All Alone On Utah's Logan River

All Alone On Utah's Logan River

The Logan includes 50 miles of fishable water, with trout populations that rival the most famous fisheries in the state. If you like big fish, big water and no company, there's nothing like it in Utah. (March 2006)

It's parents' day at Utah State University. I enjoy visiting Logan, a beautiful college town with tree-lined streets and a fabulous view of the Bear River Mountains. But Logan's college culture doesn't appeal to me today. At lunch, my oldest son David and I fidget with salami sandwiches, waiting our chance to slip away quietly. We escape through a door and minutes later drive through tall maples en route to a favorite stretch of water in Logan Canyon.

It's only a five-minute drive from Logan to excellent trout water, and from there, more than 50 miles of fishable water await us -- 30 in the main branch of the river, the rest in its tributaries.

Dave jumps from the car to look at the river. There is no surface action in the midday sun, so he rolls rocks in the clear water. They are covered with caddis nymph cases -- nymphs easily imitated by flies in our collection. David wades in, a fly line arcing above his head. He gauges the distance to the top of the hole and releases his line, shooting it toward the fish. His tiny yellow indicator dances across the water for an instant, then streaks across the current as a brown trout strikes. The fish shoots into the air, and David lifts the rod high above his head, holding on.

Fed by springs at the crest of the Wasatch Mountains, the Logan River looks like tailwater, but it isn't. It's all natural and filled with a trout population that rivals Utah's most famous fisheries. Best of all, with no major cities nearby, the Logan has plenty of room for anglers and perfect habitat for big fish. "This river is unique," says Craig Schaugaard, of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "It's the only major river in the state with no major dams on its headwaters or tributaries."

Springs in southeastern Idaho make up the headwaters of the Logan River. Numerous smaller springs that emanate from limestone outcrops add to the flow along the way. These maintain a steady flow of water along the length of the river throughout most of the year. The Logan provides habitat for one of the strongest and largest populations of hybrid Bonneville cutthroat trout within their historic range. Other trout species include stocked brook trout, rainbows and browns. Whitefish are less abundant, but can be enormous.

Brown trout dominate the river's lowest nine miles, from the mouth of the canyon to Right Hand Fork, which is populated exclusively by browns. Cutthroats are found above that, in the cooler, faster water.

Fisheries biologists at Utah State University have monitored the Logan River's fish populations since 1999, when whirling disease was found. No significant trout population decline has been observed so far. Studies show brown trout populations in excess of 2,000 fish per kilometer along the river's lower stretches, and cutthroat populations as high as 1,768 fish per kilometer upstream.

It's Labor Day weekend as Dave and I drive upriver from town. Near the mouth of the canyon, we pass a small pond lined with anglers casting bait. Traffic on Highway 89 is heavy. "Oh-oh," I say as we make our way up the canyon.

"Don't worry, Dad," he replies. "They're all heading to Bear Lake."

He pulls the car off the road about six miles up, and we jump out. If this stream isn't God's gift to trout anglers -- one perfect riffle after another as far as the eye can see, and not another soul in site -- I don't know what is. We dive into the river, and all is quiet, except for the water's gentle ripple, and a faint breeze in the trees.

It's a late-season hopper/dropper day, with a No. 12 Stimulator and a size 14 Flashback bead-head Pheasant Tail nymph. I ran into this nymph pattern only recently, and boy, does it attract fish! I'm trying to get a hook out of my thumb when Dave hollers, "Net!"

I look up. Dave's rod is bent in a tight arc as some as-yet unseen monster is heading downstream in a hurry. The drag on his reel sings, there's a sudden tug, and -- snap! -- his line goes limp. We exercise a half-dozen fish in the hole and move up.

The next hole is perfect too, with a strong current in the center and well-defined eddy lines on either side. I take the left side; David fishes the right. There are fish everywhere, shadows darting through the water, rolling boils on the surface. I fling the fly along the edge of the ripple and a brown leaps out of the water, attacking the Stimulator.

Many of the fish in this river are huge. Fisheries biologist Gary Thiede reports that they commonly survey 14- to 15-inch browns; some anglers have reported browns to 20 inches, and local guides boast of fish to 2 feet. Most of the fish Dave and I catch are in the 10- to 15-inch range, but their consistency in size and weight is most impressive. The steady water flow and abundant foliage is a great breeding ground for insects. These fish grow fast. Any one of these 15-inchers can drag you all over the river.

Three hours later, we wade around a bend and come upon yet another perfect hole, maybe the best of the day. I extend line and cast into fast water. My Stimulator vanishes as a brown trout takes the nymph. A huge wake appears from the tail of the creature. With rod tip high and drag singing, I watch as the fish dashes upstream and snaps the line.

I look over at Dave. "I believe that was what we generally refer to as a 'side of fish,' " he says, smiling. Eventually, we caught 10 fish from the hole.

Dave and I sit on the bank sharing a candy bar. He was trying to remember and count the number of fish we'd caught. There'd been so much action, it's impossible, but the number would be between 30 and 40. All were caught on Labor Day weekend, when we didn't see another angler in our area all day. And we still had time for a dozen cutthroats near the headwaters.

It's late afternoon as we drive down the road. Shadows fill the valley floor, cast by jagged grey limestone cliffs. Vegetation changes quickly, from open meadows and dense evergreen forests near the headwaters to aspens, maple trees and willows down below. Fishermen are still clustered at the stocked pond at second dam, near the mouth of the canyon, but we see only a few other anglers.

There are not many places left in the West with untamed, fish-filled streams. But that's the way the Logan River was two centuries ago when Jim Bridger and Peter Skene Ogden led ponies packed with beaver pelts to their summer rendezvous in Cache Valley, and when Shoshone camped at the water's edge, feasting on whitefish and Bonneville cutthroats. And that's the way the river will b

e when we return to stand, all alone, in its icy water under the shade of maples, willows and evergreens, and we swing fly lines in the afternoon air.

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