Photos by Mary Waterman
FLY FISHING THE MIDDLE PROVO RIVER, JUST OUTSIDE PARK CITY, UTAH, OFFERS APPROACHABLE AND SCENIC WINTER FISHING
Regardless of your skill level, the Middle Provo River, in the Heber Valley just outside of Park City, Utah, might offer the most approachable and scenic winter fly fishing in America. Whether you come to Provo as a novice or an expert, you will find something here to challenge, inspire, and reward your visit.
To start, “The Middle,” as it is locally known, has a truly unique and successful restoration story. The dynamics that challenge riparian conservation came together earnestly in the Heber Valley between 1999 and 2008. The State of Utah, The Feds, the local ranchers, and the NGOs all worked together to comprehensively restore the Middle Provo. They reduced the ditch banks, fenced the herds, silenced the motors, added miles of a new channel, and restored a postcard-worthy high valley. Today it is 13 miles of the most beautiful and healthy blue ribbon tailwaters, perhaps anywhere outside of a Wilderness Area. And there is no time of year more suited to experiencing this accomplishment than deep snowy winter.
The Provo is well known for challenging rocky straights interrupted by perfect pools and lots of small “buckets.” Thanks to the restoration, it enjoys healthy and robust all-season hatches. The Fishing pressure is also well known and for a good reason. The pressure eases off notably in the winter, but be open to walking the next bend. (Cross-country skiing is the only other use allowed along Provo). The days are shorter and slower, but the beauty and rewards of staying focused are unequaled.
All the poetry of fly fishing will welcome you to the Heber Valley in Winter. One of the best-kept secrets is how easily visitors can sneak away from “shredding powder” at Park City’s mega ski areas and “slay the browns” on the Provo.
The minute you get your waders in the water, you will be standing amongst 3000 fish per mile. The stream holds mostly well-educated healthy mid-sized Browns. You might have a surprise Rainbow or a Bonneville Cutthroat from time to time, and there is always a chance larger fish could come up from Deer Creek reservoir. The fish in the Provo are very catchable for every skill level if you don’t take shortcuts, but you will earn every fish you catch.
Imagine casting to snow-banked waters a mile above sea level. The Middle Provo is a perfect river to expand your mobility and climate comfort zones, but start your winter fishing trip focused on staying slow, comfortable, and safe.
The Provo is an easily accessible river. The trails are obvious, and the few fences are all pass-through gated. The parking areas have excellent maps and information kiosks. You also won’t be alone. The scene on the Provo tends to be as friendly as it gets, so local information is typically easy to obtain.
Daytime temperatures tend to be mild by Midwestern standards, with highs between 35 and 40 (F) commonplace. Lows can dip towards single digits. Don’t let the postcard beauty distract you, though. Temps can drop quickly in the early afternoons, and mornings can be bitter. Keep your belt tight, and be aware of the consequences of even a mild dip.
Mountain tailwaters have other benefits for winter anglers. The flows from Jordanelle reservoir are predictably moderate to low. More importantly, since flows come from the bottom of the lake, the water temperatures are very consistent. Remember, fish are much less likely to feed or rise when the water gets below 40 degrees. A thermometer comes in handy when winter fly fishing. The Provo usually has enough daytime warming to support good fishing all winter.
In the Winter, Provo midges maketh the man. Come prepared to up your rig discipline, improve your entomology awareness, and shrug off the Hollywood casting. Snowbank sessions on The Middle will present enjoyable opportunities for new and intermediate anglers to advance their confidence and skills. Local nymphing rigs are iconic and are referred to as the “Provo River Bounce Rig!” You’ve seen this rig before if you have been at the nymphing game long. It was supposedly invented on the Provo but is similar to earlier rigs like the “Right Angle Nymph Rig.”
Story compliments of Wild Water Fly Fishing. (link) below.