The Provo River is one of the most iconic fly fishing rivers in the state of Utah. The vast majority of fly jockeys hit the lower or middle stretches of the river, leaving the upper stretches to those of us who love small waters. While we enjoy fishing the lower and middle stretches, real fly fishing magic takes place on the upper stretches.
The Upper Provo River flows from the high mountain streams of the Uinta Mountains to Jordanelle Reservoir in the Wasatch Mountains. This mountain freestone is a wonderful place to get away from the fly jockeys that want to hit the Middle or Lower stretches of the Provo and get back to the root of Fly-Fishing small streams.
Getting to the Upper Provo itself is fairly simple. From Heber City head North on Highway 40 to the light on River Road/SR 32 and turn East towards Kamas. Follow SR 32 for about 8 miles. SR 32 wraps around Jordanelle Reservoir and crosses the Upper Provo River near its inlet with the Reservoir. Here is the lowest point of the Upper Provo. From here until you get into the National Forest the River passes in and out of Private Property. From SR 32 the river follows along the Lower River Road that cuts off right before getting to Oakley. The river then cuts through the hills and mountains and meets up with Highway 150 from Kamas, the Mirror Lake Highway, and follows close to that highway to its headwaters.
The flow of the river is that of a mountain stream, completely dependent upon the snowpack and rain to fill its bed. As the river flows downstream from its headwaters to Jordanelle, it gets larger and begins to resemble its little brothers downstream. The upper stretches though are reminiscent of the many small streams that flow from the Uintas. This section of the Provo does not get fished a lot, either because of the private property in the lower stretches, or because of the smaller fish and numbers that are characteristic of its upper stretches, either way, it's hard to find another fisherman on the river.
At the inlet into Jordanelle, at Rock Cliff State Park, the fishing can be great, especially in the time right before spawns. But the fishing around that area is short-lived due to the river very quickly entering private property. If you can get permission to fish through that property you should be in for a treat, bigger fish with very, very little pressure. Once you get on the Mirror Lake Highway and enter the National Forest, you can fish any stretch of the river that you want to or are brave enough to hike down to, in places. The Upper Provo cut its way through a rugged mountain range, it’s difficult to forget this while hiking down to the river.
Most places along this river will allow for distance to cast and the ability to stay back and hidden from the fish, which comes in very handy when the water turns crystal clear! For the lower stretches a 9' 5 wt is a great rod, it gives you the power to push the fly across the river and if you're lucky to get into a fish big enough, the rod will handle it without a problem. The upper stretches, any 3 wt rod is key. The fish in the river get smaller the higher up you go, the smaller weight rod will be perfect for those battles.
Depending on what stretch you decide to fish really determines the fish that you will catch. In the lower stretches you’ll find browns, rainbows, and cutthroats. In the upper sections you will run into brookies. Don’t be surprised though if you luck into a grayling. While rare it has been known to happen...they are able to swim down from the lakes they have been planted into and a few make the river their home.
The fish in the lower stretches are more difficult to catch than the fish in the upper stretches. Hatches become a little more consistent and larger the further down the river you go. Standard midge, mayfly, and caddis patterns work well, as well as stoneflies. In the upper stretches, terrestrials are beautiful and will encourage even the wiliest of fish to rise. Fish in the upper stretches are opportunistic and will readily take most things that are offered.
While fishing, be prepared, and a bit cautious, you never know what you might run into. Moose call the Uinta Mountains home and for being as large as they are, are more than capable of hiding in the willows until you stumble upon them. Bear also claim the mountains as home, be prepared! The wildlife and scenery of this section of the Provo River make up for anything the other sections have that this one does not.
While not as well known as the Middle and Lower Sections, the Upper Provo is a gem in her own right. Widely overlooked by the fly-fishing community, it's one of our favorite rivers to take new fishermen to. It offers space to cast and fish that are more than forgiving. As always, Good Luck and Guid Luck!
What a bright, sunny day. And the fly-fishing was amazing. We decided to hit the Upper Provo River. First, it's a beautiful drive through God's country to get to the Upper Provo, especially the stretch that we wanted to fish. A short drive along the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway and we pulled over above the Provo River Falls. It should be noted that you should pull over and take a walk around the falls, even if you don't plan on doing any fishing, it's beautiful up there. The river was running crystal clear and a little low compared to a few weeks ago, but it was cold and refreshing on a warm summer day.
The beauty of this stretch of river is the fish that call it home. It is chock full of wonderfully colored Brookies that would make any Eastern river fisherman jealous. And they are plentiful and hungry. Almost every other cast in the pockets that dot this high mountain river was a take. Just like their brethren in the Eastern mountain streams, they weren't monsters by any stretch of the imagination, but their beauty and tenacity made up for anything they lacked in size.
It was easy to forget to take pictures while fishing on this trip. The fishing was just that good and it was easy to get lost in the magic of the moment. The fish didn't care about anything subsurface, which was wonderful. Every take was on the surface and we quickly cut off the dropper we had and focused on bringing these beauties to the surface. A size 16 Yellow Stimulator did the trick, even though they more than likely would have been happy with anything that we would have thrown at them.
Fishing this upper stretch is not without challenges though, and be ready for them. In places the river runs fast, a lot of drop in elevation characterizes this stretch. Be prepared to do some rock climbing to get up to the next stretch of river or pool, and sometimes it makes you wonder how the fish moved up some of the drops, but if you're careful, you'll discover them in some hidden pool that others may not have had the gumption to get to. Check out the gallery for more photos. 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.