Jake Smith on the upper Weber river.

Utah's tailwater two-fer

Once upon a time, Utah's Green River below Flaming Gorge was the only tailwater in the state that anglers knew or cared about. Sure, the Green was, and is, one of the most famous in the country, but beyond that, or wading the Middle Provo if the snow sucked in Park City, the Beehive State just wasn't seen as much of a flyfishing destination. Utah was only for skiing, or roaming around national parks in the desert. But not anymore.

From Boulder Mountain to the High Uintas, from Strawberry Reservoir to Pineview Reservoir, and from the Logan River in the north to the Sevier River in the south, flyfishers are increasingly seeing Utah as a place to escape some of the more heavily pressured rivers in Idaho, Montana, and Colorado. Successful state programs such as Blue Ribbon Fisheries (2001) and Utah Cutthroat Slam (2016) have also helped improve both the health of the fisheries and public access to those fisheries.

Jake Smith on the Lower Weber river.
Jake Smith on the Lower Weber river.

I only spent six months living in Utah, in 1992-93, working as a liftee at Deer Valley Resort. That winter, Jordanelle Dam was being built just north of Heber, thereby creating the "Middle Provo." (Before that, everything above Deer Creek Reservoir was just the "Upper Provo.") Nevertheless, I've spent the past decade living in Colorado and making many road trips to visit family, friends, and steelhead in Oregon. Since Utah is conveniently located between these two states, I've stopped to fish it on as many occasions, and in as many locations, as possible. Last year, Ogden-based photographer Corey Kruitbosch was kind enough to escort me around, including a couple days on the Weber River, once in the fall and once in the spring.

First, four things to know about the Weber: 1) It's longer (125 miles) than you thought it was; 2) It has more water, and bigger fish, than you thought it did, including the native Bonneville cutthroat; 3) It's pronounced Weeber—rhymes with Bieber—not Webber; and 4) Its upper reaches, above Rockport State Park, has been the site of a long-running public-access battle, which we are happy to report was finally won by the Utah Stream Access Coalition when the Utah Supreme Court ruled in its favor on November 22nd, securing a major victory for Utah anglers.

The Weber starts high in the Uinta Mountains, and while it can't be called "remote"—flowing as it does through two reservoirs (Rockport and Echo), and along two freeways (I-80 and I-84), a surprising amount of solitude can still be found while fishing it. This I discovered one gorgeous autumn evening with Kruitbosch, as we wet-waded above Echo Reservoir, near Coalville, picking off browns on streamers and dries until dark.

Native Bonneville cutty.
Native Bonneville cutty.

This stretch of the Weber is one of the more than 40 "Blue Ribbon Fisheries" listed by the state. And unlike Colorado's "Gold Medal" waters program, this isn't just a compilation of big trout hangouts. Utah's list includes warmwater destinations, and the state's Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council uses such criteria as "quality outdoor experience" and "economic benefits" in ranking its Blue Ribbon waters, including factors like whether a unique species is available there, like a tiger musky (Pineview) or a particular strain of native cutthroat.

The Weber here also features an example of a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) initiative called the Walk-in Access Program (WIA). Started in 2005 by DWR employee Clint Brunson, WIA provides financial compensation and liability protection to landowners in exchange for allowing public access. While a few public-access points in this section are state-owned, one of them—the Judd Lane WIA—crosses private land.

Our second trip to the Weber took place last April, when we hit it farther upstream, near Rockport State Park. We again found willing brown trout, but also some rainbows and one beautiful Bonneville cutthroat—25 percent of a Utah Cutthroat Slam (the other three are Colorado River, Yellowstone, and Bear River). My 2017 Utah visit also happened to coincide with the 11th Annual Wasatch Intermountain Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Expo, which returns again this year, April 5-7, to the Expo Center in Sandy.

If you attend, one of the exhibitors you'll find is a group calling itself Brighton Anglers. Despite the guide-ey sounding name, these folks are not guides; they are just passionate people who really love Utah flyfishing and enjoy spreading that love. A founding member is a man named Jered Winkler, who loves to fish and also to snowboard, especially at Brighton Resort, where he has worked for the past 17 years. And this, of course, is one of the greatest benefits of flyfishing Utah in March or early April: the tailwater two-fer.

After a morning of hitting the Weber—or any of the other Blue Ribbon tailwater fisheries in the area, like maybe the South Fork of the Ogden, you can cruise up Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon for an afternoon of skiing or riding. This is still Utah after all.

wasatchexpo.com