If you enjoy solitude, cool, sweet-smelling air and beautiful alpine scenery along with your fishing, the high Unita Mountains are beckoning.
The high alpine meadows, hundreds of lakes and streams, and breathtaking panoramic views are now open to hikers and fishermen. Because of abnormally warm spring weather, the Uintas were clear of snow from two weeks to a month early in some spots.
In the Uintas, you'll seldom hook into a lunker trout, but at times the fishing can be fast and fun – especially for those who know something about fishing in the high country. Even if the fishing is slow, no one can leave the Uintas not having had a great experience. In the Uintas is found the ultimate opportunity for relaxation, closeness to nature and freedom from the pressures and hubbub of modern society.
Roger Wilson understands all that very well. He spends a great deal of his time in the Uintas, traveling on horseback from lake to lake, drainage to drainage, alpine meadow to alpine meadow.
He is one of two Division of Wildlife Resources wilderness conservation officers assigned to patrol the high country and monitor the fishing and other wildlife resources.
Wilson said fishing in the high country can be very unpredictable. "We'll sometimes have a group that can't catch a thing on a lake and then a few days later another group will just kill them."
In general, he expects fishing in the Uintas to be good this summer. His own favorite time to be in the high country is September when the crowds are gone and the nights are chilly. "The fishing really gets excellent in September and early October," he said.
But from now until school starts is when most people will explore the Uintas. And if you make the trip this year, you ought to know something about the fishing there.
Most of the fish you will catch in the Uintas have been stocked. But that doesn't mean the streams and lakes there are "put and take" fisheries. The fish are planted, generally, by airplane as fingerlings and fry, only one and one-half to three inches long. That means they have to survive a few years to reach catchable size. That makes them far more "wild" than fish in some waters that are planted as catchables and are expected to be harvested in the same season.
"We rely on overwinter survival and growth in the lakes for catchable fish," Wilson said.
However, some of the lakes right along the highway – like Trial, Butterfly Pass and Mirror Lake – get catchable fish planted to cope with the heavy pressure. Lakes that are fished heavily are generally stocked every year, Wilson said. Others in more remote regions that don't get much pressure are stocked less often, some only every five to six years.
Wilson and Glenn Davis, DWR fisheries management coordinator, both said that many high country lakes don't get much pressure and could stand more. However, these are the lakes off the beaten path, away from the crowds. There are more than 600 lakes in the Uintas, some of which are seldom visited by humans.
Spring comes late and fall comes early in the high country. The short growing season means fish take a long time to get big. Another factor is that the cold, clear water doesn't contain the abundance of nutrients needed for quick growth. "The fish don't grow real fast or real large," Wilson said. "But you can still find nice fish, above three pounds, in the right places."
Most of the fish in the Uintas are cutthroat and brook trout. They're found in about equal abundance throughout the mountain lakes, Wilson said. A few lakes have rainbow trout and 15 to 20 lakes have grayling. A few golden trout can be found, but they are few and far between. Wilson said he's only aware of one lake with much of a population of golden trout. Some people mistake the albino trout raised in the Kamas fish hatchery for golden trout, Wilson said. The albinos are a variety of rainbow and are not golden trout.
"We haven't had a lot of success with the golden trout," Wilson said. "The golden trout don't compete well with other species. We've tried to stock several lakes and it hasn't worked well. You almost have to remove the other species so they can be by themselves."
To get into excellent fishing Wilson said, a Uintas visitor ought to get off the beaten path. "You don't really have to go in a long ways. Find lakes that don't have trails to them, but that are stocked."
He advises Uintas fishermen to buy some or all of the small booklets the DWR publishes about the Uintas and study them. There are 10 booklets costing $1 each. Each covers an area of the Uintas. The booklets show trails and lakes and offer some descriptions, including which lakes are stocked.
Wilson said he prefers not to pinpoint specific lakes that provide excellent fishing or extra large fish because he doesn't want large crowds at any particular lake. "These lakes are too small and fragile to support heavy pressure," he said. "We want to spread the use around."
Lakes in the high country can fool you, Wilson said. For example, a large, clear, deep, cold, rock-bottomed lake in the very highest country might appear to be the most likely producer of big fish. In reality, Wilson said, some of the biggest, deepest and most beautiful lakes don't produce well because they are too sterile, not producing the nutrients necessary to sustain large fish.
Some of the more productive waters are the lower-elevation takes in the meadows that have more organic matter in them and are shallower. However, the more productive lakes also have a propensity for winter kill, Wilson said, because the decomposition of the organic matter uses up the oxygen. Freezing doesn't cause winter kill, Wilson said, but Oxygen depletion does.
He suggests that serious fishermen get away from the main trails and popular drainages and look for lakes in the side basins away from the crowds. "Move around a little bit. If one lake fails, try another."
A major untapped fishing resource in the Uintas is the streams, Wilson said. Again, the fish won't be huge, but it can be great fun sneaking up on a trout in a small stream and dropping a fly in front of its nose. Most of the streams have fish, Wilson said.
Wilson guesses that the largest fish in the Uintas don't go much beyond 3 pounds. "Some guys claim they've caught 5 to 10 pound fish, but I have a hard time believing," he said.
Brook trout grow the fastest in the Uintas, as they are best adapted to the high country, Wilson said. However, brookies live only 5-6 years, while cutthroat live longer, allowing them time to get bigger.
It's important to remember that brook trout generally feed on the bottom, Wilson said, and a lake where not much surface activity is seen can still harbor many fish. Fly fishermen can get to the brookies by using nymph patterns on the bottom. Black jigs are also effective for both brookies and cutthroats. Flies are most successful morning and evening, when fishing is best. "It sometimes seems the only ones who catch fish during the hotter parts of the day are those using worms and spinning lures." Wilson said.
The high Uintas offer fishermen a fun fishing opportunity. Fish are plentiful, if not especially large in size, and will demand a variety of skills and expert knowledge to catch them consistently. The fishing challenge, plus the beauty, peace and sheer enchantment of the alpine country combine to make any trip to the Uintas a magic outdoor experience.
A major untapped fishing resource in the Uintas is the streams.