10 olive marabou leech pattern. After only a couple of casts I watched my strike indicator sink below the surface and then I felt the familiar tug of a hooked fish. I’d landed a nice Colorado River cutthroat trout.
I continued to work the shoreline with the leech and after a few more casts watched the strike indicator dive again and I set the hook. I kept fishing like this and landed several more cutthroat trout. After a couple of hours, I reluctantly decided it was time to end my first fly fishing trip of the season. However, with the ice just starting to melt at most waters, I know this was just the beginning of many good fishing days ahead.