Drought in Utah Is Leading to Increased Bag Limits for Anglers

Fisheries managers in the state are encouraging the public to harvest more fish from lakes where water levels have reached critically low levels
Otter Creek Reservoir is one of the many lakes involved in this increase in limits from DWR.
As water levels decrease fish have a harder time surviving. DWR hopes increases in fishing limits will help. Utah DNR / Facebook

Wildlife managers in Utah are increasing bag limits at five lakes and reservoirs across the state due to drought conditions. As water levels in these lakes continue to drop, the likelihood of fish die-offs increases, which is why managers are encouraging the public to harvest more fish.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources announced the temporary increases on Friday, July 8. The limit increases will last until September 30, and they take effect immediately on Fairview Lakes, Minersville Reservoir, Otter Creek Reservoir, Vernon Reservoir, and Yuba Reservoir. The rationale here, according to the DWR, is that smaller amounts of water heat up more quickly and hold less oxygen. This combination of factors stresses fish species—especially trout—causing disease, slower growth rates, and eventually leading to large-scale fish kills.

“The best management action we can take at these water bodies is to reduce the number of fish in these waters. That’s because when water levels are low, we are more likely to maintain a fishery that has fewer fish than one that has a lot of fish,” said Randy Oplinger, the division’s sportfish coordinator. “We try, whenever possible, to continue to provide a good fishing experience for anglers, up until we think that water levels will hit a critical level.”

The Ongoing Drought Currently Affecting the West

More than 99 percent of Utah has experienced severe drought conditions for several months, according to the US Drought Monitor. Around 83 percent of the state is experiencing severe drought, with 7.7 percent in exceptional drought. These conditions aren’t just an issue for Utah, either. The entire West has experienced drought conditions for the last two to three years, and these dry conditions are leading to changes in hunting regulations as well.

Statewide, all of Utah’s reservoirs are at 59 percent capacity. But the bodies of water specifically mentioned in the DWR’s July 8 statement are far lower. Otter Creek Reservoir sits at about 25 percent capacity and Yuba Reservoir hovers around 12 percent capacity.

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The increases in bag limits vary depending on the body of water. The DWR bumped the daily limit at Fairview Lakes up to eight trout and six wipers. Minersville Reservoir saw its daily trout limit jump to four with no size or bait restrictions, and wiper limits were set at three. Otter Creek Reservoir has a new daily limit of eight trout and six wipers. Vernon Reservoir has a new daily limit of eight trout. The total daily limit at Yuba Reservoir is 20 fish, which can be a mixture of catfish, pike, muskie, trout, walleye, and wiper.

This increase in fish bag limits comes after similar action in April. That increase in limits impacted Joe Lay Reservoir, North Creek, North Creek Reservoir, and Spring Lake. Utah officials reiterated the importance of fishing Spring Lake. The lake will be drained so the city of Payson can complete some much-needed infrastructure projects. In the meantime, anglers can still fish there and are encouraged to harvest what they catch.