Strawberry Reservoir may arguably be the best trout fishery in the western United States. It has gained a reputation recently … throughout the world … as a place to catch big cutthroat and rainbow trout.
A beautiful … and very large … high-alpine reservoir, Strawberry is my favorite Utah fishing destination. Lying in a mountain-rimmed valley at 7,600 feet, it covers more than 17,000 acres in most years.
At Strawberry, you’ll find two excellent recreation complexes: Strawberry Bay Recreation Complex and Soldier Creek Recreation Complex. With fishing access, boat ramps, and full-service marinas. And a Strawberry Bay even has a café.
Camping and picnic areas are located throughout the Strawberry Reservoir area.
History Of Strawberry Reservoir
The Strawberry Dam … on the Strawberry River … was completed in 1912. About 24 miles (38.6 km) east Heber City. An earthfill structure, the dam is 72 feet high and contained 118,000 cubic yards of materials.
But trout weren’t stocked until 1923. It wasn’t long, though, before Strawberry earned a reputation as a dynamite fishery.
The Soldier Creek Dam was completed as part of the Bonneville Unit of the Central Utah Project. It is 7 miles (11.2 km) downstream from Strawberry Dam.
The dam between Strawberry Reservoir and Soldier Creek was breached in 1985. It resulted in an even more massive reservoir. The water surface of Strawberry Reservoir rose by about 45 feet. And the surface area increased to its present 17,163 acres.
But human action … as it does so frequently … set in motion a series of events which plague Strawberry Reservoir to this day. Through the years … starting around 1945 … for reasons known only to those who did it, non-game fish were illegally introduced into Strawberry.
By 1960, those undesirable non-game fish … or chubs … had invaded the fishery. The sad result? Chubs made up 90% of the fish in the reservoir.
Strawberry Reservoir was treated with poison … rotenone … in 1961 to kill the chubs. But once again, non-game bait fish were introduced into the reservoir … probably in 1972. And by the mid-80’s, they made up 93% of the fish in the reservoir.
So, once again, a rotenone project was undertaken in 1990. The largest known such treatment in the world. But due to the sheer size of the reservoir, not all the fish were killed. Nonetheless, the biologists had a plan.
The goal was to manage the chub’s numbers by introducing Bonneville cutthroat … a voracious chub predator … into Strawberry. The cutthroats had preyed on chubs for centuries.
Recent studies … and fantastic fishing results … show that this strategy is working. Big time. It has proven to be very effective in controlling the chub numbers.
The cutthroats … from Bear Lake stock … have prospered. And, after sterile rainbow trout were introduced, they too have flourished. In 1996, a four fish limit was introduced. Only one could be over 18 inches. And fishermen were asked … although not required … to release all cutthroat trout. The intent was to let the cutthroats grow large enough … in sufficient numbers … to control the chub population.
The state … realizing that this program was actually working … increased the slot limit in 2003. All cutthroat between 15 and 22 inches had to be released. You can now keep one cutthroat over 22 inches and two under 15 inches. But you can keep all the rainbows … up to a limit of four.
Although frustrating for those who like to take fish home, the slot limit … along with the natural growth of the rainbow trout … has resulted in large numbers of huge fish.
And Strawberry Reservoir is now a world-famous trout fishing destination.
The 3 Types Of Fish In Strawberry Reservoir
There are only three.
State Records At Strawberry
Strawberry Reservoir holds a couple of state records. The current record for a cutthroat throat is still held by Strawberry. Caught way back in 1930, it weighed 26 pounds, 12 ounces.
The reservoir also holds the current state record for a kokanee salmon. Caught in 1995, it weighed an even 6 pounds.
Best Time Of Year To Fish Strawberry
Although it fishes well from ice-off … usually in April … until it freezes over usually in November … there are a couple times when the fishing is fantastic up here. Especially in recent years.
In the spring, when there is still a little ice left, the action can be hot. Coming off a long winter, the fish are voracious. But my best time … and probably the best fishing time … is in the fall. As the weather cools, big fish move closer to shore. Their goal is to eat as much as possible before the lake freezes over.
Combine great fishing with the glorious fall color displays and you’ll see why this valley is heaven to some people.
If you enjoy ice fishing, you can fish Strawberry Reservoir from January to March. But always plan ahead by checking the ice conditions. When the ice starts coming off, it seems to do so before your eyes.
Best Fishing Tactics At Strawberry
You can fish from shore. From a float tube. Or a boat. My favorite is to use a float tube. But I’m thinking of changing over to a pontoon boat so I can mount a little motor and fish finder. A float tube or pontoon boat allows you to access almost the entire lake and do so quietly.
I have nothing against people using boats but a very small minority of them are absolutely brainless. To those of us not using a boat, it sometimes seems like their entire goal is to make as much noise as possible while creating the biggest waves they can. Just a little courtesy and common sense would go a long way on the lake.
Float tubers and waders can often do well by casting into the channels of old stream beds. These are usually found at the heads of bays where the streams either used to … or still do … enter the reservoir. Black or olive wooly buggers work well here usually.
Trolling techniques seem to have evolved over the years but I’ve got to admit … this is not my area of expertise. My reading shows that Rapalas, Strawberry wobblers, and Flatfish are still popular. And pop gear with a worm are still used.
If you happen to be a troller ... or boat fisherman … and are reading this, feel free to give me an update on what you’re using now.
Do not fillet fish at the reservoir! When filleted … or the heads are removed … conservation officers can’t tell the species.
Best Strawberry Lures
In the last decade, it seems that bass fishing techniques have become not only the most popular, but the most productive. They become especially effective during the fall … my favorite time to fish Strawberry.
Kokanee salmon at Strawberry Reservoir put on a spectacular display … as do the leaves … in the fall. As they enter their fall spawning run, they turn a brilliant red color.
Stopping at the Forest Service visitor center just off Highway 40 on the road to the Strawberry Bay Marina is always a highlight of our fall. It’s amazing how some years, it seems like you can walk across the Strawberry River on the backs of the salmon so numerous are they.
But this year … in September of 2010 … we only saw a couple as they had barely started their run. It was too early. Warmer fall? Who knows.
The Strawberry River and other tributaries are closed during the annual spawn.
Strawberry can be a wonderful place to spend a day. It can also be a deadly lake. The weather can change instantly. Storms can blow in. Waves whip up almost before your eyes.
There have been numerous fatalities on the lake ... usually because of lack of preparation. The water is cold and the lake is deep. And it's a lot bigger than it looks.
How To Get Here
Head up the canyon on Interstate 80 from Salt Lake City. Just past Park City, head east on US 40. Go right through the middle of Heber City and on up the canyon for another 24 miles (38.6 km).
Where To Access Strawberry Reservoir
US 40 skirts the north edge of the reservoir. It provides access to the two Chicken Creek day-use areas. Another popular section reached by this highway is the “ladders”. A Central Utah Project canal empties into the lake here.
At the visitor center, turn south and you’ll be able to access the Strawberry Bay Recreation Complex. You can also reach the Haws Point Day-Use Area along this road.
On the east edge of Strawberry, you’ll find Soldier Creek Dam and the Aspen Grove Campground at Stinking Springs. You’ll find the road to the Soldier Creek Recreation Complex on the northeast edge of Strawberry off US 40.
Services At Strawberry Marinas
Strawberry Bay Marina and Lodge
Soldier Creek Marina
Daniels Summit Lodge
US 50, Daniels Summit Pass
P.O. Box 490
Heber City, UT 84032
Strawberry Bay Marina and Lodge