Discovering small streams
Many Utah anglers ignore some of the best fishing in our incredible state. In the course of a year, I would bet that my inbox is 10 to 1 filled with questions about fishing on lakes. It is rare that I field questions about fishing rivers or streams. Yet, in the heat of the summer and after the second Saturday in July, on many of the tributaries to our most popular mountain reservoirs (Strawberry and Scofield to be specific), the fishing season begins in earnest and thousands of eager trout await a well-presented fly or spinner.
At this point let me urge you to pick up a copy of the 2014 Fishing Guidebook from a local sporting goods or convenience store, or download it from wildlife.utah.gov. Small streams in Utah are managed by the DWR and have strange seasons and daily creel limits that require some study before venturing out with your rod, reel and creel.
Right now the tributaries around Strawberry and Scofield are excellent places to spend a day, week or month. Most of these streams were off limits during the spring but now are open to fishing (although catch and release is the rule). Years ago, when I wrote my first column about these streams, my son, Chris, decided to take a quick trip to the Strawberry Valley and he caught some nice cutthroats only to find out he was a week early. He got a ticket for fishing before the season opened. Lesson learned. Read my columns closely.
My approach to fishing small streams is similar to how I approach a river. In fact, last Saturday, my wife and I made a 30-mile bike ride from Utah Lake to Vivian Park in Provo Canyon along the Provo River. Due to irrigation season, the Provo River is more like a small stream than a river for a large part of its path from Deer Creek to Utah Lake. As we rode, I noticed small, deep holes in many areas of the river that looked very inviting. A lot of fish were hitting the surface and anglers could reach the rising trout from the bank or from the riverbed in waders. Missing from the equation, however, were anglers. We only saw a handful of people taking the opportunity to catch some very nice brown trout.
As you spy out a good stretch of stream, be aware that trout are ambush predators and wait behind structure for their forage to come to them. Logs, rocks, moss or grass become current breaks behind which trout will suspend in waiting mode. A well-placed dry fly or nymph, or a small Panther Martin spinner in a trout color moved past one of these pieces of structure will invite a strike from an aggressive trout.
My rule for spinners is simple and easy. Throw the smallest spinner (that looks like a fish) you can. You must cast it so use no more than 4- to 6-pound test line with fluorocarbon is my personal choice.
I am not going to try to tell you exactly which flies to use because it will vary with the stream or river. Just know that small dry flies like a single Renegade or an Elk Hair Caddis or their equivalent will do just fine. I like a shorter fly rod just because some of the places you might fish will be tight spots that could present problems for a longer rod.
Finally, here are a few streams to check out: Hobble Creek above the campgrounds, Thistle Creek between the confluence and Birdseye, Gooseberry Creek above Scofield, Daniels Creek above Heber, and American Fork River in the canyon section.
Once you master the technique of catching fish in small streams, the world will become your oyster and everywhere you look while traveling through the mountains of Utah will be another fishing opportunity in another small stream.