SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – With the holidays behind us and temperatures continuing to drop statewide, it’s safe to say that Utahns are experiencing the state’s prime time for winter activities. For those of us that stay off the slopes, embracing Utah’s cold months may look something more like hitting the lake for some ice fishing, a growing activity across the nation. 

For those looking to score a lot of catches, you’ll be most successful at waterbodies that have yellow perch or bluegill, according the Department of Wildlife. These species of fish have been known to be easy to catch and to travel in schools, granting fishers the opportunity to catch a lot. However, these species tend to travel near the bottom of the waterbody during winter, so it’s recommended to use an ice jig or ice fly tipped with a mealworm or waxworm.

Good waterbodies for targeting perch and bluegill include:

  • Fish Lake (Sevier County)
  • Mantua Reservoir (Box Elder County)
  • Pineview Reservoir (Weber County) 
  • Rockport Reservoir (Summit County)
  • Echo Reservoir (Summit County)

For participants making it a goal to catch some exceptionally large fish this season, seeking out trout is the way to go. Since trout tend to populate the entire water column and can be found at a number of depths, using a fish finder can speed up your search.

“Winter is a good time to go fishing because ice gives everyone the opportunity to walk to the best areas — the places where the fish are hanging out,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Sportfish Coordinator Randy Oplinger said. “Fish are also hungry and active in the winter, and that can make them easier to catch.” 

If you want to catch a large fish through the ice this winter, here are a few waterbodies and species to target:

  • Mantua Reservoir 
  • Rockport Reservoir 
  • Echo Reservoir 
  • Flaming Gorge (for lake trout)
  • Strawberry Reservoir (for rainbow trout and cutthroat trout)
  • Lost Creek Reservoir (for cutthroat trout, tiger trout and splake)
  • Fish Lake (for lake trout and splake)

Though many fish species make their presence known upon biting a fish hook, some swimmers have more subtle nibbles. To help detect these gentle biters, professionals recommend acquiring a small device called a spring bobber which attaches to the end of your fishing rod. 

“The best way to prepare for ice fishing is to make sure you are dressed warmly for the colder weather and to make sure all your equipment is ready,” Oplinger said. “If you are new to the sport, you can get additional tips and recommendations from fellow anglers, employees at tackle stores or online. It’s always a good idea to check the Fish Utah map on the DWR website as well.”

In order to stay safe while ice fishing, it’s crucial to avoid stepping on lake ice unless it is at least 4 inches thick. Be sure to drill holes into the ice to measure its thickness as you venture farther onto the waterbody. Additionally, refrain from piling a lot of people or equipment in a small area, instead, spread the weight out across the ice. 

“As an extra precaution, you can also purchase ice safety picks, which can help you get out of a lake if you fall through the ice,” Oplinger said. “I’d also recommend taking a rope and a friend or family member with you, if possible. It’s always a good idea to have someone else with you when ice fishing.”

Find more ice safety tips on the Utah State Parks website.