Provo River Winter Fly Fishing Report and Outlook for January 2021

mike with mountain whitefish provo river utah

Mike showing an evil smile with a nice Mountain Whitefish on Middle Provo River in December

It has been a while since we published a fishing report.

We’ve been doing plenty of fishing, just have not taken the time to collect data and write a report.

Last week Mike asked me when I was going to start writing reports again. I told him I would post them if he would write them. I didn’t think much more about it, but the next day, he sent me a report. Now I have to do my part.

I have not kept good records since we got busy back in the Summer, but Mike has been keeping detailed records when he fishes and that includes when we fish with him and when he helps us guide.

We (Jim and I and now Mike) have always specialized in nymphing (Provo River bounce rig), so this fishing report is primarily about nymphing.

Jonathan is proficient with all fly fishing techniques, but I think it is fair to say he specializes in dry fly fishing, so in the future we will include more specific information about the dry fly fishing.

Mark also fishes with us fairly often and has also contributed to this report.

Middle Provo River Winter Fishing Report

This winter, we have spent most of our time fishing the lower and upper parts of the middle Provo River. The flow has been relatively low in most sections of the river, mostly less than 150 cfs coming out of Jordanelle Reservoir.

Redds from the brown trout spawn can still be seen throughout several shallower sections of the river, but we’ve observed fewer trout spawning these past few weeks.

The mayfly hatches that had been predominant throughout the afternoons in late November and earlier weeks of December have slowed down, so midges are the main insects one can expect to see coming off the water.

Trout can occasionally be seen rising to midges in the upper part of the middle Provo River, but the selectivity of the fish has caused some anglers to resort to ultra fine tippet (8x and 9x) with very small dry flies.

fly fishing catch chart middle provo river Jan 2021

Table 1. Catch Chart – Number of fish caught with nymphs on the Middle Provo River between Dec. 11, 2020 – Jan. 16, 2021

We fished 11 times between Dec. 11, 2020 and Jan. 16, 2021 and have data for 105 fish (we fished more than that, but didn’t keep good notes).

The spawn has slowed down, but almost half of all fish were caught on small egg patterns during this period (see Table 1), especially during sparse hatch activity.

December brown trout provo river utah

Very nice December Brown Trout – Middle Provo River, Utah

When eggs aren’t working, tiny midge nymphs (size 20-24) or a Provo River worm were the next two best flies.

While it seems the sow bugs might be making a return to certain parts of the river, more fish were caught on midge nymphs, eggs, and worms than on sow bugs this year.

As example of the effort it takes to catch fish in cold weather, the remaining 20 fish were caught on 5 different flies.

What the table does not show is the amount of time and effort that went into fishing 33 additional flies that were fished, but did not catch fish.

Low flow, cold weather, and sunny days present challenging conditions for anglers, but we have managed to have successful trips by keeping a few key factors in mind.

Three Key Factors for Winter Nymphing Success

  • First, most fish seem to be concentrated in the slower, deeper water along seams, which requires fishing deep and slow with constant rig adjustments (adjusting weight and length of rig).
  • Second, at times where the fish can be especially wary, there is no substitute for good, consistent technique, especially effectively mending to insure drag-free drifts. Remember to check the rig for moss or tangles after four or five good drifts without a hit.
  • Third, persistence has turned some of the more challenging days into exciting ones.
mountain whitefish provo river utah

Mountain Whitefish, January 2021 Middle Provo River, Utah

A number of delicate factors come into play during the winter fishing months.

Just because a particular run or time of day may seem slow does not mean things can’t pick up an hour later.

On one trip, the bright sunlight (and likely other factors) had been working against us and making the fish especially wary. We fished a few of our favorite deep runs and caught only one fish, only to move on and catch almost a dozen fish an hour later.

The past few trips have been relatively consistent. On days where we put a lot of effort, we can catch roughly a dozen fish while nymphing. We’ve generally caught more fish on cloudy days than sunny days. Around the corner will be the buffalo midge hatch, which will be an exciting change of pace to the generally tricky winter conditions

Fly fishing Provo River Outlook for the Remainder of January 2021

We have data from 2014 – 2021 for numbers of fish and flies used to catch them.

During the time period for each year for January from 2014 – 2020, we have records for 225 fish in 47 total fishing trips on the Middle Provo.

The vast majority of those trips and fish were nymphing (shown in Table 2 below

Table 2. Catch Chart for Nymphing the Middle Provo River January (2014 – 2020)

Fly Fish Pcent
egg 174 79.5%
sow bug
 33 15.1%
PR worm
 10   4.6%
black midge larvae
  1   0.5%
zebra midge
  1   0.5%
Total 219 100%

Need Tippet? Cabela’s has Tippet and Tapered Leaders

You will notice that this year, 45% of fish were caught on egg patterns, when in past years almost 80% of fish were caught on eggs.

For the new data, Mike actually kept track of 6 different colors for the egg patterns with green and orange catching the most fish. Traditionally, we used orange and yellow the most. I did make some green ones, but didn’t realize until later when Mark asked me about the color (I am color blind), but we caught fish on them too.

Lately, fewer fish have been caught on sow bugs, but a higher percentage of fish have been caught on worms. We definitely catch more fish now on WD40 type and zebra midges than in previous years, but we fish them more now than we used to.

The data in the Catch Chart shows the type fly used to to catch fish, but does not show the total effort that went into fishing each fly, and especially flies that did not catch fish.

Other techniques and flies may have been tried (such as swinging soft hackles or steamers), but were not included if no fish were caught during the time period. Also, we don’t normally try to catch fish on dry flies this time of year. But if fish are rising, we will catch a few on noseeum type dry flies and drowned midge or BWO versions fished as droppers.

I know for a fact that fish can be caught on dry flies at certain places on the river, because Jonathan does it regularly. We will be doing more of that in the future for fun, but will still concentrate on teaching nymphing techniques to those that want to improve.

Anyway, we have been telling everyone fishing has been tough lately. No way around it, it takes effort and attention to detail. So get out there and find some fish.

This week, I chose one of our videos that shows Winter fishing on the Provo

Winter Fly Fishing on the Provo River in February

Want to Fish with Us?

Jim retired at the beginning of Winter, but Jonathan Kee (see Bio here) and Mike and I have been taking people fishing.

We find it is fairly easy to stay 10 feet apart most of the time per Covid protocols (and across the wind or wear masks when we have to get closer to teach).

So we have been safely giving fishing lessons and guided trips (Contact me Here at bottom of Rates page).


This Provo River Fishing and Outlook Report is provided by BackcountryChronicles.com and Mike.

Watch our fly fishing videos here at Jim’s YouTube site.

Previous Unpublished Fishing Reports

Mike’s Fishing report late June, 2020 – Middle Provo (635 cfs)

Fished the lower part of the middle Provo River today with Dan (above and below the railroad track). Began fishing around 9:30 AM where the weather was partly cloudy around high 70s, low 80s with slight wind from the South; current appeared to be relatively lower than previous weeks (lowering from at least 1,000 cfs to the 550 – 700 cfs range).

Dan and I fished an inside bend with a Provo River bounce rig. My rig included a size 22 brown Baetis nymph, small purple PR (aka San Juan) worm, and size 20 BWO emerger on my bottom to top tags respectively.

Fishing was relatively consistent between 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM, with 3 fish caught on worms and 1 on a Baetis nymph; Dan and I lost a few others as well usually right after the fish jumped out of the water when hooked (I had also pinched most of my hooks down that day).

A little before 11:00 AM, we relocated to a different inside bend. Weather was hot, sunny and around mid 80s with occasional, slight wind from the South. A little after 12:00 PM, I landed two whitefish (second was almost 17 inches) on a small, tan caddis imitation when things seemed slow on Baetis nymphs and PR worms. We moved just a little further downstream to an inside bend with a slower, deeper current around 1:00 PM, where one brown trout was caught on a worm and two others were caught on the caddis pattern between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM.

Fishing slowed down after 3:00 PM, and we decided to relocate to the first hole that we fished at the beginning of the day to see if there was more consistency. The weather was partly cloudy but still quite hot in mid to high 80s. After catching one small fish on a black size 20 midge pattern, Dan and I decided to relocate to a couple of other holes. The last fish of the day for me was caught on a worm just before 5:00 PM or so.

Fishing very hard, I managed to catch 11 fish that day. I noticed in that section of the river, fishing seemed to slow down after we would hook the first few. Sometimes we would hook a fish on the first cast and then get no hits for an hour. I speculated that it could be related to relatively less fishing pressure in that stretch of the river, but tough to say for sure; I am not an expert on fish behavior. Great day to be outside, overall and certainly didn’t seem crowded. I remember seeing only one other group of anglers the entire day.

Mike’s Fishing report Mid June, 2020 – Middle Provo (650 cfs)

Fished the upper part of the middle Provo River (Little Lunker and Cookie Jar) around 7:00 AM. Flow was around 650 cfs and weather was partly cloudy at high 60s, low 70s, with moderate winds from the south. I fished with a Provo River bounce rig with a size 22 Baetis nymph, small purple PR (or San Juan) worm, and size 20 BWO emerger on my bottom to top tags respectively.

Fishing was relatively consistent between 7:00 AM and 10:00 AM, landing 7 brown trout (2 on Baetis nymphs, 3 on worms, and 2 on black midges), and losing a couple others. There was a strong midge hatch that occurred between 8:30 AM and 9:15 AM, where fish seemed to no longer take the Baetis nymphs or worms and just keyed on the midges.

I took a break until 11:00 AM. Fishing seemed to have slowed down a bit. Weather was hot, sunny and windy with strong gusts from the south. I relocated further downstream, where I caught 2 fish on worms and 2 fish on Baetis nymphs between 12:00 PM and 12:45 PM.

Fishing seemed to slow down after 1 PM. After a few fly changes I caught one brown on a sow bug near the head of the hole and hooked a couple other fish. A client Jim and Dan were guiding had caught 3 or 4 decent-sized fish in a short stretch of time on a small Baetis nymph.

I relocated back towards the first hole I had been fishing around 3:30 PM and caught 1 more brown on a Baetis nymph and headed home around 4:00 PM as things seemed to slow down.

Comments

  1. Flyfishingbrowngirl says

    Great article. Any tips on what to do to keep your rod from freezing up while fishing in the winter? and are tapered leaders ok to use to build a bounce rig?

    • Hi L…
      Any water proofing material will keep water from building up on guides and that keeps them from freezing… You can use your floatant material for flies or just use any kind of “chapstick”… you know they make special products for this, but bacon grease would work too… but then you might be accused of bait fishing.
      You can build bounce rig from tapered leader, but depending upon how long it is, you will probably have to trim it. You can definitely use the 4X, 5X or 6X terminal end to attach weights or make tags, but the thicker parts are too big. Also, if you have 4x all the way down to the weights, if weights wedge tight in the rocks, you will probably loose the whole rig… best to choose a place 4 – 6 feet down the tappered leader and cut it. Attach a tippet ring and then build the bounce rig from that point every time you fish. We plan on making some detailed videos soon and as you probably noticed, Jonathan has a different way of attaching sections and tags that we will discuss. Thanks… See you on the river.

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