List of Common Lake Utah Fish Species [Updated]
Utah Lake is the third largest lake in Utah and is one of the remnants of the prehistoric Lake Bonneville, created 8,000 years ago. The lake holds 10,000 years of the past in its sediments. It’s located in the Utah Valley and takes up 25% of it! The lake has provided fresh abundant water and a lot of fertile soil in the surrounding areas, making it a beacon for settlers and prehistoric hunters and gatherers. Utah Lake is also the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.
This lake is still a favorite for anglers for its plentiful fish and multiple spaces for fishing. The water is also very murky, which is perfect for fishing since fish enjoy swimming around in murky waters. This murky water is caused by the calcium carbonate in the water which is deposited by the limestone mountains surrounding the lake.
Utah Lake allows boating, kayaking, sailboats, jet skiing, paddle boating, canoeing, and camping, which makes it the perfect getaway that’s just a couple of minutes away from civilization!
The lake is also a site for multiple research projects and conservation projects, such as the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program (JSRIP), which works on restoring the now formerly endangered June sucker. We go into more detail about the June sucker below, but they are native to Utah Lake and are an important part of the ecosystem. The June sucker is also a very good indicator for researchers to understand the health of Utah Lake. Their efforts have allowed the June sucker to be moved from the endangered species list to the threatened species list in February 2021.
Listed below are the most common fish species that can be found in Utah Lake.
List of Fish Species in Utah Lake
1) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
One of the largest fish you can find in Utah Lake, the record weight found of this fish is over 22 pounds. It mainly dwells in shallow water but you must time catching this fish with its daily migrations to feed, which happen up to 4 times a day. They also have a need to protect their territory, especially when preparing to spawn or spawning, which occurs in the spring and summer months respectively.
The largemouth bass was introduced to Utah Lake in 1890 when a fish transfer from the Illinois River was delivered to multiple waterways. They deposited 2,000 largemouth bass into Utah Lake. The lake turned out to be the perfect environment for the fish to grow exponentially, as it’s reported that there were millions of them 7 years after depositing them into the lake. Its favorite kind of fish to eat is the abundant sunfish living in the lake.
2) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
Channel catfish can be found in the water during early & late evening and in the nighttime. They enjoy warmer waters, so it’s rare to find them in extremely cold climates but they’re especially common in the early summer. You can mainly find them next to the moss they feed on. This fish was introduced to Utah Lake in 1911 and has since become a very common fish in the lake.
This fish eats a lot of other kinds of fish, such as the Utah chub, the yellow perch, and black bullheads. They also eat insects and crustaceans. Unfortunately, the populations of the yellow perch and Utah chub have decreased since the introduction of the white bass and walleyes. This caused a major decrease in channel catfish during the early 1960s.
3) June sucker (Chasmistes liorus)
The June sucker is an extremely important fish that is native to Utah Lake. It’s been living in Utah Lake for a very long time, which means they’ve played a very important part in the subsistence of the Ute tribe and pioneers. They can live for over 40 years, which is a very long time for a fish! This fish mainly eats zooplankton. They are also a vital source of information about the health of the Utah Lake ecosystem. You can find June suckers in only 4 places in Utah, Utah Lake being one of them.
Unfortunately, the June sucker was on the endangered list since 1986 but has recently been moved to the threatened species list as of February 2021. Many efforts have been made by the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program (JSRIP) to save the June sucker, specifically to manage non-native fish, improve the environment, and monitor the population.
4) Common carp (Cyprinus carpio)
The common carp is one of the most damaging non-native species to Utah Lake and in the early 2000s it made up 91% of the fish population in Utah Lake. The carp species is known to be an extremely damaging invasive species and is classified as a regulated invasive species. It’s one of the major causes of loss in biodiversity, ecosystem changes, and worse water quality. The carp specifically causes problems because it digs into sediments and plants, which causes damage to the important hiding places that young fish use to avoid getting eaten. The JSRIP has removed 26 million pounds of carp since the fall of 2009.
The common carp was introduced to Utah Lake in the 1880s to replace the low number of native fish and create a reliable and hardy food resource that was relied on in other parts of the world. This fish has also been domesticated in other parts of the world. This includes the koi fish, which is a relative to the common carp. To catch a common carp, you have to stick with murky waters. They are fighters and are challenging to reel in. Thankfully they are extremely hardy, so you can find this fish throughout the year.
5) Northern pike (Esox lucius)
The northern pike is a very weird addition to Utah Lake, specifically because it was found in 2010 by an angler and the fish was apparently introduced to Utah Lake illegally. While this fish is a threat to the native June sucker and to other fish in Utah Lake because it’s a carnivorous fish, it is a very prized recreational fish and is a very important resource of subsistence in Alaska. The pike can get extremely large, with a max length of 4.5 feet and weighing up to 62.5 lbs, this fish is understandably very sought out by anglers and hunter-gatherer groups.
The northern pike grows extremely fast and spawns quickly, which causes a rapid population increase. They prefer river beds and deltas for spawning because of the vegetation and shallow water. Unfortunately, this is the same preferred space for June suckers to spawn, which creates another issue in the preservation of June suckers. Thankfully, the population of the northern pike is not a major issue yet, but government officials and researchers are taking its threat to the Utah Lake ecosystem very seriously.
6) White bass (Morone chrysops)
White bass are not native to Utah Lake and were in fact introduced to the lake in 1956. They introduced 209 fish from Colorado. By 1967, they were one of the most common fish to catch in Utah Lake. This fish is also considered a panfish, which means they have a mild taste and is white and flaky when cooked. They are pretty easy to catch in May and June, but they’re generally easy to catch no matter the month because of their large population. There is no limit to how many white bass you can catch in Utah as well, so you can fish a whole feast! Many anglers use these fish as bait to catch other fish.
White bass are also known as silver bass or sand bass. This fish can grow up to 15 inches but are usually caught at 10 – 13 inches because they’re commonly caught at 2 – 4 years old. Younger white bass mainly eat zooplankton, while larger fish mostly eat water insects called chironomids. While the lower water levels in Utah Lake, caused by yearly droughts, have created better fishing conditions for anglers and improved conditions for carnivorous fish and fish-eating birds, the larger white bass population has, in turn, become quite low. The white bass that many anglers catch are usually stunted and small, which aren’t the best to eat.
7) Black bullhead catfish (Ameiurus melas)
Black bullhead catfish are also known as black bullheads or mudcats. They are the second kind of catfish common in Utah Lake, along with the channel catfish. These fish are more abundant, and therefore easier to catch. Catfish are known to be great for cooking, specifically for frying.
The methods and times to catch this kind of catfish are very similar to channel catfish. May and June are the best times to catch them and they’re most commonly found close to the shore in murky waters.
This fish was introduced to Utah Lake in 1871. These fish are eaten by their close fish relatives, the channel catfish, as one of their main food sources. Through research done in 1974, they found that black bullhead catfish have an extremely diverse diet. They found that they eat 11 different foods including chironomids (water insects) and copepods (small crustaceans). Interestingly, they didn’t find any fish in the bullhead stomachs.
8) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Black crappies were brought to Utah Lake from the Illinois River and introduced in 1890 along with a couple of other fish species, such as the yellow perch and the bluegill. Crappies are also panfish, so they’re a very popular fish to catch. These fish gather in large numbers in the spring, specifically in May and June. There is, however, a limit to how many crappies you can catch in Utah: one person can only catch 50 crappies in a day.
Crappies can be black or white and one of the ways to tell between a black or white crappie is the number of spines in its dorsal fin. White crappies have 6 spines while black crappies have 7 to 8 spines. Both kinds of crappies are found in many other lakes in Utah including Lake Powell. The maximum length a black crappie has reached is 19 inches and the oldest reported crappie was 15 years old.
9) Walleye (Sander vitreus)
The walleye is also known as the yellow perch or the yellow pickerel. They were introduced to Utah Lake in 1952, then their numbers were added to in 1954, 1955, and 1956. Walleyes are carnivorous and mainly ate four forager fish when they arrived at the lake: the carp, Utah chub, redside shiner, and yellow perch. But after a couple of decades in the lake, specifically in 1982, they were found to eat mainly carp, white bass, and channel catfish. They also snack on chironomids, copepods, and liptodorans if they are on the smaller side (water fleas). The Utah chub’s population actually decreased significantly because of the introduction of the walleye.
Utah Lake is known to be very popular with anglers in the spring for walleye, then after the spring, they focus on catfish and white bass. The walleyes grow very well in Utah Lake which results in an average of “good”-sized fishes: 8 – 10 lb females and 1 ½ – 3 lb males. The state record for the largest walleye is 15 lbs and 9 oz and was caught in the Provo River. These fish tend to be very cautious and like staying in murky, deep, and dark water. Based on this, the best time to fish walleye is in the evening to midnight.
10) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Bluegills are the most common panfish in Utah and live in multiple waterways in the state. They mainly feed on insects, insect larvae, worms, and small crustaceans. They’re also one of the most popular sport fish in the United States. The bluegill is also known as bream, sunny, brim, or copper nose. In Texas, it’s known as a perch, even though the bluegill isn’t related to the perch.
Bluegill were introduced to Utah Lake between 1910 and 1940, along with the perch and green sunfish. The bluegill was added to Utah Lake because anglers wanted more diversity in fish species. The best times to catch this fish are in May, June, and October. The daily statewide limit for bluegills is 50. The oldest bluegill was 10 years old and had a maximum length of 16 inches.