Fly fishing in the High Uintas

Christmas Meadows, High Uintas
Christmas Meadows, High Uintas

Kai said he knew a place where we could catch golden trout. They are not native to the Uinta mountain range, or to Utah, but they had been planted (from California where they are native) in the Atwood Basin area of the High Uintas on the Uinta River drainage north of Roosevelt. He suggested a three day, two night trip. The plan was to hike up the Uinta River trail to where Atwood Creek flows into it, then camp for the night. The next day we would fish the creek up into the basin where it comes out of Atwood Lake. Things did not go quite as planned.

Uinta River
Uinta River

Thursday afternoon we left the trailhead and began the hike along the Uinta River. It seemed quite high, raging in places where it narrowed. It didn’t even look that fishable in most places. The trail gradually climbed high above the river, first through aspens then lodgepole pine forest. There is something about a walk in the woods, where the bright afternoon sun is subdued by the canopy of trees; it seems to get quiet, with only the wind soughing through the treetops.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In many places the trail followed a cliff edge with the river far below. In fact, the river flowed through a narrow canyon, high cliffs on both sides. We began to wonder if we would even be able to access the river if we wanted to. Four miles in the trail branched, with one trail heading to Atwood Lake Basin, some 14 miles distant. We continued up the Uinta River trail first crossing Rock Creek, then after about 8 miles we crossed Bluebell Creek and decided to camp for the night. We found a nice level spot near the creek. After getting camp set up, we walked up the trail to the junction of the Uinta River and Atwood Creek, about a half mile up the trail. To our dismay, Atwood Creek poured out of a very steep and rocky canyon into the narrow canyon where the Uinta River flowed. Access down to the river was sketchy at best and Atwood Creek did not look very appealing either.

Camp along Bluebell Creek
Camp along Bluebell Creek

We headed back to camp a little down. We cooked dinner and turned in early as we were both tired. As is becoming my habit, I forgot my spoon so had to carve one again. They usually look more like a spatula than a spoon, but work just fine.

Hastily carved spoon-like implement
Hastily carved spoon-like implement

We planned to get up in the morning and try fishing Bluebell or Rock Canyon Creeks (Plan B). Once again, things did not go as planned. Bluebell Creek quickly turned into a steep, rocky, and heavily wooded run that was difficult to access. We headed down to Rock Canyon Creek and made our way into a narrow chasm with high cliffs on each side. We geared up and fished up the small creek, and didn’t catch anything, didn’t even see any sign of fish. After an hour or so, we climbed back down the steep mountainside to the trail and back to camp with our tails between our legs.

Fishing Rock Canyon Creek
Fishing Rock Canyon Creek (photo by K. Larson)

Plan C was to pack up, hike out, and head over to the Whiterocks drainage to some meadows Kai had fished before. On the way down, we decided to check out the junction of the Atwood Basin Trail, see what the river crossing was like. We figured there had to be a bridge. And a big bridge it was. As we were crossing the Uinta River, intending to take a break in the shade of large pine trees on the other side, Kai saw fish rising in a creek that emptied into the river right next to the bridge. I geared up with my Tenkara rod and immediately got some strikes. So we decided to fish here for a bit. In fact, in a very short time I had 7-8 solid strikes and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t hook anything until I checked my fly to see that the hook had broken off. Once I tied on a new fly I started catching fish, first in the creek, then in the river, along the edges where it wasn’t so swift. I was using my usual Utah Killer Bug, that I tie myself. I also made the mistake of not bringing waders or boots. I was accustomed to little creeks in the Uintas where wading with sandals was totally adequate. With waders and boots, Kai was able to get out into the river and fish the deep pockets, and he was catching lots of fish, while I was limited to shallower waters near the banks. But I had pretty good success along the edges as well.

Kai wading in the Uinta River just upriver from the bridge.
Kai wading in the Uinta River just upriver from the bridge.

I think I may have caught one golden trout, about 10 inches long in this area. We were having a great time and were feeling vindicated, so we decided to camp there for the night. There was a nice flat spot right along the river where we set up camp.

Fishing the Uinta River just down from our camp.
Fishing the Uinta River just down from our camp.

After dinner I took my camera and wandered along the shore of the river looking at and photographing interesting striated rocks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I couldn't resist photographing this tiny striated rock.
I couldn’t resist photographing this tiny striated rock, about the size of a pea.

I found a nice flat rock next to the bridge and sat thinking. I pulled out a small handmade notebook and jotted down some thoughts, and made a few lists of things I would still like and need to do this summer—creative goals, some short trips I want to take, some spiritual goals. and some projects around the house. I write nearly everyday and have handmade notebooks in many different sizes that I use for different purposes. It is cathartic for me to put thoughts into writing and much of my writing is poetry and journaling. As I sat under the tall pine trees on the banks of Uinta River, a cool breeze was blowing, the sky was blue except for a few stray clouds, and the resinous smell of pine filled the air. It was good to be in the mountains.

Hanging out in camp
Hanging out in camp
The view upriver from the bridge.
The view upriver from the bridge.

Saturday morning we got up, packed up camp, and hiked down the trail about two miles to try fishing the Uinta River lower down. At the trailhead is an abandoned ranch called the U Bar Ranch. Kai says it used to be an Orvis fishing lodge, but must have fallen on hard times. Based on our success Friday night, we wanted to try fishing the river lower down, closer to the lodge. So two miles down the trail we bushwhacked down to the river and geared up. Kai began catching fish right away. I was still using my Utah Killer Bugs and was having no success. Kai yelled across the river to say that they were taking grasshoppers. I tied on a grasshopper and began catching fish as well. I had to do some bushwhacking to get around some deep, swift areas of the river, but soon found some quieter water where the river split into various braids. The fish were hungry and healthy and we were enjoying our time on the river. I was wet wading with sandals with my pants pushed up above my knees. My feet were taking a beating on the slippery rocks, but it was all worth it. My best catch of the trip was a nice fat fourteen inch rainbow trout caught in a side channel of deep, slow moving water.

Fishing a branch of the river (photo by K. Larson).
Fishing a branch of the river (photo by K. Larson).
Best catch of the day.
Best catch of the day (photo by K. Larson)
Healthy Uinta River trout.
Healthy Uinta River trout (photo by K. Larson).

After several hours of fishing we called it a day, hiked out, and drove the couple hours home. Though things did not turn out like we had planned, our alternative plans worked out quite nicely. The week before this trip we had driven up to an area on the North slope of the Uintas called Christmas Meadows where I had heard the fishing was quite good. We hiked a couple miles up the trail and tried fishing the Stillwater Fork. It was high, overflowing its banks, with water and marshes all over. We each only caught one fish. Even in Christmas Meadows where the water is slow and deep we didn’t catch anything, even though fish were rising. It was frustrating, so this trip was that much more fulfilling. Kai likes to remind me that there is fishing and hiking with a fishing pole. Either way is good so long as you are able to spend time in the mountains where it is quiet and peaceful.

I have been fishing with tenkara rods for almost two years now and have not fished my traditional fly rods since. It is so simple, and I think easier and I’m catching more fish. Tenkara rods also are ideal for the kind of fishing I like—small mountain streams. Currently I have a Nissin Pro Square 320 (7:3) which is soft and great for smaller fish, and a Nissin Zerosum 360 (also 7:3) for bigger water. The Zerosum is a nicer, and more expensive rod, and was ideal for water like the Uinta River. They are both very nice rods, made in Japan. My friend and colleague picked them up for me in Japan.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s