OUT: Pelican Lake May 20, 2009
Knowing when Pelican Lake heats up is key to good fishing
VERNAL, Utah — John Davis looked down at his feet, where the parched carcass of a bluegill lay mummifying along the sun-drenched banks of Pelican Lake.
“Well, sometimes fishing reports aren’t exactly timely, if you know what I mean,” the Salt Lake City angler said. “I watch the weather report instead. We come here every year about this time, and we haven’t been disappointed yet.”
Davis, along with fishing buddies Doug Whirl and Rich Williams, made the 150-mile one-way trip from Salt Lake City to Pelican Lake with hopes high. Past experience at this natural lake a few miles west of Vernal told them that spring brings fat bluegills spawning in the shallows.
However, Davis concluded that after a windy morning, 9 a.m. was a bit too early to fish.
Noting last week’s fishing report from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said that “the fish and water are heating up,” Davis said “heating up” are key words to remember about Pelican Lake.
“We never start before 10 a.m., and it’s not because we like a long breakfast,” he said.
“It’s been a fairly cool spring this year so the water doesn’t really warm up until late morning. I expect the fishing will really get hot about 2 (p.m.), if the wind doesn’t come up first.”
Such well-thought-out strategies are typical of longtime Pelican Lake anglers, who have learned, sometimes the hard way, the peculiarities of a lake sitting in an expansive, nearly flat bowl on the south lap of the Uintah Mountains.
Pelican Lake isn’t a real secret, at least not since the 1,680-acre lake gave up the former world-record bluegill in 1983. Local lore says at the time, several well-versed Pelican
Lake old-timers scoffed at the 2-pound, 3-ounce fish, saying it was “one of the little ones.”
Since then, the record has been eclipsed elsewhere and Pelican Lake’s bluegill fortunes have taken a dive for various reasons. Still, that hasn’t deterred anglers around the Intermountain West from making an annual pilgrimage to this shallow impoundment.
“This is my first trip here but some of the guys have come here for, oh, gee, lots of years, I guess,” said Paul Dibley of Park City, Utah. Last week he joined “15 to 18” members of Trout Unlimited’s Park City Chapter on their annual stop at Pelican Lake.
“We have plenty of trout fishing around home, once the weather warms up and the runoff stops, anyway, but this really is a different kind of fishing,” Dibley said. “I’ve heard there are some really nice bluegills in here, and I’m hoping to prove it to myself.”
The bluegills and largemouth bass apparently still were sleeping early Friday as a cold east wind rippled the surface of the lake. It wasn’t until shortly after 11, just as Davis predicted, that the lake warmed sufficiently under the bright May sun to where fish started smacking the surface.
“Little spiders,” confided Dave Tripps, another of the Park City contingent of anglers. Fly anglers fishing the reeds and rushes growing in the shallows use a variety of small hair and foam poppers, but Tripps was using a black foam spider pattern he had used before on bluegill and crappie.
“They were really smacking it,” he said. “I use a 3x tippet, so I don’t have to worry about breaking off.”
He didn’t necessarily mean having a big fish break his leader. The fish spawn in the shallows, and at Pelican Lake that means hugging the reeds and rushes, saw-edged plants that abrade even the stoutest leaders.
Getting to the fish can be done in a variety of ways. Plenty of power boats were in evidence, but the east shore is a long flat and float tubes and chest waders are sufficient to get to good fishing.
“I’ve caught hundreds, really hundreds, of bluegills standing right where that guy is fishing,” Davis said, pointing to an angler standing in the middle of circular opening in the reeds about 50 yards offshore. “Wade fishing can be really productive, but this year we brought the canoe.”
Shortly before noon, the wind died for an hour or so, and the fish began slapping the surface. Small insects, including a few early damselflies, were flitting among the reeds, and the fish were active in their pursuit.
Ospreys hovered and dived, and complacent pelicans floated past, reminders that anglers of many types find the fishing productive at Pelican Lake.