UTAH FISHING & OUTDOORS; Vol 8, #11; August 10, 1994
By Brent Johnson
If there is a river that epitomizes stream fishing in Utah, it is the Provo River. The Provo has all that a fly fisher could want. It has browns, rainbows, cutthroats and brook trout, plus whitefish, which, despite their appearance, are fun to catch. The river runs many miles, sometimes high and muddy but mostly clear and clean. Unlike some rivers, it's all ours, staying within the state's boundary for its duration. Most amazingly, it is a river on which you can find a spot to catch fish every day of the year.
The river can be divided into eight sections. Some sections are only a few miles long, but each has distinct qualities and fish. This article cannot give exhaustive treatment to each section, but will give an overview and hopefully encourage the reader to try new sections of river.
Take advantage of the entire river and not just the portion below Deer Creek. That section can use a break and other sections offer more aesthetics. The Provo River, or at least some of its sections, will become among your favorite to fish.
Mirror Lake Highway
Beginning in the High Uintas, the Provo starts small. The river drops altitude and gains water quickly. The Provo is a high mountain stream from here to just above Woodland. In these higher stretches the fish are often small, but numerous. Cutthroat dominate, with planted rainbows often plentiful, and an occasional brook trout for variety. Brown trout start to show up with some frequency below the Soapstone Basin. Although there are plenty of six-inch fish in the river, there are also numerous 12-14 inchers that make this an excellent stretch.
The season for this section is usually mid to late June through October, depending on run-off and how quickly the weather becomes cold and snow returns. The section is a great place to visit in August, when other waters have warmed.
The upper portion is mostly pocket water, with the lower portion containing more pools, riffles and runs. This is mostly dry fly water and caddis, Mayfly and terrestrials (as with most Utah waters) will cover every situation you encounter. On some days you will see literal clouds of insects hatching on the river. Your Mayfly patterns should have gray, brown, yellow and olive bodies. Your caddis should have yellow and olive bodies. (Although elk hair caddis seems to be one of the most popular caddis patterns, it is usually much more tan than the caddis in Utah. Deer hair should be used for this pattern, or try variations such as the Goddard and Henryville. A royal trude is also an excellent fly to match many of our caddis, and also imitates other terrestrials. Terrestrials should include ants, beetles and small hop pers.
Several miles east of Woodland, the South Fork of the Provo runs from Mill Hollow through aspens, pines and willows to where it meets the larger fork of the river. This stretch can best be described as a small stream, usually no wider than 4 or 5 feet. It consists of pocket water, small deep holes and some beaver ponds. It is difficult to fish in most areas because of the willows that line the banks and, as with most small streams, the fish spook easily. The holes are often spread far apart and the fish are not big, but there are many 12 inch rewards.
Cutthroat are again dominant, with a few nice brookies and rainbows. The fishing can be very fast at times, comparing on a smaller scale to the West Fork of the Duchesne. Caddis and Mayflies are most prevalent. Please release the cutthroats so the population can build.
One of the keys to fishing a small, tree-chocked stream is to not become frustrated when your fly snags a tree. This is part of the experience and happens to every one. Unsnag your fly and keep fishing. Also, remain flexible in approaching each hole. Most fly fishers approach a hole from downstream. If a hole is unfishable because of overhanging trees, walk around and approach from above. You may only get one cast before the fish are spooked, but this kind of hole often produces your best fish.
This section begins somewhere above Woodland and ends somewhere at or below Woodland. The exact boundaries are unclear because this is a transition zone from the high mountain Provo to the mid-elevation Provo. The river in this area is a wonderful rust brown color, filled with insect life. The pools, riffles and runs are not particularly deep, but some of them are long and filled with fish. It is a section where every inch must be fished because fish are abundant and will inhabit any spot where there is food and protection nearby.
Because it is a transition area, the section contains the best of the cutthroats from the upper section and many browns from the lower sections. Most of the fish are small, but 17 inch fish and bigger can be seen with some regularity. Some portions of this section also receive generous contributions from the planter trucks.
It there is a section of the Provo than can be termed as "classic" dry fly water, this is it. Unlike many streams and stretches, hatches of caddis and Mayfly can be termed steady and prolific at times. It is not unusual to have excellent action at 2 p.m. on a hot summer day, with the hatch lasting for several hours. The unfortunate side of a river with such hatches is that the action can be excruciatingly dead after fish have gorged themselves, or while the fish are waiting for the hatch to turn on again. Timing is important on this stretch. Although there are no guarantees, early to late afternoon usually produces action.
Another benefit to this transition area is the fact that grasshoppers are much more regularly a part of the fish diet in August and September. Because the river is not particularly deep, a hopper pattern fished in the early afternoon, near areas of shade along the bank, will often produce steady results. A size 10 parachute pattern has been most effective, possibly because it can also imitate a larger caddis.
This section of river has been significantly shortened because of Jordanelle Reservoir. The filling of the reservoir is a sad event because the water is covering a tremendous stretch of river. Although most of this stretch was previously on private land, permission was often given to those who asked. A portion of this stretch will remain when Jordanelle is filled. This is a stretch where many fish become large and challenging. The dominate fish becomes the brown, with an occasional rainbow and cutthroat.
This section is mostly deeper pools and riffles. However, do not ignore the many undercut banks. These appear shallow, but hold fish. One of the great attractions to this stretch is the early spring fishing. When the water first starts to warm from the sun and snowmelt, the fish become very hungry. Haresear, pheasant tail and red fox squirrel nymphs in sizes 12-18 do very well. Baetis hatches will also occur. You can tell when the water is beginning to warm because it will become slightly discolored. Several days of 50 degree weather will activate the fish.
Fall also brings excellent fishing - this section fishes well through the end of November. Hopper patterns in August and September, Baetis in September and October and streamers in September through November are good choices. Nymphs do well through the period. Don't be afraid to go small. The five plus pound fish in this section will take a small nymph.
Jordanelle (This section is now being restored, so this info is dated.)
In the past this section has been grouped with the stretch above Jordanelle, but the new dam is going to change that. Prior to Jordanelle, fishing was similar on the two stretches. In addition to the building of Jordanelle, the recent drought had several impacts on several portions of this river. Water was diverted from some stretches for irrigation. Much of the riverbed completely dried, except for a few of the deeper pools. However, these pools were warm and not oxygenated and the fish died. Sixteen inch browns scrambled for cover in three inches of water, while grazing pastures on the banks were literally flooded with inches of water.
The sections that dried up will recover, in time, and other stretches were not hit. The dam will eventually have positive effects on the river, assuring an adequate stream flow, regulating the water temperature for a longer growing season and stabilizing the insect populations. It is also possible this section will see new and increased hatches. In the meantime, this is excellent nymph water and some of the fish are very large. The section also fishes well with typical Utah dry fly patterns during certain times of the year.
Deer Creek To Olmstead
This is far and away the most popular stretch of river, and won't be discussed much here. This section fishes well all year, unless there are extremely high water flows as there were in 1993, or when the fish are adjusting to an influx of water. This stretch still has far and away more fish per mile than any other stretch of the Provo and is worth the time if you don't mind crowds and staying in one hole the entire time that you fish.
The dominant fish on this stretch is the brown, with the DWR trying hard to establish cutthroats and rainbows. Everyone has a different technique that works on this stretch. Except for certain periods, the fish will generally take small flies, size 18 on down. The everlasting hares ear is still a good pattern on this stretch as are midges and pheasant tails. Baetis, stoneflies, caddis, pale morning dun, midge pupae and Griffith's gnats all take surface feeders at certain times. A long natural drift is more important here than in any other stretch and casts that travel over the fish you are trying to catch must be avoided.
Spring and fall are the best times to catch the very large fish in this section. A President's Day baetis hatch this year produced consistent fish over 18 inches. The best time for privacy to fish the river is a summer morning at 5:30. Few people seem willing to go for the fish at this time. The fishing can be fast until about 8:00, when the sun puts the fish down. Another good time to fish, when the crowds are low and the fishing still reasonable, is a stormy day, particularly a snowy winter day.
Olmstead To Mouth Of The Canyon
This section is gradually being discovered, and rightly so. Although this stretch is different in character and regulations than the stretch that precedes it, the fishing can be as good - if not better at times. Browns are prevalent, with a few rainbows. The average fish in this stretch is smaller than the upper stretch, but not by much. There are some good rod benders here that haven't seen as many artificials as their upstream relatives and therefore they are often easier to catch.
This section is mostly pocket water, with a few riffles and deep pools. Depending on the water year, flows in the summer can vary wildly. If flows are low, the water can gets very warm in the middle of the summer, making the fish sluggish, except during the first and last hours of the day. This stretch can fish well in the winter, although the water can become very cold, making the fish inactive.
This is another section where fish may be in any inch of the stream. Fish are often found in front of rocks and boulders. Always fish the back portion of a pocket.
The Mayflies and caddis that hatch on this stretch seem to produce more surface action than upstream, but rises won't be as noticeable because of the pocket water. Look carefully for hatching flies before fishing. A caddis or Royal Trude fished the last hour of a hot summer day will often move the fish. Haresear, pheasant tail and red fox squirrel nymphs will do well when there aren't any noticeable hatches.
Canyon To Utah Lake
This stretch of river is fished by many people and is stocked heavily during warm weather months.
The river still contains a large population of browns. The fish in the stretch will take terrestrials more readily than those in the canyon. The fish are also more susceptible to the summer heat, and the hours for fishing in the summer are fewer.