May 21, 2020

Pine Valley, UT

Dave with the early morning sunrise at his back. The Pine Valley Recreation Area was not yet opened to
vehicular or camping traffic... but hiking and fishing was allowed. The reservoir was a mile up the road.
Dave is carrying our only functional fly rod because I left my Fishpond bag in my garage holding numerous
reels, spools, and fly boxes. Dave graciously shared with me. We made the best of it after having a good laugh.
I enjoyed developing my angling skills on the waters around Pine Valley in the late 1970's and early 1980's. A youthful mid-twenties body stimulated my rustic romanticism for pursuing trout in streams and creeks. Now, as a sexagenarian, I no longer bushwhack and boulder-hop up and down streambeds alone, or at least not for far. Nonetheless, I am still nostalgic about fly angling small streams. There likely were several factors driving my interest in stream fishing. I was certainly influenced by the trout angling literature of the day that was predominantly focused on moving water. That was compounded by the first books I read on the subject that I borrowed from my brother Neal’s outdoorsman library. His books had an old-school New England approach to fishing for trout with a fly (think classic dry fly angling). That was a conundrum for me because Neal favored wet flies, nymphs, and streamers. Another influence was my sense of adventure. Stream fishing fed my exploratory hunger about what I might find or witness around the next bend, whereas casting flies from a lake shore was more solely focused on catching fish. I was bored by shore fishing.  The old tire-tube belly boats were starting to show up in catalogs at that time as a cheap and stealthy approach to lake fishing, but it didn't look fun paddling armpit deep in a lake. Mind you, this was well before personal watercrafts were designed and developed for anglers like those we use today.  Absent the financial capital to acquire a "real" boat and a truck sufficiently powerful to pull a boat trailer, stream fishing was just right for me. Besides, casting to trout visible in the stream, or at least to their obvious feeding/holding stations, captured my desire to stalk the trout rather than cast blindly into the lake from shore.

Perhaps Norman Maclean’s affection for moving waters says it best: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

Pine Valley Reservoir from the dam. The mountains still had snow in their northwest facing avalanche shoots.  

A little about fishing nomenclature for my non-fishing readers:

The fishing subset I write about is fly fishing. It involves casting a “weighted line” with a “clear leader” attached to it and a “fly” tied to the end of the leader. The fly itself is not usually burdened by weights or sinkers so that it can flow on, or in, the water just as an aquatic insect would do. A “dry fly” is one that imitates the various stages of an adult aquatic insect floating on top of the water (thus the label: dry fly). A dry fly is cast with a weighted line infused with microscopic bubbles that allows it to float on the surface and therefor does not pull the dry fly under the water. The attraction about fishing dry flies during an insect “hatch” is that you see the trout feeding on the surface, and so casting to these “rising” trout is filled with an intense expectation. The problem with dry fly fishing is that each insect has their own seasonal hatch cycle that depends upon temperature and weather, and so this hatch feeding activity probably happens less than 5% of the time. So if catching trout is your predominant objective (recognizing that anglers have many objectives that override the desire to simply catch fish) you end up gravitating to fishing with flies that imitate the nymph or pupa stage of the aquatic insects (i.e., wet flies, nymphs, and streamers). 

The term “put-and-take” describes the fishery policy of stocking fish raised in a hatchery for the masses to harvest for table food. Sometimes this is done because the water environment does not meet the requirements for natural reproduction, but it also serves the public’s desire to take home a mess of fish for dinner. “Holdover” trout refers to fish stocked last season that survived over the winter to become the larger fish of the new season. And yes, there are trout that survive yet a second season, or perhaps hatchery brood stock that are occasionally peppered into the reservoirs, that can reach 18 inches or better (see evidence of this in my Baker Dam Reservoir blog post from March 2007, a reservoir but 5 minutes from Pine Valley). Hatchery trout are usually stocked in streams and lakes when they reach 9 to 11 inches, but sometimes younger or older trout are stocked for different reasons. Generally, popular put-and-take reservoirs get so much pressure that most all trout are harvested within a couple of seasons, thus the constant cycle of stocking. In waters managed under “trophy” or “blue ribbon” regulations, the angler’s ability to keep trout is limited, or even prohibited. These “catch-and-release” regulations typically enhance the sporting aspect because caught fish are returned to the water to grow to their full potential, as well as training them to be more discriminating between a natural insect and its artificial imitation. 

If you are interested to learn more about fly angling please visit my Beginners Gear-Guide to Fly Fishing blog post.

Dave waded out on the Santa Clara River inlet sandbar where he hooked into several small rainbows.
I do not recall taking many friends to Pine Valley over the past four decades. I know I enticed my non-angling high school and college buddy, Kevin McGoohan, to camp Pine Valley with me around 1980. In 2003 my friend, Luis Choto, and I took a few of our boys for an overnight camping trip. We fished the reservoir just a little, but it was really meant to be an overnight campout with our boys. For this day-trip I reached out to David Laman to join me for an “outdoorsy getaway” before the stifling heat of the Mojave Desert baked out my energy (we've already had temperatures approaching 110 degrees in Las Vegas and it's not even June yet).

This is the meadow where the Santa Clara River enters the reservoir. The use of "river" is a misnomer
as the Santa Clara is a creek by western standards.

Recently, my Pine Valley blog post of June 2012 eclipsed my Cold Creek blog post of April 2010 as my most popular blog post. I find that interesting only because while there are many waters in and around Pine Valley, other than the mid-section of the Santa Clara River (i.e., creek), they are all managed as put-and-take fisheries where a 14 inch reservoir holdover trout is something to be excited about. Ignoring the Southern Nevada urban ponds, including Cold Creek, Pine Valley is the closest trout fishing destination for Las Vegas's 2.3 million population. Add to that the proximity of Utah cities like St. George and Cedar City (literally just 30-minute drives) and their residents’ proclivity to enjoy all things outdoors, and one can see why these waters are managed as put-and-take fisheries.

The Santa Clara does have some deep pools, but they're not always easy to fish. And if you don't
snag flies in the willows you aren't fishing hard enough. Since I accidentally left my fly arsenal
home I was forced to retrieve snagged nymph flies rather than break them off.
The Santa Clara as it leaves the western edge of the Pine Valley community
and begins its descent into the little canyon. 

I guess you can think of Pine Valley as the McDonalds of outdoor experiences; it appeals to the masses on many levels. Despite its popularity, the Pine Valley area is quite beautiful and offers many outdoor opportunities. There is more to this area than the fishable waters (e.g., Pine Valley, Baker Dam, Gunlock, Enterprise, and New Castle reservoirs plus the Santa Clara River). Snow Canyon State Park attracts hikers, bikers, naturalists, and climbers with its spectacular red rock cliffs. There are several hiking, viewing, and forest trails in the Pine Valley area. Using Pine Valley as a base camp gets you conveniently close Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, not to mention striking distance to Arches National Park and Canyonland National Park.

A pretty little brown trout of maybe 10 inches. Would like to see him again in his fall spawning regalia.
While working the Santa Clara below the reservoir I came across a couple tailouts where I noticed
small trout were occasionally feeding. Hooking several like this 7-inch brown was reminiscent
of my 1970/1980 trips. Note the oval parr marks are still visible, especially towards the tail.
This trip with Dave was somewhat sentimental for both of us. Although the area holds wonderful youthful memories for me, I do not visit that often anymore. Dave described his decades-old memories of cutting Pine Valley Christmas trees with good friends, and his unsatisfied interest in sampling the fishing while revisiting the valley. Day trips like this out of Las Vegas produce almost as much driving time in the truck as it does fishing time, so traveling with a Christian brother like Dave always makes the trip enjoyable and valuable. Conversations can find deeper levels where brothers can share their life challenges through the filter of shared Christian values. The saying “iron sharpens iron” applies here (Proverbs 27:17).

One such conversation drifted into witnessing our faith to others. Which are most effective: direct scriptural approaches, passive demonstrations through our actions, or other variations and combinations? Do you wait to be asked, or do you speak as the Holy Spirit moves you to do so? How do our personalities influence our communication styles, and does it matter in the end since it is God who grows the seed, not us? We drifted into discussing our experiences of giving counsel to couples suffering marriage conflict. Dave has a passion for marriage and family developed through his own life experiences. We both understand the sacredness of marriage, and that the family unit is a faint representation of the Holy Trinity (Mark 10:6-9). Although imperfect, our marriages are 40-plus years strong. We both acknowledged frustration with guiding couples who do not believe in Jesus the Christ, or even newly converted believers. In the end, I think we both concluded that we are called to spread the Word, and the rest is in the hands of the Lord. If their hearts are open to the Holy Spirit, they’ll seek more understanding (Matthew 7:7-11). When Christian guidance is rejected we should consider ceasing to cast our pearls before the swine (Matthew 6:7) and shake the dust off our feet (Matthew 10:14). It would be a sin to allow our pride to fool us into believing we can convert non-believers... that is God's job through the Holy Spirit.

David snapped this photo of me as we were leaving the creek for the Trout Truck. It was a
wonderful day of fellowship that happened to include a little bit of fishing.  

April 28, 2020

Running from COVID-19

I post this scene often. The snow-capped Grant Range is a dramatic backdrop for Dacey
Reservoir. Grant's tallest peaks, Stairstep,Troy, and Timber, range from 10,000 to 11,000
feet. Hot Creek Butte, on far left of the photo, conceals hot springs that attract visitors on
its other side.

I must confess to selfishly abandoning my family for a short day-trip to Dacey reservoir in the Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area (Kirch). It was actually a mission of mercy for them as I was getting stir crazy over the shutdown, and who knows what damage I could bring upon my familial relationships had I not taken a dose of this medicine.

Kidding aside, it was but a day-trip that brought me home by 5:oo PM, and no wildlife was harmed in the adventure. Not much to say, other than narrate the pictorial essay. I know my fellow pescadores will understand. 

I recall catching about 12 black bass, a.k.a. largemouth bass. Strangely, they seemed much
more active in the cool of the morning than the rainbow trout, despite trout being a cold-water
fish and bass a warm-water fish. The trout began getting active around 11:00 AM, when I started
hooking up with them. I lost about 5 trout, including one male of about 16 or 17 inches as I was
fighting him toward the Fish Pond net. I did land 6 trout, including two around 19 inches. It's been
a couple of seasons since I landed a 19 inch trout from Dacey.

The rainbow in this photo was about 15 inches.

My new European-made Savage Gear oared float tube has a metric scale on its stripping apron.
It goes to 50cm, which is about 19.7 inches. This female rainbow trout was carrying eggs, but
from the few that spilled from her I don't think she was "ripe."  On the apron she measured 49cm,
about 19.3 inches.

You'll notice her left upper mandible is missing. Dacey regulations limit fishing to "artificial" lures
(no bait that could be swallowed into stomach), but it includes spinner hardware. The regulations
also allow that one trout can be kept. Generally, artificial lures are not swallowed, and thus facilitate
releasing the fish unharmed, which is significant for sport fishermen like me who release everything
they hook.

These special Dacey regulations seem to produce larger trout, but they are often difficult to land
even in the early season when aquatic weeds have just started to grow. I believe this is because
many hardware slingers, especially along the riprap dam, are fishing for meat. Their larger spinners
and heavy tackle are designed to get the fish on the table. My educated suspicion is that a fisherman,
or a succession of fisherman, hooked this one on larger, barbed spinners, and either it ripped
off the mandible or it was damaged by the barbed hook removal. Or, maybe catch and release
simply manifests weaker trout jaws over time.

Maybe its "all of the above." 

Here I am reviving the big hen-fish. She was a stout trout...

Here's one of two black bass that were 14 to 15 inches long. I think these were the most "good
sized" largemouth bass I've ever caught from Kirch's reservoirs. Usually I'm not hooking
bass over 12 inches on a fly rod. 

This was my most satisfying catch of the day. Partly because it was my last one of the day, partly
because it was 47.5cm (18.7 inches), but mostly because I caught it right in front of two hardware
fishermen from Las Vegas (Lord, forgive me for my sin of pride). I was making my way back to
the rustic boat launch area when two guys parked on the dam and proceeded to cast their spinners
to the edge of the tules, right across where the watercraft gain ingress/egress to the reservoir.

They saw me paddling toward them, but I guess they didn't think I was leaving the reservoir
so early in the afternoon. And based on that presumption, I didn't want to bust up their fishing,
so I kept 150 feet away, but was continuing to cast in their general direction. To my delight I hooked

this female rainbow, who did one of those signature Dacey trout leaps right in front
of them

(these larger trout will leap 2 to 3 feet in the air... extremely acrobatic). It was as if she
wanted to show off for everyone to see. I was close enough to hear their commentary, which
included some astonishment that I would release such a trout. After her release I made 5 or 6
more casts, but I really needed to get out if I was to get home at the promised time. So I told
the men I was getting out and needed through passage to the launch, which they politely obliged.

It took me about 45 minutes to get everything stowed away in the Trout Truck before I could
get on my way. While packing I noted a 20 inch trout carcass near the truck. I pegged it as a male

rainbow. My guess is it was a day old. It was intact head-to-tail except for the fillets sliced off its
sides; the remaining flesh was dried but still pinkish. All this time the two spinner fisherman
worked that corner and beyond to where I hooked this pretty trout. 

When I started my truck I decided to return to Highway 318 via the Sunnyside road so that I had
to cross the dam and see what luck the two fishermen where having. I could tell they both were
still fishing but when I got closer I saw a 17-inch trout on a stringer. 

The Game Wardens frequent this dam often, and in fact I saw them drive-off two other dam
fishermen, who I presume were fishing without a license and/or with bait. I said a quick prayer
that one would drive by and catch these guys both fishing wile one of them already had his
one-trout limit.  

I want to share a chuckle I had while searching for the Wane Kirch Wildlife Management Brochure online a few days ago.  While the original brochure was detailed, it appears they have another new Kirch brochure which, if you look closely at the photo on the bottom of page 1, you'll recognize FisherDad on Dacey Reservoir from my October 23, 2013 blog post.

There it is again, that darn prideful ego rising up! 

Stay well and stay safe as we climb out of this pandemic episode and return to some semblance of normality.

April 17, 2020

Life Within a Pandemic

The view of Red Rock's bluffs from the trail to the Ash Grove in 
Spring Mountain State Park.
Hopefully I got your attention with some scenic photos of places visited during this awful time of pandemic horror. For my daughter and I, these were necessary diversions designed to help us remember that life, given to us by the Lord, is meant to be lived. Lived in joyful hope, not in fear and worry. By design, our lives are to be relational, both with the Lord and with each other. It is unnatural for us to be shut away from our loved ones, regulated to phone calls and FaceTime. I can tell you that my wife and I long to touch, smell, and cuddle with our grandchildren. While the separation is said to be temporary, it is not what any parent or grandparent would want.  
The Arizona Ash Grove of Spring Mountain State Park, in late winter.  
These past four weeks have been tough on all of us, but especially for health care and public safety workers. They have been asked to go above and beyond what most of us could ever rise to. Granted I'm not that old (according to standards set by people my age...), but this social and economic shutdown is unprecedented in my lifetime.
My daughter strikes a pose at Cold Creek.
I'll await the medical and scientific postmortems on the CV-19 (i.e., “SARS-CoV-2”) response impacts, but my current leaning is that they are generally exaggerated. My initial hunch was that this novo coronavirus wouldn't be much more deadly than a very bad influenza year, and current data as of this blog post seems to support that hunch (although I admit the jury is still out on that). Take for example this John Hopkins article dated April 17, 2020: "Coronavirus Disease 2019 vs. the Flu." If you pay particular attention to the comparative volume of cases and deaths you'll see that CV-19 isn't likely to be any worse than a very bad flu year. Of course, the real concern is the lack of a vaccine for this new virus, which is a whole other story.   
The Fish Taco descending into the Willow Creek drainage.
Part of the problem stems from the apparent misinformation from China, worsened by their delay in sharing their real data with the rest of the world. Mix into that a severe dislike for incumbent President Trump by about half of the country, a roaring economy, and an election year in which the Democrats have yet to put forth a credible candidate, it’s not hard to imagine that a prolonged shutdown might be helpful to their removal plans. As some have said, "Never waste a good crisis" (supposedly attributed to folks like Winston Churchill and Rahm Emanuel, but likely goes all the way back to God).

Human beings can only tolerate this shutdown for so long, especially as data is collected that appears contrary to the fears that CV-19 will be the worst Pandemic since 1918's H1N1 pandemic (which was ironically worsened by the use of aspirin mega-doses as it was the “go-to” pharmaceutical of that day). Although a century ago, the current estimates are that 1918 H1N1 pandemic infected about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population at that time. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States whose population was 104 million at that time. Forget case infections, that was a US death rate of 646 per 100,000 residents. The current US CV-19 deaths per 100,000 residents is 11, or said another way the 1918 death rate was 60 times greater. By the way, the Center for Disease Control estimates that the 2018–2019 influenza season was attributed to more than 35.5 million illnesses, more than 16.5 million medical visits, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths. As of April 17, 2020, 
the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation models are projecting US deaths could reach 60,308 (estimate range of 34,063 to 140,381) during the epidemic’s first wave. We don’t know if or when there’ll be a second wave. 
Willow Creek is not much to look at, but still
remarkable to find in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
Here in Nevada there are currently 2,836 cases and 112 deaths, which theoretically is a 4% death rate (similar to the US average), except that we likely don't know how many cases really exist because there's been no testing of that specific antibody in Nevada as of today (experts suggest there are 5-10 people with undetected infections for every confirmed case, which would put case mortality rates at less than 1%). More importantly, we should look at the projected CV-19 death rates compared to other causes, many of which can be prevented or reduced based on changes in behavior. According to the Reno Gazette, here were the top 10 causes of Nevada deaths in 2019:

  1. Heart disease (203.7 deaths per 100,000)
  2. Cancer (165.3 deaths per 100,000)
  3. Lower Respiratory Diseases, usually tobacco related (53.0 deaths per 100,000)
  4. Stroke (37.7 deaths per 100,000)
  5. Non-Vehicular Accidents (36.6 deaths per 100,000)
  6. Alzheimer’s (22.6 deaths per 100,000)
  7. Diabetes (21.5 deaths per 100,000)
  8. Suicide (20.5 deaths per 100,000)
  9. Influenza and Pneumonia (16.6 deaths per 100,000)
  10. Liver disease (15.3 deaths per 100,000)
Note that based on Nevada’s 3.08 million population for 2019, even if the current Nevada CV-19 deaths quadrupled to 448, the resulting 14.6 deaths per 100,000 would not crack into this top-ten list. And that’s a list that excludes Nevada’s abortion rate of 286.3 deaths per 100,000 (most recent stats were for 2018), which would be the number 1 cause of death by a long-shot… if one assumes fetuses are living human beings.

OK, my sincere apologies for all this morbid talk. I agree, it can be earth-shaking to think about death as a statistic. No one wants to become a “bad” statistic. But I’m a numbers guy, and data and logic tend to influence my opinions. All I’m attempting to suggest is, it might not have been worth decimating the economy and artificially creating the historic unemployment jump when you compare it to other causes of death like tobacco related disease, accidents, diabetes, and suicide.

The grove of willows and scrub oak reveal Willow Creek in the foreground,
while the mountain-range notch above it denotes Wheeler Pass into the
Pahrump-side of the Spring Mountains.
Despite all this negativity, for which I’ve already apologized, I don’t live in fear or worry. I place my hope in the Lord. The Bible, the very Word of God, has promised hope through the millennia. Here are but a few verses to reflect upon if you are feeling anxious or worried about anything, including this pandemic:
  • I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18)
  • Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)
  • But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish. (Psalm 33:18)
  • Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
  • I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:18-28)
  • For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
  • For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
  • Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. (Psalm 39:4-5)
  • Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:25-27)
  • There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2)
Our lives should be filled with hope, not worry and fear. We cannot add a single hour to our lives, and although God knows, we do not know the time we are appointed to return to Him.
Be safe, be strong, believe in the Lord.

An unknown wildflower growing in the Willow Creek drainage. In my
feeble Internet search I couldn't match it to any known wild iris flowers.
If you know what it is, post it under comments. 

January 24, 2020

Baker Reservoir - Baker Dam Recreation Area

The view of snow-dusted Pine Valley Mountains from the access road to
the Baker Dam Recreation Area. If you could peek over their crest you
would see the unincorporated town of Pine Valley. 
Over the course of three decades I would pass by Baker Reservoir on my way to Pine Valley Reservoir. I had never read anything about the reservoir, but its existence eventually caused me to research it on the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) website. This blog’s March 2007 post describes my first Baker fishing experience as a revelation of sorts. Including the 15 mph wind chill, the temperature was in the low thirties that early spring day. Landing a couple rainbow trout in the sixteen to eighteen inch range made the cold seem like a worthy sacrifice (check out that blog post here: Baker Reservoir - Veyo, UT).

Built for irrigation storage in 1953, Baker Reservoir rests on the western foothills of the Pine Valley Mountains at 4,800 feet elevation. The reservoir is managed as a put-and-take resource, but it yields a surprising number of holdover rainbow trout as well as wild brown trout that make their way into Baker from its source, the Santa Clara River. I admit it’s the opportunity to land a large brown trout that piques my fantasies, but the decent rainbows are a wonderful salve while the browns remain undiscovered.

This view is from the dam towards the upper north end of the reservoir. 
In the 1990s the reservoir became part of the Baker Dam Recreation Area (BDRA). The reservoir is managed by the Baker Dam Reservoir Association, and the UDWR stocks rainbow trout on a regular basis. While spring and fall provide the best fishing opportunities, the BDRA is open year-round. It is a good base for hunters looking for deer, quail, and rabbit, and off highway vehicle users wanting to explore higher elevations. The BDRA boasts a 19-site campground but no potable water, so be sure to bring your own. It also offers first-come-first-serve Day Use facilities including picnic tables, fire rings with grills, ADA compliant vault toilets, a dumpster, and a Self-Pay Register Kiosk. As with a lot of southern Utah recreation areas, its proximity to Cedar City, St. George, and the Las Vegas MSA can make it feel crowded at times and therefore less wilderness-like.

Here's a different view of the Pine Valley Mountains from the Savage
Gear float tube. Note the silver Tacoma on the shoreline partially visible

between the young cottonwoods. 
It’s not that I had forgotten about Baker Reservoir these past 13 years, but rather I developed new interest in other waters. My Baker interest was rekindled this year by a subscribed UDWR email which reported: 

Fall, winter, and spring are the best times to fish at Baker Reservoir. The reservoir seldom freezes over during the winter and ice doesn't last long when it does.”

The Cold Creek Pond (5,800 feet elevation) freezes over for a month or two, so this revelation warranted another winter Baker trip. The weather forecast for the BDRA was calm, partly cloudy, with a high temperature of almost 50° degrees. Maybe it was my memory of that very cold March 2007 trip that filtered out Baker for a return visit; if so, this weather forecast melted that objection.

I left for Baker late on Friday morning, wanting to be sure any overnight ice would be gone before I arrived around 10:30am. The 135-minute drive to Baker seems to go quick since most of it is on I-15. The drive from St. George, UT is pleasing due to the inspiring scenery as Highway 18 weaves through The Ledges, Snow Canyon, Dammeron Valley, and Veyo on its way to the BDRA. Traffic on the two-lane highway is bothersome, but more because it diminishes the natural experience than because it slows you down.
The Savage Gear float tube (with integrated oars) was the perfect
choice on this trip, allowing me to navigate up the Santa Clara inlet
with relative ease.

The BUFF face scarf was unnecessary, but nice to have at
the start of the day.
One of the plumper rainbows of the day at about 14 inches long.
This specimen was taken from the inlet pool, just under
15 inches (38cm) in length.
The entrance into the inlet is hidden among the willows, but if you
notice the great heron standing on the white log on the left quarter of
the photo you get the idea.
I often mention that when on reservoirs I’m inclined to fish their inlets before exploring other structures that typically hold trout. Stream inlets are like trout food conveyor belts. They are also the gateway for mature spawning trout in search of partners and spawning beds (browns and brookies in the fall, rainbows and cutthroat in the spring). Although I never actually fished the inlet in 2007, I did fish around it. When the water is high (which was the case on both Baker visits due to the colder seasons) the willows and small cottonwoods near the inlet can appear to stand in the reservoir. Fishing in and around them was productive in 2007, and even more so on this 2020 angling trip. Still, there's something about fishing inlets that stirs in me.

I made a point to locate the Santa Clara inlet on this trip. On a map it will appear on the north-western end of the reservoir. While the willows betray its approximate location, you nonetheless need to probe them somewhat to locate its exact entrance. I noticed a few great herons in the area, and luckily one such wetland wading bird was strategically standing by the entrance I was searching for.   
A close-up of Bill's leech hooked just under the lip of this young
male rainbow trout.
A nice trout from the inlet pool on a size 12
long-shank leech pattern. 

I'm holding this trout so my finger indicates the approximate location of
the pool that held a large pod of decent sized rainbow trout in the
Santa Clara River inlet.
Just prior to entering the inlet shrouded by willows, the action was becoming brisk (a good sign, indeed). I had caught about 16 trout at that point, rainbows predominantly 11 to 12 inches long, but a couple were closer to 14 inches. I was casting a reddish leech pattern tied by my good friend, Bill Bergan. Because I was contemplating dredging large streamers for big brown trout in the depths of the reservoir, I was casting them on my 7-weight, 9-foot Fenwick fly rod. (Speaking of casting, I must confess that three days of striper fishing with Bill on the California Delta has noticeably improved my casting… so thanks to Bill and Captain Maury.) Bill’s leeches were “killing it” as they say. As I finned up into the inlet there was no perceptible current inflow; it appeared more like a reservoir channel than a stream. Its deepest parts were 3, maybe 4 feet and clear enough to see the bottom. Being an inlet that must manage spring flooding, there was submerged log structure in the channel, some of which I had to navigate around. Those conditions were perfect for my float tube, although it was a little tight in spots (maybe 8 feet wide at its narrowest point).

Looking upstream I noticed a narrow pool, and to my surprise a rising trout. Beyond that I could see a wide flat maybe 30 feet across. I tied on a smaller leech pattern and cast up about 40 feet near a log protruding from the water. It wasn’t quite where I noticed the rising trout, but I didn’t want to spoil the lower end of the pool lest it held other trout. My second cast hooked into a strong trout of 14 inches. What fun! I kept working that pool until it stopped giving up trout; it produced seven additional trout to the day’s 23-fish total (not that I’m a fish counter…). All the trout from this channel pool were holdover stocked trout that had put on length and girth. The largest was about 15 inches (38cm). Most experienced anglers have been fortunate over time to come across a piece of water that holds a special bounty, and they know a patient investment of 30 minutes can produce memorable results. I’m sure the thicker willows on the shallower edges of this Santa Clara channel made the trout feel secure in their environs, and but for a small float tube most anglers would not fish this water.

Here's a view of the willow-choked inlet from the
vantage of one of the BDRA Day Use sites. 
 On the way out of the BDRA I was struck by the tall tan grasses
contrasting between the charcoal colored lava rocks strewn over
hills on the other side of Highway 18. 
Although I cannot boast any trout over 16 inches on this trip, nor a wild brown trout, I can boast that my four hours of angling time landed 23 rainbow trout (and about 8 hook pull-outs or LDRs for you angling aficionados). The overwhelming majority appeared to be males, and surprisingly they were in the beginnings of their spawning colors. I even had one male squirt a little milt juice on my stripping apron.

On a side note, while I was fishing around the willows before entering the inlet, I noticed a bird of prey perched high on a dead cottonwood. As I stared at the large raptor, I noticed the tell-tale white markings of a mature bald eagle. It is common for bald eagles to winter in the southern waters of the US. In fact, their winter migration gives rise to the annual bald eagle survey on Lake Mead. But this sighting was more intimate. I was able to digitally zoom in on this magnificent bird, even catching it in-flight as it escaped my unwanted intrusion. 
First sighting of the bald eagle.
The raptor getting ready to depart...
...and we have lift off!  What a magnificent sight.
Other than the eagle, herons, and rainbow trout, I had the reservoir all to myself until around 2pm when I noticed a kayak angler. I did hear some truck and ATV traffic in the area, but I wasn’t bothered by it. In fact, I expected more traffic being it was a Friday afternoon and unseasonably warm.

If you have a float tube and have not tried Baker Reservoir in the winter or early spring, I urge you to give it a good look. Maybe you’ll get into one of those larger brown trout that seem to be eluding me.

As always, being in nature intensifies my belief in The Lord. Scripture tells us nature reveals God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).

This is a satisfied FisherDad.