Sunday, April 12, 2020

Utah Lake: A Monster Experience

I often go looking for the nooks and crannies of Utah Lake. A few weeks ago I was on a solo trip checking some places I have never been before. It was very quiet and peaceful. I could hear the distant sound of ducks and other waterfowl chattering as background noise while the sound of my paddle dipping in and out of the water was the dominant melody of the menagerious orchestra. Breaking the calm of this magnificent ensemble was a loud thump on my hull as some beasty lifts me and my kayak out of the water, bringing my paddle to a screeching halt. I looked behind me for an alligator tail moving but didn't see the evidence. I know there are no alligators in Utah Lake but it sure felt like it. Other thoughts that I had were of the Utah Lake monster stories from the late 1800's. All I knew was that something big about knocked me out of my boat.
 A week later it happened again but on a much smaller scale. A little scary but I was with my son Tanner and it was not as big a hit as it was previously. We had just run over a shoal of large carp. We laughed and I realized that what hit me before was a very large carp. The world record for the european carp (Cyprinus Carpio) is 75 lbs and is being challenged right now with a 100 pounder. All I can say is that there is a 100 pounder in Utah Lake.

In Search of the Utah Lake Monster:

There have been some monsters found in Utah Lake. Although, the state carp record was caught in Lake Powell (32 lbs). The two records caught in Utah Lake are the White bass and the Channel cat, the larger of the two being a 32 pound 8 ounce catfish. 

These are very typical carp specimens that you will find in Utah Lake. However things are changing in the lake. Millions of lbs of these are being removed every year. Over the years I have personally noticed a reduction in the species. 

As the competition is being removed other species are doing better and because there are less carp the ones left are getting bigger. Can a new title be claimed from Utah Lake?  The current official title for the biggest fish caught in Utah is a 51 lbs 8 oz Lake trout caught in Flaming Gorge Reservoir. There have been other fish that are longer. however, they are "catch and release" records that are more difficult to officially measure. Can the special circumstances of Utah Lake cause a change in the kingdom of bragery? Is it time for a change in the throne? It could be. 

A fisherman in France caught a 100 lbs 8 oz European Carp (Cyprinus Carpio) that if approved by the International Game and Fish Association would be the new world record defeating the old 1987  record by nearly 25 lbs.

TEACHER BACKGROUND: “Utah Lake, a 150-square-mile body of water in north-central Utah, has a rich tradition of monsters and other unnatural creatures living in its depths. The Ute Indians told legends about evil dwarfs living in the waters of the Lake. The Indians called these "water babies" because they made sounds like crying babies that lured mortals into the water where they were drowned. The Ute also told of a "Water Indian" who would drag unlucky braves to their deaths. They also told of a creature so large it was able to swallow a man whole.” Other sightings of the Lake monster continued during the 1860s through the 1880s. Around the 1920s the sightings stopped.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Utah Lake: Eastertide

The Eastertide of Utah Lake is an awakening of a grand measure. Arising with a stretch and a proverbial wiping of it's crusty eyes. The Lake beggins to present a renewal of life as shoots of green arise at the shores from dormant roots. Seeds that found refuge in fertile ground before the winter's blanket covered them can now prove their worth in life's struggle for nutrience. A resurgence of beginnings in fish spawns, as different species begin their journey to their very origins, bringing life to a new generation. Waterfowl search for safe harbor for successful nesting. Secret rookeries will line the banks of the massive lake, hiding in solitary protection the young egrets. Soon we will see multitudes of ducklings and goslings paddling behind their progenitors, and baby coots with their awkwardly orange necks trying to fit in with their adult piers. All, acting in obedience to that creator which set them in motion. Spring is beautiful.

A Different Kind of Spring

The spring of 2020 offers some special challenges to us all with new cultural changes in our society amid the new CoVid-19 virus in it's pandemic assault.  To some it is more than a cultural challenge as they experience the loss of a loved one. Or, the economic effects that leave people in financial uncertainty. There are long term concerns and effects in new laws and policies. It seems lawmakers have difficulty removing what seemed so temporary at the time. American people have still not recovered lost freedoms from the 9/11 attacks. Where people do not volunteer there mutual cooperation governments often intervene for common protection. In my own city there is talk of pickleball courts and golf courses being shut down when so many of these activities and functions can be done in a safe manner if the people would use safe distancing practices. A wise man once said "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law". Wouldn't that be nice if people would stop and ponder how their actions can affect others and especially societies policy makers to do the same. I find myself concerned that some renegade lawmaker will shut down Utah lake when it is a perfectly virus safe kayaking activity in a 26 mile long lake just because a few people can't put in a small amount of effort and behave in a mutually beneficial manner. 

“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whatever nefarious circumstance we face at the present, this shall also pass. Spring is the newness of life and it is an extraordinary event to observe. May your Easter be filled with the love of those who surround you. Keep paddling!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Spawn is Upon us: When?

Spring is approaching and life is making its move to renew and replenish. This applies to so many things here in the mountain fed valleys of Utah. The snow is melting and the water is high, which can mean a prolific spawn for the white bass of Utah Lake. If you have never experienced this grand anglers event, if you have never caught a fish, if you would like to catch fish after fish until you are tired, then the time approaches near for this great Ichthyological experience. 

 Before your bale gets slammed to the catch point and your about to have a pescatarians dream, let us take a small look at what it is we are anticipating. Yes, I said small. If you are looking for the revenge of captain Ahab then maybe the white bass spawn is not for you. The record white bass in utah is a whopping 4.2 lbs. Now that is a nice fish for anyone. However, what you will mostly experience during the spawn are usually a much smaller fish. These golden eyed relatives of the larger striped bass are surprisingly a decent fighter pound for pound and are still very enjoyable to catch.

Much like salmon, the white bass have a tendency to return to the spawning place that brought them life. So, if you know of the place were lots of these are caught during a spawn then it is likely that they will return over and over again provided those particular fish survived whatever else they encounter in the Utah Lake struggle of life. May they return ever so much bigger.

White bass can be caught year round. However, the best time is during the May spawn because at that time they are headed back to their origins. So here are some of the places where they spawn:

  • The Knolls
  • Utah Lake State Park (Provo Harbor)
  • Jordan River Outflow and Pump house
  • Lincoln Beach
  • Benjamin Slough
  • American Fork Boat Harbor
  • American Fork River
  • Lindon Boat Harbor
  • Lincoln Point and L- shaped harbor and springs
  • Saratoga Springs Marina
  • Hobble Creek (On good water years)
  • Jordan River through Utah and Salt Lake County
  • Bird Island
  • Spanish Fork River
  • Battle Creek
Fish don't really keep a calendar and they do not worry about being late for work. They don't know when May has arrived. Rather, spawn triggering is based off of environmental surroundings. I am going to make two suggestions as to what could trigger a white bass spawn. There is the easy answer that most people go with and that is water temperature. The magic number is 62. 62 degrees fahrenheit for all fish that carry a thermometer in there pocket. Just kidding. However, I am trying to get you to think like a fish. The other is saline content. Utah lake has a high saline content because of the high evaporation taking place do to the shallowness of the lake. In the spring snow is melting and water is carried through the rocks and rills and into streams, rivers and estuaries of Utah lake. This will typically water down the saline content especially near Utah Lake inlets. Fish that were hatched near inlets will typically make their proverbial trek to mecca before other fish. You may catch an earlier spawn near inlets. Try when the water temperature is about 58 degrees. 

There it is. The best fishing tip of 2020. Go get um! and enjoy.

(click and watch)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Kayak Exploration: Utah Lake Marshes and Tributaries

 The damp, biologically diverse marshes along Utah Lake's shores and slow streams supplied the richest sources of food and shelter for the paleo peoples and other people of Utah Lake. People living near marshes found plentiful supplies of plants, such as cattails, roots, and berries, as well as animals such as water fowl and other birds, all types of critters, and a plentiful fish variety to feast on. Anciently, they also hunted large prehistoric bison, mammoth, and camels. Archaeologists have found pottery, projectile points, basketry, and grinding equipment in many places where these people lived. Paleo-Indians are even believed to have traded with other cultures. Obsidian from Utah was used to make the famous Clovis spear points found in New Mexico.

 One of the best places to explore the richness of the marshes of Utah Lake is a place that locals call "Mud Lake". It also has other names such as, Provo Bay, or a possible futuristic name like "Restoration Bay". Some of the restoration in a nearby area is already taking place in the recreation of "The Provo River Delta". Whenever I explore these areas I cannot help but think of all the life that Utah Lake has given people throughout the ages. 

Dance of the Bulrush

I can think of no other North American plant that is more useful than the cattail. This wonderful plant is a virtual gold mine of survival utility. It is a four-season food, medicinal, and utility plant. What other plant can boast eight food products, three medicinals, and at least 12 other functional uses?

Cattails and other bulrush plants used to dominate Utah Lake before the invasive takeover of the Phragmites. Don't get me wrong, I find the Phragmites to be quite beautiful as they sway in the Utah Lake wind. Even there stand tall feathery-like stature gives a certain aesthetically pleasing appeal with the glimmering lake in the background. It seems to be a large addition to the gestalt of Utah lake paddling.

There are two main tributaries that lead into Provo Bay: Lower Hobble Creek, and Mill Race. Both of these inlets to the Lake are inundated with white bass during the spring time spawn. The bass are fun to catch and pound for pound they offer a good fight to the angler. The kayak entrance to Mill Race may be preferred because the current is slower and consequently the return is much easier as opposed to the Hobble Creek access that has a stronger current. My favorite kayak exploration is to enter at Hobble Creek and exit at Mill Race.
Storm at the Stern
Excursion Logistics (click)

White Bass Spawn

As spring shortly approaches I feel a little anxious to explore these areas once again. Even the thought of watching giant carp porpoising into the air as you paddle these areas, or getting a glimpse of the elusive Utah Lake otters hunting the fish spawns just gets me giddy. May we always reverence the people that explored before us with our thoughts and admiration. Utah Lake is indeed a chance for common ground in humanity.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Catch and Release to the Pan: Let us Cook

Fishing is about the experience. You may find yourself standing in the middle of a river with the sound of a cascade singing that beautiful river sonet that squelches the everyday hustle and bustle of life. Or, maybe the sound of the whistling wood duck accompanied by the rhythmic plunging of a kayak paddle to soothe your soul is what you prefer. Whatever your taste, it is a beautiful experience even without the fish. That slamming "FISH ON" hit is simply the icing on the cake.

Speaking of taste, every once in awhile I like to express my love for the craft by indulging in some kind of aquabeast cuizine. Indeed, how could you not love the fish story about the fish that tasted so good. Often, one of the favorite fish taste stories is about that trout that you gutted, stuffed with butter and onions, wrapped it in aluminum foil and tossed it in the fire. Ok, maybe is was not onions. Maybe it was Lawry's season salt. Whatever it was it was amazing not just because of the taste but it was the entire experience of catching, cleaning, preparing and cooking on an open fire by your own efforts. Some of the best tasting fish I have ever eaten come from a scenario much like that, and that would include some fancy restaurants. You cannot beat the taste of a wonderful memory. One of my favorite fishing stories is of the Savior of the world cooking some fish over an open fire for his friends.  

(Painting by: Greg Olsen)

I don't know what kind of fish Jesus was cooking from the sea of Tiberias but we have some pretty good fish here in Utah. Here are some recipes to help you on your journey:

Cooking it fresh

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Kayaking With Carp: A Disappearing Opportunity.

The European Carp (Cyprinus Carpio) is one of the most prolific fish in Utah Lake. They are so plentiful that local governments have spent over 4 million dollars to remove 25 million pounds of this species over the last eight years. I imagine in today's world it is no small task getting through the red tape of removing a species from an established habitat. There is always a cause and effect when you do something like that. Some of the reports you may see in a newspaper may be something like a report about how the vegetation is returning to the lake. This of course is a desired effect of carp removal. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a guy named Murphy who is taking a good look at some possible negative effects that carp removal can cause. Things like, we may see less migratory bald eagles coming to our shores to feed on the massive carp spawns. Or, will this affect the new surge of otters populating the Utah lake at this time.  The cause and effect scenarios are countless and near impossible to predict.

Kayaking the lake brings me a lot of joy. I suppose some day I will be talking about kayaking the lake and how the carp would fly through the air leaping in their spring rituals and bouncing off the side of my kayak in an awkward landing side flop. Someday people will look at me in disbelief as if I was telling some kind of fish story. :)      Indeed, it is on route to becoming a dissipated Utah Lake era. 
After reading about anglers in England dreaming about catching wild carp like this, I couldn't help but think what a gold mine we have in Utah Lake. I would love to take a dozen of those anglers out on the lake for the time of their life. We would probably see a change in habitat on the land as slowly cockney accents became more prevalent in the valley as more and more folks from the motherland realize the treasure we have in the lake. Many times anglers will accidently snag one of these and engage in the fish fight of their life.  Seeing the sun reflect off that powerful red tail as it breaches the surface of the water is a spectacular wonder of nature to see. If you are in a kayak then be prepared to be towed around at the will of the great fish as she fights to evade capture. 
This one was caught from a kayak on 4 lbs test line. It takes a long time to wear out a fish like this. I almost lost him several times as he took me through all the logs and other debris in the lake. As I was putting my kayak on my vehicle the DNR officer was eyeballing me. The fish was laying on a rock (picture above) and he looked puzzled as I prepared to show him my license. He approached and I gave it to him. He said that he wasn't even going to check my license because he was so happy that I was taking that unwanted fish out of the lake. He called it an invasive species and as he took the picture for me he said it was the biggest carp he had ever seen. He then clarified, "I mean healthy and girthy, It is a beautiful fish".

Hunt and Claim:
Once you decide to keep a fish like this you are now committed to try it. I found this video to help you follow through. This is an Asian Carp in the video but the only difference in this video is that I would scale the European Carp first. The scales are like armor plates and they come off the same way you would scale any fish. It was not that hard to do. Other than that, these fish have the same anatomy as the Asian Carp. In this video the restaurant owner's smile looks like he may have given  his competition cement shoes.  The chef does a great job of filleting and cooking this fish. It looks delicious.

Now what? Try this tempura recipe.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Damned if You Don't: Raw and Rugged Diamond Fork River

 There was a day, not so long ago, that the Diamond Fork River was to become a reservoir. We in Utah live in the 3rd most arid state in the union. Water is a very important commodity for civilization to exist. The multi-decade long plan to build a dam was revisited and it was decided that for an extra 15 million dollars there would be a series of tunnels built to manage the precious water coming out of the Diamond Fork Canyon. Before the tunnels, fishing was seasonably difficult. Often the water would run so high that it created a swift running mud channel that was difficult to fish. You can still witness this at times of periodic flash flooding that naturally occur in this area from time to time. With the exception of flash flooding the river is much more constant than it ever has been. I have been kayaking the river for the last few years and find it to be exceptionally fun with all it's challenges.

Some of the challenges that exist:

Shallow water is always fun. You will have to read the river and be ready to make quick decisions. Sometimes, the best decision means getting somewhat bushwhacked because the best portage is next to the bank of the river. Here is a little video of me navigating my niece through a difficult section. She has no appreciation for the skill.....LOL.

Fallen trees, logs, and other debris can be somewhat challenging.  The ability to stop in a pillow and assess the situation will be needed, even if you do decide to hop over the log. You need the ability to stop. Check your skills:

Without management this area would be inundated with beaver dams. I have found traps on occasion and turn them in with the camp hosts where the beaver are often removed. Consequently, the beaver will move further up river and propagate. If you watched the second video you will see where the nice beaver left us a way to get through his dam. Very thoughtful. :)

A Beautiful River: