Regulars and Shorts

Spring fishing for food and fun

By Dan Potts

Fill your freezer with Utah Lake’s white bass. Here’s how!

After years of drought, many of Utah’s lakes and their fish have suffered from low water levels. Utah Lake, one of Utah’s most productive lakes, is finally full again and producing some great fishing. Plus, everyone is getting pretty tired of being cooped up due to this new virus and we’re craving some sun and wind. It’s time to go fishing!

May is typically when Utah Lake’s white bass move into rocky shorelines  for their annual spawning event. The mostly aggressive males can be caught literally at will by anybody who can hold a fishing rod.

Unlike most of Utah’s sport fishes, white bass are found only in Utah Lake and its outlet, the Jordan River. White bass overpopulate these waters, so there is no imposed harvest limit on this tasty species. Therefore, catch-and-release fishing of white bass is discouraged.

Any fishing rod—even a long stick!—will work. These eight- to 12-inch fish come in so close to shore that there’s no need to cast. You can use a variety of artificial lures. But you can also merely tie a small (1/16 to 1/8 ounce) jig on the end of the line and fish it very close to shore. A jig is a lead sinker with a hook molded into it. For an easy, non-messy and inexpensive bait, thread a small soft plastic body of any color onto the jig. You should be able to find these items now at hardware stores for a few dollars.

You can catch these fish over loose rock by simply swinging a jig slowly back and forth in the water only a rod’s distance out. If you clamp a small floating red-and-white bobber one to two feet up the line, that should prevent the potential problem of “snagging” on the bottom.

White bass seek out rocky shorelines to reproduce. The various marinas around the lake, including the Utah Lake State Park, Lindon, American Fork, Saratoga Springs and Lincoln Beach, all provide this kind of spawning habitat and fishing opportunity.  Other edible fishes that also reproduce in these rocky marina areas include walleye (April), black bullhead (June) and channel catfish (July).

The best time of day to fish is earlier in the morning when they bass tend to flood into the shorelines. During calm weather, more bass can be harvested in a short time than can easily be consumed. Avoid rough weather.

You may also catch a largemouth bass or walleye, because these larger fish often follow the orgy to eat the smaller white bass. If you do, know that the limit on walleye is 10, with only one over two feet long, and six largemouth bass with only one over 12 inches.

All fishermen in Utah are required to purchase a fishing license, except children under 12. Kids 12 to 13 years old can purchase an annual resident license for only $5; 14 to 17- year-olds at $16, and those over 65, only $25. Everyone else pays $34, although a combination fishing/hunting license costs only $38. A temporary three-day license costs $16. There may be an access fee at each marina, but anglers can usually fish and/or walk in for free.

The Utah Lake white bass fishing opportunity is especially great for children and other beginning anglers. The rocky dikes of the lake’s marinas do present a risk for less agile anglers. However, there are safe shoreline spots where they can catch bunches of these tasty fish.

Like other basses, white bass do have sharp dorsal and ventral spines, but by grasping them by the head most people, even children, can quickly learn how to safely unhook them. Have a cooler with ice handy to insure they arrive home in good condition.

Also like other basses, white bass do have larger scales, and are usually filleted before cooking. We typically fillet the larger fish and bury the smaller ones as fertilizer in the vegetable garden.

You can easily find instructional online videos on how to fillet panfish like white bass. Their meat is very lean, so there are few limits on how to prepare them for the table. Virtually any recipe for panfish such as bluegill, crappie and yellow perch will work. My favorite preparation is to make a ceviche using lime juice to “cook” them instead of using heat. My wife likes to cook them in cornmeal.

Got a freezer? Package fillets in meal-size portions in vacuum-sealed bags. You can also collect coated milk cartons, pack them with fish, cover with water and freeze quickly at your freezer’s coldest temperature.

Like many anglers, Dan learned to fish from his father. He has a BS in  sport fisheries management and a MS in ichthyology. Since 1985 he has dedicated himself to promote fishing, gardening and foraging for wild foods to help people to eat better quality foods.

Details re. where to fish on Utah Lake:

June 6, Free Fishing Day The one day you don’t need a license to fish in Utah is Saturday, June 6, 2020. Everyone in Utah can fish for free that day, but please remember that all of the state’s other fishing laws and rules still apply.


So you caught some fish. Now what?

“No one should complain about putting healthier, noncommercial protein on the table,” says Dan. However, cleaning and filleting fish can be a daunting task for a first-timer.  If you know someone who can show you firsthand, ask for assistance.

Here is a good starter tutorial:

Not so relevant for small fish like white bass, but a very interesting look at ike jime, the Japanese art of humanely killing fish and preserving flavor:

This article was originally published on May 2, 2020.