The Top 10 Fly Fishing Rivers/Lakes in Utah and Why to Go
Utah's fly fishing scene has changed quite a bit over the last 10 years. Previously, it may not have be as internationally renowned as some of its neighboring states. However, because it offers such a rich array of fly fishing opportunities in both alpine and desert environments the recognition is starting to arise. The state's rivers have been vital life sources for Native American tribes, such as the Ute and Navajo, and later for Mormon settlers and explorers. Today, they're appreciated for their beauty and the diverse angling experiences they provide. The proximity of quality waterways to Salt Lake City and it’s growth has certainly contributed to to the recognition.
Here's an overview of the top fly fishing rivers in Utah, including historical context, the number of fishable miles, the types of trout you'll find, and the estimated fish counts per mile. These figures can fluctuate based on a variety of ecological and environmental factors, however, they will show you the variety of fisheries available.
The fish counts per mile are approximations and can vary significantly from year to year and season to season. When planning a trip, it's best to contact local fly shops or the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for the latest on river conditions and fish populations. Some of these rivers have special regulations, such as catch and release or artificial flies and lures only, designed to protect fish populations and enhance the quality of fishing. Especially, be aware of water ways that are shut down due to spawning activity as that can easily be overlooked.
Utah is another gem in the West that offers a remarkable fly fishing experience with a diverse set of fishing environments, stunning natural backdrops, and well-supported recreational infrastructure. Here’s an exploration of why Utah is a fantastic destination for fly fishing:
- Diverse Fisheries: Utah's fishing locales range from high mountain streams and lakes to lower elevation rivers like the famed Green River and the Provo River. These waters are teeming with a variety of trout species including rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and brook trout, as well as other species such as mountain whitefish.
- Famous Fly Fishing Waters: The Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam is considered one of the premier tailwater fisheries in the United States, known for its abundant insect hatches and high fish counts. In fact, some sections of the Green River can hold over 10,000 fish per mile, creating exceptional opportunities for anglers.
- Quality of the Fishing Experience: Utah's fisheries are known for their large and healthy fish populations. This is due in part to the state's active management of these waters, including habitat improvements and stocking programs where necessary.
Nature Observation Quality:
- Stunning Scenery: With five national parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands), Utah offers some of the most unique and breathtaking landscapes in the United States.
- Diverse Wildlife: Anglers in Utah may encounter a wide range of wildlife, from mule deer and elk to the more elusive mountain lions and bears, as well as a variety of raptors and other bird species.
- Protected Areas and Clean Waters: The state places a strong emphasis on conservation and environmental protection, which benefits the natural habitats and helps ensure that the waters remain pristine for both fish and people.
- Resource Management: The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) manages the state's fishery resources, providing anglers with detailed information on fishing spots, regulations, stocking schedules, and water conditions. Although, they don’t dispatch a ton of regional officers, there is quite a lot of interaction with anglers and the state due to the support of local advocates.
Accessibility: Utah offers excellent access to fishing spots through well-maintained public lands. Many streams and rivers are easily accessible by road, and for more adventurous anglers, remote areas can be reached by hiking or off-road vehicles.
**In recent years laws were changed making some waters private and an uproar from the community has been battling what is perceived as public water rights being taken away. The Utah Stream Access Coalition is fighting hard to reclaim these waters and is always looking for additional support and donations. Having been a former board member it is easy for me to attest to their dedication in bringing back the water that was once accessible to the citizens of the state and nation.
- Community and Education: There is a strong community of fly fishers in Utah, with numerous clubs and organizations that offer educational programs and events to help both novices and experienced anglers improve their skills. The Park City, Utah Trout Unlimited club is one of the strongest around and they open their arms to all types of visitors year round.
Statistics on Anglers Visiting Utah:
Utah's fly fishing does not necessarily draw the same level of attention as destinations like Montana, but it is a significant part of the state's outdoor recreation scene. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reported that fishing is a major contributor to the state's economy, with hundreds of thousands of fishing licenses sold annually. These figures include both residents and nonresidents, with nonresidents being attracted by the state’s well-known fishing destinations and the prospect of combining fishing with visits to national parks and other tourist attractions.
The exact number of anglers specifically visiting for fly fishing can be harder to quantify, as many come for the overall outdoor experience, of which fishing is just one part. However, the quality of the fishing experience in Utah keeps the state high on the list for enthusiasts of the sport.
In conclusion, Utah’s combination of accessible, high-quality fisheries, dramatic natural beauty, and robust support for anglers makes it an excellent destination for a fly fishing adventure. Whether seeking the famous blue-ribbon waters or exploring more secluded streams, anglers in Utah can find both a challenge and a refuge in the state’s diverse and captivating landscapes.
Flying into the Salt Lake City airport is quite unique. You can be within minutes of supburb angling experiences. The difference here is that the experiences aren’t just urban fisheries. Within 40 minutes you can be on a number of remote Blue Ribbon fisheries that rival many in the western united states.
Socks - Get good thin wool socks that will keep you warm and comfortable. I recommend Minus33
Bottom Layer - A nice thin layer keeps you warm and your bulk down during the day. Patagonia Capiline layers are ideal.
Top Layer - Thin layers give you a good base to stay cool and add to. Again, Patagonia Capiline layers are ideal.
Puff Jacket - During the morning and evening these are clutch. Then when a cold spell hits you are prepared and comfortable. I love this puff by Patagonia, the Hooded Nanon Puff.
Flies - Have a good assortment of basics and you'll be fine. Here are some recommendations. Fly Crate has a wide assortment of flies to choose from but there are great Flypack assortments that are exceellent for rounding out a box for a trip.
Rod and Reel - Bring your rod and reel or pick up one of these great entry sets. Here is a list of great rod and reel packs and how to select.
Net - Netting by hand is fun and all but if you have one it will take the stress off. Since you are travelling a hand net like Orvis offers may be the ticket. It's short and fits in a bag very easily.
Wading Boots - Don't mess around and pick up some Korkers with additional soles. This way you can wade or toss on a felt and get into a boat without damaging it.
Fishing Pack - a small pack is nice to toss in a few extra layers based on weather. I also like it for a good DSLR camera. This is such a preferential thing and I've yet to find one that is perfect for all occassions.
By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast