For live and premium content, sign up for our email newsletter and we'll send reports directly to your inbox
Fly fishing the streams of Utah, to most of us, means an expedition to the famous Green River below Flaming Gorge, about 3 1/2 hours from Salt Lake City. This unique fly fishing spot will be at its best soon, from late March through April, a period of superb dry fly action but small crowds. I enjoyed floating it last February, but would recommend it then only for those who don’t mind raw weather and technical nymphing. From May on, it tends to become a "zoo" on weekends, even with reduced Friday Saturday float permits.
The next largest river in Utah is the Provo, featured in this column before as the premiere "Stopover Angling" opportunity near Salt Lake City (SLC). Only 30 minutes south of the airport, this excellent small river (about 50 feet wide) offers 15 miles of mostly public access regulated by slot limits. Sometimes called a "Miniature Green," the Provo can deliver comparable 30 to 40 fish days of average 12 to 16 inch trout, mostly browns, some native cutts, with lots of 18 to 20 inch fish in the mix. But also like the Green, the Provo takes a great pounding. With easy accessibility, intense local pressure and growing publicity, it too can become a zoo in fair weather. In addition, the fishery is threatened by a proposed highway bridge in the canyon.
Far less known than either of these venues are the several high quality streams fairly close to SLC, but north about an hour or two in and around the Ogden area. Ogden, with about 160,000 people, is a satellite to SLC, like Boulder or Colorado Springs are to Denver on the other side of the Divide. In fly fishing terms, this suburban city is like a desert y, scaled down version of Missoula or Livingston, with several smaller but choice waters in the vicinity. The Ogden region isn’t the equal of either of these destinations in Montana, but definitely worth a side trip to explore.
The "Ogden Area Sampler" outlined below was compiled with the help of Dave Scabden, manager of our local Hotline fly shop, Anglers Inn (*). Dave is a native who started in the fishing business some 20 years ago, when he met Lee Wulff and took up his message of catch and release. With population pressures from a booming metro area, local wild trout fisheries might not have survived any other way. Today, thanks in part to Dave, a catch and release ethic is informally but sternly enforced on all the streams described below, even though standard kill limits are legally allowed.
Weber River: The Weber (pronounced Weeber) is about 45 minutes north of SLC off I 15 at the Cheyenne Exit. Eastward from there is about 40 miles of a river averaging 40 feet wide, mostly wadeable, featuring mainly nine to 16 inch browns, plus some cutts and rainbows also averaging about 13 inches. Dave considers it Utah’s truest winter fishery because of the Weber’s abundant mountain whitefish, which become especially easy to take on flies at this time of year. Public access is intermittently marked, but most of the land is private, requiring permission (50 50 odds). Golden stoneflies are common here. Good flies to use include Hare’s Ears and Beadheads.
Ogden River: Below Pineview Reservoir, the lower Ogden (it averages 25 feet wide) offers 11 miles of excellent brown trout fishing. The average fish here is between 10 and 14 inches. This watershed has been subject to extensive restoration efforts in recent years, with artificial boulders and breastworks creating many new pools and riffles right through town. The habitat enrichment program has resulted in an amazing 6,000 trout/mile in this stream, according to recent surveys. Blue winged olive (BWO) hatches heat up in March, with salmonflies (big stones) coming on in May and June. All major western hatches occur in this dense and diverse riparian corridor, including caddis. "On my lunch hours from March to November," Dave says, "I usually catch six to eight nice browns in the Ogden on dries." Just five minutes from the downtown Raddison Hotel, he adds, one can actually enjoy a 60 fish day in March with BWOs and Pheasant Tail emergers.
Blacksmith Fork: This watershed drains the Cache Valley, about 1 1/2 hours from SLC. Similar to the Ogden River in size and hatches, the 12 to 15 miles of this stream offer wild browns and some cutts, with a chance at much larger fish which have an opportunity to grow big in two small impoundments. "In its upper reaches, the Blacksmith boils out of the mountainside and becomes almost like a spring creek," Dave says, "clear, mossy, meandering through meadows." In the fall, spawning browns moving upriver from the impoundments have been taken in the 20 pound class. Planted rainbows are also in these ponds, but serve mainly as fodder for the big browns."
Logan River: Also about 1 1/2 hours from SLC, this river canyon offers about 20 miles of 25 foot wide stream similar to the Blacksmith or Ogden. "The only time these steams vary," Dave says, "is during the runoff period when one will flow heavier than another." The Logan is also bolstered by two impoundments, each about 500 yards long and 200 yards wide with easy highway access. The river recently yielded what would have been the state record brown (28 pounds) if it had not been snagged. But the Logan is loved mostly for its wild native cutts from six to 12 inches, with a few reaching 18 inches "These are the fastest fish I’ve ever seen, "Dave says. "They’ll hit you 30 or 40 times a day but they can spit your fly out so fast you might catch only one. They’re kind of doggy fighters as all cutthroats are, but it’s a real challenge to get them on your line."
South Fork: This small stream, only five to six miles from dam to dam between the Causey and Pineview reservoirs, is a feeder to the lower Ogden River. It’s a popular area for Ogden area residents looking for an easy weekend retreat. From June through August, family vacations and tubing make this stream another zoo. Serious fly fishing could be recommended only before and after this period. There are plenty of fish here, but heavy use spooks them into feeding at night.
The Ogden area is a good example of what might be called "sampler angling," something less than week long "expeditions" but more than a day trip. The key ingredient in what I am calling "sampler angling" is several high quality waters near urban conveniences. So much better if it’s also within easy reach of a major hub airport, which SLC is for Delta. It would be a mistake to equate Ogden area waters with more scenic sampler areas with bigger rivers, but it’s hard to beat in terms of its easy proximity to a major metropolis. Frequent flyfishers should keep this area in mind as an adjunct to a Green River expedition or a fine weekend to piggyback on a business trip.
The best approach for newcomers would be to rent a car at the SLC airport and arrange for a first day guided tour of the area. Dave’s crew can put you on two local streams in a day; or, as some prefer, give you a complete tour of the area, which you can explore later on your own. Scabden himself hosts local walk wade trips, and also guides the Green in Water Otters (pontoon craft in between dories and belly boats which maximize flexibility in crowded conditions).
Self guided adventurers are also welcome at the Ogden Anglers Inn, Dave says. "In fact, these are my typical customers," he says. "I draw ’em a map, sell ’em some flies, and off they go. They come back grinnin’ a couple of days later." Hugh Gardner.