Boulder Mountain • Craig Peacock had heard enough about the fishing and camping on Boulder Mountain to decide to make one exploratory 5-hour drive to check it out for himself. Like many others, Peacock had wrongly assumed that southern Utah was all about slot canyons, redrock desert and natural arches.
The reports he had heard were confirmed: high mountains lakes, huge aspen stands, lots of wildlife and good fishing.
"You start driving up and everything looks like a red rock desert and all of the sudden you are in high mountain splendor," said Peacock, who made his first trip to fish on Boulder Mountain 2 1/2 years ago. He has since made five or six trips every year.
The reason for so many long drives from his home in Riverton? Brightly colored and big fish in a beautiful setting.
Boulder Mountain has a well-deserved reputation for producing large brook and tiger (a sterile hybrid cross between a brown and a brook) trout. Not to mention a healthy and every bit as colorful population of native Colorado River cutthroat trout.
Fueling the idea of monster brook and tiger trout is the fact that the state record brook trout all 7 pounds, 8 ounces of it was caught on the Boulders by Milton Taft back in 1971.
Peacock says he is quite aware of the state record and beating it doesn't escape his thoughts as he kicks around Boulder Mountain lakes in his float tube.
"If I caught a new record that would be wonderful, but I'm not sure one exists right now," he said. "Besides, I have enough fun catching the ones I am hooking."
The ones Peacock is hooking and landing include 251/2-inch tiger trout and 20-inch brook trout. Not too shabby for a high desert mountain in the middle of nowhere. Anglers can also find rainbow trout and Arctic grayling in Boulder Mountain lakes. There are even some brown trout in some of the lower elevation streams.
Peacock may not be far off in thinking a state record may not currently be swimming on the Boulders.
State wildlife biologists say it may be a while before the 40-year-old brook trout record is topped.
"It is always possible there could be a new record out there, but that fish was caught in a unique situation in a lake with a low density of fish. It may have been the only trout caught in that lake that year," said Michael Hadley, an aquatics biologist working on Boulder Mountain for the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). "But there are some big fish being caught at a number of lakes."
Hadley says there are 80 fishable lakes on Boulder Mountain Peacock has only 22 or so more to go before he fishes them all.
The Boulders which run from the border of Capitol Reef National Park on the northeast diagonally in a southwest direction nearly to Bryce Canyon National Park are flanked on the north by the towns of Teasdale and Torrey, and on the south by Boulder and Escalante as well as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Boulder Mountain is managed largely by the Dixie National Forest and encompasses landmarks like the Aquarius Plateau, Hell's Backbone, Table Cliff Plateau and Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area.
Fishing has long been a draw on the Boulders, but the state re-evaluated how the fisheries were being managed in the late 1990s. Changes for many of the waters came as a result.
"The idea was to try and maximize every lake and make sure it was living up to its potential for producing quality fish," Hadley said.
Some anglers were concerned the DWR was mounting an attack on the brook trout of Boulder Mountain with plans to replace them with native Colorado River cutthroat trout populations. It was only partially true.
"We want the proper fish in the proper place, and that is not necessarily always a brook trout. It is about what fish perform best in each lake," Hadley said. "In some places where we were getting too high of a fish density we introduced sterile tiger trout and cutthroat trout, which won't overpopulate."
More than 16 lakes with brook trout overpopulations were identified under the Sport Fish Enhancement Plan, and the state planned to remove all fish from those waters and start over. Three lakes were removed from the list due to public comments.
"The focus of the project was to increase the growth and condition of the fish available to anglers," Hadley said. "It was a misconception that we were trying to get rid of brook trout. Over 60 percent of our fishable waters are still managed with brook trout."
Data are still being collected, but the size of the fish, on average, appears to be increasing. Back when the evaluations were being done, some of the lakes averaged trout in the 6- to 9-inch range. In the past year, some of those same waters have produced fish in the 12- to 15-inch range and the opportunity to catch fish over 20 inches has reached more lakes than ever.
That is a tangible and observable number for Chad Utley. Like Peacock, he wasn't sure what to expect when he first visited Boulder Mountain more than 20 years ago.
Utley, of St. George, has watched the size of the fish grow just in time for his children to benefit from the management plan. Cooper, 10, often outfishes his father when they take the float tubes out for a day on Boulder Mountain.
The Utleys enjoy taking family trips for the ease of fishing at some of the lakes easily accessible from the myriad roads on the Boulders. But when it comes time to get serious about the size of the fish, Utley plans a fall trip with his fishing buddies.
"It is a great place to take my family during the summer months, but when I'm fishing with my friends in the fall we go for an entirely different reason," he said. "We are looking for big brook and tiger trout that are all colored up. Fall is an amazing time to fish the Boulders."
Fall fishing on Boulder Mountain
See a video of fall fishing on the Boulder Mountains at http://www.sltrib.com/outdoors
Special fishing regulations on Boulder Mountain
Daily trout limit • four fish, only two trout over 22 inches
Bonus limit • four brook trout (total limit of no more than eight trout if at least four are brook trout.
Closed • Lakes are closed Jan. 1 through 6 a.m. on the third Saturday of April and Nov. 1 to Dec. 31. The following waters are open throughout the year: Blind Lake; Oak Creek Reservoir, Upper and Lower Barker reservoirs, Donkey Reservoir, Posey Lake and the Garkane main impoundment.
Dougherty Basin Lake is closed to the possession of cutthroat trout or trout with cutthroat markings; is artificial flies and lures only and is closed Jan. 1 through 6 a.m. on the second Saturday of July.