A surprising number of people travel to Southern Utah to enjoy fishing and boating in its larger rivers that feed into Lake Powell and the Colorado River. But the southwest corner, though home to much smaller rivers and a larger population of people, offers a wide variety of fishing environments and experiences, all within an hour of each other. As with all outdoor sports, the Saint George area offers desert to forest landscapes and everything in between. Higher elevations can help anglers avoid summer heat, and allows ice fishing, while lower, warmer lakes and reservoirs make for warmer winter spots, making Saint George an ideal location for year-around fishing. Many local ponds and reservoirs are at around 4,000 feet elevation or below, and can vary from gorgeous red rock landscapes to roadside ponds. They fished for a variety of species, from Rainbow Trout to Largemouth Bass and Blue Gill. Within an hour drive from town you can reach forest lakes and streams at over 7,000 feet. These spots have a variety of different Trout species such as Rainbows, Browns, Brooks and Cutthroats. Some areas even have species that breed naturally in the wild. Also some of these waters will have planted hybrid species like Tiger Trout and Splake. Crawdads once released into the Santa Clara River still flourish here as well.
All of Washington County’s fishing opportunities are dependent on just a few main systems of water: the Santa Clara and Virgin rivers, along with a few random springs.
The Virgin River
The 160 mile long Virgin River ranges from Aspen and pine forests at 9,000 feet above sea level to the world’s deepest slot canyon in Zion National Park, to the red rock desert landscapes of Sand Hollow Reservoir at around 4,000 feet elevation and below. Great fishing spots lie at several dams and along the river, allowing you to fish each different environment it passes through. Its species range from Rainbow and Brook trout in the mountains, to Large Mouth Bass and Bullhead Catfish in the lower elevations. It begins in Iron county north of Saint George, in Cedar mountain, where precipitation gathers and flows through the many streams, ponds and underground lava tubes near Duck Creek (a small, quaint mountain town) and fills up Navajo Lake, the beginning of the Virgin River, at 9,000 feet above sea level. This lake and its tributaries near Duck Creek are awesome summer fishing spots to get away from the heat of St. George and are well-known for its Rainbow, Brook Trout and Splake. Ice fishing is allowed here but can be difficult to reach when the mountain is covered in snow.
Navajo Lake drains out through lava tubes under the lake that lead out of the side of the mountain, called Cascade Falls, where this water shoots out of a cave in the side of the cliff. This river meanders through approximately 40 miles of forest and sagebrush until it reaches Zion National Park. The Virgin River has slowly carved the famous sandstone cliffs of Zion Canyon over 2,000 feet deep over thousands of years. Though there is no sport fishing allowed within the park, there is a tributary called Kolob Reservoir and Kolob Creek, which feeds into the Virgin River in Zion National Park. Kolob Reservoir does allow fishing and is great for Trout fishing every season except winter. The lake is closed to bait fishing until May, and is not ice-fished much as the road is closed to everything but snow mobiles when ice or snow-covered.
There are a few more reservoirs along the Virgin River at lower elevations, where the entire river has been diverted over ten miles for farming, ultimately leading to the creation of Sand Hollow Reservoir, Quail Creek Reservoir, and Grandpa’s Pond at around 4,000 feet above sea level. These fishing sites offer a completely different environment, elevation, landscape and geology than the upper portions of the Virgin River. They are good spots for year-around fishing of Trout, Bass and Catfish. Sand Hollow is possibly the most visited, as it is the most visually stunning of the lower elevation reservoirs. Beyond this, the Virgin River flows down through the Virgin River Gorge and on into Lake Mead.
The Santa Clara
The Santa Clara River, like the Virgin river, drops several thousand feet in a short run (approximately 50 miles). It begins in Pine Valley Mountain, the prominent peak north of Saint George. This mountain peaks out at over 10,300 feet elevation, gathering precipitation from the air and feeding Pine Valley Reservoir at nearly 7,000 feet elevation. This reservoir is less than an hour drive from the center of Saint George, making it another awesome summer getaway for fishing Rainbow Trout and even ice fishing in the winter.
Beyond this reservoir’s dam, the Santa Clara River carves through miles basalt rock, creating a densely-forested canyon with a few access points open for river fishing. This river feeds into Baker Dam, a small dam surrounded by forest, and continues on to the privately owned Crawdad Canyon, and finally Gunlock State Park Reservoir, at less than 4,000 above sea level. Gunlock Reservoir allows, fishing and boating in its small but scenic lake surrounded by red petrified sand dunes, like Sand Hollow Reservoir, but smaller. Gunlock was recently drained in 2008 and has since been re-filled and stocked with Largemouth Bass and Bluegill. The Sand Cove Wash helps fill Gunlock Reservoir and it also has two small fishing ponds along it, called Upper & Lower Sand Cove, that offer primitive camping on the border of forest and desert and feature planted Rainbow Trout, Bluegill & Largemouth Bass. Further downstream, some of this river is diverted to fill Kayenta Reservoir, a small reservoir very close to the center of town with a great view of the red cliffs to the north, great for catching Largemouth Bass & Bluegill. Within its 50 mile run, the Santa Clara River traverses through some very unique, scenic and diverse landscapes, all within a 45 minute drive from each other, making it great for fishing any time of year.
There are also several local ponds. These are fished frequently, since they are so accessible. They are often just hundreds of feet from the parking lot, but are well-stocked with a mostly Rainbow trout. Locals have released turtles and other random species into some of these ponds, making for an occasional unexpected catch.
From pristine alpine forest lakes and streams above 9,000 feet elevation to the mars-like landscapes of the desert reservoirs, the Saint George area and Washington County Utah has some of the most variable fishing environments in the country, and all within an hour from the largest city in Southern Utah.