Flaming Gorge Fishing Guide
Hot Fishing at Flaming Gorge! An Angler’s Guide to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.
Key Species: Lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, smallmouth bass, and channel catfish.
Best Way to Fish: From a boat and from shore.
Best Time of Year to Fish: Year-round.
Special Regulations: Fishing in Utah requires a fishing license. Any person possessing a valid Wyoming fishing license and a Utah reciprocal fishing permit for Flaming Gorge is permitted to fish within the Utah waters of Flaming Gorge. Utah residents with a valid Utah fishing license must purchase a reciprocal fishing permit from Wyoming to fish the portion of the reservoir in that state.
Other regulations, such as creel limits, are subject to change. Click here to get a booklet of current regulations.
When the Flaming Gorge Dam was completed in 1963, the only fish in the new reservoir were channel catfish and Utah chub. Eventually, some brown and rainbow trout drifted in from the Green River. But the biggest surprise was the appearance of the lake trout. The big fish, also known as mackinaw, migrated down the Green from its headwaters, the Finger Lakes of the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming.
Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) biologists introduced smallmouth and largemouth bass in the late 1960s to help control the Utah chub. The smallmouth are now so prolific that DWR employees catch the fish en masse and transplant them to other reservoirs. The largemouth failed to thrive because the water was too cold, and as it turned out, the smallmouth were not needed because lake trout were busy chasing the chubs. Now smallmouth and brown trout dine on chub fry in the shallows, while the 50-pound-plus lake trout eat the largest chubs they can find but end up eating stocked rainbows and kokanee salmon.
The peak of Flaming Gorge fishing came in the late 1970s, when anglers pulled monster after monster from the reservoir. In 1977 Robert Bringhurst caught the current state record brown trout of 33 pounds, 10 ounces. In 1979 Del Canty landed a record rainbow weighing 26 pounds, 2 ounces. The grand champion of Utah records was set in 1988, when Curt Bilbey somehow got a 51-pound, 8-ounce lake trout into the boat.
Eventually, chub numbers diminished and the predacious lake trout turned to other fish, namely kokanee and rainbows. That led to a battle between the Utah DWR and its counterpart, Wyoming Game and Fish. Wyoming officials and anglers wanted the reservoir to be managed primarily for trophy-size lake trout. Utah biologists wanted to protect diversity and the family-friendly atmosphere of Flaming Gorge. DWR officials believed both objectives could be met by increasing the harvest on the lake trout to improve feeding conditions for the remaining fish.
In many areas of Flaming Gorge, an angler can land kokanee salmon or rainbow trout while trolling along canyon edges. Drop a jig in the same spot and pull out a lake trout. Head for the rocky outcroppings near shore and hook a smallmouth bass.
Located in the extreme northeast corner of Utah and southwest Wyoming, the reservoir is 91 miles long and covers 42,000 acres. Flaming Gorge is reached quickest from Salt Lake via Interstate 80 by taking the Fort Bridger exit to Manila on Wyoming Highway 414 to Utah Highway 44, which runs from Manila through the Ashley National Forest to its junction with U.S. Highway 191. Out of Vernal, take US 191 north; it runs across the 502-foot Flaming Gorge Dam and leads to Dutch John. Visitor centers are located at the dam and at Red Canyon.
Fees and Permits
Visitors to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area are required to obtain a “Use Pass.” Single-day Use Passes are $5.00, 7-day passes cost $15.00. Passes can be obtained at the visitor centers and are also usually available at kiosks at the launches.
How and Where to Catch Fish
Since impoundment, rainbow trout have been stocked in Flaming Gorge every year, and they provide the bulk of the harvest. Kokanee salmon and smallmouth bass were stocked during the mid-1960s and have developed naturally reproducing fisheries. After rainbow trout, kokanee are typically second in harvest and popularity with anglers. The lake trout, which drifted into the Gorge from the upper Green River drainage, have established a wild population.
Flaming Gorge is known as one of the premiere trophy lake trout waters in the country. Fish over 50 pounds have been caught on both sides of the state line. Lake trout are difficult to catch, and the average angler can expect to put in many hours between fish. According to surveys in the early 1990s, the catch rate was about 0.04 fish an hour, or one lake trout caught for every 25 hours of fishing. However, anglers willing to spend that kind of time are usually rewarded with a fish over 25 pounds.
During the early spring and late fall, lake trout can be found in shallow water. Anglers without special equipment use long-line No. 13 to No. 18 Rapalas in popular colors such as perch-scale, frog, white, chartreuse, and black/silver or black/gold combinations.
During the summer months and generally under the ice, lake trout can be found in depths between 70 and 120 feet. They look for structures, like points, river channels, humps, or drop-offs. A popular summer technique is dragging the bottom with steel line using a flatfish or Kwikfish. This requires saltwater-size rods and high-capacity reels. Much of the fun of fishing is lost using this method because it requires heavy gear and takes away much of the fight.
Downrigger fishermen do well with lures trailing 50 to 100 feet behind the weight, with the depth adjusted to keep the lure off the bottom. A popular downrigger method is to use a plastic squid, large fly, or frozen minnow 18 inches behind a large dodger or flasher. A depth finder is important, as it helps you locate fish and keep the weight from snagging bottom.
Good areas to try for lake trout include Mustang Ridge, Jarvies Canyon, Hideout, Linwood Bay, Antelope Flats, Stateline, Anvil Draw, and Buckboard.
Vertical jigging is also productive. It works from a boat or through the ice. Large 3⁄4- to 11⁄2-ounce jigs with marabou, bucktail, or plastic skirts, such as Mac Attacks or Gitzit tubes, are popular. The jig is often tipped with a minnow or sucker meat, which is especially effective during winter. Large spoons, BuzzBombs, and Kastmasters can work, but keep the lure bouncing right on the bottom.
Jigging through the ice is effective and doesn’t require specialized equipment. Ice forms at the confluence area by early January, and hot fishing often results from following the formation of ice to the south as winter progresses.
During winter, there is a movement of lake trout as far north as the confluence, while late summer finds most fish south of Anvil Draw. Because of this migration, Currant Creek and Big Bend provide good fishing early in the spring, while Linwood Bay continues to get better as the summer progresses.
Rainbows are found throughout Flaming Gorge and usually become active during April as ice recedes and water temperatures warm. In the spring, rainbows are readily caught from shore using salmon eggs or Power Bait. Casting medium-size spinners, spoons, or Rapalas, or marabou jigs in black, brown, orange, chartreuse, and gold can also be effective. Fly fishers do well with woolly bugger, scud, or renegade patterns fished with a sinking tip, sinking fly lines, or trailed behind a casting bubble when using spinning gear.
Good places to fish for rainbows are the Flaming Gorge Visitor Center, Mustang Ridge, Sheep Creek, Linwood Bay, Antelope Flats, Anvil Draw, South Buckboard, Breeze Hill, Sage Creek, and the confluence.
Boat anglers do equally well during the spring, trolling along the shoreline in these areas. F6 flatfish, No. 5 or No. 7 Rapalas, Super Dupers, Jake’s, and other medium-size spoons and lures can be deadly. Large Rapalas, spoons, and flatfish in rainbow trout, silver, chartreuse, and white also work well. Most Gorge anglers use monofilament line rather than leaded line in the spring.
Warm water temperatures force rainbows into deeper water during summer months, making shore fishing less productive. Boat anglers catch rainbows using lead-core line, downriggers, or extra weight on their monofilament line with pop gear and lures.
Fishing picks up again in the fall when the rainbows move back into the shallows. Jarvies Canyon, Carter Creek, Sheep Creek, Linwood Bay, Squaw Hollow, Big Bend, Halfway Hollow, and Firehole provide the best rainbow fishing each fall.
When Flaming Gorge freezes—though the main lake near Lucerne may not always freeze—rainbow fishing is usually good at around 10 to 15 feet. Try small jigs, spoons, or ice flies tipped with a salmon egg or a piece of worm.
Kokanee salmon spend their four-year lifetime feeding on zooplankton that average 1 millimeter in length. They don’t strike a lure because it resembles food but rather for its action and color. Effective kokanee lures at Flaming Gorge are up to 4 inches in length in fluorescent orange, chartreuse, pink, silver, gold, or white. Popular styles include needlefish, Super Dupers, Krocodiles, Triple Teazers, Kokanee Kings, and Apex.
The most popular method is to troll these lures using a downrigger. If the kokanee are aggressive, fish the lure behind a small flasher or dodger. If the fish seem finicky, trail the lure farther behind the downrigger weight without an attractor. Either way, kokanee at Flaming Gorge like fast-traveling lures, so keep boat speed at 2 to 3 mph. Another technique that works is vertical jigging with Kastmasters, BuzzBombs, or Crippled Herrings.
The main thing in catching kokanee is to locate schools and fish at the proper depth. By May or early June, kokanee action picks up with fish suspended at 25 to 30 feet over deep, open water. As the summer progresses, kokanee move deeper, and by August they may be from 60 to 70 feet deep. A depth finder is invaluable for locating fish; then, either a lead-core line or a downrigger is necessary for trolling lures through the schools you find. Without a depth finder, work deeper intervals until you locate fish. Kokanee hold for long periods of time, so if you catch one, it pays to make several more passes through the same area.
Kokanee concentrate in different specific locations every year, but consistent producers include Cedar Springs, Jarvies Canyon, Hideout, Red Cliffs, Horse Shoe Canyon, Pipeline, Wildhorse, Squaw Hollow, Lowe Canyon, and Big Bend. As the fall spawning season approaches, mature kokanee concentrate or “stage” adjacent to spawning areas, which include Sheep Creek, Wildhorse, Squaw Hollow, and Anvil Draw.
Channel catfish are found in the north end of Flaming Gorge, generally upstream of the confluence in the Blacks Fork and Green River arms. Most catfish are caught on whole dead minnows or cut bait fished on the bottom. Trout anglers occasionally hook a catfish when fishing with night crawlers. Some catfish are also caught with lures around rock structure during the spawn. Catfish are typically more active in the warmer months and are most often caught at night.
Smallmouth bass are found throughout Flaming Gorge Reservoir. A dense population dominated by smaller fish exists from the dam north to Linwood Bay. From Antelope Flats north, fewer bass are found, but growth rates are greater. Therefore, biologists encourage harvest of smallmouth on the south end of the reservoir to help curtail stunting.
The smallmouth in Flaming Gorge are aggressive. Lures imitating crayfish or chub minnows are especially effective. Crankbaits, spinners, plastic baits, and topwater lures are consistent producers. Fly fishers do well for smallies by stripping leech or streamer patterns from shore or in float tubes.
Smallmouth spawn from late May through early July. During this period mature fish move into shallow water where they are easily reached with lures. Try crankbaits, plastic grubs and tubes, and spinnerbaits near shallow points and flats. As summer progresses, bass move deeper and are best reached by retrieving a jig slowly along the bottom.
Fishing information adapted from Fishing Utah (Lyons Press), which includes lake, river and stream fishing descriptions and maps for the entire state.