It's been a while since we've been able to get in some fishing. A couple of things have contributed to this dilemma, 1) We have had a "normal" winter here in Utah and most of our fishing spots are snowed in or frozen over, and 2) a couple of our extra-curricular activities have taken over a lot of our time.
Spring, however, is trying to make a quick comeback here in Utah and some of our fishing spots are opening up, namely Big Cottonwood Canyon. The fishing on the creek was pretty good. We used a standard dry-dropper rig, a 16 Orange Stimulator and about sixteen inches behind that was an 18 Gunslinger. We got into both Brown and Rainbow Trout, primarily Rainbows though.
We were able to land into two decent sized Rainbows on this trip. Both of them were pushing over 14 inches and for Big Cottonwood Creek, they are the heavyweights of the river. The larger fish on this trip took the nymph while the smaller fish took the stimulator from the surface. The Rainbows in Big Cottonwood Creek are a wild population and they swim hard and the minute that they are hooked they swim down. If you want to get into the Rainbows you'll want to fish above the power plant.
One of these Rainbows was our Moby Dick for this stretch of the creek. We have hooked in with this fish multiple times and it quickly puts a bend in our 3 weight rod and it quickly spits the fly. It's dark red lateral line standing out against its aged, brown body. Today we were lucky enough to feel it tug on our rod and we quickly set the hook. It had the rod bent and quickly swam into the log jam downstream. In between the submerged limbs it went and we thought we had lost him. Using the rod, we were able to guide him away from the obstacles and get him into our net.
The wilderness is powerful, beautiful in its cruel evenhanded nature. Today we had the opportunity to see that very principle in action. Coming around a bend in the river we were startled by a large, hairy animal in the water. It took a quick, second look to realize what had happened. In the water lay a young moose, one that could not have been more than two years old. Coming down to the water for a drink, the moose found itself unable to get back out of the small canyon that the water had cut. It could have broken its leg, the snow may have been too deep, but there it lay. It had been there a while, snow still covered it in places. Nature is cruel and beautiful, ever pushing us to do more with the time we have.
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In the Western United States, if the Cutthroat Trout is the darling of the fly-fishing community, the Rainbow is the Heavyweight Champion of the Trout World. From the West Coast, the Rainbow has found its way across the United States and has becoming a favorite of many fly-fishermen. Currently there are 14 subspecies, from the well-known and loved Steelhead to the rare and beautiful Golden Trout (of which there is a current debate whether the Golden Trout is a subspecies of the Rainbow or a separate species in its own right), the Rainbow is an extensive family.
Rainbows were originally found in the Western rivers of the United States, specifically those West of the Sierra Nevadas, as well as tributaries of the Snake River in Idaho. This geographic isolation in the United States allowed the species to evolve separately from their cousin the Cutthroat, some of which were literally just on the other side of the ridge line. As well, the big brothers in this family, the Steelhead have a range that extends to the Kamchatka territory of Russia. In fact the species epithet of the Rainbow trout, mykiss, is derived from the Kamchatkan word for “fish”-mykizha. While the Rainbow is an American fish, we owe its scientific name to the fact that this fish has the perseverance to fight against its environment and make it across an ocean.
The genus oncorhynchus describes it as a member of the pacific trout group, which also includes the Cutthroat Trout. The native range of Rainbow Trout includes the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Washington, Nevada, and Idaho. Various Rainbow subspecies have been introduced to Eastern and Western water systems that do not have native populations. And it is this introduction in waters that have native populations of Cutthroats that is displacing that native fish, either by outright competition or by hybridization.
The predominant red stripe that extends from gills to tail along the body is the distinct characteristic and the reason this fish is called a Rainbow Trout. It dissects the body in half, the upper half generally ranging from a blue-green to olive green hue and the lower portion generally a grey to silver coloration. Heavy black spotting extends over the entire body of the Rainbow.
Due to the various subspecies of Rainbow it is difficult to give accurate descriptions of each, however, there are some characteristics that each fly-fisherman should be aware of. Rainbows can vary in size from 6-40 inches in length and in weight from mere ounces to 20 pounds. All of these size variations are due to the various environments that the Rainbow is found in. Stream fish are of course smaller than those found in larger rivers and stillwaters.
Rainbow spawning takes place anywhere from February to early July, depending on geographic placement of the subspecies. Water temperature is key to the spawn, it will begin when water temps reach between 43*-46*. Rainbow spawn in small to moderately large streams and rivers that are clear, well oxygenated, and have a pebble or fine gravel bottom. The female will construct a redd in the gravel and then lay anywhere between 2,000-4,000 eggs. After birth, the juvenile Rainbows take about 3-5 years to mature.
While the native range of the Rainbow was along the Pacific Coast of the United States and Canada, it has been introduced into every State of the Union. Even California has a small population and Steelhead have been introduced into the Great Lakes region, giving those fishermen there the opportunity to challenge these heavyweight fighters. Regardless of their home, Rainbows prefer to live in cold, clear, well-oxygenated, shallow rivers with gravel bottoms, or cold, moderately deep lakes. Stream-side vegetation that reduces erosion is great Cutthroat habitat.
As with most any other trout, Rainbows are opportunistic feeders, feeding on larval, pupal, and adult forms of aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, fish eggs, small fish, scuds, crayfish, and everything in between, even taking an earthworm if the opportunity presents itself. Bigger fish will often cannibalize younger, smaller rainbows, or any other fish that share the same waterway. Coastal Rainbows, of course, also vary their diet by adding marine animals to their consumption: shrimp, squid, and krill are all added to the menu.
Generally, the Rainbow Trout is looked upon as being a healthy fish, and one that is not as in danger of extinction as the Cutthroat, however, there are ecological concerns for the Rainbow Trout population. First, native ranges of this trout are being lost due to human growth, pollution, and farming. Especially the Steelhead, it has been listed as either endangered, threatened, or listed as a species of concern depending on the governmental entity that is listing them. Another concern is Whirling Disease, of which the Rainbow is highly susceptible. This single disease, or more truthfully the parasite that causes it, can lead to the decline and even complete elimination of populations of fish. Hybridization with the Cutthroat, while a major concern for the Cutthroat populations, is still a concern for the Rainbows. Slowly, both fish are mating to their mutual extinction. Ironically, however, these hybridized "Cutbows," seem to have a natural resistance to whirling disease, and unlike other hybridized species, they are fertile.
What does this mean for the fly-fisherman. First, fish for Rainbows as you would any other trout species in the United States. Use nymphs, wet flies, dries, streamers, whatever you have in your trout arsenal and you'll more than likely catch a Bow if you're fishing in waters that hold them. What we need to do is make sure that we're fishing in a manner that is in the best interest of our quarry. If practicing Catch and Release, make sure everything that you are doing is going to minimize loss and maximize healthy return.
There is nothing like catching a wild rainbow from your favorite stream. Where the Cutthroat is ready to take a dry fly on the surface, the Rainbow is more than happy to put a tug on your line and don't be surprised when that fish you expected to be 20 inches turns into something closer to 12. As always, good luck and guid luck!
Growing up along the Provo River in Utah, I've seen countless numbers of Fly Fishermen search for the Tug. It's in the small streams that the dream is realized.