By Dave Webb
My wife has a rule: When there is a winter storm warning I'm not allowed to head into the mountains. When the major highways become treacherous she'd rather not have me traveling mountain backroads. And I try to obey, unless there is a good reason not to.
Yet I enjoy trout fishing during stormy weather – and I've often had very good success. The fish are already wet and so a little rain or snow doesn't seem to bother them.
There are a couple places close to Salt Lake where I can run over for an afternoon during a snow storm and almost always catch fish. The most consistent is the lower Ogden River, from Harrison Boulevard up to the mouth of Ogden Canyon. It's almost always good for pan-sized rainbows. In the canyon the stream contains good numbers of browns, but they are harder to catch and thus less predictable.
My favorite "close-in" spot is the lower Weber, from the mouth of the canyon upstream to the power plant impoundment. The impoundment gets heavy fishing pressure, and its stocked regularly during the summer. The stream below sees fewer fishermen and it's home to some very nice browns. Fishing is seldom red hot, but it's consistently pretty good. The average fish caught will be in the 14-18 inch range, and there is a real chance you could tie into a lunker.
It's a pretty stretch of stream with lots of deep pools, riffles and rocky spots. The banks are steep in many areas, but otherwise access to the stream is easy. Waders definitely make it easier to fish, and to move along the stream, but they are not essential.
This is a good spot for youngsters. But, of course, they should be supervised closely. It's a good sized river (by Utah standards), with a strong current.
Fish are often caught by anglers swirling bait in and out of the rocks on the bottom of the big holes. Lures and spinners are also good bets. Small nymphs fished slowly on the bottom are often the most effective. With deep, fast water it is difficult to get nymphs down to the bottom, but that is essential to catching fish. A long leader and a couple split shots a half-foot above the nymph – or a weighted bug – will usually do the trick.
A little farther down, near the mouth of the canyon, the stream becomes quite canal-like and receives little pressure. But looks can be deceiving. There are good numbers of browns hiding in the rocks on the bottom. Nice fish can sometimes be taken drifting nymphs near the base of rocks and behind riffles.
I fished downstream from the impoundment on November 16, with heavy snow falling and a driving wind blowing it into my face. It stung my checks and coated my glasses, making it very difficult to see. It was a challenge just climbing down to the stream, let alone casting.
I chose to throw spinners this time, because I would have had difficulty seeing a strike indicator. It was cold enough that my fingers were starting to grow numb, despite my wool fishing gloves, and so I retreated to my big, warm ski gloves. Cumbersome but warm. Casting wasn't a problem. I could hold my rod and flip it forward easily enough. But working the reel was difficult, because the gloves are so big and stiff.
I was fishing a hole under the edge of the I-84 bridge when I remembered an important bit of information about the area. Traffic on the interstate pushes slush and ice to the edge of the outer lane. When a big truck comes by it smashes through the slush and shoots it over the side. The slush scored a direct hit – right down my neck. That cooled me down quickly.
I was there on one of the coldest, most miserable days of the year. Fishing was slow; I caught only one – a 15-inch brown, in an hour’s time. Still, it was a good break; I always enjoy getting away from the city and it would have been fun even if I hadn't caught a fish. But it was nice catching the fish, despite the adverse conditions.
Winter arrived early this year – it seems like the snow will never stop. But conditions are bound to moderate someday, and the lower Weber will be calling. Most years there are days in December when the wind isn't blowing, perhaps even a day when the sun has broken through the clouds and the air feels almost warm. Those are the times to sneak out for an afternoon on the stream.
During late December and January the whitefish school up in the larger pools on the Weber, and some other northern Utah rivers, as they prepare to spawn. When you find a school you can often enjoy very fast fishing if you bounce small nymphs slowly along the bottom, aiming right for the fish. Hares ear, pheasant tail, Prince – standard stuff in 16s and 18s. The whitefish often concentrate in the pools up in the Devil's Slide area.
You don't have to be cold on such outings. Good warm socks and long underwear inside insulated waders really help keep you warm. If you don't have waders you need good snow boots and waterproof pants. You also need a good winter coat, a hat with ear protectors and some good gloves. With the snow blowing against my cheeks, I could have used a ski mask.
Manufacturers continue to refine cold weather clothing, and today's products offer more warmth than ever before, often at lower prices. Gore-Tex, polypropylene and Thinsulate are amazing products that have made winter activities a lot more comfortable. Perhaps this is the year to get outfitted with some good cold weather gear, and then get out and enjoy a few winter adventures. It surprises me how many outdoors enthusiasts sit by the fire through the cold months, almost unaware of what they are missing.
Copyright Dave Webb, 2005