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They call it ‘fishing’ not necessarily catching

January 8, 2019
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Don Allphin holding a 7- inch rainbow trout from Moose Pond.

Having heard from several readers in the past couple of weeks about challenging conditions on Strawberry Reservoir, I decided to brave the zero-degree temperatures and provide some hope for those struggling to catch fish.

Ice fishing can certainly humble the most avid anglers – including me.

My wife, Jeri, and I visited family and spent time at our cabin over the holidays, and we were only able to ice fish for a few precious hours on one of my favorite “small” lakes at about 8,500 feet in elevation very close to Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Moose Pond is just as the name implies — it is a round, shallow, pond just off Highway 44 between Vernal and Manila, where catching fish almost every cast has become common place.

Over the years, it has become a go-to destination for our grandchildren spring, summer, fall and even in the winter. And, the one thing we could always expect was catching surprisingly large rainbow trout mixed in with the stocked 12-inch rainbows provided by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) on a regular basis.

However, at the end of Dec. 2018, my memories of Moose Pond past were dashed by a seeing a pond seemingly devoid of trout. After an hour or so, I eventually caught a few fish, but the average length of the monsters was around seven inches, all of them skinnier than a water snake on a diet.

I couldn’t wait to take my first trip to Strawberry after the first of the year and rid myself of the tiny trout troubles. My friend, Brent Daybell, with whom I have shared many ice fishing adventures, called me one evening last week and invited me to give Strawberry a try. Although most of my ice fishing gear was still at our cabin, I happily accepted his invitation, scrounged up a couple of ice rods and reels, some lures, meal worms and night crawlers, and figured I was all set to get the bad taste of Moose Pond out of my mouth.

Brent had fished Strawberry with a neighbor on New Year’s Eve with very little success. “We fished in 35 feet of water,” he said, “and while in our tent we saw (through the holes in the ice) trout swimming below us. We caught a couple of fish, but it was nothing to write home about.”

Ignoring his recent experience, we boldly marched out on the ice last Friday to catch some of those giant cutthroats we had been catching just a month or so ago from my boat.

That was a big mistake. Huge!

Since my friend, Brent, had tried fishing deep, we chose to fish between 15 and 30 feet in an area that historically holds a combination of large cutthroats and smaller yet certainly respectable rainbows. Within 10 minutes of drilling our first holes (spread out over 50 or so yards), the three of us (including another friend, Kendall Bohman of North Salt Lake) realized that there were zero fish showing on our fish finders.

Usually, with one angler fishing in 15 feet while another is in 20 feet, and yet another is in 25 feet of water, the chances are pretty good that someone would begin seeing and eventually catching fish. Not so in this case.

Two hours later and after drilling several more holes in varying depths, we had one bite between the three of us, and we didn’t hook the fish that struck. So, ever the optimist, I left my two rods rigged with tube jigs and ice flies, took the auger and walked 20 yards to drill more holes. After drilling the holes, I looked up to see one of my rods going down the hole.

I didn’t recover the lost rig, but eventually caught one 19-inch cutthroat, the only fish that came through the ice all day.

Just when a person thinks he’s got it all figured out, Mother Nature brings him back to reality. I guess that’s why they call it fishing instead of catching.

But I’ll get them next time!

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