The line gracefully dances across the water as fading sunlight glimmers off its surface. The only sound is that of the river’s perpetual journey. You’re just a pair of waders, a few hand-tied flies and a rod away from an endless stream of grip-and-grin photographs for your Instagram feed. It’s like the veteran fly fisher who shows up to casual occasions with a hat full of used fishhooks told me, “It’s not like you’re going to step out there and have it be some personal A River Runs Through It dream.” 

Hold up. I’m not? Fly fishing, it turns out, is a subtle art. It takes a singular focus to fully master this mediative sport. 

To do more than stand in the middle of a river futilely casting away with a grip of expensive gear you’ll have to build a foundation of skill and knowledge. Utah is home to remote high-mountain lakes, easy-access rivers perfect for after-work fishing and everything in between, ready to dish up a plethora of trout and bass to fly fishers with some mettle. All you have to do is earn your stripes. Ready to get started?

Gathering Intel

Two women with fly fishing gear kneel in a river
Courtesy Western Rivers Flyfisher

Starting from square one can seem daunting, but amid the internet’s endless detritus is a wealth of information to guide you on the journey to fly fishing nirvana. As anyone who has tried to learn a new skill, from patching drywall to changing a bicycle tire, can attest, there’s an instructional YouTube channel or a podcast for that. 

Start with Ascent Fly Fishing’s virtual tools. Ascent’s biologists, guides and committed anglers have devoted a lifetime to tricking fish into biting what you’re casting and in their spare time have written instructional blog posts with titles like “Fly Fishing for Kokanee Salmon 101” and podcasts covering subjects like organizing your fly box.

Fly Fish Food, a full-service retail shop in Orem (Fly Fish Food, 932 N. State St., Orem, 801-615-6055), has an online library of remarkably detailed fly-tying tutorials with video guides, materials lists and the option to shop online.

If you prefer the weight of a book in hand, reach for the Guide to Fly Fishing in Utah by Steve Schmidt.

Take a Lesson

Fly fishing
Courtesy Western Rivers Flyfisher

While diligent study is a morally-sound endeavor, few would attest to it being more rewarding than being out on the water in Utah’s beautiful public lands. But without some expertise, you’re likely to spend the whole day staring at your surroundings without hooking a single fish. “Our emphasis is teaching people a foundation of knowledge they can use to pursue fly fishing in any way they choose,” says Steve Schmidt, the owner of Western Rivers Flyfisher who literally wrote the aforementioned book on fly fishing in Utah.

The best starting point, according to Schmidt, is with Western Rivers Flyfisher’s summer Fly Fishing 101 classes (1071 E. 900 South, SLC, 801-521-6324). “These classes give you the basics to start a lifelong journey,” he says. “When I started at nine years old, I had to go to the library to check out books and seek out someone who would teach me to tie knots. We make it much easier than that.” 

The four-day classes begin with two evening sessions covering gear and essential flies and get into subjects like how weather affects insects and fish. Day three is an evening session at the park to focus solely on casting instruction. You’ll learn the roll cast and the pick-up/lay-down, along with  basic knots and rigging.

Day four is out on the water of the popular and accessible Middle Provo River for the hands-on portion of your instruction. Women’s-only classes are also available as well as guided trips. Guides are there to not only help clients hook some fish but also become better anglers. “Even on our guided trips, we’re trying to teach something people can use in the future,” says Schmidt.

Helpful Fly-Fishing Apps for Utah

Those pocket-sized computers we all tote around are a useful source of on-the-go information. Here are a couple of helpful apps for fly fishing in Utah.

Flies To Tie

Free, comprehensive fly-tying instruction and video tutorials.  

Bad Bass

Contains location-specific information on weather, fish species, bug hatches, water flow tables, access points and “what’s working.” 

Utah Hunting & Fishing

The Official DWR App lets you purchase and store licenses, view regulations and access fish identification guide.


This story is part of the May/June 2021 issue of Salt Lake magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.