Southern Utah’s Pine Valley Recreation Area

The Pine Valley Recreation Area was not yet open, likely due to CV19, but you could hike through the area. Dave was ready to stretch his legs for the walk. The reservoir is not quite a mile up the road from the gate. 

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 simply 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 the right ticket 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.

Dave is fishing from the inlet sandbar; the dropoff is pretty severe which is noticeable by the change in water color at his feet.  Dave hooked into a few rainbows at that location.

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.”

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. Significant 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.

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 Dave 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).

If you don’t get a fly stuck in sweeping willows when nymphing small streams you are not trying hard enough. In my hasty departure from my house this morning I left behind my Fishpond bag containing all my fly reels and fly boxes. Dave was gracious enough to share his fly rod and flies with me. I tried to retrieve all his flies that I stuck in the bushes.   

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 picks up speed as it leaves Pine Valley.

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.

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).

After getting separated from Dave on our way back to the truck, I noticed fish snatching flies from some thin water. They were small brown trout (notice this one’s par marks toward the tail), but it was still good sport to land a couple wild 7-inch brown trout.
This section of Santa Clara River (i.e., creek) is below the Pine Valley meadow just before it descends into the gorge between the meadow and the community known as Central (where UT-18 intersects FR 035). I’ve never fished it as the canyon is too tough on my PAD afflicted legs, but for you hearty types I hear there are some good brown trout in there. Just below Central the Santa Clara fills Baker Dam Reservoir.
This 10 to 11 inch brown took a brown nymph right behind a little boulder, about 50 yards upstream from the previous photo.

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? How do our personalities influence our communication styles, and does it matter in the end if it is God who grows the seed, not us? We discussed giving counsel to couples experiencing 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 (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). If not, we should cease to cast our pearls before the swine (Matthew 6:7) and shake the dust off our feet (Matthew 10:14).

Dave’s photo of FisherDad at the end of our day. It was a good day, a gift from the Lord.

It is hard to beat a day fishing with a good friend in a setting as beautiful as Pine Valley. Sharing thoughts, beliefs, and experiences about our families, friends, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ were treasures for us to cherish (Matthew 13:44-46

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.

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