Peter Brookes: Pulling them from the Provo: Fly fishing Utah

Peter Brookes holds a brown trout he pulled out of the Provo River. Photo courtesy of Peter Brookes


The last time I went fly fishing in the winter, I was still very new to the sport. I was so new that I wasn’t sure if the ice cold river water leaking into my waders was — or wasn’t — normal.

As a summer fly fisherman up to that point, I’d never worn waders before. Being a “noob” — and a guy — I was too embarrassed to ask the guide if the waders were supposed to leak.

Perhaps, I thought, fishing waders might be like a scuba diving wet suits. Wet suits are porous and let water in against the skin to be slightly warmed by the body’s heat as opposed to a dry suit that keeps all water out.

I now know better.

The cold water sloshing around in my fishing boots — added to the fact that it was below freezing on the river as evidenced by the icicles hanging from my fly rod’s line guides — made me swear off winter fly fishing for at least six years.

About the same time feeling returned to my toes.

But I was heading West in the late winter this year and had heard that the fishing in Utah could be quite good. I decided that while out in Salt Lake City, I’d check it out in an Oscar Wildesque “triumph of hope over experience” moment.

A referral told me to give Rocky Mountain Outfitters (www.rockymtnoutfitters.com) a call out in Midway, Utah, and I did. Thankfully, it was some good, free advice that turned out to be a great choice.

For instance, they offer a “No fish, no pay, no kidding” guarantee.

It turns out that Midway is about an hour and some change on the highway from Salt Lake City, just over the hill from world-class skiing in Park City and, best of all for the angler, the shop is just steps from the blue ribbon Provo River.

I mean, from meeting my guide at Rocky Mountain Outfitters, to gearing up at the shop, to driving to the parking lot, to walking to the river and having a fly line in the water was probably half an hour — at most.


The backdrop once we got there wasn’t bad, either. We had a mild day temperature-wise, the sun was shining and bluebird skies were hanging over the snow-covered peaks of the Wasatch Mountains, making for some terrific scenery between casts.

The guide, Ryan Stokes, told me that we’d be fishing the middle section of the Provo River, a tailwater running out of the nearby Jordanelle Reservoir. This means that even in winter the water will be temperate enough for there to be a good bite.

Stokes also said that the Provo has lots of trout in it at some 5,000 fish per mile — which probably explains the confidence in, and low incidence of, the “no fish, no pay, no kidding” guarantee.

Of course, the claim that the Provo River has 5,00o fish per mile would put it in the same category as some of Montana’s best waters like the Beaverhead and Madison Rivers. Heck, even I should be able to catch some fish, right?

To that point, Stokes told me that we’d be chasing brown trout, but the numbers might be limited since it was a half-day trip and it was winter. He said we’d do OK to get five fish … 10 fish on a good day.

He was kind of right.

We started fishing with some No. 22-24 midge nymph patterns on a 10-foot 3-weight rod, drifting two flies on “bounce rig” (weight below the flies) through a deep pool near a bend in the river.

I quickly started bringing buttery browns to hand. The fish weren’t big — in the 10- inch to 14-inch range — but, in truth, I told Stokes that I preferred lots of angling action to hooking a few big fish, which the Provo does have in other sections.

And, oh yeah, my waders didn’t leak — bonus!

We also found a nearby soft pocket where the fish were voraciously hitting emergers. We tied on a dry fly pattern common in Utah called the “Mother Shucker,” which imitates an adult midge that gets caught up in its casing.

We ended up taking 25-plus browns that morning.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m over my winter fly fishing phobia, cured by Rocky Mountain Outfitters, the Provo River and Ryan Stokes. In fact, I recommend celebrating winter with some fishing, but skip the leaky waders.

Dr. Peter Brookes, a Fort Valley resident, writes about the great outdoors here whenever he can. Email: BrookesOutdoors@gmail.com