The Provo River in Utah has become one of the new must fish rivers in the United States. It offers the angler a wide variety of options and different river environments over its entire length, much of it set in spectacular natural beauty. The Provo is located one half hour’s drive from the heart of Salt Lake City and only a few minutes by car from the Provo/Orem center.
With an estimated 7500 trout per mile in the lower section through beautiful Provo Canyon, – a middle section in the Heber Valley which within the next few years will have been entirely restored as part of one of the largest river rehabilitation projects ever undertaken, – and a freestone river above the reservoirs mostly within Wasatch National Forest boundaries, the angler has tremendous options for fishing this river year around.
In the Provo river you will find all major trout species. Brown trout are prevalent and all are wild trout.
Cutthroat trout is our native trout species. In many waters they have been replaced by “foreign” brown trout (Called German brown trout for a good reason), and by rainbows of many strains which in the 1800’s where originally imported from Norway, Scotland and other places.
Cutthroats have a harder time to maintain themselves in our over fished environment. Rainbows are a little more resistant to fishing pressure. Browns are the most adaptable to pollution, raised water temperatures and fishing pressure. They maintain themselves well, spawn naturally in nearly every reasonable water environment, and can overtake other trout species in marginal streams.
Rocky Mountain Whitefish are abundant is most Utah streams. They take a fly well and are hard fighting fish. They are also native fish.
Brook Trout are also available. They require cold water temperatures and thus can be found in the higher reaches of the river only. Where Brook Trout have been planted or occur naturally in lakes or impoundments, they can grow to huge proportions. River Brooks are usually medium to small in size.
The regulations forbid the keeping of any rainbow or cutthroat trout or any hybrids of such from the Middle and Lower Provo river.
Below we show you pictures of each species as they can be found in the stream (and also some pictures of fish found in other waters in Utah). Note that in Utah Carp* are not considered game fish. However, fly fishing for carp can be great fun.
In these pages we will give you a comprehensive overview of the entire Provo river system; detailed river maps, where to go and what to use-, access and tips on what’s hot and what’s not-, fishing reports, the latest news, and connections for tackle, car rental and other reservations.
Overview of the River
The Provo river in Utah has a length 65 miles, starting as a small stream high in the Uinta mountains at Trial Lake, passing through 2 reservoirs, and finally flowing into Utah Lake near the city of Provo. Hence the name.
Because of the reservoirs, – Jordanelle and Deer Creek-, the river is separated into three distinct sections, nowadays referred to as the Upper Provo, the Middle Provo and the lower Provo.
The Lower Provo:
|Photo Larry Tullis
The lower Provo starts below the Deer Creek reservoir dam and winds it’s way through the Provo Canyon, a very scenic and heavily travelled canyon. The first 9 miles, from the dam to the first diversion (Olmstead Diversion), has for many years been the Blue ribbon trout stream of the Wasatch front. With a population of nearly 4500 fish per mile, it is one of the original “artificial fly and lure only” streams in Utah. It is heavily fished, particularly on the week-ends. From the Olmstead Diversion downstream to Utah Lake the artificial fly and lure restrictions are lifted and general regulations apply. 2 Miles past the Olmstead diversion the river leaves the Canyon and flows through urban development . Total length of this stretch, until the river flows into Utah Lake, is another 9 miles.
The Middle Provo:
|Photo Larry Tullis
The middle Provo section was created when the Jordanelle dam was built as part of the C.U.P. project (Central Utah Water Project). The C.U.P. project was developed to divert water from the Uinta mountains and the various smaller streams originating there, to the suburban areas along the Wasatch front and to farm communities south of there.
|Click for report
This Middle section is being restored under one of the most exciting river rehabilitation plans ever undertaken in the US. The river will be restored to its former (natural) river bed, surrounding wetlands will be recreated, a corridor along the river will be revegetated and public access will be allowed. This 5-year plan started with a pilot project in 1999 and the results are already spectacular. Fish have returned in great numbers to the restored section and these numbers will grow when the aquatic environment has found its balance within the next year or so. Together with the water release temperature control system from Jordanelle dam, -installed as an integral part of the dam from the very beginning -, we will see a large increase in size and number of trout in the near future.
For a more detailed view of the Jordanelle Dam gate system, visit the special page on the Jordanelle Dam.
This part of the Provo runs entirely through the the Heber Valley. Access can be found at Charleston Bridge in Charleston, from the Casperville road at Casperville, upstream and downstream from Midway Lane between Heber and Midway, from the River road bridge on the road between Midway and Highway 40, downstream from Highway 40 near Midway junction, and at 2 different places below Jordanelle Dam. Total length of the river between the two reservoirs is approximately 9 miles, of which 6 miles are easily accessible. Some stretches along the stream in the middle section are still privately controlled, but if your are willing to walk up or downstream from the regular access points, its easy to bypass such a usually limited private area. The enitre river section between the two reservoirs has now been designated as “artifucial fly and lure only”.
|Photo Larry Tullis
The Upper Provo:
The longest stretch of the Provo river is the part above Jordanelle reservoir. It contains the river from its origin in the Uinta mountains to where it enters the Jordanelle reservoir, roughly 36 miles of river. Above Jordanelle Reservoir, much of the river passes through private property, but there is public access at Rock Cliff recreation area, located on the east shore of Jordanelle Reservoir, and east of Woodland on Highway 35.
The Provo River flows through Rock Cliff recreation area before it enters Jordanelle Reservoir where parking, day-use areas, and restrooms are provided. Follow State Route 32 north and east of Heber to reach Rock Cliff.
To reach the river near Woodland, follow Highway 35 east from Francis. Beyond Woodland, the Provo River follows Highway 35 upstream and several pullouts along the road access the river. At the confluence with the South Fork, special regulations become effective for the rest of the 16 miles down to Jordanelle Reservoir.
The river originates at Trial Lake in the High Uninta’s, is joined by the North Fork within the forest boundaries and is later joined just above Woodland by the South Fork of the Provo river. The river upstream from the confluence with the South Fork ( 20 miles) has no special regulations. The “artificial fly and lure only” regulations start here and are in effect until the Olmstead Diversion in the Lower Provo section.
The upper Provo River can best be accessed along the scenic Mirror Lake Highway 150 east of Kamas. The South Fork of the Provo continues to follow Highway 35 east of Woodland toward Wolf Creek Pass. The upper part of the North Fork above Kamas from where it joins the Mirror Lake road, is primarily on public lands, running through forest lands as part of the Wasatch National Forest. At the confluence with the South Fork of the Provo, fishing regulations change. The upper Provo River and the South Fork are generally open to full bag limits and the restriction on artificial flies and lures is lifted. The South Fork is less accessible.
Sections of the River
|Photo Larry Tullis
|Below Deer Creek dam
The section right below the dam can be accessed by turning down the steep gravel road just above the Heber Creeper (tourist train) train trestle that crosses over the highway near Deer Creek Dam. The section immediately below the dam is closed to fishing but there is a primitive launch ramp for recreational floaters where the fishing starts. The river is seldom floated by anglers due to it¡s small size and the possibility of conflicts with wading anglers. Below the launch area, after the first bend, you’ll find the Cabin Hole.
Where fishing starts below Deer Creek Dam, fishing is spotty at times due to low oxygen levels. When oxygen is plentiful, the trout move up there in force and it can be good from there down through the Deer Creek Park campground area. This is a privately owned campground but you can fish through if you stay in the river. A parking area along the highway allows access to the river immediately below the campground via a steep trail. In Autumn this is a prime area for spawning brown trout. Be always careful that time of year not to wade in the reds and destroy the eggs.
|Photo Larry Tullis
|Above the RR Trestle
A little further downstream is a large parking area which previously had a phone booth on the opposite side of the highway from the river. The Hoover¡s Hole has good fishing but is usually occupied. Upstream or downstream has good fishing as well with access via well worn trails from the railroad tracks. A small pull off near the Pine Tree Run has a steep trail to the tracks where you can access several great runs such as the Spring Run and a little further down, the Herring Hole.
Larger gravel parking lots downstream also allow access. The Railroad Trestle parking lot (where the tracks cross the river) is usually full of anglers cars but there is plenty of water accessible both up and downstream after crossing the trestle or old metal bridge on foot. Immediatley below the trestle you’ll find some nice holes and runs before the long stretch of relatively flat water alongside the road which is strewn with small rocks . This is called the Rocky run.
|Photo Larry Tullis
|At Vivian Park
Widening the road through Provo Canyon into a four-lane highway has been controversial for a long time. Now the stretch from the mouth of the canyon to the Sundance turnoff has been transformed into a 4-lane highway, changing some of the character and access points to the river. Where the old road still exist, – primarily below the Olmstead Diversion -, best access is along that road. From the Wasatch county line upstream, the road has remained as of old, a 2-lane highway.
In this stretch a major access point is the Wasatch County Line parking lot (just above the Sundance turnoff¡), which is paved, has a railing and stairway down to the river. Fishing is good in both directions from there. The stream bank has recently been re-vegetated. Be careful not to destroy the new growth. At Wildwood the North Fork joins the Provo river. (This is also the turnoff to the Sundance resort). It may not add large volume to the stream, but the junction is one of the favorite places to fish. The Sundance Ski Resort turnoff area has some parking near the river along a nice long run. It has recently been fenced to facilitate revegetation where once highway construction tore up the riverbank. It may be better to walk a ways downstream on the opposite bank to this area via the trestle upstream. It can all be waded at low water but is unsafe to cross any other time.
There is a short gravel road along the river that bypasses the highway tunnels, where you may park to fish several runs there. Some very productive water downstream from here has no roadside parking, until you get near the small string of cabins above the Vivian Park turnoff. There are some great runs all the way down to the Vivian Park Bridge, where you’ll find lots of paved parking, picnic tables and restrooms. Across the bridge you’ll find the new terminal for the Heber Creeper Railroad. From here you can walk all the way to Nun’s Park downstream along the old track which is now a paved trail for skaters, joggers and bikers.
|Photo Larry Tullis
|Near Diversion Dam
At Vivian Park the South Fork (the second one) joins the river. It does not add much water to the stream, but right below the confluence, you will find another popular fishing spot. Or you can take the old road at Upper Falls park (just below the Olmstead diversion), which follows the river for 1 1/4 mile and leads past Bridal Veils and to Nunn’s Park. Here the old road joins the main highway again. Just above the diversion you will find Frazier Park with good access to the upper part of the slow and shallow portion of the diversion area. Frazier Park is a private campground where you will also find the new shuttle service for float tubers (recreational mostly).
The water gets deeper and slower as it nears the Olmstead Diversion structure, until it spreads out in a large swampy area that can be fished from shore but is better fished from a kick boat. It occasionally gets drained and the trout all pile up in the holes.
Water speed immediately picks up downstream from here and general regulations apply once you get below the diversion dam. The fish are smaller but are fairly numerous in the fast pocket water. In high water there are few good spots to fish but there are trout behind every boulder and in every hole when the water gets low.
|Photo Jac J. Koeman
|River between Olmstead and Bridal Veil Falls
Other access points from there to the (next) Murdock Diversion structure are obvious along the highway.
Canyon Glenn Park (see map) and Canyon View Park (just below the Murdock Diversion) a further mile downstream, plus several pullouts along the fence , give access to the river from here down to the power structure at the mouth of the canyon.These parks are also a good place to park and access the river. They are located along or straddle the river and have footpaths along the bank. In winter or early spring, especially when there is some snow, they are an easy way to access the river. During the summer they are crowded with picnic parties and family activities and the fish have largely moved away. A large parking area at the mouth of the canyon, near the gas station and deli, is a good place to rendezvous for car pooling.
Below this, you are fishing through town, behind shopping malls and condos. The fishing can be quite good at times, however. There are so many fish below Deer Creek Reservoir that many get pushed downstream, all the way through town. Occasional plantings of hatchery rainbows also supplement the urban fishing opportunities. Much of this section has been channelized so holes may be far between but the fish are in all the good holding water along the rip-rap, diversion dams and river bend holes. Starting at 5600 North, off University Avenue in Orem, the Provo River Trail follows much of the river downstream. This trail can also be accessed from most of the many bridge crossings in town. At the end of town (Provo) Riverside Avenue also is a good access point as well as the railroad bridge 1/2 mile downstream from there. Below I-15, the river slows as it nears the dirty waters of Utah Lake. There are brown and rainbow trout all the way down but the waters near the lake may also contain walleye and bass.
The area around the mouth of the river has a park and is a popular spot to catch white bass, largemouth bass, walleye, channel catfish and bullheads (it¡s a fee area). Utah Lake is always murky (except when frozen over) due to excessive silt, shallow depths and wind.
When the early explorers of this region first arrived it was a clear mountain lake with a rocky bottom and full of native cutthroat trout up to 40+ pounds. It took only a few years for the pioneers to net all the spawning runs out and silt the lake due to improper farming practices and sewage disposal. The lake is slowly cleaning itself but will sadly never be a trout lake again.
In general, the Provo River is one of the best urban trout streams in the nation and truly one of Utah¡s precious gems. It¡s reputation is growing and the fishing is getting better despite the number of anglers. It is now a destination spot for traveling anglers instead of just a local hot spot. The fishing is difficult enough that you owe it to yourself to hire a guide to learn the water and it¡s specialized techniques but once you learn them, you can have some truly fantastic fishing.
Midge hatches and sowbugs keep the fish well fed through the winter and early spring. Spring brings massive blue-wing olive hatches, a few stoneflies and caddis. Summer has good pale morning dun action followed by prolific caddis hatches. Fall has hatches of very small baetis and trout spawning activity keeps the trout looking for egg patterns in November and December. It does not have the green drakes and stone fly hatches of the middle section but actually has more bio mass. It once held incredible hatches of giant black stoneflies but stream degradation put an end to most of them. Sowbugs and to a lesser extent, scuds, are available year-round. Craneflies are plentiful in the spring. Streamers are always a good bet for the bigger trout, if the water is above 42 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Get There
To Salt Lake City:
Salt Lake City airport is the major hub for visitors who fly in from out of state.
From Salt Lake City by car:
The Upper Provo and Middle Provo areas are best reached by travelling from Salt Lake City on I-80 Eastbound. Across Parley’s Canyon and past the Park City exit, take the next exit direction Heber (&Denver;). Continue for about 4 miles. For the Upper Provo take the Kamas exit. For the Middle Provo continue towards Heber until right before Heber you will come to a road crossing with the option of Midway to the right or Kamas to the left.
Left , and then the first one left again, will take you to the upper part of the Middle Provo below the Jordanelle dam. At the end of this road you will see the dam and the RV parking and camping site.You can access the river there (see map) or access the river 1 mile back on this dead-end road. A small graded road leads to the White bridge parking area.
Right, direction Midway, will get you to the center part of the Middle Provo. After about 700 yards you cross a bridge over the river. You can fish downstream or upstream from here.
Continuing on this road to Midway, you have several choices. At the end of “River Road” take a left, direction Heber, until you reach the bridge over the Provo river, or go right and in Midway -, take the road to Charleston to get access to the lower part of the Middle Provo, near where the river enters Deer Creek Reservoir.
The Lower Provo is best reached by travelling Southbound on I-15 towards Provo. In Orem take 800 North (Eastbound) before you reach Provo. This will lead you straight to the mouth of the Provo canyon.