Sunday, November 1, 2009

Southern Utah trout, Part 2, May/June 2009

Southern Utah abounds with beautiful desert landscapes, and Regan and I continued to explore some of these areas, as we made our way north from Bryce Canyon, along Highway 12, towards Capitol Reef National Park, and eventually into Colorado. We camped for a couple days at Kodachrome Basin State Park, featuring more colorful sandstone and sunlit weather, as shown below.

I found a hummingbird guarding her nest up along one draw, and she provided an ideal subject for a photograph.

In addition to the sweeping desert vistas, this part of Utah, and indeed much of the Southwest (as I have become increasingly familiar with living in northern Arizona), features higher elevation mountain ranges teeming with forests, meadows, and watersheds, and likely places to harbor trout populations. One such area is the Aquarius Plateau and Boulder Mountain, dotted with dozens of lakes, and streams that drain off the slopes to dryer country below. After researching possible locations in guidebooks and on the Web, I spent some days camping with Regan near a couple spots that contained some good fishing potential.

The first of these was a stream north of the town of Escalante, noted for a restored Colorado River cutthroat population in its upper reaches, and wild Browns in the lower, rugged canyon stretch. Note the small falls in the image above--one of two barriers constructed by the Forest Service to prevent upstream movement of nonnative trout, and protect the cutts above.

Here is a large Colorado River cutthroat for this stream, a good 10", caught on a #14 BH peacock soft hackle, sporting the vibrant colors known for this subspecies (along with the closely related Greenback and Rio Grande cutthroat trout). This was my first chance to cast to this type of cutthroat, one of two trout (along with Bonneville cutts) native to Utah, and I felt fortunate, as I always do with trout, to briefly admire such a stunningly beautiful creature. Based on my visit here, the cutts seem to be thriving above the stream barrier.

Regan and I headed downstream into a remote canyon section, where spooky wild Brown trout predominated. Regan wanted to fly fish some more, and is casting up towards a likely pool here. The fish didn't come easily, and demanded some stealth tactics, but she caught a couple of Browns, along with a cutthroat.

I managed to fool a few myself, including the Brown trout above, a solid 15", and a monster for this little stream, hiding under a shelf of rock, along a quiet foam-lined run. The fish finally grabbed a #10 BH brown Girdle Bug, no doubt taking the pattern to be one of the numerous stonefly nymphs that thrive in the clear, cold, oxygenated flows of this creek. It proceeded to thrash about the creek, and repeatedly tried to break me off under submerged stones, but somehow I was able to bring the trout to hand. Here is another picture of the oversized Brown, before I watched it swim back to its hiding place.

And I included one more view of the stream, one of many in this part of Utah, that hold self-sustaining trout and solitude for the adventurous.

I also took the opportunity to explore one of the lakes up on the Aquarius Plateau (there are many lakes here, stocked with a variety of trout, and some can reach trophy sizes). The specific lake I had in mind is known to hold large Colorado River cutthroat (both stocked, and some that may be wild, as a couple of small tributaries flowed into the lake), along with tiger trout (a hybrid between Brook and Brown trout).

As it turned out, the fishing was quite tough, with little in the way of hatches (occasional short-lived emergences of Callibaetis mayflies) and fish that followed various flies I cast, but seemed hesitant to actually take. The weather also shifted from the sunny skies seen above, to thunder and lightning, to hail and snow flurries, and back again, several times, in the span of 5 or 6 hours, making fishing conditions unpredictable and sometimes miserable. In the end, I managed to only land a single fish over a couple of days (although I briefly hooked and lost several others). Thankfully, it was a good one, a hefty Colorado River cutthroat that measured 19", and inhaled a slowly retrieved #10 black marabou leech, right as I stripped the fly back close to shore.

Here is a close-up head shot of the fish, showing some of the brilliant hues these cutts can develop.

The fishing was lean on quantity (although I certainly saw quite a few trout patrolling the shoreline) at this lake, but high on quality, which suited me just fine, and a success in my book.

Regan and I explored a bit of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as well, and hiked along a couple reaches of a stream here, again harboring wild trout, in sandstone-sculpted settings punctuated by lush green vegetation at the water's edge.

A waterfall greeted us at the end of a trail, a welcome sight in the desert heat.

A raven approached us as we took a break for lunch, no doubt looking for a handout.

And here is another view of the falls, with me casting into the pool at the lower left for perspective (I may be a bit hard to see in this picture).

I took this close-up of a Brown trout from the same pool not long after; the fish rose for a #10 orange-bodied Neversink caddis.

I also wandered further upstream along this creek with Regan on another day, where the only trail was the shallow stream itself, flowing over sandstone carved out by the water's action.

The creek up here contained a healthy population of Bonneville cutthroat, such as the colorful specimen above--note the BH soft hackle emerging from its mouth. I suspect these fish were introduced up here at some point, and this upper part of the stream was probably devoid of fish, since this watershed eventually empties into the Escalante river, itself a tributary to the Colorado river (if any trout were native here, they would have been Colorado River cutthroat).

Regan decided to get in on the action, and brought a few cutthroat to hand as well.

Here is another cutthroat I caught from this marvelous desert stream, and the most brilliantly hued fish of the day, before being returned to the little pocket that it called home.

Scooped out cliff walls provided evidence of the creek's erosive capabilities, while the riparian vegetation stood as a testament to the life-giving qualities of water, especially in the desert.

Regan hikes up and out across the slickrock, through another landscape of lonely, otherwordly beauty.


  1. Iain, Great post and great blog. I'm looking forward to reading up on the rest of your trips, although this past one to Souther Utah looks pretty hard to beat, great job.

  2. Nate, thanks for the comment. I'll try to keep the entries coming, until I'm up to date...stay tuned.

  3. Iain, this is fantastic. I read this whole blog up to here just tonight. It is impressive how you can name all the creatures, the fish, the vegetation, etc. The photography is excellent. I look forward to your next postings.

  4. really enjoy the blog - newly discovered -
    where on the east fork of the sevier did you find access in black canyon? i am heading there shortly and was curious how easy it is off of ut-22 to stash a car and hike in for a few days? thanks for the reply if possible