Utah Spring Fly Fishing

Angler with Provo River Brown TroutAfter a long, cold Rocky Mountain winter, there is no cure for cabin fever like stringing up the rod in anticipation of the first major mayfly hatches of the year. March and April in northern Utah can look like winter still has a firm grip on the landscape, however this is the time of the year that the fishing gets better with each passing day as the weather gradually warms. The warmer weather brings warming water temps and longer days that create the perfect recipe for some of the best fishing of the year, especially with dry flies. Midges hatch in good numbers throughout the winter, but during March and April, the hatches intensify significantly. As the spring progresses, the size of the midges increases and blue wing olive mayflies show up in great numbers providing for some excellent dry fly activity.

Utah Spring Fisheries

Provo River Guide and Brown TroutAs is the case with most fisheries in winter, tailwaters are the playgrounds of anglers in the spring. Because snow still covers much of the ground and water temperatures are still cold, most freestone rivers and backcountry/small streams are locked up in ice or. Another issue anglers have to contend with later in spring is higher, muddy water as a result of snowmelt and spring runoff. Freestone streams usually experience the biggest impact from runoff since freestone streams are upstream of the reservoirs. This means they are much more vulnerable to siltation once runoff begins. Because dam managers usually allow water levels to rise significantly before raising flows out of the dams, this makes for a later runoff. Your typical popular northern Utah fisheries offer the best fishing in the spring. The Lower Provo and Middle Provo, Weber, Ogden, and Green Rivers offer the best spring fishing in the area.

Spring Fly fishing Techniques

Lower Provo River Brown TroutOne of the biggest keys to being a successful angler is the ability to adapt to changing techniques, and spring is no different. One of the main misconceptions many anglers have is that spring, (especially early spring) is still cold so dredging the bottom with nymphs must be the only way to catch fish during this time of year. That couldn’t be further from the truth! One of the most exciting things about fishing during this timeframe is the spectacular dry fly fishing.

You can literally set your clock to the consistency of the fishing during this time of year. Early mornings are the slowest fishing of the day. With the least insect activity and colder temps, the fish are less active. As the day progresses and the weather and water warms, insects become more active as do the fish. Although dry fly fishing typically hasn’t turned on yet, the plethora of midge pupa and active baetis nymphs has the fish on the feed subsurface by 10:30 AM. Strike indicator nymphing is very effective during this time, but not the only way to catch fish subsurface. Dry/dropper and suspended nymphing setups can be as effective as the heavy stuff, and a lot more fun to fish. Once the warmest part of the day hits the dry fly fishing gets going in earnest. Typically the peak of dry fly fishing will be from 12:30 to 3:00. There will be Blue Wing Olives coming off and fish can frequently be found rising just about everywhere. The bugs are small (#18-20) and numerous so the fish can be a little selective about presentation and drift. Long leaders and light tippets are the rule. Down and across slack line presentations will be much more successful than casting directly upstream or up and across.

Utah Spring Hatches

Provo River Blue Wing Olive MayflyAs stated above, the premier hatch of spring is the Blue Wing Olive (BWO), also known as baetis. Baetis are small grayish olive mayflies that run from a size 16 to size 22. Blue wings start around the last week of February and run into May, once runoff shuts them down. The peak of the hatch is usually from March 15th to April 15th. Generally, the bugs are bigger in size earlier in the season and gradually get smaller and smaller towards the end. As with most mayflies, cloudy moist days usually make the best hatch conditions. Damp, cold weather causes the insects to float on the surface longer because their wings take longer to dry before they fly away.

As mentioned previously, midges are also an Generally, the adults begin to hatch about an hour before the baetis (between 11:00 and noon), although the pupa are active and in the drift throughout most of the day.

Another insect that hatches during this time of the year and dwarfs the others in size, yet is not as well known is the Skwala Stonefly. Most adult skwalas average in size from a #10 to #12, massive compared to bwo’s and midges! Like most other stoneflies, these insects hatch on land and end up landing in the water during egg laying or during their clumsy flight. These bugs are most active on warm days from mid-March to mid-April. Throwing larger stonefly dries tight to the bank with lots of overhanging foliage can yield an occasional big fish on those bright days when the blue wings just don’t seem to come off in full force.

Utah Spring Fishing “Happy Hour”

Fly Fishing The Provo RiverWhile most anglers associate spring fly fishing as a bankers hours event, that is not always the case. Even though most anglers have reeled in and called it a day before 4:00, there’s another dry fly fishing event later in the evening for those who are willing to stay out a little later and bring a headlamp. As afternoon turns to evening, many of the hatched midges from the previous day come back to the water to make and lay their eggs. On clear, warm evenings, the evening midge fishing can often times be better than the BWO dry fly fishing earlier in the day. There are several factors that combine to make this happen. First, the fish have lost their timid nature from earlier in the day as a result of lower light and very few anglers. Often times, the fish are in only 6-8 inches of water and you can sneak to within 10 to 15 feet before placing your cast. Second, these fish are much less pattern selective than they are during the middle of the day. The same fish that is discerning towards exact #20 and #22 mayfly imitations during the middle of the day will readily rise to a #14 Parachute Adams on 4X in the evening. On the lower Provo, Rainbows are notoriously difficult to get on dry flies during the middle of the day. Yet, the same stretches of water that produced only browns earlier will have pods of rainbows eating the mats of mating midges. The rewards are well worth staying out into cold evening fishing until dark. Having the river all to yourself is definitely the icing on the cake.