Several small to mid-sized rivers and creeks await the intrepid angler looking for epic fly fishing within an hour or two of Salt Lake City.
Cold, spring-fed streams and alpine views are just part of what brings anglers from around the world to Utah searching for big browns, rainbows and native cutthroats.
Salt Lake City is nestled between the Wasatch Mountains to the east and the Ocher Mountains to the west.
There are excellent fishing opportunities within the valley and the surrounding canyons, or a short drive through the mountains to blue-ribbon fisheries like the Provo, Weber and Ogden rivers.
The Provo-Orem area has quick access to the Provo River, Diamond Fork and the Price River. There are plenty of places to gear up in Provo, and the surrounding rivers have great camping.
If you’re starting your adventure in the Ogden area, you’ll have quick access to the Ogden River and Weber River.
A little farther north, the Logan River is still just an hour’s drive, so it’s easy to get into some incredible trout fishing just out your door.
Wherever you start your trip, whether in SLC or beyond, follow this guide to find trout eagerly waiting to crush that #16 yellow humpy.
Fly Fishing Gear
Most of the streams and creeks in the area are perfect for a 3wt rod, though the bigger waters like the Ogden, Logan, Weber, and Provo will put a 4wt or 5wt to work.
Be sure to bring a net, preferably a catch and release-friendly style. There are plenty of big browns in the rivers, so a quality net is a must.
Flies vary a bit by water system, but we’ll share what we think is the best list of both dry and wet fly patterns to keep on hand when fishing in Utah.
If you have the following patterns in your fly box, you should do okay throughout the year.
Utah has some excellent dry fly opportunities, so mayflies and caddis are always welcome here. Be sure to include:
- Parachute Adams in #14-#18. The Adams is an all-around go-to fly that’s good to have in your box whenever trout are on the menu.
- PMD, or Pale Morning Dun in #14-#18.
- BWO, or Blue Winged Olive in #16-#22. These are particularly deadly in the spring and fall.
- Yellow Humpy in #14-#18. I love fishing the beginning section of deeper runs or the end section of ripples with these.
- Royal Wulff in #16-#18. If you’re not sure what hatch is happening or there isn’t much bug activity, tie on one of these and see what you find.
- Green Drake in #10-#16. The Middle Provo is a go-to spot from May through early July with Green Drakes. The Ogden is another can’t miss place with this fly.
- Elk Hair Caddis in #14-#18. I stick with olive or tan patterns, and I like to add a bead head hares ear nymph below and use the caddis as an indicator.
- Hoppers in #8-#14 are superb from mid-July through October. Having a big brown crush a hopper is the best.
Wet flies should be in your box because emerging bugs are happening, whether you’re aware or not.
Scuds are the go-to in the winter, though they also can be good in the spring and fall.
- BH Hares Ear in #14-#20. Why would you ever hit the river without hare’s ears in your box?
- Prince Nymph or BH Prince in #14-#18. These are useful on slower-moving waters. Tie one 3-4 feet below a hopper or a yellow humpy. It can be effective on lakes and ponds.
- Sow Bug in #14-#18. The go-to for spring fishing.
- Pheasant Tail in #14-#20. These follow along with the hare’s ear. Use them when nothing else is working.
- BH Flashback Pheasant Tail #14-#20. Perfect for tying below an elk hare caddis or yellow humpy.
- Copper John in #14-#18. The copper reflects off these beauties and draws in the fish.
- Zug Bug in #14-#18. Work these in slower waters, behind boulders, and in pools.
- Black or Brown Stonefly Nymph in #4-#12. These are great on the Prove, Ogden, and other rivers with good stonefly populations.
- Wooley Bugger in #4-#12. Take a Wooley Bugger to a lake or river, and you’ll have a great day of streamer action.
- Muddler Minnow in #2-#10. Great streamers for rivers and lakes.
- Leech patterns in #4-#10. Whether you strip these fast or slow, trout smash them on the pause.
Rivers Near Salt Lake City
Some of the more famous fly fishing rivers in the area are an hour’s drive from SLC and will put your skills to the test, but others are far closer.
Targeting browns that average 2 to 3 pounds and can run over 10 pounds on the Weber, Provo and Ogden rivers more than make up for the smaller fish found in the higher elevations.
Not all the great fly fishing near Salt Lake City occurs in the better known rivers an hour or more away.
Sometimes, in fact, the best fly-fishing rivers near SLC can be reached in minutes.
Creeks run down the canyons that offer quick getaways for those looking to catch pan-sized trout. The best part of that is you can at these small streams in 15 minutes.
After we cover some of the best-known rivers in the region, we’ll tell you about three smaller streams just minutes away, so you can get in an hour or two of great fishing after work.
Big Cottonwood Creek
Big Cottonwood Creek runs down Big Cottonwood Canyon and through the Salt Lake Valley. You can get to some great fishing spots within 10 to 15 minutes from downtown SLC.
The canyon, famous for its winter skiing, also offers spectacular views along with the occasional moose sighting.
If you like catching trout, there’s more to Big Cottonwood Canyon than skiing. The creek that runs its length provides quick, easy access to some prime fly-fishing action.
Plenty of parking is available along the canyon road to access the stream, and there are campgrounds and picnic areas open to make a day (or two) of it.
Most of the fish you’ll catch are cutthroat, as the DWR plants them every fall. There are some browns in the lower sections of the creek as it moves through the city, though access in those more populated reaches can be difficult.
The creek is perfect from late June through mid-November, depending on spring runoff. Higher snow levels can keep it running fast through early July before the fishing picks up.
Shallow ripple sections empty into long, deeper pools and large boulder-strewn areas that hold a lot of fish. You’ll be catching big numbers, if not the biggest fish.
Most of the fishable season offers nice catches with dry flies, particularly hare’s ears or beaded hare’s ears. Hoppers in the fall can be irresistible.
While you’re in the area, Silver Lake is at the top of the canyon and is stocked with brook and rainbow trout.
A short .75-mile hike will get you to some alpine lakes with big trout that receive relatively little fishing pressure.
One of them in particular, Lake Mary, holds lake trout (Mackinaw). They are nearly impossible to catch, but they’re in there.
Middle Provo River
The Middle Provo is the closest section to SLC at about an hour’s drive east. The Middle is one of Utah’s Blue Ribbon trout fisheries and holds trophy fish.
There are plenty of services in nearby Heber and Park City if you need food, gear or lodging.
The tailwater section exits Jordanelle Reservoir (a very good trout fishing lake in Utah in its own right) and meanders through the Heber Valley for over seven miles, of which almost the entire length is accessible. Deep pools, runs, and shallower ripples hold browns, rainbows and mountain whitefish.
Spring calls for sow bug nymphs. Catch rates vary, but the big fish like these. Set these up on a bounce rig, and you should have success.
Late spring into early summer brings out the dry flies.
BWOs and PMDs are good bets, as are caddis. May through early July sees a massive Green Drake hatch. The browns will almost climb into the net for you.
Later summer and fall, you may find excellent PMD hatches in the early afternoons.
If there’s no top action happening, try PMD emergers with an indicator. The indicator should “bounce” as the split shot on the leader drags the bottom. The water current is slower at the bottom than at mid-depth.
Middle Weber River
The Weber River is another of the best fly fishing rivers anywhere in Utah that just happens to be 45 miles from SLC.
The middle Weber River’s tailwater begins out of Rockport Reservoir, and this reach ends at Echo Reservoir.
There are several small communities in the area. It takes about 45-minutes to get to the river from SLC.
The river is home to a self-sustaining population of browns and mountain whitefish. While there aren’t as many trout per mile as in the Provo, they tend to be big, solid, and hard-fighting browns.
The river is relatively shallow through this area and has several entry points along its length. The entire section is wadable, though you might want to be careful around the deeper pools.
As the river gets close to Echo Reservoir, the bottom becomes murky, and wading can get tricky. It’s best to get out and call it at that point. Getting your waders stuck in the mud is no fun.
Flies that work spring through fall on the Middle Weber are the San Juan Worm and the Wooley Bugger. Dries aren’t very productive here, but throughout the winter, switch to small midges.
If the middle section isn’t paying off, you can make a quick run upriver to the Upper Weber, though it runs through a significant portion of private property.
The middle section is easiest to access from Salt Lake City on I-80, though you also can get there on I-84 heading out from Ogden.
Lower Weber River
The Lower Weber runs out of Echo Reservoir and makes its way to Ogden.
It’s a long stretch of water and can be accessed from Salt Lake and Ogden fairly easily.
Fishing here is best done during the week, as the warmer weekends fill up with recreationists out on tubes.
There are a lot of big browns in this section, though private property, inner tubers and general overcrowding on weekends make it challenging to fish. During the week, it can present a fantastic opportunity for those that can get away for a few hours.
The river runs through a few canyons on its descent before meeting up with the Ogden River. These canyons are particularly good spots to fish.
Overall, the river has several fantastic riffle-run sections and great pocket waters that will have you battling big browns, cutthroat and mountain whitefish year-round.
There are special regulations on this river, so check before heading out. For example, catch and release only is in effect on all cutthroats caught.
Summer fishing calls for San Juan Worms and Wooley Buggers.
Winter fishing with scuds and nymphs will do well. Get the scuds deep in the pools for those whitefish. They put on a good show.
Lower Provo River
The Lower Provo River, not surprisingly, is easily accessed from Provo. It flows through the center of town, and the Provo Canyon hosts some of the best fishing along the entire river.
The river’s temperature stays constant since it’s a tailwater from Deer Creek Reservoir. The flows vary, although they stay high enough to sustain a fantastic fishery throughout the year.
The cold water and high oxygen content in this stream mean the fish here are healthy, and the insect life is abundant. Scuds are present all year, so try a scud pattern when nothing else is working.
Dry flies, streamers and nymphs all catch trophy rainbows and browns through this section.
There are plenty of outfitters in the area to check in with for current hatch information and maybe to book a trip. It’s always a good idea to get some local knowledge before hitting such a highly pressured section of the river.
Spring brings some of the best BWO hatches you’ll find anywhere. If you catch one, you’re going to be onto an average-sized 16- to 18-inch rainbow that looks like a linebacker.
March through May might be the best time for these hatches, but the fishing remains excellent year-round. BWO hatches continue throughout the summer, though not as substantial as in spring.
Summer and into mid-fall is tube time. The river is overrun with recreational tubing.
And yet, the fish are entirely okay with this activity. I’ve caught rainbows rising to hoppers within 15 seconds of tubes passing by. If you can handle the crowds, the fish still bite.
Diamond Fork is a smaller creek that’s hidden away near Spanish Fork Canyon, about 30 minutes from Provo and an hour from SLC.
The creek has browns, cutthroat and rainbows.
Most of the trout in this area will be in the pan-sized range, though there are some real beasts in there. You might catch four or five small rainbows in a run and get destroyed by a 4-pound brown that finally got annoyed with your fly.
The best times to go are early spring before the runoff, if accessible, and then mid-summer, after the runoff has settled down and flows have returned to normal.
Most of the techniques you’d use on the Lower Provo work perfectly here as well. PMDs and Caddis throughout the summer should bring in the cutts and ’bows, while the browns will typically take Wooley buggers.
Hares ear, BH Prince, Copper John and Scuds work well for browns and will bring in the other species when they aren’t interested in dry flies.
One point of warning. Diamond Fork is well known for its dense population of rattlesnakes. Be aware that rattlesnakes are likely to be around and watch your step. They don’t want to bite you, but they will if you get too close.
The Ogden River runs in three sections and provides everything from meandering, small river experiences to fast-moving canyon action.
This river fishery starts 30 minutes north of Ogden and runs into Pineview Reservoir. Then the tailwater below the reservoir continues down Ogden Canyon and into Ogden City, where it meets the Weber River.
Browns, rainbows and cutthroat thrive in these river sections. Fishing the lower part in the canyon can net you browns in the 5- to 7-pound range, though the typical catch is closer to 2 pounds.
Spring calls for BWOs and nymphing. Scuds and midges work well throughout the entire system.
When May comes around, keep an eye out for salmon flies. When those big beauties start hatching, they’re a game-changer. Salmon flies show up on the upper sections of the river, as well as in the Logan River (see below).
Black and gold colored salmon fly patterns work well from May through July. If you time it right, you might hit a magical moment when the salmon fly hatch is on, and the trout are going absolutely crazy.
Mid-summer through mid-fall, or until the first real frost, hoppers will bring in all the rainbows you can handle.
The river runs through the city of Ogden and has several access points where anglers can cast for trout. Be sure to release any cutthroat that are caught.
The Logan River is a 45-minute drive north of Ogden and offers nearby camping facilities. There are browns everywhere in the lower stretches of the river, with cutthroat taking over in the higher elevations.
The Logan is a freestone river with long riffle sections and quite a bit of pocket water. It stays cold throughout the summer, so don’t fall in.
Several smaller dams for water projects and irrigation along the river have created pools that offer some rainbows along with the browns.
Browns and whitefish dominate the main section in the canyon. The best approach is with Black Wooly Buggers #4-8, Hare’s Ear in #14-16, BH Pheasant Tail in #16, or BH Prince Nymphs in #12-16.
I like these as attractor/dry patterns along the length of the Logan River: Yellow or Green Humpy in #14-16, Royal Wulff in #12-16, Parachute Adams in #12-16, and Elk Hair Caddis in #12-16.
The upper section and tributaries have special regulations, but when open, they provide an excellent area to teach beginners how to fly fish. Eager cutthroat and brook trout will snap up almost anything presented to them.
Quick Trip Creeks in SLC
There are several smaller creeks around the Salt Lake Valley. These creeks offer great fishing for pan-sized trout closer to home.
Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at catching some carp!
Located a quick 10-minutes from downtown SLC, Millcreek (a.k.a. Mill Creek) offers anglers the opportunity to fish a pristine, recently restored creek that holds native Bonneville cutthroat.
While the fish in this creek aren’t going to break your scales, they make for a fun getaway, even for a few hours.
Hares Ears and Elk Hair Caddis will serve you well. Smaller sizes should do the trick.
There are some great pools and runs to fish in the lower section, and if you’re feeling like a good hike, the upper areas are rarely touched.
Little Cottonwood Creek
Little Cottonwood is about 20 minutes from downtown SLC and fishes mostly the same as Big Cottonwood we talked about above, though it doesn’t have quite the same access.
Little Cottonwood flows slightly steeper and doesn’t offer as many level sections but has plenty of fish to target.
While up the canyon, there are some great hikes to lakes that rarely get any fishing pressure, so take advantage of that if you’re up for it.
The Jordan River runs through the valley’s center and can be accessed within 10 or 15 minutes from almost anywhere in SLC.
While some will turn their noses up at the prospect of fishing the Jordan River, the county has been working for the last several years on reclamation projects, making the river much cleaner and far friendlier to anglers.