Utah is home to some of the most diverse fly fishing opportunities in the United States. From high alpine lakes and streams, cottonwood lined subalpine valleys all way to the gorgeous red rock desert, anglers looking to cast flies to trout have a lot to choose from.
Boasting a year-round season, there is never a bad time to chase trout on one of many locations throughout the state. Whether your preferred style is casting large terrestrials or minuscule mayflies, monster streamers or dredging nymphs, opportunities abound.
The Best Places to Fish in Utah:
Anglers wanting to fly fish Utah would be doing themselves a disservice if they never hopped into a boat with one of the fine individuals guiding on Utah’s famed Green River. Utah’s Green River, or, “The Green” as the locals refer to it, is one of the best dry fly fisheries in the Country.
From April through November, hefty brown and rainbow trout line the banks of this hallowed ditch, sipping mayfly and midge emergers and eating from a terrestrial menu that includes ants, beetles, crickets, hoppers and the famed Green River Cicada. Dry fly enthusiasts should have, at the very least, the biblical cicada hatch as a top priority on their trout fishing checklist. The nymphing is good year-round, and the streamer fishing can be at times easier than using bait, but what really makes this place special is the trout’s willingness to look up and eat big foam bugs. The other thing to note is that guides on the Green claim that fishing dry flies will consistently yield some of the larger fish in the river-something that rivers of similar fame cannot generally boast about.
The best time to fly fish the Green River is May through October. The Cicadas start to emerge from their earthly womb in May and really get cranking towards the end of June. The only issue here is that June is typically when the state releases a “flood stage” flow in order to create flood plains around the confluence of the Yampa River. This is to allow the endangered Razor Back Sucker (a native fish) to spawn. These increased flows (river usually runs between 1400-2400 CFS) of 8,000 CFS give or take, can really hamper the dry fly fishing, but as long as the guide or rower can hover the boat, and the angler can pound the bank, fish will still come up to grab a meaty morsel or chase down a flashy articulated streamer.
Beyond the Green River, Utah is home to a handful of other tailwater fisheries as well as some epic, lesser-known freestone rivers. A quick forty-minute drive from downtown Salt Lake will take you to either the Weber River or the Provo River-both listed as Blue Ribbon Fisheries. Both systems are broken up into 3 distinct sections; The upper (freestone), the middle (tailwater) and the lower (tailwater).
The Upper Provo River flows freely from the high alpine Uinta mountain range (the only range to transverse east to west in the lower 48) into the Jordanelle reservoir. Access near the reservoir is tough as it is locked up in private property, but the upper stretch, located off Mirror Lake highway is 100% public and has some of the most scenic fishing Utah has to offer. This stretch is perfect for 2-3 weight rods, medium to large-sized attractor patterns as well as a host of gaudy looking nymphs.
The Middle Provo River leaves the Jordanelle reservoir and winds through an idyllic cottonwood lined valley flanked to the west by the Wasatch mountains and the imposing Mt Timpanogas to the South. Early summer hatches of green drakes can be prolific, and even the most novice of dry fly anglers can expect to land a handful of fish. Due to this stretch of the river having the closest proximity to the outlying metropolis, and it being 100% public, it is one of the busiest stretches of river in the state. Being as busy as the river is, most anglers have success fishing heavily weighted nymph rigs, however, the dedicated dry fly angler will usually be successful.
The Lower Provo flows out of Deer Creek Reservoir through the steep-walled Provo River canyon. This stretch of the river generally boasts larger fish, as well as a healthy population of rainbow trout. The spring Baetis hatch is hard to beat on this stretch. Once the summertime flows start, the fishing can get difficult as the river picks up speed as well as depth. Catching the fish isn’t the issue, it’s keeping them on. The only downside to this stretch of river is that regulations allow for non-motorized boating, which can be awesome if fishing from a raft, but miserable if wade fishing due to the ever-present “tube hatch” during the warmer months.
Upper Weber River is similar to the Upper Provo, both start in the Uinta Mountain Range. The biggest difference is, while the terminus of the Provo system in Utah Lake, the Weber eventually finds its way into the Great Salt Lake. The Upper Weber has some great public access, however, that access can be difficult to find. The best bet is to look at Utah’s department of wildlife resources website (https://wildlife.utah.gov/).
The Middle Weber River has the best access along the system, with a series of fisherman’s ladders and gates as well as Walk-in access points or WIA. To fish WIA points, the angler will need to update their fishing license online to receive a free WIA number. The state wants to keep track of use, so please sign in while fishing these areas. The middle weber is home to some legendary brown trout as well as a smattering of cutthroat and rainbows. Expect to fish PMD’s, yellow sallies, hoppers and of course, Caddis. During the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch on the Middle Weber be sure to wear a buff to avoid chomping on some caddis candy throughout the duration of the hatch.
The Lower Weber River is the longest stretch of river and has a handful of access points below the Echo Reservoir, as well as a pullout or two on its way to Ogden. There is a handful of good access points in or near Ogden as well, again look at Utah’s DWR website for directions and regulations.
If solitude is paramount to your fishing experience, check out the Uinta Mountain Range, specifically Mirror Lake Highway, and the abundant freestone and tailwaters stemming out of the south slope of the mountain range. Mirror Lake highway hosts smaller alpine lakes than can be counted or visited in a lifetime and most of those lakes have fish in them. Expect to catch browns, brookies, cuts, goldens, splake, tiger trout, arctic grayling, and even tiger musky-if you know where to look. Most of the lakes are within an hour hike from a trailhead, but one could venture for days on end fishing new water each day, with no stopping in sight. Some great areas to fish off Mirror Lake highway are the Crystal Lake trailhead, the lofty lakes loop trailhead or Christmas Meadows. Small streams and high alpine lakes abound and hold some of the best trout fishing in Utah.
The South Slope Uinta Rivers are what we at the shop call “tight-lipped zones.” These areas are special to not only anglers but also hunters, hikers, horseback riders and the Tribal nations that call this area home. The best way to find these places is to pick up a book, fill up the truck and head out on Highway 40 for an adventure. We all need a little bit of that now and then. Keep in mind there are separate regulations for fishing tribal water, and a tribal license is necessary, but often difficult to come by.
Last, but not least, I would be remiss to not include the legendary Strawberry Reservoir on this list. Located off Highway 40, Strawberry Reservoir is a monster lake. Home to kokanee salmon, rainbows, browns and the largest cutthroat in the state, the Strawberry is a serious stillwater angler’s dream come true. The best time to fish this beast is in the spring during the “ice off.” Chuck a lightly colored streamer onto the ice, strip back and enjoy the ride. This is the best time of year to fish without a boat. Later in the summer, the fish hang lower in the lake making them more difficult to target from the bank. Gear fishermen are all over the lake trolling for “kokes” and monster cutties.
As we get closer to fall something truly amazing happens on the lake; the “mouse hatch.” For whatever reason, as the weather cools and the leaves start to fall, the fish start to attack the mouse fly with reckless abandon. It’s not uncommon to have an eat as soon as the fly smacks the water begging the question, “what the hell would a mouse be doing this far off the bank?” I don’t know, and honestly, I don’t care too much, I just know the fish are as stoked as me. Best fished from a boat, walk and wade anglers will also find success. Cast as far as possible and strip back with a visible wake-you’ll get something.
Utah Fishing Regulations and Seasons:
An angler with some serious motivation can fish every day of the year in Utah. While there are some local restrictions and seasons on particular cutthroat and kokanee rivers and lakes, the majority of blue lines on the map can be fished any time of year that conditions allow. The regulations surrounding harvesting fish differ by drainage and even section of the river. Make sure to check out Utah’s regulations on the DWR website: https://wildlife.utah.gov/fishing/fishing-regulations.html
Utah’s native fish:
Utah claims four native species of cutthroat trout. These trout range the state from the upper Northwest corner to the sandstone desert of Escalante making fishing for each species a truly unique experience.
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout- The official fish of the great state of Utah is endemic to ancient waterways flowing in and out of the late Pleistocene Lake Bonneville. While these fish came to be in Utah, populations in nearby states have been recorded as well. A sparingly spotted trout with a lighter background, the Bonneville Cutthroat has a lighter colored “slash” below its jaw.
Bear River Cutthroat Trout- Similar to the Bonneville Cutthroat, the Bear River Cut evolved in the same Lake Bonneville system, but higher up and closer to Utah and Idaho’s Bear Lake. Ancient waterways from Bear Lake most likely flowed into the Snake River system and Bear River system re-routing them, and isolating them from their cousins-resulting in unique genetics for this fish. The Bear River Cut eats with reckless abandon and can grow into some impressive specimens. You can find some goliath Bear River Cutthroat in Strawberry Reservoir.
Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout- Native to the Snake River system, the Yellowstone Cut can be found in the northwest corner of Utah, truly native and wild Yellowstone Cut’s can only be found in one stream up North. Utah has planted these fish in a handful of streams and lakes throughout the state so if it’s on your list, you don’t necessarily need to head north.
Colorado River Cutthroat- Native to the Colorado River system, the Colorado River Cut sports the most vibrant of colors year-round, but especially when they are gearing up to spawn. These gorgeous examples of isolated evolution can be found in many of the high elevation lakes near Salt Lake City all the way down to the Aquarius Plateau near Escalante.
Best Outfitters and Guides in the State:
Jans Mountain Outfitters, Park City, UT 435-649-4949, www.jans.com
Jans specializes in fishing the rivers near Park City Utah. Jans guides the Weber, Provo and Strawberry Systems as well as hosting trips into the High Uinta wilderness. Once you have seen enough of Utah, the fine guides at Jans can also arrange for trips to Southwestern Wyoming.
Best of the best: Travis Vernon, Billy Cosby, Will Manhart, Kris Clemons, “Danger” Dave, Woody Sideris and Mike Matthews
Trout Bum 2, Park City, UT 84098 435-658-1166, www.troutbum2.com
Specializing in local trips near and around Park City all the way to Wyoming, Trout Bum 2 also has a coveted permit for the Green River below Flaming Gorge. Ask for Aaron Adams-local legend or Jack Williams for the Green.
Green River Guides/Outfitters:
Trout Bum 2 (See above)
Western Rivers Green River Guide Service, Dutch John, Utah 84023 435-790-6465 http://wrfguides.com/
Some of the hardest working guides in the Country, The boys, and gals at Western Rivers are also some of the best rowers in the game. These guys specialize in dry fly fishing but know how to get them when the bite has turned subsurface. They also have a shuttle service for those with their own boat.
Best of the Best: Matt Lucas, Eli Koles, Cam Sessions, Brett Renard, Cori Alice and Darren Bowcutt.
Trout Creek Flies, Dutch John, Utah 84023, 435-885-3355 www.troutcreekflies.com
The best fly shop in Dutch John is also the best place to stay, get a guide, rent a raft or arrange for a shuttle. Trout Creek Flies is also the only place you can get a hot breakfast in town.
This article has been written by Bransford Briggs, the fly shop manager of Jans Mountain Sports located in Park City Utah. Be sure to check them out online here or on Instagram at @jans_experts.
Photos courtesy of Ross Downard, a talented photographer based in Utah. Be sure to check out his website http://rossdownard.com/.