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Bear Lake is renowned as a trophy, cutthroat trout fishery where the Idaho State Record cutthroat of 19 lbs. was caught. Lake trout (Mackinaw) also inhabit the lake and can exceed 30 lbs. Trolling and jigging from boats can be done throughout the year (winter and spring months being the most productive). Four species are unique to Bear Lake: the Bonneville cisco; the Bear Lake whitefish; the Bonneville whitefish; and the Bear Lake sculpin.
It is 20 miles long, between 5 to 8 miles wide and covers approximately 70,000 surface acres (about 112 square miles). Its average depth is over 84 feet. During approximately 4 out of 5 winters, Bear Lake freezes over. Bear Lake is the second largest natural freshwater lake in Utah.
Bear Lake has a unique water chemistry with a high amount of dissolved solids, mainly precipitated carbonates, which reflect blue light creating the beautiful turquoise color. Bear Lake has somewhat alkaline water chemisty with a pH of approximately 8.6.
| Cutthroat trout
The Bear Lake strain of the Bonneville cutthroat trout evolved in Bear Lake, and is well adapted to its environment. It was originally called "bluenose" because of the brilliant azure, blue coloration of the head. It is typically silvery with a few black spots along the sides and faint, red slashes under the lower jaw. The cutthroat trout ascend streams to spawn during May and June. The streams are closed to fishing at that time to allow the cutthroat to spawn naturally or to be trapped by Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for propagation of their eggs in a fish hatchery. All cutthroat trout eggs taken from fish traps on Bear Lake tributaries are returned to the lake as fingerlings the following spring.
Fishing for cutthroat trout is usually best in the early spring just after ice-out, during the late fall when water temperatures cool down, and when the lake is frozen over. Slowly trolling lures which imitate bait fish (cisco or whitefish) with the aid of downriggers or lead core line works well when the water is cold. Vertical jigging through the ice or from boats with lead head jigs or jigging spoons tipped with cisco tails or nightcrawlers also produces fish. Good spots to try are off of First Point, the "rockpile," and along Cisco Beach. As the water warms in the late spring and summer, trolling at faster speeds near the surface is more productive.
| Lake trout
Lake trout were initially stocked in Bear Lake in the 1930s, and because they do not successfully reproduce to sustain a fishery, stocking is necessary to maintain the population. Lake trout in Bear Lake rarely weigh over 20 pounds due to the infertile nature of the ecosystem. Lake trout concentrate on rocky shoreline areas during late September and October to spawn. This is when they are most accessible to fishermen. Casting large spoons from shore and trolling slowly with flatfish parallel to rocky shoreline areas are most productive. At other times of the year, lake trout can be caught by trolling with downriggers or lead core line. Vertical jigging through the ice is also effective using the same techniques as are used for cutthroat trout. Some of the best fishing occurs off the Utah State Park Marina, North Beach Jetty, and Cisco Beach.
Endemic species are those species that are found no where else in the world. Bear Lake is home to four of them. All of the endemic species provide forage for the cutthroat trout and lake trout. These fish are described below.
| Bonneville cisco
Bonneville Cisco are closely related to whitefish. They travel in schools and are found throughout the lake during much of the year. You will rarely catch one of these fish except during their spawning run. The cisco spawn in mid- to late January, usually over rocky areas. During that time they tend concentrate along the rocky shoreline at Cisco Beach, hence its name. Anglers are allowed to dip net cisco only at that time of year. When the lake is frozen over during mid-January, holes have to be cut through the ice in order to dip net the fish. In years when there is no ice, anglers have to wade out a short distance from shore to dip net fish. Cisco also spawn in other areas such as weed beds, rock humps or shell beds. Cisco are can also be caught at that time of the year using a rod and reel by snagging them on silver or chrome colored spoons off First Point, Cisco Beach, and the "rockpile".
Cisco are excellent table fare when breaded and deep-fried whole. They taste much like a smelt. Many fishermen use them as bait for cutthroat trout and lake trout during other times of the year.
| Bonneville whitefish
Bonneville Whitefish are the larger of the two species of whitefish in Bear Lake. They can reach lengths up to 23 inches and may weigh up to 4 pounds. Bonneville whitefish are an important sport fish in Bear Lake. They spawn in late fall along rocky shoreline areas where they are readily caught by casting small (#0 and #1) spinners from shore, still fishing with a small piece of worm on the bottom, or jigging with small spoons and jigs. During January and February, Bonneville whitefish can be caught by vertical jigging over weed beds where they concentrate to feed on cisco eggs. Best places to try are off First and Second Points, Cisco Beach, the "rockpile", and any of the weed beds along the shoreline areas. Bonneville whitefish are also one of the best tasting fish in the lake. They have firm, white flesh and can be deep fried, baked, or smoked.
| Bear Lake whitefish
Bear Lake Whitefish grow to a maximum size of only about 10 inches and weigh less than a pound. They spawn from late January into March and can be caught by jigging with small teardrops (ice flies) through the ice off the "rockpile" or fishing over weed beds around the lake. Due to their dimunuitive size, they do not comprise a significant portion of the angler harvest.
| Bear Lake sculpin
Bear Lake Sculpin, sometimes locally referred to as a "bullhead", (although technically incorrect) are another endemic species from Bear Lake. This fish lives near the bottom and rarely grows more than 4 inches in length. The sculpin provides a forage base mainly for the cutthroat and lake trout, although they have also been found in whitefish and sucker stomachs. The sculpin spawns from April to July and their egg masses are attached to the undersides of rocks where they are guarded by the adult male until they hatch. Sculpins are rarely fished for or are caught by anglers.
Other fish found in Bear Lake include the yellow perch, Utah sucker, Utah chub, carp, green sunfish, redside shiner, speckled dace and occasionally brook trout that have migrated downstream from tributaries. Yellow perch are a well recognized sportfish and, although they are usually prolific in the waters they are found in Utah, they are found in relatively small numbers in Bear Lake. During high water years perch fishing can be quite productive through the ice and right after ice-out near the Bear River Inlet structure, Lifton pumping station, and at the Utah State Park marina. Perch are usually caught with night crawlers on light tackle. Utah suckers and Utah chubs are both native to Bear Lake. Utah suckers comprise a large portion of the fish biomass. They are part of Bear Lake's natural ecosystem and do not become management problems in Bear Lake as in other waters. Utah chubs occupy shoreline areas and serve as a forage species for cutthroat trout and lake trout. Carp migrate into Bear Lake from the Bear River and rarely reproduce due to the cold water temperatures and lack of suitable habitat.
Many different lures work to catch fish from Bear Lake, however, you should select a lure based on what the fish are feeding on at a particular time. A key point to remember is lure size. Often fish will be feeding on organisms of a particular size and are selective for food items of that size. If fishing is not productive in one area, a change of fishing locations and depths could be all that is required to find more active fish. Most fish are found near the bottom, and fishing as close to bottom as possible produces some of the best results. Bear Lake is a very unique body of water that offers anglers opportunities to catch native cutthroat trout, trophy lake trout, and endemic sport fish that are found no where else in the world. We are confident that you will enjoy success when fishing on Bear Lake.
Either a valid Utah or Idaho fishing license is valid on the entire lake. There are no size limits for any fish on Bear Lake. The trout limit is two. This can be a combination of cutthroat trout or lake trout or two of one species. In an effort to protect natural, wild cutthroat trout in Bear Lake, you may only keep a cutthroat trout if it has a healed fin-clip. All other cutthroat trout must be immediately released unharmed. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Idaho Department of Fish and Game has devoted significant efforts and resources to improve natural spawning habitat for Bear Lake cutthroat trout. All hatchery-reared Bear lake cutthroat trout are fin clipped (one or more fins are removed at the hatchery prior to stocking). The most common fin clips are the pelvic and adipose fins. However, some fish may be missing pectoral fins. Any cutthroat trout with a healed fin clip may be kept as part of Bear Lake's two-trout limit. Cutthroat trout with all fins intact are considered wild and must be released, unharmed into the lake. Any lake trout may be kept.
The whitefish limit is 10. The cisco limit is 30.
Before heading to the lake be sure to check the current fishing proclamation. For more information on Bear Lake, contact:
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Bear Lake Research Station
1030 N. Bear Lake Blvd. Box 231
Garden City, UT 84028