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Chances are when you think of flyfishing in Utah, you visualize horsepacking to mountain lakes in the rugged High Uintas or floating the spectacular Green River below Flaming Gorge. By all means, visit these places if you get the chance and you have the days and dollars it will take to enjoy them. But suppose you’re just flying through Salt Lake City on a business trip and you have just a one day stopover what then?

My suggestion for stopover angling in this part of the world is Utah’s largely unheralded Provo River. It’s the state’s best kept flyfishing secret, bar none. And, to enjoy it, all you need to do is pack a five weight in your bag, rent a car at the airport and head south toward Orem on I 15. About 140 miles out, look for the Sundance Ski Resort Exit. Turn there and proceed a couple of miles up the Provo River Canyon. Pull off just above the Olmstead Diversion Dam and start fishing upstream. Welcome to about six miles of natural, prime, full public access wild brown trout water!

How good is the Provo? On any given day it can be just as good as the Green, except it’s only an hour away from Salt Lake, not three or four. You can expect browns here in the 14 to 16 inch class routinely, with 18 to 20 inch specimens not uncommon. You’ll have a realistic shot at monsters of 30 plus inches during the fall spawn.

Mind you, this fishing should not be considered a casual daydream if you regularly, or even occasionally, fly out West. Salt Lake City, a sprawling metropolis of 1.5 million, is served by most major U.S. airlines. It’s usually not very hard to arrange to spend a day here, coming or going. In fact, adding a Saturday layover to your trip may qualify you for a ticket so much cheaper than the one you would have to buy otherwise that you’ll be able to pay for your fishing and still save money. Ask your travel agent about that, particularly if you fly Delta Airlines a lot. Delta routes virtually all its western traffic through Salt Lake.

But back to the Provo…. This river is a classic western tailwater. It’s on the small side, averaging 100 to 175 cfs in the winter, and it is a year round, trophy trout fishery only because of the Deer Creek Reservoir upstream. In size and quality, it is comparable to Montana’s Beaverhead or Colorado’s Fryingpan.

The worst time to fish the Provo is in the summer, when it is hit hard by irrigators as well as anglers. Also, the reservoir turns over in late season, an event that leaves the water quite roiled. The best time to fish it is October and on through the middle of November. That’s when the trout bulk up for winter and when the big, usually smart browns turn uncharacteristically foolish from sexual mania.

If you can’t get it in gear to come this way so soon, relax. The Provo is a true winter fishery, and a place to pencil in your calendar anytime except summer. Like the Frying Pan near Aspen, dry fly midging here can be excellent even in December and January. Also like the Pan, the Provo is near a major ski area Sundance except much closer, literally within walking distance from the lifts. A day or so on the Provo would combine quite well with a winter business conference or family skiing vacation.

If you come here to fish the fall spawn, bring Woolly Bugger streamers in black, olive and brown, with a nod to black. Plan to fish them with weight. Use short strips. Typical western nymphs such as Pheasant Tails and Hare’s Ears in small sizes are almost always productive. In addition to tiny midges and generic nymphs, also bring small baetis (mayfly) emergers and dries in about size #22 if you want to cover the bases right on through the winter. You’re allowed to keep a couple of smaller fish for supper when you fish the Provo, but this is flies and lures only water and is essentially a catch and release fishery.

A one day Utah license will cost you $5. A five day license costs $10 more. To buy your license, stock up on fishing yarns, get updated info, or arrange guide service, check in with the Spinner Fall (*) or Angler’s Inn (*) fly shops in Salt Lake City, both members of The Angling Report’s "Rocky Mountain Hotline" service. If you book a guided outing, both of these shops will arrange to have you picked up at the airport or at your local hotel free. They’ll provide equipment if you don’t want to bring any. Admittedly, the great bulk of their business is on the Green, but they can set you up just fine on the Provo, too.

This is not to suggest you really need a guide on the Provo, because you don’t. When it comes to cheap and easy self guided trips out west, this one can’t be beat. All you need is your own skills, the above information, and a day or so of free time. Enjoy! Hugh Gardner.

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