Fishing Weber River: One Anglers Experience
The nymphs in my fly box were pathetic: a prince nymph that was unraveling, a midge pupae, something that looked like it was once a red fox squirrel nymph, an egg pattern, and a hare’s ear that looked like it had been tied with belly button lint. I hadn’t fished much lately, and I had tied even less. A beautiful February day had brought me out of the house and to the banks of the Weber River. I had hoped to find fish taking midge dries–I had a plenty of those–but was left scrounging for nymphs.
The Weber has become one of my favorite quickie destinations–a place to fish when I only have a few hours or less; where the fishing is usually good and there is always a chance of catching a larger fish and where, although there are always people there, the river doesn’t see the crowds of the Provo.
Occasionally I hear comments or read Internet postings stating the Weber has great “potential,” and should be subject to stricter regulations. While I believe the river would benefit from stricter regulations, I also think many people underestimate the Weber. It is like a basketball team from the West Coast Conference. It is Gonzaga. It doesn’t have the name and reputation of an ACC school but, on most days, it plays a good game and, on any particular day, it can beat the big boys.
The Weber is most often a blue collar, nymphing, spin-fishing river. A person will encounter fishermen of all types, and each seems to respect what the other is doing. It is a melting-pot river where browns, rainbows and cutthroat mingle with the underrated whitefish (people seem to reject whitefish because of their looks, but they take a fly well, fight well and have one of the best natural defenses of any fish–they taste like mud, making them unappealing to predators).
The Weber has most of the common Utah hatches. There are good numbers of midges and caddis, with ample Mayfly species such as pale morning dun and baetis. In the spring of 1999, many area rivers had unusually sporadic baetis action because of inconsistent weather. The Weber had more consistent action. However, the best action usually was not on the surface. During the first baetis hatch that I fished in the spring, I watched as Mayflies carelessly floated, untouched, across likely lies. I tied on my best dry pattern and flogged the water for a half hour without a touch. I then tied on a size 18 pheasant tail. The first cast produced a nice brown and many fish followed. As is often the situation on the Weber, the fish apparently found the nymphs to be better meals than the adults.
The nymphing setups that work best for me consist of a size 14 to 18 lead fly imitating a caddis or mayfly—hare’s ear, pheasant tail, or red-fox squirrel nymph—with a size 18 to 24 midge dropper–pupae, serendipity, brassie, etc. Occasionally this setup will be varied with the use of a stonefly imitation or a scud, but these do not catch as many fish as the others. There are also many days when the water is windowpane clear and leader size becomes very important.
Dry fly fishing
The most consistent dry fly fishing occurs in the late winter/early spring and the late summer/early fall. During the first period, midges will bring fish–large fish–to the surface. The fish will not be surfacing in every pool or run but on many days a person will be able to find a pool with surfacing fish. It is on those days that the number and size of fish in the Weber becomes evident. When the fish are taking midges, a Griffiths gnat or an adult gray midge, in sizes 20-24, will get results.
During the later summer period, hoppers are the rule. The Weber is one of the best hopper rivers in the state. Farmland grasses surround the river for a long portion of its run. The fish lie in small pockets along the bank waiting for a meal to drop. The key to catching a lot of fish during this period is to cover a lot of river and find these small pockets, which are not as obvious as the riffles, pools and runs, but often hold the best fish. A good rule of thumb is to spend very little time in the deeper pools, more time in the shallower runs, and the most time looking for the bank pockets.
One of the best stretches of dry fly water is found near the intersection of U.S. 89 and I-84. The river in this area is often off-colored. However, in the summer when the water is clear, the fish are eager for caddis and hopper imitations, as well as attractors such as humpies and trudes. A fisherman should again spend less time on the obvious runs and focus on the smaller pockets that are overlooked by most people.
Reading the water
One of the most important keys to fishing the Weber is reading the water. The river has excellent pools, runs and riffles throughout, but there are various pockets within the pools, runs and riffles that hold higher concentrations of fish. For two years, 50 percent of my Weber fishing was done in two riffles that were relatively long–20 feet–but within those riffles were smaller sections, three or four square feet, in which the trout lined up like seven-year olds at a Pokemon card give-away. Two factors contributed to the fish hotbed: barely perceptible depressions that allowed the fish to swim beneath the swifter currents, and current changes that created slower water surrounded by faster currents. One of the pools consistently produced at least 10 trout a trip and the other, at least 15.
Unfortunately, high flows changed the two pools–the depressions were filled and currents shifted–and my “hot pockets” disappeared. I have been looking for replacements, have found one, and look forward to the challenge of finding others.
On the February day that found me on the river, the fishing was slow. I hooked four fish, but didn’t land any. Even the whitefish didn’t show. The fish didn’t like my lint hare’s ear/midge dropper combination, or the mutated prince nymph with the egg pattern. The water was very low and as clear as the February sky. I may have benefited from a tippet thinner than the 4X I was using but, of course, I didn’t have any other with me.
Although the last trip was not as successful as others, I will be back soon and often. I have seen fish in the river that top 25 inches; these fish usually rise to unseen insects or simply want fishermen to know that they are there and we will never catch them. I look forward to sharing the river with others, and if you want to know what they are taking, I hope to be able to tell you. Just be prepared if I ask you, “Hey, brother, can you spare a fly?”