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Shortcut to Great Fishing on Boulder Creek

I suppose the main reason that I enjoy the Escalante Canyons area of south-central Utah so much is because of its rugged, pristine, remoteness. Call me selfish, but I don't like crowds. I don't like to share "my" space when I am fishing, hiking or camping.

That's why I enjoy Boulder Creek so much. As the creek tumbles off the southeastern slope of the Boulder Mountain, it gathers together a whole series of small streams and rivulets, then cuts a contorted, almost unaccessible, canyon through the slick rock (Navajo sandstone) on the way to its confluence with the Escalante River.

Protected by nearly vertical canyon walls, the stream flows for miles untouched, uninhabited and virtually unexplored.

Once I escape into the confines of the canyon, the remoteness, solitude and overpowering beauty reach deeply into my soul and revitalize all of my senses. In its own hypnotic way, the canyon calls me back time and time again.

Unfortunately, the stream's greatest asset also becomes a major problem when I hear the stream calling. Access is extremely limited. Either I have to hike the six and a half miles down the Escalante to the confluence of the two streams or I have to start my exploration before the stream plunges into the slick rock, up near the town of Boulder. Either way, accessing the stream requires a full backpack, extensive planning and a two or three day trip.

What I wanted and needed was a way to slip down to the river for an afternoon of fishing — a way to drop right into the middle of the stream's narrow canyon without having to parachute from an airplane. I considered hiring the cast and crew of the starship Enterprise to simply beam me into the canyon using their transporter, but I was afraid they'd make a mistake and smear my molecules all over the canyon.

I was desperate, so desperate I started studying the 7.5 minute topographic maps of the area. Using the maps, I found a spot where the stream's route brings it to within about a half mile of Highway 12. Unfortunately when I checked elevations, I found that the road was over 600 feet higher than the stream bed. Not a problem if you have a good parachute. I went back to the maps, looking for a tributary canyon that would lead me down to the stream and sure enough, it looked like there was one.

Monday, January 15, was Equal Rights Day and the kids were out of school, so Sunday afternoon we loaded up the Bronco and pointed it toward Escalante. We camped out in a motel in Escalante that night and bright and early Monday morning (actually it was about 9:00) we headed up Highway 12, looking for a route down to the stream. We drove back and forth along the highway inspecting each drainage and comparing them with the map until I had a feel for the size of each drainage area and its relationship to Boulder Creek.

About .6 miles south of mile Marker 78 we parked the bronco, grabbed our fishing rods and day packs and headed down the drainage going off to the east. This is just south of where the powerline leave the road and heads out across the slick rock.

Hiking on slick rock is an interesting experience and can be a lot more dangerous than it seems. The sand rock gives one such good traction there is a tendency to climb off steep slopes and small ledges that are almost impossible to get back up. Sooner or later the hiker comes to a major crop-off end then can't go up or down. When hiking on slick rock I always choose the easiest route possible and try to stay off any steep slopes. I skirt around dry falls, looking for a more gentle descent that will be easy to get back up either later in the day or if I run into a dry fall I can't get around. A liberal dose of caution is always the best bet.

The drainage we chose narrowed quickly and we soon found ourselves working our way around several small dry falls with bath tubs at the bottom. The water in the tubs was frozen and the kids had fun "ice skating" across them.

The drainage descended rapidly and in just a few minutes I could hear the river below. We followed the bottom of the drainage right up to the edge of the river, only to discover that the river was still 40 or 50 feet below us, in a narrow gorge.

We worked our way along the rim of the gorge (upstream) for a quarter mile or so and discovered a deer trail that wound its way off the cliff and right to the canyon floor.

All in all, it was an easy, safe way to drop into Boulder Creek and it had taken us less than an hour.

The stream was flowing low and clear, the sun was warm and the scenery was out of this world. It was good to be back. It didn't take long before we were ready to break out the fishing rods and get serious about catching some fish.

This section of the stream contains mostly brown trout. The browns were never planted in the stream, they probably migrated down the Escalante River from Calf Creek (Browns were planted in Calf Creek in the late '60s) and then up Boulder Creek. Down near the mouth of Boulder Creek there are quite a few cutthroat trout but we didn't catch any in this area of the stream.

We had brought fly and spinning rods and got busy fishing with both. Only problem was, we weren't getting any bites. I switched flies time and time again, trying everything from cased caddie to hares ears to pheasant tail nymphs to wooly buggers and leeches, to some flies I didn't even know I had in my box (or recognize), without a single bite. I was getting discouraged. The kids weren't having any better luck with their spinners.

Finally in desperation I gave up on the fly rod and started experimenting with various kinds of lures. If small spinners wouldn't work, maybe big ones would. Still no bites. About the only thing I had left in my small tackle box was a great big, bright silver Kastmaster, almost three inches long. I shrugged and mumbled to myself, "Why not, nothing else has worked!"

We cast that big spoon to the bottom of a deep hole and began a slow retrieve, letting it flutter and wobble in the current. Almost immediately there was a vicious strike and then another and another. The browns were going nuts, literally attacking the big lure.

As I watched the fish and tried to figure out why we were having such strange luck, the only conclusion I could come too was that the browns were still spawning and for some reason that big silver lure was seen as a threat to their spawning activities or to their eggs. Consequently, the browns were attacking the lure, not to eat it, but to get rid of it and to drive it from their spawning beds. Those browns would follow the Kastmaster right up to the bank, hitting it time and time again.

Normally, small brass or gold spinners are the best lures, root beer or brown wooly buggers and leaches are the best flies and, of course, worms always attract fish — unless you are fishing the stream in mid January, then you had better bring a Kastmaster or two.

Before we knew it, it was getting to be late afternoon so we packed up our gear and headed back up the drainage. Going up hill was a whole lot slower than going down, still it was only a few minutes and we were back at the Bronco.

It had been a magnificent day.

The only problem is, as I write this story, I can hear the stream calling me back. I want to explore more of the upper section, to hike down to its confluence with Deer Creek, to spend more time fishing for those big brown trout in such a remote and spectacular setting.

Now that winter has set in, I'll have to wait for the snow to melt and for runoff to conclude, before I can go back. Southern Utah was plastered with several big snow storms just days after our trip and now the stream is completely unaccessible. But, it's still there, calling me, teasing me, causing me to look out across the snow covered city and to wish for an early spring.