October 04, 2010
This Utah reservoir has a storied past and a bright future. Fly-anglers there are now catching fat rainbows and hefty browns. Here's how to get in on the action. (May 2007)
Photo courtesy of Clayton Stewart
Beau Stewart of Las Vegas, Nev., caught this big 'bow on a fly at Utah's Minersville Reservoir.
A good case of spring fever had set in long before I loaded up my family and pointed the old Suburban south toward Utah's Dixie. Our ultimate goal was the tiny hamlet of Gunlock near St. George, and the annual gathering of extended family who awaited us.
But I just had to stop somewhere along the way and cast a line. It didn't matter where I fished, so long as there was open water and a few hungry trout that I might goad into taking my bait.
I asked around and was directed to Minersville Reservoir near the town of Beaver. The place had a reputation for big trout. The water was open, and it wasn't very far from the Interstate.
What more could an angler want? So Minersville it was.
While my wife and kids waited in the truck, I baited up and went to work. Within just a few minutes, my line suddenly went taut. The rod tip dipped hard. I set the hook, and the battle began.
When I landed the fish, its length measured about 16 inches and change. While no monster by some standards, it was certainly big enough to make an impression on a guy who grew up fishing the Wasatch Front for pan-size planters.
Nearly two decades have passed since that chilly morning excursion to Minersville Reservoir. And during that time, some significant changes have come to this high-desert impoundment. Originally built to store the winter runoff from the nearby Tushar Mountains for irrigation purposes, the lake has become a primary destination for serious flyfishermen looking to land trophy rainbows -- a place where 22-inch fish are the norm, and 16-inchers are looked upon as a bit of a nuisance.
This is due in part to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and its management of Minersville as a trophy fishery where an angler's take is limited to a single trout more than 22 inches long, and anglers are required to use only artificial flies or lures.
These special regulations, which went into effect in the early 1990s, had a twofold purpose. One was to create a quality trout fishery. The other was to allow the trout to grow large enough to withstand heavy depredation by fish-eating birds and to successfully compete for forage with an overpopulation of Utah chubs.
The state was also treating the reservoir with rotenone approximately every five years. Without it, good fishing lasted only about three years.
"I like the trophy regs," said Kyle Moss of Beaver City Sport & Pawn, a 32-year resident of Beaver who has seen the water's ups and downs as a fishery.
"Since the day they put them in, (Minersville) has been a great place to fish. Lots of people catch 24- and 25-inch fish. In the spring, you can catch fish just about as fast as you can get it out there."
Moss said that one group of four anglers caught 298 fish in one day. And if that wasn't enough, the group did the same thing the very next day. Not bad for a body of water that was drained completely in 2004 and refilled in 2005, following repairs to the dam!
Clayton Stewart of Las Vegas, Nev., shares Moss' enthusiasm for Minersville. He regularly makes the three-hour drive from the city along with his older brother, Beau Stewart, and uncle, Todd Boyer. Boyer first introduced his nephews to Minersville when Clayton was just 15 years old, but he hadn't been there for several years. Then in the spring of 2006, the trio heard "from everybody that ice-off is really good at Minersville. So we went back -- missed ice-off. But it was still really good."
The group found the fishing at Minersville to their liking, but that didn't stop them from trying their rods at other popular fly-fishing destinations. Before long, however, they found their way back.
"We had been toying around going to Kolob (near Cedar City, Utah) and Sunnyside (Central Nevada) and everything. But once we hit Minersville in the late spring, it was incomparable to anything else."
The fish, Clayton Stewart said, were "that much bigger and that much harder-fighting. They're a lot healthier fish than everywhere else we've been to. They'll put a good bend on your pole, especially when they get running and stuff.
"I had one the first day we got out there. We didn't know what was out there. I hooked into one off the bottom, and it took my line out a good 20 yards in the blink of an eye.
"Before I could even know what was going on, my finger kind of tapped the reel, and it just broke off. I have no idea how big that fish was, but he just took off and he was really heavy.
"I've had a few that have pulled my pole down into the water. You're sitting there fighting them and all of a sudden, BOOM! It just takes you down, and you have to loosen up your drag so they play a little bit."
The younger Stewart's largest catch to date went about 25 inches in length and weighed in the neighborhood of 5 pounds. On his best day, 30 rainbows made it into his net.
"I was killing 'em a lot more than everybody else, but everybody caught around 20 that day," he said. "And a lot of those were 20-inch fish. When the big ones start feeding, you won't catch anything below 19. And mostly, you'll be catching fish around 20 to 21 inches."
One might expect fish this size to really slam the fly, but Stewart said that generally isn't the case. "A lot of times they don't really hit hard. They just kind of suck it in, and you think you have a snag."
In addition to the trophy regulations that govern Minersville's anglers, another factor in its emergence as a trophy trout fishery is the abundance of crayfish in the reservoir. For big rainbows, that is tantamount to a giant smorgasbord, and they'll actively feed on them.
With that in mind, Moss and Stewart both recommend flies that imitate a crayfish.
"They have to be feeding on crayfish. There's millions and millions of crayfish in there. We can't find anything else. Even when the hatches come off, there's no
t many bugs that come off the water. Most of the time, they're hitting those Woolly Buggers, so we think they're going after crayfish," said Stewart.
Moss agreed and said anglers who use flies imitating crayfish -- crawdads to locals -- generally get into big fish. He recommends Woolly Buggers in red and black or black and green. Other patterns he recommends are the beadhead versions of the Pheasant Tail and Prince Nymph.
For anglers who opt for hardware, Moss said the original Panther Martin in yellow with red spots and a silver blade or a JakeÃ‚'s Spinner in gold or black may do the trick. Deer-hair jigs are good just about anytime, and as with the Woolly Bugger, Moss suggests black and red or black and chartreuse. If you want to go dry, Moss suggests tying on a Renegade.
Stewart, on the other hand, said color doesnÃ‚'t seem to matter when it comes to throwing Woolly Buggers, but he does sometimes tie small black leech or nymph patterns on as droppers behind the Buggers. He fishes these setups on 6-weight line with a 3X tippet and recommends nothing lighter than a 5-weight. Generally, he fishes with an intermediate sinking line at a depth of 5 feet. Later in the year, when the water begins to drop due to irrigation activities on nearby farms, Stewart said a line with a fast sink rate is sometimes best, to reach fish heading for deeper water.
For much of the year, Stewart prefers to fish near the dam at the south end of the reservoir, but also likes the western shoreline. In fact, he caught his biggest Minersville fish on the west side in the trees.
Ã‚"I caught it on a little damsel fly imitation. ThereÃ‚'s been a couple of fish that just feel like a spare tire. You just think youÃ‚'re hooked onto a log because you canÃ‚'t move it. For 30 seconds or something, itÃ‚'s not moving at all. Then it finally starts wiggling around a little bit.
Ã‚"But you really have to tug on those big ones to get them in.Ã‚"
Both Stewart and Moss recommend using a slow-strip technique to entice strikes from the big fish. They said that itÃ‚'s not uncommon for fish to hit a fly while itÃ‚'s on its way down. In the early spring, right after ice-off, he said anglers working the shallows sometimes get into some big fish.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Minersville Reservoir lies 12 miles west of Interstate 15 and the small farm community of Beaver, Utah. Drive to Beaver and turn west on State Route 21 from I-15.
Although the 1,100-acre impoundment was originally built for irrigation purposes, it now has a well-deserved reputation as a trophy rainbow trout fishery. Fish topping the 22-inch mark are a common catch.
Special trophy regulations are in effect that limit anglers to keeping just one fish. That keeper must be more than 22 inches long.
Beaver offers visitors all the amenities, including the choice of several hotels and restaurants. Camping is also available at the Minersville Reservoir State Park. The day-use fee is $4 and the camping fee is $13 per day, with a 14-day camping limit.
For more information, you can contact the park at (435) 438-5472.
While much of the shoreline is open to the public, visitors should be aware that there is some private land along the reservoir as well. Many anglers use float tubes or boats, but shore fishing can also be very productive.
"With fly-fishing, and pretty much everything else, you're going to have success out in a float tube," said Clayton Stewart of Las Vegas, Nev.
"But you can also have success, if the fish aren't going deep yet, on the shoreline. I've watched people catch a lot of nice fish on the shoreline. At ice-off, or when they're spawning, you can stay with the shoreline pretty much."
Minersville is located in Utah's high desert at 5,500 feet, so plan on all the weather possibilities, from very cold and snowy to warm and dry. A good coat and raingear are always a good idea.