Fly Fishing Canyon Country

Last November (2011), my friend and I decided to take a trip down to Utah’s canyon country. My friend is an avid fly fisherman, and his specialty is finding small water that has not been fished much. He’s pretty good at it and finds great fishing sometimes where you would not expect it. He planned this trip based on things he had heard about the area and some research with topo maps and GPS. He also happens to be an off road (of the overlanding variety) enthusiast and has a nicely tricked out Toyota Landcruiser.

The Landcruiser

On a Friday afternoon we headed down to the town of Boulder where we accessed the lower sections of Sand Creek via Hells Backbone Road, and a two or three mile four wheel drive track. The weather looked threatening and it was cool, but we learned long ago that you never (or at least seldom) cancel a trip due to the weather. In fact, I like the saying, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.”

When we go out backpacking or climbing or other activities where we have to carry everything on our backs, we go really light weight, sometimes ultralight. But when car camping, it’s no holds barred. My friend has a very nice car camping set up, and though it sometimes feels like cheating, it sure is nice and comfortable, especially after many years of dirtbagging it on ultra light trips.

Luxury car camping

The pop up tent on the car has a really comfortable queen size bed with a nice foam mattress. The awning that covers two sides of the car is really nice to keep rain and sun off you. He also has a refrigerator, and a nice cooking set up. The totally cool retro cook kit is from the 1950’s.

The cookset

Late that afternoon we hiked down the slick rock into the Sand Creek drainage, or at least we thought it was Sand Creek. The weather was cool, in the 40’s with threatening clouds. By the time we hiked back up to our camp it was drizzling. The slick rock was of the light tan variety. It was a really beautiful area with cool striations and waves on the rock walls.

On the rim looking into the Sand Creek drainage

After exploring for a couple hours we hiked back up to our camp, ate dinner, and went to bed. It rained pretty hard most of the night, but we stayed warm and dry.

Sunrise from our soggy camp

The next morning we packed up our fishing gear and headed back down to the creek. I don’t fish very often, but I do enjoy it when I do. Sometimes it’s not so much the outdoor activity that I do, it’s just getting into the outdoors that matters. Some fishing trips turn into a hike while carrying a fishing pole, or you spend time looking for  a new ice smear to climb that ends up as a hike with ice tools.  And that’s okay with me; being out is what matters most. This trip would turn into a day of hiking and exploring a beautiful canyon while carrying fishing poles.

Hiking with a fishing pole; photo by Kai Larson

We ended up spending about two hours bushwacking up what we thought was Sand Creek. After consulting our map and GPS,we figured out we were in the wrong drainage. We entered the drainage above the fork of two creeks when we thought we were below it. Rather than bushwack all the way back, we decided to climb up and over a rocky ridge that separated the two drainages. The going was pretty easy and only required a bit of scrambling. Once up top we encountered a well trod trail. We’re pretty sure it was the old mail route trail that goes between Boulder and Escalante.

Along the Mail Trail

Soon we dropped into the Sand Creek drainage, which was quite a bit larger and more open than the other drainage we were in. Though the water looked good we saw no fish, and did not catch any.

Fishing lower Sand Creek
Deep in Sand Creek Canyon

We spent most of the day down in the canyon, hiking and exploring. The weather was great, clear, in the mid 40’s with deep blue skies. In the deepest parts of the canyon where the walls were steep and tall, it was quite cold with ice along the edges of the creek. We saw quite a bit of evidence of early native Americans in the form of quartz shards used to make arrow points and other tools.

We hiked up and out of the canyon and back to camp in the late afternoon. Though we didn’t catch any fish, the hiking and exploring was well worth the day and a half  we spent there. Driving across the Boulder airfield on the way out, which consisted of a long dirt runway, we noticed this interesting sign, written on the fuselage of an old airplane.

I have lived in Utah for over a decade but have not spent a great deal of time in the canyon country (at least the backcountry). This trip instilled in me a desire to spend more time down there.


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