Bear Lake, An Endemical  Wonder
Article by Darin Pugmire

Bear Lake is truly a unique fishery because of the five endemic species that are present  The beautiful 20 mile lake situated between two mountain ranges at times can be intimidating to first time anglers, but for little or no reason.   

Bear Lake is host to five unique endemic species of fish  The Bonneville Cisco, Bonneville Whitefish, Bear Lake Whitefish, Bear Lake Sculpin, and the Bear Lake Cutthroat.  Each of these species proves to be very important to the Bear Lake fishery.

The Bonneville Whitefish spawn in the middle of December. During this time the cutthroat seem to flourish.  They feed not only on the eggs but the whitefish as well.  These are not your ordinary whitefish.  These fish reach sizes up to 4lbs.  They are usually around 17” long and fight like a bonefish.  The best thing about these whitefish is there flesh. They are a white meat that is absolutely a delicacy.  If you like fish you will love whitefish.  This is also a great time to wet a fly.  The whitefish are in close to shore and using a small streamer you are able to get a hold of some fine fish.

The Bonneville Cisco spawns next in late January and early February.  These fish are especially important to this lakes fishery.  At an average of around 6” there are an estimated 9 million of these little guys in the lake.  The Cisco is not only good to eat but a great source of bait later in the season.  The limit on these fish is 30 in possession.  This can be one of the best times on Bear Lake.  With 9million Cisco coming into spawn the whole lake turns on as the larger fish, cutthroat and mackinaw, come in for a fast and easy treat.  

The Bear Lake Whitefish spawns next.  This is usually around the end of February through the end of March.  These fish are only the size of a Cisco (avg. 6”).  You don’t catch as many whitefish as you do during the Bonneville run, but as for cutthroat and mackinaw it is another great time to hook into a bruiser. 

Bear Lake Sculpin spawn in the end of March thru the middle of April.  For those of you who do not know anything about a Sculpin they are often described as a bullhead.  These little Sculpin have baby blue eyes which separates them from other species.  They average around 3” but it makes it easy for those cutthroats to ingest high numbers of these nutritious delicacies.       

Bear Lake Cutthroat is the next to come into spawn.  They do so around April 15 thru the end of June.  These fish average around 17” and 2lbs.  It is not uncommon to hook a 5+ pounder.  The record for the lake is 18lbs. so your chances of catching a record fish are not exactly great, but would be a thrill beyond comprehension.  During this time the tributaries to the lake are closed to fishing out to 300 yards into the lake.  It is not uncommon to see several boats trolling out around the marked buoys this time of year.  This is on of the times that fishing from shore can actually be a rewarding experience.  They not only spawn in the tributaries but the rocky shoals as well.  The Utah State Marina, located in Garden City, is a favorite spot for shore anglers.  Also the rocky points of the east side can be a great spot to throw some hardware.

Back in the early days we had some rainbows that were released into the lake.  It is pretty uncommon to catch a rainbow on this lake.  The state is on a waiting list to be able to re-introduce these fish to our fishery.  We are excited for this to happen so that the fishing from the shore can be a little more dependable.  The record rainbow for Bear Lake is 13.5lbs and was caught in 1999. 

The Mackinaw is the last fish that we chase out here in the lake.  These fish are definitely the bruisers of the lake.  These fish average around 5lbs but it is not uncommon to catch one over 12lbs.  The lake record is around 30lbs.  You have a trophy if you catch anything over 20lbs.  They spawn in late October and early November.  This is a great time to fish for these big boys.  Fishing during the night seems to be a favorite for some anglers.  The Macks have been sterilized before they were planted in Bear Lake.  This is the reason the DWR doesn’t close fishing during this time of year.  The sad thing is that there are a lot of people that snag these big fish during this time.  Fly fishing for these big lunkers is my favorite way to fish for them.  


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