Utah's Angle on Angling
Art: Jack Unruh
There are many things about Utah that visitors misunderstand. Yes, you can buy a cocktail here. No, most local husbands do not have five wives each. And with a summer focus on the state’s renowned red rock desert country, how could anyone guess that Utah boasts some of the most prosperous and beautiful fly-fishing opportunities in the West?
Sally Roberts, owner of Local Waters Fly-Fishing, says Utah rivers are less intimidating than many of the world-class fly-fishing rivers. “Because of their smaller size, we get a lot less pressure, than say, the Madison in Yellowstone,” she says. “So the fishing can be a lot better. Another big advantage of the local rivers is we can almost always catch fish anytime of the year, and any time of day. We don’t have to sit around for a few hours in the middle of the day waiting for a hatch like you do on the Henry’s Fork, for instance. We can fish from first dawn to night,” Roberts says.
“Utah’s smaller rivers are more personable,” says George Sideris, buyer for Jans Mountain Outfitters and a longtime fly-fishing guide. “We don’t have the bigger rivers that you float—you’re foot fishing. It’s a little more like hunting than fishing,” he chuckles. Sideris also says people conceive Utah as a desert. “They don’t understand the snowpack situation and how much fresh water we have flowing into our streams. Once they discover what we have here, they’re actually kind of blown away by our friendly little rivers,” he says.
Bruce Juhl, owner of All Seasons Adventures, says our area is unique in that the rivers are close to Park City, and that the quality and size of the fish is excellent. “Plus, we have year-round fishing,” he says. “Last March when it was really warm, we had people skiing the corn snow in the morning and fishing in the afternoon. That’s what we call ‘cross-training’ around here.”
“The Provo and Weber rivers in particular are very close by, so access is easy,” says Kory Kapaloski, general manager for Trout Bum 2. “We have a good population of fish in general and large populations of wild fish, presenting excellent dry fly-fishing opportunities.”
Many of the Park City area’s rivers are tail waters—located below a dam —so local waters don’t get runoff flooding in spring and don’t run out of water in fall. The water levels and temperatures remain consistent, which makes for happy and healthy fish thriving all year long.
Another gift of Utah fishing? “The scenery is incredibly beautiful,” says Kapaloski. Roberts agrees. “Fish aren’t living in ugly places,” she says. “So when you’re fishing, you have the sound of the river, you see all kinds of birds, including bald eagles sitting in the trees, and you see critters like mink, muskrat, evidence of coyote, wild turkeys and deer.”
Where to Cast your Line In and Around Park City
The Provo River is a blue-ribbon fishery with three sections: the Upper, the Middle and the Lower. The Middle Provo (between Jordanelle and Deer Creek reservoirs) recently underwent an extensive reclamation effort to improve the health of the river and its wildlife. Before the government stepped in, local farmers would bulldoze the river to stop it from flooding their fields, and let cattle wander its banks. The straight-channeled version of the Provo was not a pretty sight. The U.S. government bought the river frontage between Jordanelle and Deer Creek reservoirs, and has restored the meandering streambed. This created as natural a wetland ecosystem as possible—not just for the fish, but also for birds, plant species, frogs, and other wildlife. This section of the river is now protected from development and there are several public access spots with portable restroom facilities and fish-cleaning stations.
The Upper Provo is above Jordanelle Reservoir, and largely private-access only. The Lower Provo, below Deer Creek Reservoir, produces the largest size and quantity of fish on the river. Guide George Sideris remembers catching eight 20-inch trout on the Lower in one day using BWO’s (blue wing olive flies). Because the fishing is so awesome, this section of the river is also the most heavily used: the fish can be picky since they’re used to seeing a lot of flies every day. The Middle Provo can be accessed in just 15 minutes from Park City, by taking Highway 248 out of town to Highway 40 toward Heber. The Upper and Lower Provo will take about a 30-minute drive, possibly more, depending on how far you wander.
The Provo boasts plenty of little fish as well as enough big fish (24-26 inches) to keep avid anglers enthusiastic. The catch is predominantly brown trout. “The brown trout have become naturalized,” explains Roberts. “It’s a naturally reproducing, self-sustaining population of fish. These are not stupid, stocked fish. They’ll eat rainbow, cutthroats, or even a mouse, if it happens to fall into the river!”
The Weber River is a different drainage from the Provo, running toward Ogden, north of Park City. “Though most of the access is private,” says Roberts, it’s a different kind of fishing. “You’re out in pastures, or fishing off bridges in some cases. There’s a lot less pressure on the Weber River, making it a very enjoyable fishing experience.” The section between Rockport and Echo reservoirs just recently became public access for anglers.
Strawberry and Currant Creek
For those willing to drive a bit farther for less-fished waters, (about one or two hours from Park City), Strawberry River and Currant Creek offer diverse fishing experiences. Immerse yourself in the steep-walled canyons, pine trees and cottonwoods at Strawberry, or experience the dry, high-desert terrain at Currant Creek.
The Uinta Mountain Lakes
There are over 650 high-country lakes in the nearby Uinta Mountains, just a 40-minute drive from Park City. Anglers often have the fishing all to themselves, and the scenery is spectacular, with excellent hiking, camping and backpacking opportunities.
Utah’s Green River is the queen of fly-fishing legends. The nearest Utah section is about a three-hour drive from Park City. Kapaloski says the Green is unique in that the water is crystal clear. “It’s well known for that —you can see the bottom of the river in 30 feet of water—so you can see the fish well. The Green also boasts one of the largest fish populations per mile of any trout-fishing stream in the world. There’s a huge density of fish,” he says.
Often the most productive way to fish the Green is to float it. Anglers without their own boat or raft can hire one of the many competent local guide services. “This will be the third season that Trout Bum 2 has guides working the Green, permitted through Ashley National Forest,” Kapaloski says.
The Green also offers fishing from the banks, and a hiking trail is interspersed with the river. “You’ll see osprey, river otters chasing fish, moose, both golden and bald eagles, and deer,” Kapaloski says.
Deer Valley Pond
A sure-fire bet for beginners right in Park City proper is to check out the stocked fish pond in front of the Stew Pot restaurant in Deer Valley. Jans Mountain Outfitters holds both weekly and private clinics. It’s a great place to practice casting, or just sit and watch fish. After a meal at the Stew Pot, diners can even throw breadcrumbs off the deck and watch the fish rise.
What You’ll Catch (or Try to)
These Park City-area rivers will yield brown trout, some rainbows, cutthroat (Utah’s only indigenous fish) and Rocky Mountain whitefish. Brook trout can be caught in the higher elevations of the Provo and the Weber. Average fish size in Utah’s rivers is between 12 and 18 inches long.
Guide Bruce Juhl recommends that Park City visitors needn’t travel with their fly-fishing equipment. “Just bring your vest and your polarized sunglasses. All of the local fly shops and guide services can provide great quality gear,” he says. “That way you don’t run the risk of losing your rod in baggage, since most airlines won’t allow anglers to check rods as ‘carry-on’ in the post-9/11 world.”
Remember that most of the fly-fishing in Utah is catch and release. Aside from needing a fishing license (available at any fly shop and many local convenience and grocery stores), pick up a proclamation for the low-down on fishing rules and regulations. Wardens frequent our river shores often, so be sure you’re fishing responsibly and within the law.
Writer Kristen Gould Case is editor of Park City Magazine and an enthusiastic, if not proficient, intermediate fly-fisherwoman who loves spending mornings on the Provo.