Vol. 5, #13, July 15, 1991
By John Campbell, Outdoor Source Guide Service
Hi. Do you feel up to a fish story,...a real fish story? I know, I know, everybody's got one. But, can you really resist just one more? Come over a little closer so's we can keep this just between you and me. This story's about trout so thick they're bumpin' heads.
When cabin fever first hits you on the head on a sun-shiny spring day, tell the family or your buddies to pack up; that you've had enough of civilization and you're all leaving... ASAP.
The destination for this getaway is Fish Creek Reservoir, located on the Boulder Mountains above Grover, a sleepy little town about five hours of highway driving south and east of Salt Lake City. You'll want to fuel in Bicknell or Torrey before you start up the mountain. I'm in the habit of spending my first night at the Sunglow motel in Bicknell or the Wonderland Inn in Torrey before taking the rough road up the following day.
The Wonderland Inn is brand new, has a great view and a full service restaurant. Owners Ray and Diane are fine folks who go out of their way to help you.
The Sunglow is another good choice. Good staff and a fabulous restaurant. Try their Burger Buster special and fresh pickle or pecan pie. What a treat, and at a great price!
Give em' a look. You won't regret it! I'd recommend either place for the night.
Swing into Teasdale and visit the Ranger station. The rangers also have some good maps and can advise you about road conditions in the higher elevations. Don't be put off if you don't have a seven-foot high 4X4 truck or a black and red checkered wool shirt.
Take some time to see the visitor's center located in Capitol Reef National Park a few miles down the road. Capitol Reef National Park is only nine miles away and is well worth a visit. It's located on Utah Highway 12, part of the "Boulder-Grover Road," which has been designated as a National Scenic Byway. You'll see spruce, aspen, Ponderosa pine, the Henry Mountains to the east, Monument Valley and Navajo Mountain. Wildlife is abundant and includes deer, elk, antelope, eagles, hawks and a few animals I haven't been able to figure out yet.
About 10 miles from Teasdale you'll see a well-marked dirt road on your right. Take it and you're ready to climb. At this point, I'd recommend at least a pickup truck, and a 4x4 if the road looks the least bit damp or muddy. For any excursion to 10,000 feet or more, always expect the unexpected. Good tires and a hi-lift jack are highly recommended.
Another thing you should be ready for - critters. Loosely defined, critters are any variety of biting insect you might encounter in them thar hills. Insect repellent is absolutely required. You just know that any bug that lives up there is a survivor. And, he's been waiting for you since first thaw. Humans are nothing short of prime rib on their menu. And, if you should be unfortunate enough to be around during a hatch (and you probably will), you can expect them up your nose and between your toes before it's all over, if you're not prepared. 'Nuff said.
But, oh, the drive! Driving to Fish Creek, or any of the North Slope lakes, is like driving into a postcard, if you can imagine that. The contrasts between the red rock desert floor and the cool, cool greens of the mountain side are simply breath taking. Take a camera or nobody's gonna believe you! You'll begin a rapid ascent on a bumpy, winding road. The first turn-off you'll see will be on your right. You'll want to continue past this turnoff as it goes to a trailhead leading to Lost Lake. Good fishing early in the season, these lakes tend to be drawn down fairly rapidly due to agricultural demands below.
Keep on going up. Within the hour, you'll encounter the Fish Creek turnoff. It's a scenic hike or a very rough drive (4X4 needed), but the evening fly fishing is nothing short of spectacular. Nine miles, 4,000 incredible feet up and 90 minutes from the turnoff, you'll be at Fish Creek, a lot closer to heaven than you have been for a while, I'll bet. At this point, the trip will already be worth the effort.
Fish Creek Reservoir: 30 surface acres, 28 feet deep, elevation: 10,200 feet
You've arrived, and your group may look something like mine - a diverse and, to all outward appearances, a rather slovenly group of seven men from all walks of life (a physician, a car salesman, three businessmen, a student and a bus driver), ready to relate to nature, to become one with the lake. But immediately you're in a quandary. What to do? Set up camp or set up your fishing pole? Believe me, I know what you're going through! You can see the water boilin' and it isn't from the heat! If you have any sense at all (like I don't), you will set up camp before it's dark and before you can't tell your tailgate from your spare-tire carrier.
Come morning you awaken to the cry: "The Fish! The Fish!" You'll swear you just fell out of a nightmare from Fantasy Island but it's not the gleeful voice of a dwarf announcing the arrival of an airplane, it's one of your fishin' buddies. It's not a nightmare! It's a dream come true! Fish. Fish like you haven't seen for years! They're everywhere! Fat, feisty, floundering, fabulous fish. Rainbow, cutthroat, brookies, all bumpin' heads, for Pete's sake! Catching one of these fish was like reeling in a brick with a bad attitude. The same kind of attitude you have when you're gridlocked in traffic at rush hour back in the city.
Oh, and, by the way, bring one of those really wide-angle lenses for your camera, cause you'll never get a whole fish in one picture if you don't (I'm just trying to save you a lot of film here). When was the last time you actually had to stop fishing to keep from breaking the law (not to mention your arm)? Fish Creek will put you under that kind of stress. The faint of heart need not apply here. But, not to worry! You've got a few days ahead of you to settle in and settle down.
The first morning is really a sight to behold. Seven men using seven different fishing rigs, seemingly going seven different directions at once. Three guys head out in a small aluminum boat (no motors of any type are allowed up here). The good doctor is armed to the teeth in the latest technology, chest waders, swim fins, and float-tube, flip flopping his way backwards (flippers don't allow for efficient forward movement) down to the water, an imposing sight, indeed. Dave and I set up on the shore line. The fish are really in for it this fine day. There ain't nothing they won't see as far as fishing lures, dry flies and bait is concerned. The guys in the boat are using lightweight hardware - daredevils, triple teasers and the like. The doctor can be seen leisurely casting out a fly. I'm floating a small piece of nightcrawler behind a bubble, and Dave (good ol' Dave) is using the same worm leftover on his hook from last year. Just lookin' at that sorry piece of leftover lunch on his hook first thing in the morning made me glad breakfast hadn't been served.
I was having the most luck slowly retrieving my bait until a fish stopped it, then waiting until he really nailed it the second time around. But, it didn't really seem to matter. Everybody was kept busy, even Dave. Just goes to show you that, in spite of constant schooling, fish still know only two things: fear and hunger; and these particular fish had no concept of the former. None of us could remember the last time we actually had to ease up and give the fish a break. This would be one of those times.
That evening another phenomenon occurred. As the sun dropped over the far side of the mountain, little dimples started dotting the surface of the lake, just a few at first, then it looked as though the sky had opened up and raindrops had covered the whole lake. It wasn't rain though, but trout on the rise, a fly-fisherman's dream. Everybody was back off their butts and rigging up their fly rods. This was the perfect opportunity for a little catch and release fishing and working on some rather rusty techniques. If this wasn't heaven, I don't know what is.
As you know, a fishing trip is always a learning experience. This trip was no different. On my last visit to the Boulder Mountains, for instance, I learned about trout cheeks. Did you know that trout cheeks are the sweetest, tenderest part of the whole fish? My ol' buddy, Byron Curtis, told me this, so its got to be true. Carving out cheek fillets is a bit tricky at first, but with a little persistence, you'll get it right soon enough. On this same sojourn, 1 learned that the four basic food groups were really cholesterol, fat, sugar and salt, i.e. anything with more than 1/2 calorie. (Somebody opined that Jack Daniels was the the fifth (I guess no pun was intended), but he was soon laying on his lips next to the fire, so we all let that one ride. Some people's priorities, for Pete's sake).
Anyway, it's necessary for you to remember that the mountains are no place for diets. Syrupy french toast, gobs of crisp bacon, and gallons of hot steamy coffee for breakfast, fat T-bones and buttered potatoes, baked in the hot coals of your waning evening campfire, are typical fare up here. You'll burn off any extra calories. If not from haulin' in fish then from hiking around to the many other lakes in the area. There's too much good country around here not to do a little exploring. There's time enough for suffering when you go back to civilization.
Ah, the evening campfire. Everyone had had their fill of pulling in fish. There is nothing as relaxing as sitting around a campfire getting lost in your own thoughts while staring into the slowly dwindling yellow-orange flames. Tall tales, laughter, and recollections of previous trips are all ingredients to the total experience. It seems that good friends never seem to have enough time together and a trip like this only brings that point home more. Incidentally, there's plenty of firewood around to gather. It's a little scarce near the campsites, but you'll see piles of it on the way up the mountain. Dead and diseased timber is cut and cleared regularly by the Forest Service. Grab some of it on the way up.
It's 10:30 and the embers pop one last time. You're weary like you haven't been for way too long.
Walking around the rocky terrain of the lake has extended muscles you haven't used in some time. You're arms are weary from reeling in and releasing trout. Your mind is reeling also, from the memories you've all recounted around the fire. Laying on your back in the warm confines of your sleeping bag, the last thing you see before drifting off are the heavens and the stars, stars as big around as quarters, a vision undistorted by pollution and bright city lights. You sleep.
O.K. I've set you up. I've told you where you can get in some great fishing and see some beautiful country.
If Fish Creek doesn't turn out to be a heavy hitter when you come to see it, not to worry; there's an old axiom about Utah's high mountain lakes: If the fishin' is slow where you're at, just take a short hike or drive to a nearby lake, they're bound to be hittin' there. The rest is up to you.
Be sure you leave a clean camp site. I did. Tread lightly and stay on existing roads and trails. We've got to protect what we've got. The only reason you have such a great place to go is because of the care the people before you took to leave it that way. A small price to pay, don't you think? You'll go home bone tired, a little more aware of yourself, and totally satiated. I guarantee you'll be good for another four months of whatever it is you go through. Please excuse me for occasionally tripping over the tongue in my cheek.
Remember, now, this is just our little secret.
The Forest Service number is 1-800-283-CAMP to reserve improved camp sites near the highway. The Teasdale Ranger District number is (801) 425-3702. Give them a call for an up-date on the weather and the road conditions.
I'll see you later on the back roads.