Pine Valley Reservoir, Southern Utah

This photo looks through the little meadow from which the Santa Clara River enters the small Pine Valley Reservoir. The “river” nomenclature is a misnomer; in reality it is a small creek. Note the two bait anglers settling in near inlet that I had just vacated. 

It seemed to me it had been a long time since I had an out-of-town angling adventure. Excluding a 90-minute visit to the local Cold Creek pond, my last fishing trip was with my son Doug over eight weeks ago. I feel as though I missed the best part of the spring fishing. Maybe I feel that way because I anticipate next year will be difficult for spring fishing due to Nevada’s biennium legislative session, but who knows. Regardless, I know the anxiousness I feel about missing the productive early spring season seems directly related to God’s timing.  

This spring season was preoccupied with adoption preparations for our foster daughter. She has been with us for over two years, and on July 5 she will permanently join our family. And so it is that all things are swirling around her adoption, which is as it should be. My excuse for feeling like I’ve been deprived is that fishing calms, focuses, and re-energizes me. But so does my relationship with God and his Word.

Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that those led by the Holy Spirit shall bear His fruits which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (read the preceding three verses to learn of those sinful acts contrary to the fruits of the Spirit). I struggle with a few of those fruits as my desire for “angling getaways” can diminish all of them, especially patience.

The first trout of the day before sun rose over the Pine Valley Mountain, caught on a size 8 green Woolly Bugger with grizzly hackle.

Last Thursday I packed my truck for a Friday Pine Valley day trip. Unfortunately, an alarm clock error prevented me from arising at the designated hour. My intention was to be on the road a few hours before sunrise so I could return mid-afternoon and not significantly disrupt the weekend chores/plans. Since I awoke too late to effectively keep that schedule, I delayed the trip until today and simply kept my stuff in the cab of the Trout Truck during the workweek. 

I chose Pine Valley for this trip because it’s relatively close (it’s a five hour round trip from Las Vegas). Although its fish are not large, it is usually well stocked with pretty fish. And there’s always the chance of hooking an occasional brown trout. Like most western reservoirs, Pine Valley fishes best in early spring because the hold-over trout from the fall stocking are usually thirteen to fifteen inches.

A nice little wild brown trout, one of two for the day. I really enjoyed examining his golden color and red spots.

Other than the size of the stocked trout, the only real down side to Pine Valley is its popularity as both a camping and vacation home destination, causing it to feel more like going to camp than a quality fishing experience. Then there’s the cell service available at the reservoir.  Around 10:00 am, while I was fishing, I had to listen to a one-sided conversation a bait angler fishing next to me was having with someone. I heard another one from the north shore earlier in the morning. Nothing quite like listening to mundane, or worse inane, cell phone chatter to ruin any illusion of solitude while fishing 180 miles from home. Regardless of all that, a mid-week trip to Pine Valley can be a wonderful family experience, and even a day-trip solely to wet a line will be enormously more rewarding than spending all day at Cold Creek in the Spring Mountains northwest of Las Vegas. 

Those of you nimble enough (and note I did not say young enough) to stalk the small Santa Clara River (i.e., creek) below the reservoir and into the volcanic canyon will find good sport for naturally reproducing brown trout (see these prior Pine Valley posts: January 22, 2012,  July 1, 2011, and  November 22, 2006), and that venue will get you away from the larger and noisier crowds. Stream angling has always been my favorite, but gout and circulatory issues make rock scrambling and crouching along small creeks problematic as my legs and joints pay a price afterward. 

This rainbow quickly attacked the foam grasshopper imitation. I had great sport swinging these hoppers through the inlet and into the deeper water beyond the fanning sandbar. 

I arrived at the reservoir around 6:00 am PDT, and fished from 6:30 to 10:00. Since I was the second to get on the reservoir I was able to set-up at the inlet, one of my more desired locations to fish on most any trout reservoir. Using my self-made nine-foot rod that casts a five-weight line I started throwing a green woolly bugger with a grizzly hackle, a somewhat different look for a bugger. On my third cast I had a strike from a healthy eleven inch rainbow. I tried other buggers, a series of nymphs (mostly bead heads), as well as casting a floating line with foam bodied terrestrials like grasshoppers and black beetles. The foam terrestrials seamed to induce vicious strikes, and I ended up leaving two hoppers and one beetle in the mouths of three trout. The voracity of their strikes too often incited a similar response from me, causing the terminal end of the tippet to snap off leaving the trout with a $1.50 of foam, feathers, and steel stuck in its mouth. In fact, I left about seven flies in the mouths of trout today. I started with a 6x leader, but it got sufficiently shorter as I lost fly after fly. While I was losing the flies it did occur to me that I may have had a stressed or even faulty leader, but I was too impatient or lazy to tie on a new one. In retrospect I should have started with a 5x or even 4x leader as these stocked rainbows were not leader shy.

Nonetheless, in the course of 200 minutes of fishing I landed eleven trout, but lost or broke off about as many. For whatever reason, I experienced a rather high LDR ratio.

A typical Pine Valley stocked rainbow trout, heavily spotted and running 10 to 12 inches in length.

Pine Valley is small by reservoir standards, so much so that even float tubes are not allowed.  Due to less shoreline and high popularity,  it was beginning to get crowded shortly after 10:00 am. About that time two bait anglers saddled up next to me at the inlet. I was hoping to get home earlier in the afternoon, so the growing crowd was all the inducement I needed to reel in and get on my way. Leaving Pine Valley by 10:30 am meant I’d be home before 1:00 pm, and that would lessen my guilt for the half-day escape that would likely render me exhausted and useless for the rest of the day. 

As much as I enjoy fly angling and writing about it and its related endeavors, I’d still rather be known for my fruits of the Spirit. I want to continue to grow healthier fruit and learn more patience and self-control, to exhibit love, kindness, and gentleness to those around me, while growing in my faithfulness that the Lord will provide all that is necessary, and provide it in His timing, not mine. 

Although it was a rushed trip, this angler was happy…

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 Reservoir, Southern Utah”

  1. Been years since I've fished Pine Valley, It was the first place I fished more than 40 years ago! Was it snakey at all? I fished dries at the inlet, yikes seven years ago, did well, but the grassy area leading to the inlet was full of snakes! I've been told the Santa Clara below the reservoir is far worse. Not being a fan of ratters I've steered clear. Your thoughts?

  2. In the six to eight times I've visited the area over the past 30 years I've never encountered rattlesnakes. I have encountered them in other places, usually in the spring when they are moving out of their dens. Often they hibernate in large communal groups, so when they emerge in the sping it can seem like they're all over if you're in the wrong place .

    The few times I have run across them, they saw me first and rattled their alert so that I would keep my distance. It's always a good idea to pay attention to where you're stepping, and maybe use a walking stick to reach out and explore concealed areas.

    I, too, have read that in the volcanic canyon below the town they can be encountered in higher numbers. I've not fished that far downstream, but have a couple blog followers who do occasionally. Maybe they will post their experiences.

    My final thought is that of all the areas one could encounter a rattlesnake bite, Pine Valley is close to medical facilities. Far better than getting bit on the East Walker River or in Wayne Kirch WMA.

  3. FisherDad, I just spent the week in Idaho fly-fishing various rivers and small streams. Thanks to some of the hints I have read here, I was much more successful that those I was fishing with! After fishing for a week straight, my $ 30 Cabelas reel left me wanting more. Any suggestions on reels? What's the difference between large and small arbor reels? Not looking to break the bank, but willing to spend up to $150 or so. Any suggestions are appreciated. Tight lines.

  4. B –

    I’m happy to read this blog has been of some help. What waters did you fish in Idaho (I’ve not gotten that far north)?

    As to arbor size, the larger sizes have several benefits. Smaller arbor reels hold fly line in smaller (i.e., tighter) loops which will coil at your feet, in the water, or on your stripping apron. Coiled lines have a tendency to tie themselves into loop knots that will get stuck in your stripping guide when shooting line (this happens particularly when casting for distance as more line will be coiled at your feet). Also, larger arbors will retrieve line faster (i.e., more line spooled per revolution of the reel). Although large arbor reels are more of a requirement for bigger gamefish (salmon and salt water gamefish), they are helpful for the average trout fisherman, too.

    I started out in the late 1970s with Pflueger reels. Adequate, but quite heavy as metal parts were stamped and assembled with machine screws (as you know, reel weight has a lot to do with casting balance and arm fatigue). In the 1980s I bought a British made Hardy HLR lightweight for about $120. A classic beauty, but it sports a small arbor that coils line pretty tight. This reel and extra spool hold 5-weight line so it is the reel my son uses when he fishes with me. Although a simple reel, today’s HLRs start around $250.

    In the late 1990s I bought an Orvis CFO-123 reel for my 4-weight, 6-foot rod. I don’t think larger arbor reels were available for smaller rods at that time, but even today I’m not sure I’d even put a mid-arbor reel on my 6-footer. The CFO has that same classic design as the HLR, but it does coil line tight; fortunately I don’t expect to cast over 45 feet with the 6-footer. The CFO starts around $200 new.

    In the early 2000s I retired the last of my old-style Pluegers for their new Trion mid-arbor model. I bought the 3.5 spool for my 7-weight and it’s been a steady performer. I would try to squeeze 5-weight line on their 3.0-inch spool if possible due to their weight (maybe a store will allow you test out that theory). Good news here is the low cost, starting around $130.

    Also in the 2000s I purchased a Galvin T-5 large arbor real (with 2 extra spools) that I love to death. However, I find the T-5 to be larger than needed for 5-weight(it could easily handle a WF-6-F, WF-6-S, or even a WF-7-S). Being partial to 5-weights I should have gone with the T-4. I bought my Galvin when they first came out; now their popularity makes then very pricey. These reels are a dream to fish with, and the drags are very smooth and adjustable to precise friction.

    My most recent purchase is an Orvis Battenkill Mid-Arbor II for my favorite rod, a 7.5 foot 4-weight. Orvis has rebranded these as Access Mid Arbor Reels, and their Mid Arbor II starts at $145. I like this reel better than the Pflueger model, but it costs a little more ($15).

    There are lots of other $150 mid & large arbor reels out there, but I have not fished them. Hope that helps.

    All the best.

  5. Wow that is a great review, and I am glad to know you have fished those reels. I have a good friend attending BYU Idaho, so we based our adventure out of Rexburg. We fished various sections of the Snake, Henry's Fork, the Teton River, Warm River, and various small creeks and tributaries. Most of the fishing tested my self-taught skills, but I learned a lot and enjoyed the fresh air. I am heading to Southern Utah to fish Beaver and Yankee next month, so I hope to acquire my new reel by then. Thanks again for the quick and comprehensive advice. As always, I appreciate it. Take care. – Brandon

  6. Headed up there sep 28-30th with my dad. Never been up there but he has. Never fly fished so any tips? Local secret baits? Would love any feed back thank you

  7. Sean —

    If you’ve never fly fished I hope your dad has. You’ll need someone (your dad?) to instruct you on the basics of fly casting. There are a lot of decent instructional YouTube videos, but they’re only helpful if you have a fly rod to practice with. September will be a great time to fish Pine Valley, and if you’re fishing the reservoir fish from the inlet. Read this blog from 2011 for possible pointers on casting from that vantage point: . As to beginning fly fishing “stuff”, read this blog: . (You’ll need to cut and paste the URLs into your browser.) Pine Valley is a put-and-take reservoir, although I do believe there is spawning in the stream. We know the wild brown trout spawn below the reservoir, so no reason to think they don’t spawn upstream from the reservoir. A nice fall brown would be a special treat from Pine Valley. All the best, and post a comment regarding your experience.

    — FisherDad

  8. Heading up this weekend from Vegas, was hoping to camp near the reservoir but apparently they don't open until mid May. I saw a video that said there were areas of the creek that were not down in the canyon and easily accessible, do you know if this is near the reservoir?

    I love reading your blog entries and happy to know that you are a brother in Christ as well.

    Haven't seen many post lately, hope all is ok.

    I sometimes feel like I am on the same path you were on only years later, so many times I am looking for a place to fish in the surrounding Vegas area and once I find one I start to Google it and bam there is your blog, which makes me wonder why I don't just hit your site first.:)

  9. Timothy –

    All is well, just too busy with budget season and the biennial legislative session. The change of control in the Legislature has really caused a lot of activity that needs monitoring. But, our family had a blessed Easter and I do have a trip planned for the Ruby Marshes later this month (might sneak to Kirch on a day trip before then… we’ll see).

    As to the Santa Clara River, the stretch below the reservoir but before the Pine Valley town can be fun and challenging to fish, and the section at the end of town, just before it drops into the canyon is also very good to fish. If you look on the right side of the blog you’ll see a list of “Destination Blogs.” You’ll find Pine Valley listed there with 4 blogs, and if you look up at Baker Reservoir (1 blog) you’ll be covering the Pine Valley area. Three of the Pine Valley blogs describe the creek (river is too generous) fishing: 01.22.12, 07.01.11, and 11.22.06. The 07.11.11 blog actually has a Google Earth picture with the two sections of the creek sort of marked with the yellow pins; those are your target areas if you want to avoid going down into the canyon.

    As to camping, you could try Enterprise Reservoir nearby (unfortunately, I’ve yet to post a blog on that water, but you can find it on the “UT Div of Wildlife” link just underneath my “Favorite Blog Pictures.” Also, you might find camping around Baker Reservoir, but not likely with improvements such as an outhouse and running water.

    Good luck, and let me know how it fished with a post. Blessings in Christ, brother Timothy.

    – Mark (FisherDad)

  10. Timothy, a shorter answer would have been "yes" (I've never been good at brevity… lol). These sections of fishable stream are easily accessible. BTW, after the creek flows through that canyon it ends up filling Baker reservoir; they are closely connected.

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