Pine Valley, Utah

This Pine Valley mansion overlooks the cattle pasture and the Santa Clara River that flows just below the white fence in the distance.

Holiday weekends don’t usually entice me to travel. I like to vacation between the weekends so as to keep the crowds to a minimum. It’s not that I’m introverted or antisocial, but truthfully, who likes to struggle in crowds on a vacation. Fishing works the same way, but for different reasons. When I venture outdoors I like to pursue the feeling of wilderness (even when it’s not reality). It’s a throwback to my youthful hiking days; always wanting to trek where no one has gone before, to see things as natural and undisturbed as possible. Currently, fishing on weekdays before or after the holidays is the best I can manage to create the sense of solitude and peace.

Note the manicured lawn and white fencing/rails around this fine Pine Valley brick home.

This Fourth of July weekend presented yet another opportunity for a quick fishing trip before the urbanites and suburbanites (of which I am one) left in droves to sample the vestige of wilderness in our state and national parks. I knew many would be leaving Friday to secure their camp sites, and I was certain they would either be on the road or too busy with camp chores to be able to start fishing before noon. So the plan was hatched to leave Friday morning between 5:00 AM and 5:30 AM for Pine Valley. I reasoned a two and one-half hour drive, so I could be fishing as soon as 8:00 AM, long before the masses arrived.

This brown steer, standing chest high in his lunch, was a nice contrast to green grass.

I was planning to fish a section of the Santa Clara River that I had yet to explore (river is a generous designation; it is more aptly described as a creek). It’s the section just below the Pine Valley pasture, just as the river enters into the narrow volcanic canyon. I had heard that there was decent fishing in the canyon, but I’m not able to climb in and out of canyons like that anymore. So my strategy was to park near the entrance and start there. There is a dirt road that took me down to the canyon’s edge near where the river enters, and I was able to scramble down to the river without much difficulty.

This Google Earth picture of Pine Valley highlights the reservoir in the lower right and the Santa Clara River in the upper left just before it descends into the volcanic canyon that holds wild brown trout of reasonable proportions.

For this trip I brought three rods. Originally I had planned to bring just the two four-weights (the six-footer and the seven-and-one-half-footer). For some fortuitous reason I also brought my nine foot, five-weight rod. I thought I had brought my hip boots to work the river and remain cool in the impending heat of the day, but when I started to unload my gear at the edge of the canyon I realized I only brought my chest high waders. Those two packing decisions, however absent minded they might have been, were good omens of things to unfold in Pine Valley.

A little riffle section of Santa Clara River before it enters the canyon.

The water was a little murky, but very fishable. Immediately I could see several sections that though could hold brown trout, and I plied them with several nymphs and dry flies. I was casting the seven-and-one-half-foot rod and I was able to place the flies where I wanted. But I was hopelessly skunked. I did not even see a fish dart for cover as I walked upstream or crossed over. It was a serene and pleasing stretch of river cooled by stately Ponderosa pines, and I had it all to myself. Unfortunately, the trout would have none of my offerings. By the time I reached the pasture I had covered about three hundred yards… no strikes. 

So, feeling slightly defeated I decided to try the section below the reservoir; it always had fish in it. I started my ascent out of the canyon and back to the truck. It was then that I realized my legs were already exhausted from the squatting, crawling, and crossing the creek. I didn’t time it, but it must have taken me a good fifteen minutes to get back to the truck despite the hike out being less than a quarter mile. By the time I reached the truck my legs were getting numb, so I nixed the idea of fishing the upper reaches of the river and instead opted to fish the reservoir.  This is where the nine-foot rod and chest-high waders became most useful.

The woman working in the park entrance booth said they just stocked the reservoir, so I figured I’d erase the early morning skunking with a bunch of little stocked rainbows and get on my way home. As planned, there were just a few folks positioned around the little reservoir (it’s only about five acres so boats and float tubes are not allowed). Fortunately, no one was near the inlet, so that’s where I went straight away. Although the reservoir wasn’t much higher than normal, the water flowing in through the inlet was moving pretty briskly, and it was very cold despite the ninety degree temperature. Due to the volume of spring runoff there was a large sandbar that drifted into that reservoir maybe one hundred feet or so, but then fell off quickly. With my chest-high waders and nine-foot fly rod I was able to command quite a bit of prime water, sometimes in ankle deep water and other times in water just over my waist.

A strong 12-inch rainbow taken on the ubiquitous olive woolly bugger.
And here we have his 13-inch brother.

Being somewhat disappointed about the creek skunking I suppose I had low expectations about the reservoir. Those feelings were erased almost immediately as I began hooking into twelve and thirteen inch rainbows, almost on every cast. I don’t think they were from a previously stocking, but rather that the Utah Department of Wildlife stocked larger trout here for some reason. Regardless of how or why, they were all stacked below the sandbar, which fanned out quite widely, waiting for the morsels drifting into the reservoir. I believe I started fishing the reservoir around 10:00 AM, and by 1:00 PM I had caught and released thirty trout (excluding the seven LDRs, that one every six minutes on average). All but one were rainbows, but the one little brown trout was very special. It was further evidence that brown trout still exist in the Santa Clara system that are reproducing (you don’t see much mention of brown trout in the Pine Valley Reservoir literature, printed or online). This little brown was exactly what I was hoping to catch in the river below that pasture. Perhaps another day, or on another stream.

In this photo you can see the inlet sandbar where 30 trout were caught in three hours.
This photo provides a broader perspective and a different angle to better visualize the inlet sandbar.

I was impressed with how hard these trout fought. They were a little larger than your average stocked trout, and for the most part their strikes came deep which when coupled with the inlet flow working against me they certainly bent the nine-foot rod as if they were fifteen or sixteen inches. After three hours my rod hand was tired and sore from the fights, likely exaggerated by a mild case of gout in my right index finger (first time ever in that joint location). Despite being worn out, it was exactly what I needed to redeem myself for the poor showing in the lower creek.

A photo of the 8-inch wild brown trout with visible juvenile parr mark remnants. I would think this young trout came from wild pawn upstream from the reservoir.  
A close up of those classic red spots so often found on brown trout.
This small stocked rainbow appeared to still be in spawning color, but it was more likely he was just genetically more colorful, or perhaps even a wild rainbow. When I first saw him from afar I thought he was another brown trout due to his rich coloring.

This fishing experience was a little different for me, and it caused me to pause and realize that despite my desires time is marching on. Someday, sooner than I would like, I’ll not be able to fish waters like this. Sometimes I feel as though Jesus is reminding me that earthly time is short, and that I should be about His business more fervently than I am currently. Apostle Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians wrote: 

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

It’s not that I think my little fishing excursions are sinful or wasteful; they are in fact a needed respite from the weight of the daily life in this world. It’s more like a reminder that my eyes should be set on heavenly rewards rather than earthly pleasures. The Lord’s not denying the earthly pleasures, but I need to be constantly directed to His desires for my life rather than my own. Meanwhile I will relish this gift of fishing, and every time I partake in its delights I will think of the heavenly pleasures that await me and be humble and grateful for His grace at the cross.

Angler on the Santa Clara River.

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.

10 thoughts on “Pine Valley, Utah”

  1. Love your blog my Biz partner and I check in with it every once in awhile to see where you have been fishing. We live in St. George and when we can't get away to bigger rivers or reservoirs we will often run up to the Santa Clara to get our fishing fix. There are a lot of Brown trout in the River. We do really well with a bead head san jaun worm or a zebra midge. Last time we went up there was in May and fishing was slow. But we have had a lot of fun catching 8-14 inch browns in that River. Well keep posting we enjoy. You might like this guys blog too:

  2. Interesting. I had San Juan worms (not beaded) with me and had thought of using them but I grew impatient, which is unlike me, but sometimes forced into it on day trips when I need to return home at a certain hour. I will return to Santa Clara again, perhaps in the fall.

    I did check out Chris Kurnik’s site. Very well done, and nice photography.

  3. I enjoyed your blog. I have a question for you about your Outlaw Escape. I just bought one and was considering buying the stripping apron that they sell. I read that you had ordered one and wanted to ask you what you think of it. I found that my fly line kept falling off my lap and sinking around my feet and flippers without a stripping apron. I really like my Escape but for $700.00 you would thik they would throw in a stripping apron?

  4. Kenny –

    I had the same reaction when I discovered the stripping apron didn’t come with the Escape. On the 2010 model I have there is no place to attach the front end of the apron. There should be D rings up front, but there aren't. So, I attach the straps to the footrest bar. Unfortunately, that causes the apron to slope down. Not what it should be, but a lot better than having sinking line slide off you lap and get entangled with your feet. I know they revise their designs, so maybe the next revision will have D rings where they’re supposed to be, but that won't help us, will it.

    BTW, I just returned from a short 2-day trip into southern Utah. In a day and one-half I fished Tropic, Mammoth Creek, Panguitch, and Kolob. Although I struggled on Panguitch, I did manage to land a 21 inch cutthroat. New blog to come in a few days.

    Best of luck with the Escape.

    — FisherDad

  5. Hope you're still checking this. Thanks for sharing and for sharing the spirit. Heading to Zion for July 4/5, but was hoping to camp/fly fish a nice spot for a few days prior. Saw Quail Creek, then saw your post on Pine Valley and Santa Clara River. We like grass, not a big fan of snakes. I have four kids and would like to balance some kid fishing with me getting some good stream trout fly fishing. Any suggestions/locations as well as what flies would be greatly appreciated. My ideal spot would be a camp site that has a little river/stream running behind us. Notice the Pine Valley campground has a couple sites with what looks like the outlet from the reservoir. Would love any advice you could share as I'm fairly new. Much thanks.

  6. Also, as we'll be going through st. george, was there a campground at the Santa Clara River? The photo you posted looks a lot like some prime spots we fish on the upper Owen in Mammoth, CA

  7. Scott —

    I think Pine Valley would be a great place to camp with your kids. It has a campground above the reservoir, and the headwaters indeed flow from the mountains right through the campground (get there as early as you can before the July 4th weekend, it’ll fill up quick). The reservoir usually fishes well, and kids love it. You, on the other hand, can fish the creek below the reservoir all the way to the mini canyon below the town of Pine Valley. Also, Baker Reservoir is accessible down from Pine Valley as well. If Pine Valley is too crowded try Enterprise Reservoir just 30 minutes or so northwest of Pine Valley (although I’ve not posed on that water, you can easily find it on the web).

    The usual array of small hares ear, prince, and maybe caddis for the creek, but damsel and small wooly buggers for the reservoir should be fine.

    Let me know if I can be of other help.

    — FisherDad

  8. That's terrific, thank you very much. I'll let you know how it goes. Please let me know if you ever get to the Eastern Sierras and need any spots. Not sure I'd be much help with fly selection, but I can definitely direct you to some nice spots.

    With gratitude.

    PS, love all your comments on patience, kindness and compassion. Just finished reading "Just Like Jesus" by Max Lucado. It was a game changer for me. Cheers.

  9. Scott –

    I find that Pine Valley is prettier than Gunlock, more Sierra-like (of course, I live in the desert). Furthermore, Gunlock is a warm water fishery (bluegill, green sunfish, and largemouth bass) rather than cold. Pine Valley reservoir has rainbow and brown trout, and decades ago it also had brook trout but I’ve not caught any in recent years.

    As to the eastern slope of the Sierra’s, my job takes me to Carson City occasionally and I have fished the E. Walker River near Bridgeport as well as the Indian Creek reservoir (check out this blog: It’s a wonderful place; you are fortunate to live near there.

    Max Lucado is a wonderful writer… he creates such wonderful pictures with words that help us understand the Scriptures, doesn’t he? I first encountered him when my wife bought me a Lucado devotional Bible 15 years or so ago, and a few years later after my mother died I discovered a photocopy from his inspirational daily message book, "Grace for the Moment". The copy was of p. 87, “God Is Crazy About You” referencing Matthew 10:30. I’ve been a fan of his ever since.

    Blessings to you and your family, may your trip be filled with blessings that give glory to Him!

    – Mark

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