Some streams in the Uintas can be hit and miss. When they're on they can be amazing. Catching a Utah Grand Slam is possible. There are rainbows, browns, brookies and cutthroat trout just waiting to be caught in the same water on the same fishing trip. But when they're in a sour mood they can be real bruisers. Driving 3 hours to get on a stream to find no fish is deflating.
Two years ago I hit a stream in the high country with a friend, Trent. There was still big water coming down out of the snow capped peaks into early July. The mainstem of the stream was swift and there wasn't much fishing to be had. But another mile up the road there was a campground sitting on a fork in the stream where a mellow oxbow joined the main chute. The troughs in this side channel were about knee deep at most, but fish were stacked up in these spots. As the day warmed insects of all types emerged and trout started to rise like crazy. There were smaller size 16 caddis emerging and a light tan colored egg laying caddis in a size 12 diving into the water. Seeing a flying insect purposely torpedo into a swift current is something I had read about but never witnessed. Hungry trout weaved back and forth intercepting them. Simultaneously, Green Drakes, PMDs, beetles and flying ants were all on the water. It was a phenomenal day of fishing.
The following year I visited that stream a few more times but didn't do much fishing since the oxbow was pretty low and there were only a few 4-6 inch fish sluggishly finning near the cutbanks. I'm not sure if these fish drop back a 1/4 mile or so into the main stream under these low conditions or if they huddle under the cutbanks. Scouting above and below to the small ranch reservoirs that bound this 5 mile stretch didn't yield any bites and I didn't spook any fish either.
This year I only visited the stream once. It's just far enough out of the way that there aren't easy back up streams to fish without missing the best times to fish on more reliable water. The flow near the campground was low but a little higher than last year and although there wasn't a grand slam to be had, there were just enough fish for a single fly fishermen to catch some rainbows rising to mayflies.
It was a perfect little run. I could sneak up to within about 10-15 feet downstream of the first fish using a root ball and boulders for cover. The fish in the run lined up about every ten feet and I counted at least a dozen rising fish before the channel shallowed out as it passed through a stand of pines.
When you only get a shot at fish in a stream once every three years they feel more precious. I really wanted to catch all of these fish. But, I'm not that good of a fisherman, so I took a deep breath and rigged my Nissin prospec tenkara rod, a 10 to 12 foot zoom number, that could deliver a delicate presentation with a size 16 sparkle dun without spooking the entire pool.
To catch these fish I'd need to cast side arm to avoid casting my shadow over the fish. The tenkara rod and light flourocarbon line would help me high stick and keep everything but my tippet out of the micro-currents. Once the fish hit the fly, I'd need to play them quickly and pull them downstream to avoid alerting the fish above, all while crouching to keep my shadow off the water.
This worked great for the first 4 fish - all pretty rainbows with leopard spots and bright green backs about 10 inches long. My back and neck started to ache, so as I approached the big eddy at the head of the pool, I leaned against the high bank and rested.
Over water and a peanut butter sandwich I spotted a much bigger fish cruising the eddy and eating confidently. This guy would not be a pushover should I try to drag him out of his home. So if I went for him I would kiss the few more trout above good bye. Of course, if I tried to skip him, he could just as easily swim up the channel and spook the rest of the pool anyway.
I extended my tenkara rod from ten feet to its longer reach at 12 feet. I added another 4 feet of tiny tippet to my line to keep me about a 20 foot buffer of stream between us. I also switched to a parachute pattern since at that distance the fanned deer hair wing of the sparkle dun was essentially invisible to me. Big fish like this barely poke their nose up and sip mayflies off the surface, so being able to see my fly could stack the odds in my favor for this high country gamble.
When he realized a fisherman was attached to the other end of the fly he just slurped, he bolted straight up to the top of the run, scattering the rest of the fish, he knew all the spots to head for cover, boulders off my right shoulder, the cut back to the left, a root ball I hadn't noticed and he even ran below me a few times.
Catching a fish with a tenkara rod can be a real joy, but once the fish is hooked the characteristics that make it such a perfect presentation tool, can make it a roller coaster ride to land a smart trout. The light line put me at risk of breaking him off, the supple rod protects your tippet but means the fish can run in any direction with impunity, and the long line means hand lining the fish since there is no reel to take up the slack. I recall the other fish were, more or less, elegantly brought to hand, but this fight was more of a circus act.
I got him! He turned out to be a big brown around 16 inches, a real bruiser for this small creek. It's no wonder the rainbows were giving him so much elbow room.