When my old friend Barry made plans to visit in August, one of his goals was to add Arctic grayling to the list of species he had caught on a fly rod.
My mission as host and guide, was to find a place where we could be reasonably sure to find grayling. By guide, I really mean chauffeur, because I know the area well, but until then I didn’t fly fish. This was also my introduction to fly fishing.
My friend arrived on a Thursday and flew out on a Monday. We had already scheduled a Float trip on the Green River for Friday and we also planned to fish the Provo and the Strawberry Rivers, so we only had one day to try to catch grayling.
Where to find Arctic Grayling in Utah
I started searching fishing reports and forums and it didn’t take long to learn that our best option was going to be in the high Uintas somewhere off of Hwy 150 between Kamas, Utah and Evanston, Wyoming.
There were several posts about grayling that had recently been caught at Round Lake, Sand Lake and Fish Lake. I was familiar with those lakes and knew the hike up the Dry Fork trail from the Thousand Peaks Ranch was a 2,000 foot climb and seven to nine miles round trip depending on which lakes we fished. That might be a good option if your goal included hiking, camping and fishing.
My goal was to spend more time fishing than hiking, so I continued searching until I learned that Weir and Marjorie lakes also had grayling and each of those lakes are only about 2½ miles from the Crystal Lake trailhead.
Quest for Grayling; Marjorie and Weir Lakes
Before our High Uintas trip, we fished the Middle Provo River on Thursday and then drove to Dutch John and camped in the sage near town. We fished both the A and B sections of the Green River on Friday, then we fished the Middle Provo again on Saturday and had just enough time left to hit the Strawberry River before dark. We were squeezing it all in.
On Sunday morning, we arrived at the Crystal Lake trail head about 30 minutes after sunrise, grabbed our packs and started up the trail. It was a typically beautiful Utah Summer morning except it was about 10 degrees warmer (upper 40s instead of 30s) than I expected at 10,000 feet.
The plan was to fish Marjorie Lake first for grayling, then go to Weir Lake to fish for grayling or brook trout, then if we still had daylight and energy, we would fish Long Lake for cutthroat trout.
The 2½ mile hike in to Marjorie Lake was very easy and relatively flat on the well maintained trails. My friend was in good shape, so the altitude was not an issue as it can be with visitors from low elevations.
The trail was so well marked it is impossible to miss the fork in the trail; go left for Marjorie Lake or right for Long Lake. We only saw two people on the trail that were hiking out and passed one tent near the trail where a sleepy/cranky looking guy was building a fire. We must have interrupted his trail-side wilderness experience.
We arrived at Marjorie Lake about 8:00 and I expected to see another fisherman or two, but we were the only people there. The wind was so calm, the unknown 11,000 foot peak to the west cast a near perfect reflection on the water. If any fish were rising we would have seen them, but we saw none.
Marjorie Lake is at 9,980 feet and is about 13 acres with 16 feet maximum depth. The lake was built as a water reservoir, but since the construction of Jordanelle Reservoir, most of the high elevation reservoirs on the upper Provo are no longer managed as reservoirs but provide fish and wildlife habitat.
The water was shallow on the east side, so we decided to start fishing on the west side. I started fishing with a small light colored PMD I had used successfully on the Middle Provo River the day before. I do not remember what fly my friend used. A lesson learned about taking good notes, especially when the names of the all the flies are new to me.
For about 30 minutes, we had no luck and didn’t see any fish. We slowly worked our way around to the dam, where we saw the first fish cruise by about 10 feet off shore, which we were fairly sure was a grayling and a few minutes later, Barry added another species to his list (46 species I believe).
Since this was only my 4th day of fly fishing, I was learning to present a fly quietly on the water and to control all the slack line when trying to set the hook. I don’t know what suddenly turned them on, but even I managed to catch a few grayling. I had three species on my life list.
The grayling were beautiful fish. After we hooked them, they would flash by with their dorsal fins extended. We wanted to take more pictures and even try to take some video, but decided against it since they seemed so fragile. When we took a few extra seconds to take pictures, even that short delay required a long resuscitation time before they could swim away.
Note: Oxygen (O2) levels in lakes and ponds are usually lowest at Sunrise because all the water plants and algae that produce (O2) during the day have to use that same (O2) at night. We were fishing just after Sunrise and the water was warmer than I expected, so the grayling were probably Oxygen stressed.
I was surprised at how slimy the grayling were, but being a “hook ’em and cook ’em” kind of guy, I wish I had tasted grayling, especially since I’ve heard people say they preferred grayling over trout. If we had fished in the afternoon instead of the morning, I would have kept a few. I could have roasted one in a fire just to taste the flesh, but I didn’t take the time. Next time, grayling will be introduced to cornmeal.
Weir Lake and Long Lake
After fishing for another hour or so, we caught about a dozen grayling. Then we moved over to Weir Lake where we caught a few brook trout. I read that other fishermen had similar experiences; catching only grayling in Marjorie Lake and only brookies in Weir Lake, but others said they caught both species in both lakes.
We finished our trip at Long Lake, which was Barry’s last chance to catch a cutthroat trout, which would have been another species for his fly rod life list. He had one hooked, but the fish got off because of a failed knot. My bad, like I said, I was new to this.
We were back at the Crystal Lake trailhead by about 4:00 p.m. A great day, with plenty of fresh air and exercise in beautiful country. We caught grayling, everyone got back home safely and a good time was had by all. Mission Accomplished.