American Fork Canyon, and the river, has a surprising history related to the old mining boom that occurred along the Wasatch Front. As the mining operations grew and expanded, the consequences for the river were negative. The river ran by, and through, so many mine tailing sites that it eventually became poisoned and could barely sustain any life, endangering the native Bonneville Cutthroat population that had somehow managed to survive in such harsh environments. In 2004 Trout Unlimited, through collaboration with other groups and organizations, spearheaded the cleanup and restoration of the river. Since that time it has become a beautiful getaway for many along the Wasatch Front.
Getting to American Fork Canyon is easy enough, from Salt Lake Valley head South and take the Lehi exit #284, from Utah Valley head North and take the Lehi exit #284. Head east on highway 92 through the city of Alpine, after 9 miles you will reach the Uinta-Wasatch Forest boundary. If you are fishing in the lower reaches of the canyon you will have to purchase a day pass from the kiosk and the entrance of the canyon. From Heber Valley take FR 085 which begins at the mouth of Snake Creek Canyon and leads all the way over the mountain to North American Fork Canyon, highway 144, which will eventually meet with highway 92.
The further up a person goes in the canyon, the more likely they are to travel back in time. Many remnants of the mining culture exist throughout the canyon. Tailing deposits are still hidden behind road guards, foundations of smelters still remain, and rusted mining equipment are just a few of those remnants. To learn more about the canyon stop by the informational placards placed by Trout Unlimited at Dutchman’s Flat.
The best way to fish the stream is by wading. There are very few places that will give you enough room along the shore to cast or even get into position to toss a fly. Also, wading in the cool water is mighty comfortable on a hot summer day. We like to use our 7'6" 3 wt rod on this stream. Weight-wise, nothing over a 5 wt should be used. There are some monsters, but they are few and far between and they make you work for them and a 5 wt is plenty of rod for them. Most of the fish that you run into are going to be in the 6-10" range. A rod in the 8-9' range is probably going to be your best bet to get into each pocket but still far enough so the fish won’t become aware of your presence, even though the 7'6" still works great.
Anywhere you look you're more than likely to find a hole that has fish. Two big obstacles are going to get in your way though. First, if it's a weekend or holiday, that hole is probably right next to someone's campsite and their kids were just playing in it a few minutes before you came wading up. Second, if you're not careful the fish saw you well before you even unhooked your fly from the hook keeper. American Fork River will test your skills when it comes to sneak and hiding, but if you do that correctly the fish will reward your hard work. You'll more than likely catch a cutthroat or rainbow, but don’t be surprised if you catch a brown or brook trout which have been seen in the river, even though rare.
Be prepared for a beautiful ride through the canyon and be on the lookout for the abundant wildlife that call it home. As well, when the road climbs above the canyon, just take a minute to look over the canyon wall down to the river to admire the grand work of creation, don't worry though, the river meets back up with the road and has many more places to fish.
Get away from the city for a little while, hit American Fork River, stop by a few sites of the remnants of the old mining towns that dotted the canyon, and enjoy each pocket of water that you pull a fish from. As always, Good Luck and Guid Luck!!