Utah has more than 1,000 fishable lakes and densely populated trout streams but nothing as scenic as Bear Lake, the second largest natural freshwater lake in Utah. Straddling on the Utah-Idaho border, this glistening lake and trophy cutthroat trout fishery is 20-miles long, 8-miles wide and offers 80 miles of scenic shoreline surrounded by the Wasatch and Bear River mountains.
Bear Lake is fondly known as the Caribbean of the Rockies and boasts vivid turquoise water from the particles of suspended limestone and unique water chemistry. Bear Lake is not only known for the abundance of year-round water sports and activities, but for its thriving population of whitefish, trout and cisco and the famous January cisco run.
Let’s Talk Fishing!
Whether you’re experienced or novice, fishing in Bear Lake is worthy of every bucket-list and draws anglers from across the globe. Bountiful waters, rod-bending excitement and the chance to lure a fish you won’t find anywhere else in the world!
What Kind Of Fish Are In Bear Lake?
There are four species of fish that are endemic to Bear Lake and present the perfect opportunity for a unique catch.
Bonneville Cisco (Prosopium Gemmifer): A small, slender pearly-silver with pointed mouth and a gold stripe that grows beyond six inches. They are a popular sport fish with a short peak season of only 10 days in late January, when millions spawn over the rocky beach on the east side of Bear Lake.
Bonneville Whitefish (Prosopium Spilonotus): A member of the trout family, this is an elongated cylindrical fish with gray-blue spots along the side that grows up to 16 inches. They are larger and more common than the Bear Lake Whitefish and are found in the cool deep waters in the warmer months, moving to the rocky areas to spawn.
Bear Lake Whitefish (Prosopium abyssicola): The Bear Lake Whitefish is similar in appearance to the Bonneville Whitefish yet seldom grows beyond eight inches. They inhabit the deeper waters and are rarely seen near to shore.
Bear Lake Sculpin (Cottus Extensus): The Bear Lake Sculpin is scale free and tadpole-like at only three inches long with bright blue eyes high atop its head. The Sculpin lives in the cobble habitat along the east shore of Bear Lake and are the main source of food for the Cutthroat Trout.
The Cutthroat Trout and Lake Trout are the two most sought after sportfish on Bear Lake and jigging with a flashy lure tipped with a chunk of sucker meat or cisco tail is a popular method to up your chances of a trophy catch. The Idaho State record cutthroat of 19lbs was caught right here in Bear Lake!
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus Clarkii): The colorful Cutthroat Trout is distinguishable by the crimson slash on the lower jaw, deep orange pelvic and anal fins and large round spots on the upper body. During spawning season they can be found near Cisco Beach, Rainbow Cove and the Bear Lake Marina.
Lake Trout/Mackinaw (Salvelinus Namaycush): The Lake Trout live in the deep cool waters of Bear Lake and often reach over 30lbs. They are a gray-brown color with light spots and a deeply forked tail fin. Lake Trout are caught throughout the year and are best caught using downriggers with large spoons, rapalas and flatfish lures.
Four Seasons Fishing
Bear Lake produces fresh fish harvests year-round and first light to mid-morning is the prime time to catch! The summer months are hot and fish tend to hide in the deeper, cooler waters, early fall promises a good return as the Lake Trout come to shore at the marina making for great night fishing! But, it’s the late fall and winter months that are the best time of year to fish Bear Lake.
Bear Lake Ice Fishing is a top attraction in Bear Lake and a prime ice fishing destination in Utah with the lake freezing over four out of five years. The annual Bear Lake Monster Winterfest (read our Guide to Monster Winterfest here) draws hundreds of visitors at the end of January. As the cisco spawn, anglers brave the cold lake waters to dip their nets, while others come in search of the larger cutthroat and mackinaw that feed on the eggs. Many of Bear Lake’s trophy Cutthroats are caught ice-fishing!
Spawning continues throughout the year. The Bear Lake Whitefish spawn from the end of February, the Sculpin from March through mid-April and the Cutthroat from mid-April to the end of June. The Lake Trout spawn in late October and the Bonneville Whitefish spawn late November, making the late fall a favorite time for anglers visiting Bear Lake.
Where To Fish?
At Bear Lake you can fish from the shore, kayak the lake or troll the waters by boat. You will find boat ramps available at the Bear Lake State Park Marina, First Point, Cisco Beach and Rainbow Cove with watersport rentals near Bear Lake State Park Marina on the west shore. The lake is large and while fish activity is dispersed over the entire lake, Cisco Beach and Bear Lake State Park Marina are popular spots to fish on Bear Lake. According to locals, the secret is to fish at different depths and add a little cisco meat to your lure!
Local Fishing Tips
Fishing License: A valid fishing license is required to fish on Bear Lake. Anglers with a Utah Fishing license, combination hunting license or an Idaho fishing license may fish anywhere on the lake. You may buy your Utah fishing license online, at the offices of Idaho Fish and Game and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources or through many of our local vendors listed below.
Reciprocal permits: You may use up to two fishing rods per fisherman on the Utah side of the lake, however if you are fishing from the Idaho shoreline, an additional two-pole permit for Idaho is required. Likewise, if you are fishing the Idaho side by boat, you must display an Idaho Invasive Species Fund sticker.
Fishing Regulations: Please review the Utah Fishing Guidebook for current fishing regulations relating to Bear Lake. Please note when ice fishing the size of the hole may not exceed 18 inches in diameter.
Catch or Release: You are only allowed a daily limit of two trout. Trout with one or more healed fins clipped may be kept however to protect wild native fish, all trout with cutthroat markings with all their fins intact must be released.
Local Fishing Guides
Whether you’re looking for a rental to explore alone or a professional guide to share local tips and help you reel in your catch of the year, there are plenty of local outfitters and guides to get you set up for ultimate Bear Lake fishing vacation.