Fishing: Uinta range offers anglers amazing diversity (with interactive quiz)
When it comes to creating memories of fishing in Utah, few places rival the scenery, diversity and opportunity of the state's northeastern corner.
Brett Alexander, like so many other Utahns, caught his first fish as a wee lad in the Uintas. It was only natural that he would head to his favorite fishing destination to provide the same opportunity for his daughters, Kaylee, 4, and McKenzie, 2.
"My wife also caught her first fish in the Uintas," said Alexander, of Murray. "We head up there quite a bit during the summer. We are so lucky to have the mountains so close and the fishing so good. I'm impatient. I don't like to wait around. I like to go someplace where I actually get to catch something. Kaylee has no idea what it means to go fishing and not catch anything."
Alexander isn't just bragging. If you can't catch fish in the Uintas, you are fishing without a hook.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), cognizant of the area's popularity, tries to keep the lakes and rivers stocked with a wide variety of sport fish.
As soon as access is possible, Ted Hallows and his staff at DWR's Kamas Fish Hatchery are busy stocking around 650 of the more than 1,000 lakes in the Uintas that can sustain fish.
"It is pretty much a put-and-take program, especially along the Mirror Lake Highway," Hallows said. "The Uintas provide a lot of great family fishing destinations, but there are also opportunities for more hard-core anglers to enjoy the backcountry."
State wildlife officials stock fish where they can reach them with hatchery trucks and use adapted Cessna 185 airplanes to plant fish in back country lakes. Waters along Highway 150 (more commonly called the Mirror Lake Highway running from Kamas to Evanston, Wyo.) are planted on at least a weekly basis throughout the summer with fish in the 8- to 12-inch range. Backcountry lakes are stocked with fish under 3 inches via aerial plants every three to five years.
The Kamas Hatchery produces 145,000 pounds of fish annually and most of those fish end up in the Uintas.
"If fishing is slow at one lake, don't hesitate to move," Hallows said. "Chances are the fish may be biting at the next lake."
On the Uintas lakes menu: rainbow, cutthroat, brown and brook trout and grayling. A small population of golden trout remain from a stocking in the late 1970s despite competition from brook trout.
The tiger trout -- a sterile hybrid mix between a brook and a brown trout -- were recently introduced to the Uintas. Some anglers are still trying to figure out exactly what kind of Frankenstein fish they are catching, as the seemingly weekly e-mails and calls to DWR fisheries officials illustrate. But many have grown fond of the aggressive trout with the worm-like mottled pattern across their entire body.
"They are kind of ideal for fish management efforts," said Roger Wilson, who spent 13 years working as a fisheries biologist in the Uintas and is now the sport fish coordinator for the DWR. "They are not able to reproduce and they are not long lived. We can phase them out if we need to and in the meantime they provide some excellent angling."
Fishing management efforts in the Uintas have been moving toward native cutthroat trout populations for several years and Wilson expects the trend to continue well into the future. That does not mean non-native species like rainbow, brook, brown and golden trout will be phased out completely, however.
For the short season -- access is usually possible from mid-June through October -- the Uintas are still one of the most popular fishing destinations in Utah.
"Collectively, the Uintas show up as our fourth or fifth most utilized resource," Wilson said. "The Uintas are second in interest to Strawberry in the summer months. The lakes of the Uintas are also very important because they offer such a great family fishery."
With so many choices, both in species and in accessibility, picking a place to fish in the Uintas can be daunting. The choice can be as difficult as picking the right lure or bait. The decision usually comes down to accessibility.
Many fisheries are visible from the Mirror Lake Highway. As you may expect, these lakes bear the brunt of the angling pressure in the Uintas. If you don't mind a little company, are short on time or want to be close to the car should the famous Uintas afternoon thunder bumpers roll in, then a roadside lake like Mirror, Trial, Washington, Pass, Moosehorn or Butterfly is in order. That said, there are plenty of times during the week and after Labor Day when these fisheries are not littered with anglers, although you may have to share the water with a moose or two on occasion.
If you are looking to get away from the crowds and have a full day, consider a short hike into the backcountry. Numerous trailheads in the Uintas provide access to 450,000 acres of true wilderness. Once you've made a decision on where to fish, the question is what to use. Most anglers, particularly along the Mirror Lake Highway lakes, use bait. Night crawlers, Power bait and salmon eggs are all good choices. Bait isn't a good choice, however, if you plan on practicing catch and release fishing, as was evident on a recent trip, with dead fish scattered around the edges of several lakes.
If you want to catch fish all day and not stop at the limit of four (eight if you're taking advantage of the Uintas bonus regulation of four extra brook trout) because the fish are bleeding and won't survive, consider using flies or lures.
One of the best methods is a spinning rod with a casting bubble trailing a wet or dry fly. You can do the same thing with spinners and lures. Bait may still be the best idea for young children, but kids who can cast and reel are capable of fishing this way.
When the fishing slows, take the time to soak up the scenery, listen to the wind through the pines, and watch the clouds race by.
"The Uintas are so unique. Fishing is just part of the experience. There is such a sense of wilderness, of solitude that comes from being there," Wilson said.
Roadside » Looking for a variety of species? Washington Lake is a large and popular destination for anglers who don't want to venture too far from the Mirror Lake Highway. Located just south and west of Trial Lake, Washington has rainbow, brook and tiger trout, as well as an occasional grayling. This is a good place to fish from a canoe, kayak or float tube.
Backpack » The Dry Fork Trail in the Weber River drainage is a steep one, but if your goal is to catch grayling this is the place to go. Round is the first lake at 3 1/2 miles. Sand Lake, a half-mile from Round, and Fish Lake, one mile from round, also contain grayling. The largest grayling are in Fish Lake. Grayling are most easily caught on dry and wet flies and rarely take bait.
Day hike » The Crystal Lake Trailhead is the starting point for an amazing number of lakes. Weir Lake, about 2 1/2 miles west of the trailhead via the Lake Country and Weir Lake trails, is one of my favorites. The catch is dominated with cutthroat trout and some grayling thrown in for fun.
Lodge » If you are looking for a little more comfort while fishing in the Uintas there are lodges with reservable rooms available at Spirit Lake (http://spiritlakeutah.com/index.html" Target="_BLANK">http://spiritlakeutah.com/index.html) and Moon Lake (http://www.moonlakeresort.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.moonlakeresort.com). Both resorts offer boat rentals.
Four-wheel-drive » There are plenty of options for exploring Uintas fishing destinations via a high-clearance vehicle, but a good place to start is the Spring Canyon Road. The rough road runs from the Mirror Lake Highway to Washington Lake.
Rivers » Don't forget the area's running waters. Chances are the fish are rarely pursued in many of the streams and rivers and are usually even more eager than their lake brethren to hit your bait, fly or lure. Larger rivers like the Duchesne, Provo, Weber and Bear -- and their tributaries --- can hold surprisingly large fish.
Brookie bonus » The Uinta Mountains fall under a statewide trout limit of four fish. However, to help reduce prolific brook trout populations, anglers are allowed to keep a "bonus" of four extra brook trout as part of their daily catch. There has been some confusion on this regulation because brook and tiger trout (a hybrid between a brook and a brown) look similar. The best way to tell the difference is the mottled tiger-pattern that runs across the entire body of a tiger trout. The pattern can also be found on brook trout, but only on the back.
Safety » It's always a good idea to leave details of your planned excursion, including your planned location and time you expect to return home, with family or friends. Don't forget to call when you get home so search and rescue isn't called out for naught.
Travel » Roads in the Uintas range from paved highways to gravel roads acceptable for passenger cars to rough and tumble four-wheel-drive and high clearance doozies that will make you happy that spare tire is inflated.
Camping » Dispersed camping is allowed for car campers, hikers and horseback riders in the Uintas, but make sure to check Forest Service rules.
Boats » Those who want to float once they arrive in the Uintas are allowed to use canoes, kayaks and float tubes. However, anyone fishing on the water must fill out one of the state's new invasive species Decontamination Certification forms and leave it in plain sight in their vehicle. You can download the forms at http://wildlife.utah.gov/mussels/PDF/self_certify.pdf" Target="_BLANK">http://wildlife.utah.gov/mussels/PDF/self_certify.pdf. Small boats with electric motors are allowed on Mirror, Washington and Trial lakes.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has a series of 10 booklets called Lakes of the High Uintas, six of which are currently available. They include: Dry Gulch & Uinta Drainage; Duchesne Drainage; Provo & Weber Drainage; Rock Creek Drainage; Sheep Creek, Carter Creek & Burnt Creek Drainage; Yellowstone, Lake Fork & Swift Creek Drainage. The booklets are $2 and available at the Natural Resources Map and Bookstore, 1594 W. North Temple, in Salt Lake City, by calling 801-537-3320, or online at http://mapstore.utah.gov/dnrpages/wildlife.htm" Target="_BLANK">http://mapstore.utah.gov/dnrpages/wildlife.htm. Information from the booklets on the Uintas is also included in Fishing Utah by Brett Prettyman.