Ice-off at Joes Valley Reservoir

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PRICE, UTAH — “The next several weeks is the best time of the year to catch big splake at Joes Valley Reservoir,” asserts Division of Wildlife Resources Fisheries Assistant Manager Justin Hart. “You don’t need a boat or special equipment to nail the big ones.”

“Large predatory fish cruise the shoreline in search of chubs, which are their primary prey species,” continues Hart. “In spring, chubs move into warm, shallow water. As they congregate along a narrow band of shallow water, they become vulnerable to predatory trout, which cruise the shoreline, taking advantage of unwary baitfish along the way.”

Hart, who has hooked his share of trophy splake, has had some of his best luck just after ice-off. Several of his largest splake have been caught just a few feet from the bank. This water has been stocked with an array of piscivorous game fish. They include the tiger trout, splake, cutthroat trout and the recently introduced tiger muskie. Each species has plenty of prey to reach a mammoth size, thanks to an abundance of chubs of all sizes, suited for every size of trout.

Hart offers a few recommendations for the monster-seeking angler. The best bait, hands down, is chub meat. It can’t be beat. Baitcasters can’t go wrong with this on the end of the line. Bank anglers should cast at a transverse angle from shore and bounce it back home. From a boat, pitch the meat close to shore and walk it back to the boat. For that special touch, use a 2- to 3-inch curly tail grub on a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce jighead, and tip the hook with chub. It’s hard to resist. Hart says the best jig color is a pumpkin brown. It’s the best color for most water conditions. In low light or colored water, use something brighter — like chartreuse or white.

Trolling is a good way to take trophy trout. Last spring, DWR Maintenance Specialist Duane Swasey hooked a nine-pound splake with a fat-lipped Wally Diver as he trolled along the east side. As a general rule, long, skinny crankbaits of many makes and models will put trout in the creel. Especially good are minnow-imitating cranks with a gray over white color scheme. Several lures offer better-than-average hits. The best by far is the Jakes Spin-a-Lure. Bring along silver and gold. The next best is a Kastmaster in silver and gold.

When asked for his fishing secrets at Joes Valley, DWR Fisheries Biologist Dan Keller offered a slightly different twist. “I’ve caught most of my trout on a 3-inch Berkely Gulp in watermelon or smelt color.” Keller tips a darter style lead head jig with Gulp and goes hunting. With his fish finder, Keller locks onto underwater topography, which stair-steps from the shallow shoreline into the deep. He bounces the bait from one ledge to the next until he tricks one of the predatory trout that wait in ambush just off the edge of the shelf.

Anglers who know their way around Joes Valley Reservoir have their own honey holes. Hart likes to fish the mouths of tributaries, such as Seely Creek and Lowry Water, where he’s hooked some big ones. Keller and Swasey prefer trolling or still-fishing under the cliffs that line the bank south of the dam. Shoreline anglers are split in their preferences. Some prefer the stretch of rocky shoreline on the east side from the dam to the boat ramp. West-side anglers fish the points around the marina.

Joes Valley Reservoir has special regulations. Tiger muskies under 40-inches must be returned to the water unharmed. By next year, a chub-rich diet will turn these toothy torpedoes into some great fighters and table fare. The trout limit is four. Only one may be over 18 inches. The 18-inch restriction keeps more trophy trout in the pond and wreaks havoc on the chubs, which have been a bane to fishermen, since their illegal introduction.

If you’re looking for the chance to hook a big trout, give Joes Valley a try. The ice should be off by the end of the week and fishing will be grand! This is a limited, once-a-year, engagement. There’s no guarantee that you’ll hook a trophy, but if you stay home, it’s a guarantee that you won’t. Grab your pole, reel and your favorite tackle. Few fishing destinations offer as much scenic beauty in a setting designed for the recluse with a love affair with the out-of-doors. Hooking that big one is just the icing on the cake.