Big Cottonwood Creek begins its flow at its headwaters near Brighton Ski Resort. Multiple high mountain lakes contribute to the flow of the creek, including, Silver Lake, Twin Lakes Reservoir, Lake Mary, Lake Martha, Lake Catherine, and Dog Lake. From its source to its confluence with the Jordan River the creek flows for nearly 28 miles and drops in elevation from 9,600 feet to 4, 250 feet, nearly a mile. The prime spots for fishing though is going to be in the canyon.
The creek follows pretty close to the road, with the exception of a few places, for the entirety of the drive up to Brighton Ski Resort. Fishing can be had in most stretches of the canyon. Pick a pull-out and begin, it is that simple. Some places the creek may be down a small incline from the pull-out, other times it might be a short walk across a small meadow, and in a few rare occasions you may have wished you brought your rock climbing gear instead. Regardless of where you fish in the canyon, be sure to pack your waders. The watershed is the primary water source for the Salt Lake Valley and you must wear waders whenever you get into the water.
Big Cottonwood Canyon is beautiful in its domineering strength. Lined with cottonwoods, pines, willows and granite protrusions, it’s not as rugged as its sister canyon to the south, but don’t take that for granted. Big Cottonwood Creek has been known to take the life of careless recreational enthusiast. It cannot be emphasized enough that some of the stretches of the creek should be approached with extreme caution. This pristine example, though, of nature still reigning dominant over man is one reason this canyon is so popular with the teeming urbanites.
For Big Cottonwood Creek we suggest taking a 7’6” 3 wt as your standard rod. Nothing longer because of the limited space that’s available for casting. There will be times, rare though they may be, that you will wish that you brought your 5 wt. Due to the rugged nature of the creek the fish may become monsters relative to their actual size. Though your average catch will likely be no more than 12” they will fight like they’re over 16”. You will more than likely take a wild Brown Trout but don’t be surprised if you get a Rainbow, Cutthroat, or Brook Trout, all of which call Big Cottonwood Creek home. Be prepared for fast takes and rugged runs from the majority of the fish, this is pocketwater fishing at its finest. In the meadow stretches though, the fish are a little bit more methodical to their approach, they’ll wait and if it’s not on the menu they won’t take it. Big Cottonwood Creek is a great creek to work on various styles of fishing, all on one waterway.
In the pocketwater it’s more about presentation and making sure everything looks right and less about which fly you choose. In the meadows, the fish are a lot more finicky and you need to bring the right flies and the presentation needs to be absolutely perfect. Standard midge, mayfly, and caddis patterns work well, with the occasional stonefly. In the summer and fall try some terrestrials. Our most productive setup has been a hopper-dropper with a standard, generic nymph about 18” from the hopper.
No more than thirty minutes from anywhere in the Salt Lake Valley, Big Cottonwood Creek is a welcomed reprieve from the bustle of the city. Even though the canyon itself is heavily used, you are more than likely the only fisherman that you’ll see. As always, Good Luck and Guid Luck!!