Spring is for big-bass action at southern Utah's Gunlock, Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs. (April 2009)
Most bass anglers don't think of Utah as a hotbed for bass fishing. Even though Lake Powell is considered one of the finest bass waterways in the country, the misperception remains. After all, most anglers think bass aren't suppose to live in the mountains, or desert, for that matter.
Southern Utah has warmer water and a longer growing season than most lakes in the state. The result is big bass in early spring. Photo by Jamie Cyphers.
As a result, most other Utah waters get little attention from national media.
For Beehive bassers, that's just fine! We have quite a few spectacular lakes all to ourselves. Most of them have feisty smallmouths, some which reach up to 7 or 8 pounds. A handful of these smaller reservoirs produce nice largemouths, and in southern Utah, they are big largemouths.
Southern Utah, affectionately called Utah's Dixie, offers three well-above-average bass fisheries: Gunlock, Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs. Each has earned reputations regionally for its big Northern-strain largemouths.
With warmer waters than most Utah lakes and a longer growing season, these three watersheds consistently produce fish in the 8- to 9-pound range. Each year, anglers catch some close to the state-record 10-pound, 2-ouncer.
In fact, Quail Creek Reservoir produced the Utah catch-and-release state record, a 12-pound, 4-ounce bruiser that Dennis Miller of Las Vegas, caught on a large trout-imitation swimbait.
3 FACES OF DIXIE'S BASS
Gunlock Reservoir is the oldest of the three lakes, and while absolutely gorgeous, it's by no means the prettiest of the trio. Of course, in any area that borders majestic mountains to the north and the famous red rocks of the Grand Canyon to the southeast, you would expect the country to be breathtaking, and in fact, it is. Gunlock is situated in the high desert just 17 miles northwest of St. George, Utah, at the very base of Pine Valley.
Impounded in 1970, the lake has been a consistent producer of big largemouths. At only 290 acres, it's the smallest of the trio. It is only about 40 feet deep. (Continued)
But its numerous cuts and abundant cover make perfect habitat for big bass. The lake sits on the Santa Clara River and has an abundant crappie, bluegill and crawfish population. Those attributes not only offer a great forage base, but the perfect ambush spots to give the big bass a healthy array of snacks all year long.
The second lake is Quail Creek Reservoir. The 590-acre impoundment was originally stocked in 1985 and is the only one of the three that has ever garnered any national attention. Quail has the deepest depths of the three with more than 100 feet of water to probe at full pool. Average size fish in Quail are usually in 3- to 4-pound range with local anglers catching fish in the 5- to 7-pound range almost every day.
Quail Creek sits just off Interstate 15, approximately 11 miles north of St. George. It's a 30-minute drive from Gunlock Reservoir.
Like its sibling lakes, Quail offers an abundance of cover in the upper end with both cedar and cottonwoods for the big fish to use as ambush spots. The main lake on Quail is much more barren, but its deep chunk rock walls, riprap dams, and offshore humps are perfect spots for big bass to roam looking for that perfect meal.
Quail has always had a reputation for big fish. In fact, rainbow trout more than 10 pounds have been caught here. The state-record crappie also comes from Quail.
Like Gunlock, Quail has an abundant population of bluegills and crawfish. But this reservoir also offers bullhead catfish and the occasional smallmouth bass.
One of the biggest factors in breeding large bass in Quail is an aggressive trout-stocking program by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. These smaller pan-sized rainbows are great treats for winter anglers, but are also candy for big bass lurking in deep water.
The third lake in the trio is newcomer Sand Hollow Reservoir. Sand Hollow is about four miles west of Quail, so it's common for anglers to take advantage of both lakes in one day.
Sand Hollow has about 660 acres and depths reaching 60 feet at full pool. Sand Hollow was originally stocked in 2002 and was open to the public in spring of 2004. This lake offers the best as far as numbers go, with 30- to 50-fish days common through most of the warmer months.
While it doesn't have an actual inlet like the other two lakes, the bottom of Sand Hollow is a forest of flooded tamarisk that produces the perfect ambush spots and nursery grounds for its plentiful population of largemouths.
Forage is much the same as its two close cousins. It's huge schools of bluegills and crawdads keep the bass healthy and fat. Because it's young, Sand Hollow tends to produce smaller fish. The average bass is in the 1- to 2-pound range. At the same time, make no mistake, 4- to 5-pound fish are showing up more and more often. In the last two years, Sand Hollow has produced a handful of fish in 8- and 9-pound class. In fact, last April, Corry Quarnberg of Richfield landed a 9-pound, 14-ounce bass that was only 4 ounces from the 35-year-old state record.
With an elevation of 2,900 feet, spring air temperatures can still remain somewhat cold in southern Utah. But, on average, the month of April is in the mid 70s, with water temperatures just over the magical 60-degree mark, which tends to really set the fish off.
Late March to mid-May has proved time and time again as the best period to chase the record-size fish lurking in all three impoundments.
Anglers looking to lock into one of their many monsters can use similar techniques at all three reservoirs.
Like the rest of the country, Dixie's big bass love swimbaits, or maybe they hate them. Either way, it's a pretty good bet that, properly placed, they will be destroyed. All sizes can be successful, but if you're looking for that donkey, remember the old saying, "Go big or go home."
Large-profile baits that mimic a rainbow, bluegill or juvenile bass are all food sources for pre-spawn females looking to bulk up after winter. A local favorite is the Huddleston 8-inch Trout. But the Matt Bluegill, and Swim Babes Baby E are all solid bets.
Anglers should look
for spawning coves and flats with good gravel and abundant cover. Throw the larger baits over the closest deep water to find the big females lurking just outside these areas.
Another solid technique is to throw a weightless soft stick, like the popular Senko from Gary Yamamoto Baits. Throwing this bait into the cover around these same areas can get jaw-dropping strikes this time of year.
Once again, you only have a few basic types of forage, so match the hatch with darker greens, browns and pumpkins.
If you find bed fish, baits like Gitzits and lizards are a sure bet to send male bass into a rage that will only end with a vicious strike.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jamie Cyphers, editor of BassWest USA, fishes the Western bass circuit and represents Legend Boats.