By John Campbell
Outdoor Source Guide Service (www.outdoorsource.net)
With the shoulder-to-shoulder pressure becoming more common to Class A streams, fly fishing small alpine lakes is becoming increasingly popular. As warm weather rapidly approaches, I'm specifically referring to waters such as the small emerald-green lakes of southern Utah's Boulder Mountain, a 3 hour 15 minute drive south and east of SLC. The Boulders may open earlier than normal this year due to lower snow levels this past winter. Even with little snow, there are a few things to keep in mind. Road conditions can be tricky at best. Come prepared for rain and snow. Storms move in and out rapidly. If the weather turns bad on the mountain it may be an excellent time to visit Capitol Reef.
Called the "Throne of the Colorado Plateau," the lush greens of the 11,000 foot Boulders contrast sharply with the fiery red desert floor of Capitol Reef National Park, located directly below it. I know of no other place on earth that offers such diversity.
Capitol Reef and the Boulders are bisected by the thin black ribbon of Highway 12, a National Scenic Byway, recognized as one of the 10 most scenic highways in America because of its incredible views. This is truly an area that offers a host of opportunities for the entire family. I've listed some areas, ideas, and activities below.
There are three improved campgrounds, with hardened sites and drinking water, found along Highway 12.
The largest is Singletree Campground, located 14 miles south of Teasdale. It offers 26 single units, 5 double units, and 2 group areas. There are Dutch-oven pits, large picnic tables, horseshoe pits, and a volleyball area. The group areas can be reserved through the MISTIX reservation system, 1-800-283-CAMP.
Pleasant Creek Campground is four miles south of Singletree and sits among old ponderosa pine trees. It has 18 single and one double unit. Pleasant Creek runs by the edge of this campground.
Oak Creek Campground is one mile south of Pleasant Creek and sits under aspen and spruce trees, offering eight single and one double unit. Oak Creek is not recommended for large vehicles and trailers because there is no turnaround point.
There are numerous possibilities for primitive camping on the Boulder Mountain above the highway. Just be careful with impacts.
There are over 80 fishable lakes on the Boulder Mountain, which contain brook, rainbow, and cutthroat trout, splake, and a small population of grayling. The lakes are generally frozen November through May. Some may open sooner this year, but access may be difficult. The Forest Service asks that you stick to existing roads only.
University of Utah fly fishing instructor Norm Albiston (who also teaches fly fishing schools at the Lodge at Red River Ranch) does a lot of flyfishing on the Boulder Mountain. Norm has a tremendous reputation as a stream fisherman on the Provo and Green River of Utah and the Wind Rivers of Wyoming. He was an instant convert to the Boulders, and provided the hints listed below:
"My experience in teaching hundreds of fly fishermen is that many know how to fish streams, but few know how to fish lakes. What little experience they do have is either fishing for hatchery planters on small lakes or trophy raised planters in private ponds. Few feel confident on wild lakes, particularly high mountain lakes with their problems of accessibility, and the wary nature of the fish. And the occasional visits from bear. . .
"Some of the lakes are very challenging, while other lakes just a few hundred yards away are so simple to fish that my 11 year old son could easily catch 10 to 15 fish per hour. I was surprised how clear the water is. Many are underground spring fed with no apparent inlet. It's almost spooky to be in a float tube and look 30 feet down into the water and feel like you could count the gills on a mayfly. These are no put and take lakes with stupid trout, but a highly selective system rewarding the trout who have learned to use every instinct to their advantage. It is predator vs. predator in the pristine wilderness.
"For spring fishing take along scuds, olive damsel nymphs, callibaetis nymphs, wooly buggers, CBS leeches, prince nymphs and blue dun squirrel tail. I enjoy putting on a second 'dropper fly' and trying for two fish at a time on the same line. When the fishing is good for the one and a half to two pounders, having two on at once heightens the challenge.
"The sheer variety of the Boulder Mountain lakes, the insects, the scenery and fishing make this an ideal campus for the lake fisherman.
"And, there is really nothing mysterious about the techniques which work. Once the right fly is on, and you are over the fish, standard lake fishing methods work fine. Moderately long casts with short retrieves punctuated by pauses work almost everywhere. When I am searching for fish or just need a break, I will let my line out until I can see the backing and just slowly troll around the lake. If I'm quiet and allow my line to sink slowly, generally I can determine both the location and depth the fish are feeding.
"Not getting into a rut is vital. Keep trying different depths, retrieves and areas before you give up on the fish or a pattern. I find fishermen normally accustomed to fishing rivers change flies too often. Patience is more valuable than a box full of flies. Though I carry a lot of flies, I only carry five or six patterns of nymphs and three or four dry flies. These may vary a little over the season, but more in size than anything. A good discipline is to limit the number of options you have and force yourself to make them work. Of course, having the right pattern helps.
"My favorites nymphs are the prince and pheasant tails, tied in the traditional way or with a partridge hackle. These are tied in smaller sizes for lakes, usually 18s are best, but at times 16s work well. Normally, three favorites found in streams and lower-elevation lakes (damsels, dragons and scuds) are not important at high altitudes. But the Boulders are so far south, all three are found in surprising numbers. In shallow lakes, they become very important. At times the lakes are littered with hundreds of the adults damsels and fish take them with a savage slash. Where you find scuds you find not only fish, but big fish. Here, some scuds in the spring are 3/4 of an inch long. I prefer to tie them in pearl white, and green.
"A damsel fly nymph is indispensable in the summer and fall. Often there is so much feed under water, few fish rise. The best fishing both in quantity and quality is under water.
"Like everyone, we have our secret flies that no respectable fish lets by with out a look. One of my favorites is a fly my son named: 'The Hunter.' This red impressionistic fly lives up to its name. Howell Raines, author of the best selling book, Flyfishing Through the Mid-life Crisis , commented that they were remarkably like a pattern he uses in Vermont. Learning to fish nymphs in lakes is the key to more and better fishing.
"The best dry fly is the black ant. Of the many ants I have tried over the years, the best is the black ant described in Jack Dennis' Western Fly Tying Manual Vol. #1. It not only presents a beautifully silhouetted fly but, with the addition of two or three coats of head cement on the body, makes a durable fly that stands up to the misuse of dozens of fish. This comes in handy when you are backpacking and there isnÕt the space for hundreds of flies. Like the scuds I described above, I have never seen black ants as large as those in the Boulders. I have collected ants that are nearly an inch long. These monsters are more the size of bees than ants. A size 16 pattern, however, works most often.
"Next, I like the elk hair caddis and renegade, tied in size 16s and 18s. Finally, a well tied adult damsel can often take a large cruising trout in the shallows during the day."
According to recreation guides available at the Teasdale Ranger Station, from the Utah Travel Council, and the Capitol Reef National Park visitor's center, there are 3 recommended mountain biking routes: the Aquarius Plateau, Boulder Top, and Tantalus Creek. Pick up a guide for more info.
Aside from National Scenic Byway, Highway 12, mentioned above, another interesting drive can be found along the west side of Boulder Mountain on a good, mostly graveled road, Escalante Road #154. This road is featured in the Utah Watchable Wildlife tour guide as an excellent area to see waterfowl and the largest herd of antelope in Utah. Continue on to Escalante or take the cut-off to Boulder town and drive through Hell's Backbone, another fascinating piece of this geologic wonderland.
You just might want to keep southern Utah's Boulder mountains in mind for a fine fishing and outdoor experience for the whole family.
About the author: John Campbell is a U.S. Forest Service permitted guide in the Boulder mountain area, a free-lance writer and University of Utah instructor. His service, the Outdoor Source, offers both day trips and overnight fishing trips. They specialize in small groups, families, corporate groups, adventure outings, and "off-site" retreats.
Norm Albiston is the flyfishing and fly tying instructor at the University of Utah and a high school teacher in Bountiful, Utah.
Norm and John will be conducting a guide rendezvous in conjunction with the University of Utah this summer. If you are a fly fisher who would like to learn the guide business and would like to learn more about how to teach your future clients, this workshop may be for you. For information, call John Campbell at the U of U, 581-7519 or at home at 466-9324 (SLC) or (801) 836-2372 in southern Utah in the summer.