Red Creek and Panguitch Reservoirs – Southern Utah

Red Creek (Paragonah) Reservoir

My son, Brian, and I had been discussing a short weekend fishing trip. The Vegas heat had arrived and I thought it was time to retreat into Utah’s high mountain country and escape the sweltering temperatures for a day or two. Besides, we had solicited my youngest son, Evan, to come with us. Since Evan had never fished before I had planned to spend the trip teaching him.

Brian is working full time again this summer, and so we were plotting a weekend getaway for the 11th of July. Weekends often bring crowds to southern Utah, and I wanted Evan and Brian to feel comfortable and experience a fun and stimulating trip. When I was a youth I always jumped at the chance to go camping, fishing, or hunting with my brother Neal; to me those adventures were exciting to experience. And, the more isolated and alone we were the more adventuresome the trips seemed.

I had been considering Red Creek (or Paragonah) Reservoir for that weekend trip with the boys. It is a little more “out of the way” than the usual southern Utah lakes which might mean that the crowds would be less of an issue. The problem was that I had never fished Red Creek and knew nothing other than what I had read in Utah fishing web sites. I decided to scope it out in advance, taking a day off work to test-fish the reservoir (at least that’s how I justified it).

Red Creek was relatively easy to get to; a short dirt-road drive off of Interstate 15 at Paragonah. I put in near the Red Creek inlet and spent about 90 to 120 minutes fishing it from a float tube. I caught just two trout: a nine-inch brookie and a fifteen-inch rainbow. The rainbow was wild and pretty (they readily spawn up the tributary). But the action was very slow for my standards, so I knew it would be boring for Evan and Brian. I decided we would need to go somewhere else like Anderson Reservoir on Saturday.

Wild, fifteen-inch Red Creek rainbow

Not wanting to waste a perfectly good trip I decided to head to Panguitch Reservoir on my way home. My DeLorme map showed a fifteen-mile dirt road traversing the nine-thousand foot mountain range separating the two reservoirs. Using MapQuest and Google Earth to verify the road’s existence, I pre-planned the circuitous route before departing Tuesday morning.

Horse Valley Forest Service Road to Panguitch

Upon arriving at the north-eastern edge of Panguitch via the Horse Valley forest service road I noticed whitecaps on the water… not a good sign for a float tuber. I circumnavigated to the southwest corner of the lake where Bunker Creek enters the reservoir. The water there was calmer (the westerly winds didn’t seem to pick up as much strength until they reached farther out unto the large reservoir) and I quickly noted two other float-tubers on the water. Heck, if they could fight the breezing winds I figured I could, too. I quickly parked my trout truck on what was probably private property (it wasn’t posted that I noticed) and launched my tube.

Panguitch has a “gap” limit: only trout smaller than fifteen inches or larger than twenty-two inches can be kept (all tiger trout – brown/brookie hybrids – must be released, too). Forcing the release of trout fifteen to twenty-two inches is an indicator that sizable trout can be caught.

The creek entered the reservoir and created current channels between what were growing weed beds. I positioned myself into a couple of those channels but soon observed that my two fishing buddies had the prime real estate just beyond the weeds. I did not want to interfere in their positions, and so I was constantly fighting the western winds that desired to blow me into their areas. I soon observed the other guys were hooking and landing large trout; eighteen inches and up. Once when the wind had successfully pushed me within talking distance with one of them I remarked, “You seem to be having very good success.” After asking me what flies I was using he volunteered that he was having most success with a small green scud pattern (i.e., a tiny freshwater shrimp). Thankfully, I had a few of those, too. I fished this water for about two hours, and it seemed to take the first hour just to get the feel of it. I finally began to get violent hits by working my sinking like along the edges of the weed bed. A few times I left flies in mouths of large fish, and I had long-distance releases of about five trout that were large, very large. They thrashed on the surface revealing both their proportions and their likely cutthroat origins (Panguitch is known for cutthroats, and cutthroats don’t jump like rainbows but rather thrash like brown trout). I finally decided to change from a 3.5 lbs., 6x tippet to a 5 lbs., 5x tippet; see, I can learn.

Friendly float-tuber (note my cutthroat’s tail fin showing in foreground) 
Seventeen-inch Panguitch rainbow
Eighteen-inch silvery Panguitch rainbow

Despite losing about six hooked trout I manage to land five beautiful fish. I landed one seventeen-inch cutthroat and four rainbows. The last rainbow was especially satisfying. As I was extricating myself from the water I couldn’t help but observe the channel coming right by the make-shift boat dock. It was close enough to the boat launching area that most would ignore it, and the bank-side willows to the south would prevent shore anglers from effectively reaching it. The angle of the sun to my position revealed a moving current that just begged to be explored. Having secured my float tube in the ankle deep shallows flooding the shore grasses I decided to cast a green wooly bugger up and across the current. My first cast was short of my target and so I tried again. As I retrieved I was rewarded with a hefty tug. To my surprise there was a twenty-inch male rainbow sporting a nicely defined kyped jaw who obviously owned that little stretch of current. Once again, I ended my day with the largest trout on my last and most satisfying cast. Fulfilled, and admittingly swelled with a little pride, I packed up and headed for home.

Lair of the twenty-inch rainbow
Last of the day: twenty-inch male rainbow

Now that I have experienced a little of the fruit offered by Panguitch, I should think I will go back some day and build upon the lessons I learned on this trip. And although Red Creek was slower than I hoped, the whole of the trip was memorable and I’m always thankful for the Lord’s blessings.

Beware crazy anglers!

Author: FisherDad

I am a Christian who has been married to my wife for over four decades, with six children and four grandchildren so far. I have retired from a string of successful occupations as a certified public accountant, a chief financial officer, and a registered municipal advisor. I have been a fly angler for almost five decades. My one and only article submission was published by Southwest Fly Fishing magazine (now American Fly Fishing). You can learn more about me by clicking on “About” on the top of my blog page.

4 thoughts on “Red Creek and Panguitch Reservoirs – Southern Utah”

  1. Fisherdad… my dad, brother in law, and nephew were up at Panguitch three weeks ago and the fishing was dead slow at the Bunker creek area. Glad you caught fish. We are headed to Kolob in two weeks. P.S. We love Nick at work… he is great.


  2. Sean —

    Yes, we're pretty proud of Nick and happy he landed at R&R. His only known fault is that he doesn't fish (smile).

    Post a note on Kolob and let me know how that goes. My son, Brian, is interested in learning to fly fish and I was considering taking him to Kolob before he starts his first year at UNLV (I'd like to be in a high elevation to beat this heat).

    Thanks for dropping the note. Best wishes for tight lines.

  3. We will be up at Kolob starting friday the 17th. If you are going let me know I would love to meet you.

    And… yes… I have told Nick he is missing out not fishing. He told me I was crazy or something like that. 🙂

  4. Early in the day, perhaps slow. But how can you not catch fish at 'Gonah? It would be a toss-up between there and our community pond for me for someone new to fishing. Just a note, buggers early, and they have midge hatches late there. I usually hit 'Gonah around 10 times or more a year…depending on my parents..they love it. Note…they are older and love to just catch fish. You can only fish with your father so many times in a lifetime. I am trying to hit the max on that number.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *