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Salt Lake City, Utah

Urban Fishing:  Millcreek Canyon

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Urban Fishing: Millcreek Canyon

An Dinh

Millcreek Canyon is a place that I first knew from scout camp.  The lower section of the canyon hosts a Cub scout and Webelos area where young city kids get to practice skills they might use in a real wilderness situation.  Like orienteering through woods and panning for gold.   When I was seven years old, I found a nice shiny bit of iron pyrite - "fools gold" at that camp.  Now, I wouldn't trust myself to survive the forest with just a compass and a map.  This was long before I did any fishing.  So I had no idea that the stream running through the area was fishable.

The canyon gets a fare bit of use from locals.  There are epic mountain biking trails, hiking and in the winter the upper canyon is groomed for cross-country skiing.  The further up the canyon you go the less you feel like you are in the city.  Dogs are allowed off leash on the odd numbered days and the US Forest Service collects a $3 fee when you exit the canyon or you can buy an annual pass.

Earlier this year we heard stories that the DWR had poisoned the river so that they could reintroduce native Bonneville cutthroat back into the stream.

They used rotenone.

Here's what the DWR says about rotenone:

"Rotenone is a natural substance that comes from the roots of a tropical plant in the bean family. It is a piscicide (substance poisonous to fish). Rotenone makes it impossible for fish to use the oxygen absorbed in the blood. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of rotenone to control and sample fish populations in lakes, ponds and streams. Utah has used it many times to control invasive species and to restore native and threatened species."

This is the timeline the DWR has for restoring the river.

"Here's a quick look at proposed project timelines and restocking efforts:

  • The project will begin in the fall of 2013 in the upper reaches of Mill Creek Canyon.
  • The creek will be divided up into three sections by existing natural and man-made barriers.
  • The lower and final section of Mill Creek Canyon will be treated and restocked in 2016.

Each of the three sections of Mill Creek will be treated in two consecutive years (during the fall). Immediately following the second treatment of each section, native Bonneville cutthroat trout will be restocked in that section of stream. Those trout will come from Little Dell Reservoir, which is a wild brood source of Bonneville cutthroat trout for Wasatch Front waterbodies."

This Sunday, when I began fishing I only caught cutthroats, but then I picked up a few of the resident browns that I know hang out around cut-banks and logs.  These fish were much larger in the 10-12 inch range which is really good for this stream.  So I must have fished a section that hasn't been treated yet.

The canopy is tight in many places so a shorter rod 9 foot or less is in order and a short line.  Fishing a dry dropper is a hoot since about 50% of the time fish would hit the dry.  Smaller flies size 16 or less seemed to give me better hookups.

This was one of the first streams I tried to learn fly fishing on.  It was a disaster - with lots of frustration over tangling in trees.  I would get lots of bumps on my dry fly but no hookups. 

My mistake:  I was fishing a size 10 or 12 stone fly, because that was something my untrained eyes could see.

My favorite combo on this stream is to fish a size 16 caddis dry fly or parachute adams with a size 18-20 nymph dropper.  This way I will still catch the little guys and entice the really ambitious fish as well.

I found that early morning light filters through the trees in such a way that gives the stream a mystic aura.  It's a beautiful thing to behold but even with polarized glasses the aura creates just enough glare on the water to make smaller flies invisible. 

I've had to experiment with different color parachute posts and wings - like pink and orange because the white and natural colors are too well camoflauged.

Of course, I can fish this entire stream with just a kebari or killer bug and vacuum fish.  But, i just enjoy see a fish take a dry so much.

Many sections of the stream are mellow and shallow with baby pocket water.  This is a pretty good option for teaching a kid to fish.


Easy wading and a few spots to cast from the bank

Very willing fish

Very close to the city

Other things to do to keep non-fisherman happy

Beautiful setting

Fishes well as soon as it warms up outside


Limited casting room

Lots of snags in the water and in the canopy