Don’t let the snow convince you otherwise—spring is underway, as evidenced in the rising water levels for our local waters.
As of May 10, the Middle Provo is leaving the Jordanelle Reservoir at about 325 cubic feet per second (CFS); the Lower Provo is exiting the Deer Creek Dam at 487 CFS; and the Weber River has actually mellowed out, where it departs the Rockport Dam, with a water level of 83.4 CFS.
However, these numbers are constantly changing—which is why it’s important to always check on the flows before you head out to fish, and this especially rings true during the spring, when runoff, rain, and variable temperatures can change the water levels in an instant. Our Expert fly fishing guides’ favorite resources for water data include the Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD), for updates on the Middle and Lower Provo River, and the US Geological Survey (USGS) National Water Information System, to check on the Weber’s flow.
Spring can be a tricky season to fish, which makes it all the more rewarding. We caught up with our fly fishing Expert, guide, and fly shop manager, Bransford Briggs, for advice on getting out on the water during this time of year…
As the mountains lose snow, our rivers gain water. Because of surging flows—which are unique to springtime—fly fishing during this season can require some added ingenuity, and extra caution. Influxes of meltwater disrupt fish’s feeding patterns, and fish will head well below the surface to avoid currents. This, unsurprisingly, has a big impact on dry fly fishing, and as a result, anglers will have to go a little deeper to find success.
Whenever it rains or water levels rise for another reason, Bransford recommends tossing a worm in the mix. In addition to worms, both scuds and sow bugs are good to throw in these conditions. Pair ‘em with a bit of weight, to deliver flies to their desired target.
As far as nymphs go, a good selection of midges, size #18-24, are essential for spring fishing, and Bransford suggests adding a black #18 Zebra Midge, with either a smaller midge or Baetis nymph trailing off the back, to your arsenal. Bling Midges and Mayhem emergers are also productive patterns.
Murky spring flows are also an excellent time to fish colorful streamer patterns, and big ol’ streamers can be highly productive—just make sure you’re using a 6- or 7-weight rod. If you’re ripping streamers through faster moving water, remember that profile is important; you want a bug that will show up in the turbidity of the current. We also recommend opting for a sink tip line, which is well-suited to streamer fishing spring’s high, rough waters.
The Season’s Hatches
Spring is known as the season of rebirth, renewal, and regrowth, so it seems fitting that a handful of hatches occur this time of year. The most important being the Baetis, or Blue Winged Olive (BWO), hatch; if the conditions are right, these little mayflies, size #18-22, will literally blanket the water. Bransford’s preferred flies for the Baetis hatch are Comparaduns, Last Chance Cripples, and CDC emergers.
In addition to BWOs, you’ll spot midges throughout the day—focus on the larger ones. We highly recommend the Mother Shucker or Orange Asher, to match the midge hatch.
With Mother’s Day comes the motherlode of hatches, particularly for the Weber River, known as the “Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch.” These small caddis, size #16-24, hatch with the intensity of a blizzard in the early evenings. Try Hemingway Caddis, Lawson’s E-Z Caddis, and Spent Partridge Caddis. Caddis emergers can also be effective.
When compared to other seasons, spring water conditions are arguably the least predictable.
Flows on tailwaters can be all over all the place, because releases are not always calculable, and it’s not uncommon to show up to the river with minimal flow, only to be fishing a flush a few hours later. With that being said, tailwaters are usually your best bet for spring fishing, as they are dam-regulated and not as susceptible to the ebbs and flows of runoff and temperature. Always be careful while wading in tailwaters this time of year, as you can easily get stuck on the wrong side of the ditch and quickly tack on extra hours to your day. On that note, always have an exit plan if the water unexpectedly rises to unsafe levels. Bring a wading staff, especially if you’re out there alone or have trouble keeping your balance in general, and when in doubt, stick to the bank.
Freestones, like the upper Provo and upper Weber, are completely dependent on runoff and rain, and can fluctuate drastically, hour to hour, and day to day. However, there is some method to the madness, and a typical springtime flow on a freestone tends to reflect the temperature. Mornings usually boast lower water levels, which rise as the day warms up, then starts to taper back when the sun sets.
If the prospect of sudden chest-deep, turbulent waters doesn’t tickle your fancy, there’s always spring creeks—which have consistent flow, year-round, and temperatures tend to stay pretty steady too. The downside to spring creeks is availability and accessibility.
… There’s Always Plan B
When your go-to waters are too high for comfort, smaller tailwaters are usually golden, and a spring creek is always a safe bet—though they take much more effort to get to. If you’re want to stay closer to home, fishing the reservoirs is a good back-up plan. The Jordanelle, Rockport, and Deer Creek Reservoir are all within a 30-minute drive of Park City. Additionally, you can always switch up the species you’re targeting—carp, bass, and even tiger muskie fishing starts to pick up in the spring.
Questions about springtime fly fishing? Stop by our fly shop to chat with our Experts, like Bransford, and learn more about what to throw and where to go. And if you’re itching to fish but don’t feel 100% comfortable with the water levels, check out our half- or full-day guided trip options—where one of our experienced guides will take you out on the water. It’s not only a great way to become familiar with the conditions and the area, but also to gain the skills and confidence for future solo trips.
Written in collaboration with Bransford Briggs, Fly Shop Manager for Jans Park Avenue.