By Jerry Spangler
When you think of rugged mountain peaks, pristine alpine lakes and stunning wilderness scenery, you automatically think of the High Uintas.
While the Uintas may be Utah's most famous mountain fishing, it is by no means the only high-country fishing in the state. In fact, Utah's most impressive high-country fishing just might be found in the Boulder Mountains-Aquarius Plateau region of south-central Utah.
Most of plateau sits above the 10,000-foot level, while most of the alpine lakes — more than 1,000 in number — sit just below the plateau rim. Many of the lakes have good fishing and some even produce large fish.
Like the Uintas, most of the good lakes are accessible only by packing in or hiking. Off-road vehicles are allowed on some trails.
Despite the bounty of high-mountain fishing in the Boulders, most of the lakes remain undiscovered by backpackers or fishermen. In an effort to expose Utah anglers to some of the best (and certainly most under-used) fishing waters anywhere in the state, UTAH FISHING will periodically profile these waters.
A couple miles west of Escalante in Garfield County, a graveled road takes off to the north. The road parallels North Creek, passes North Creek Reservoir and begins a steep ascent to the 9,500-foot level. The road becomes narrower and narrower as you reach the top, but is passable by most vehicles and even campers and trailers.
About 10 miles from the main highway, the road dead-ends at Barker Reservoir. Barker Reservoir is also the trailhead to seven other lakes within a two-mile radius, at least six of which produce excellent fishing.
Barker Reservoir, itself, is a good-to-excellent fishing hole, but because it is right by the road it usually gets a lot of fishing pressure from campers and local anglers. It has deep water (canoes, rafts or small fishing boats would work well here), it is a good-sized lake and it is stocked regularly with catchable rainbows that can grow to the 2-pound range in a hurry.
Fishing is good here through late June, but the extremely warm temperatures of late-summer often force the fish to deeper water, making them harder to catch except for anglers using floating devices. Evening fishing with lures and flies remains good throughout the summer and fall.
Barker reservoir is the largest of the eight lakes in the immediate area.
A half-mile away (and an easy hike by any standard of measure) lies Lower Barker Reservoir, a lake slightly smaller than Barker Reservoir. It is the second-largest lake in the area. It also gets a lot of pressure, but fishing here is usually better than the Barker Reservoir itself. It also has some rainbows in it.
Over the ridge and about another half-mile away lies Joe Lay Reservoir, a small lake popular among local anglers, but one that doesn't get a whole lot of pressure from outsiders.
"It's been a local secret for years and years," said Sheldon Steed, Escalante. "Nobody really knew it was even there or that it had fish. When we fished it, we would always take a roundabout way into it and back out so people would think we were fishing one of the other lakes. It was our secret."
Steed warns that the lake is marshy and hard to fish, but once you get the hang of it, it produces better fishing than any other lake in the area. The brook trout here range up to one pound.
About another one-half mile away from Joe Lay is Flat Lake, another lake that is often ignored by most hikers and anglers (neither Flat Lake or Joe Lay are listed on the trailhead guide). Flat Lake has a lot of fish, most of them on the smaller side (in the 1/2-pound to one-pound range).
Around the corner about another one-half mile away (1.7 miles from the Barker Reservoir trailhead) lies Blue Lake and Yellow Lake. Blue Lake is the least-fished lake in the region and is loaded with brook trout, most of them quite small.
"You can snake as many out of there as you want to catch," said Steed. "It's a lot of fun, but the fish don't get very big." Most of the fish in Blue Lake range up to 1/2-pound in size.
At one time, Yellow Lake was the best lake in the area for fishing. Now, the only fish in Yellow Lake are brook trout caught by local anglers in Blue Lake and then dumped into Yellow Lake.
Seven lakes: fish all in one weekend!
"Of all the lakes up here, Yellow Lake has the most potential," said Steed. "It used to be really good fishing with some really big fish. The locals would come up here and they would clean out the inlet and outlet and they would take care of it. Since the Forest Service closed the roads, no one's taken care of it and it's pretty well dead now."
The Lower Barker, Joe Lay, Flat Lake, Yellow Lake and Blue Lake all lie just to the north of Barker Reservoir. The hike into them is not difficult, though very few people undertake the endeavor.
To the west of Barker Reservoir lies two more lakes that can provide excellent fishing. Dougherty Basin is a picturesque lake less than a mile from the trailhead that produces brook trout ranging up to two pounds. It's a steep hike into it, but is well worth the effort.
Over the hill only a short distance from Dougherty lies Tall Four Reservoir, the smallest lake in the area (it's about the same size as Blue Lake and Yellow Lake). The lake is loaded with small fish, most of them brook trout.
Tall Four is not listed on the trailhead either and, as a result, it doesn't get much pressure either.
All seven lakes (eight if you count Yellow Lake) are typical high-country lakes. They are surrounded by thick pine and aspen forests that are loaded with wildlife, springs and flowers.
Most of the lakes have been planted with brook trout, though Barker and Lower Barker have rainbows as well. Evening fishing with flies, small lures and natural baits produce the best results, though fish can be caught all day long with practice and patience.
Access to the lakes is on foot, though the hikes are short and most of them are not steep or difficult. It would not be difficult to pack in an inflatable canoe or raft to fish the deeper waters of the lakes.
It also would not be difficult to fish all seven lakes in one weekend and have tremendous results on every one of them. But once you see the beauty of these lakes, you realize there's no way you would want to rush yourself like that. Plan on at least three days here, four or five days would be better.
Two other lakes, Long Willow Bottom Reservoir and Round Willow Bottom Reservoir are also in this immediate area (about a 2-mile hike), but access to the lakes has been restricted while authorities repair damage to the reservoirs themselves.
For detailed maps of the area, the Barker Reservoir section map, available for $2.50 from the U.S. Geological Survey, is your best bet.
Copyright Dave Webb, 2005