It’s all a game of patience, face stinging and finger-numbing patience.
Through the beginning of April, Strawberry Reservoir, 20 miles southeast of Heber City, is covered in a two-foot layer of ice. Underneath this slab of ice are hordes of hungry fish waiting to be caught.
Ice fishing is a form of angling those at Strawberry Reservoir love to host. Allen Ward and Justin Robinson, biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources, think they have the best job. Their “time at the office” is spent solely at the reservoir enjoying mother nature and maintaining the ecosystem.
“We want to make sure we maintain a high quality fishery,” Ward said.
One way the DWR strives to manage the reservoir is simply through the selection of stock fish. Recently, chubs, a fish that feeds off lake bottom waste, have been expanding their population further than nature intended. Anglers don’t like to catch chubs. Their taste has earned them the nickname of “junk fish.” The DWR stepped in and brought in cutthroat trout, a natural predator, to bring down the levels. Chub populations have dropped, and as a result, it is illegal to catch cutthroat trout between 15 and 22 inches.
Robinson said the fish in the reservoir typically feed off small organisms such as zooplankton. But with no hope of insects or other larger lifeforms swimming in the lake, fish are eager to bite at just about anything during this season. The fish are much bigger around this time, averaging 22-24 inches.
Scott Root, outreach manager with the DWR, said people are often intimidated by the thought of ice fishing and the preparation required. He said it shouldn’t shy fishers away, the payoff and fun are well worth it.
“You don’t need the nice auger and the fancy snowmobiles,” Root said.
Ward said the best way to enjoy ice-fishing is from the center of the reservoir and to get to the center of the 17,000-acre lake, snowmobiles definitely help. However, hundreds of people fish on Strawberry Reservoir through the ice with nothing more than a hand-crank auger, tackle box, rod and good pair of shoes. But be careful. Robinson said if fishers go on the ice too late in April, they run the risk of thin ice and fall-ins.
Above all, Root said ice-fishers need to know the laws of the lake such as catch and slot limits and other regulations. Don’t let this minimize the finger-freezing fun.
“Know the regulations,” Root said, “but don’t let that scare you away.”