It doesn't look like much from the highway. Just another river. Wider than some, smaller than others. Not much privacy to it. The whine of rolling tires can be heard from every bend.

But appearances can be deceiving. Thirty years ago the Provo River was considered one of the country's very finest trout waters. Trophy fish were caught occasionally, large fish commonly. Today, its fish are smaller and fame less heralded. Still, it rates among the best.The 10-mile stretch from the outlets at Deer Creek Dam makes up about 13 percent of the state's "Blue Ribbon" trout streams. Or, rivers respected enough to warrant special attention and regulations. Keepers are fish under 15 inches and then no more than two.

What makes this stretch most important is its closeness. For most Utahns the first cast is less than an hour from home.

What may detour fishermen, however, is the Provo's reputation. That is, it is a hard place to catch fish. Some consider the Provo's fish among the most finicky.

Provo followers, however, say it's not the fish as much as the fishermen. They say the Provo's "big league," and as in any sport, being at the top requires training and experience.

For many, though, the Provo is a "hard fish."

One reason is that regulations limit fishermen along this stretch to using artificial lures and flies only. Another is that wet flies, especially nymphs, do better than dry flies, and wet flies are harder to fish with. Dry flies stay on the surface and telegraph action to fishermen, while wet flies go under and require that fishermen get a "feel" for the action.

The river, too, is deceptively swift and because it's close and has lots of fish, gets a lot of pressure - year-round.

And, most of the fish in the Provo are browns, which are considered the scholars of the trout world. Just any fly or any presentation won't fool a brown.

Those who have learned to fish the Provo, however, hold it in high respect.

Patrick Milburn of Anglers' Inn and a noted fisherman, calls the Provo one of his favorite fishing spots.

"For a couple of reasons . . . it's close and it's a challenge. And, there are some nice fish. My largest is 231/2 inches. I know of several fish taken that were over 10 pounds. A couple of years ago there was a 21-pound fish caught.

"They say, though, that if you can catch fish on the Provo, you can catch fish anywhere. I believe it."

He prefers nymphs to dry flies, and will occasionally switch from a fly rod to spin-casting and says the secret to nymph fishing on the Provo is weight.

"The common mistake many fishermen make is they don't use enough weight. The line should hit the bottom. You should be able to see it hesitate. When it does you bring the tip of the rod up to break it free, and if there's a fish there you continue up and set the hook, but not too hard," he says.

Milburn says that he rigs for nymph fishing, spin-casting or fly rod, by putting the weight on the very end of the line. He then comes up about a foot and double rigs for two flies . . . "one that I have confidence in and another to experiment with."

Having the weight on the end of the line makes casting easier. A strike indicator placed higher up the line relays movement of the fly along the bottom and is a definite help.

He recommends casting up-river, "either straight up or at three-quarters angle. You get the most natural drift that way."

It also helps to learn to read the river. Bigger fish, for example, will be in the deeper pools or along the banks, under the overhangs. Fish will also avoid shallow regions, especially mid-day. Seams in the river's current and pockets behind boulders are favorite spots for fish.

He also notes that the Provo is easier to fish with a spin-casting rig. For one reason, the average fishermen has greater range, and for another it's easier to get a more natural looking drift with the lighter line.

Popular nymph patterns included hare's ear, pheasant tail, chamois caddis, scud, prince and smaller stone fly. Streamers are another option. The more popular patterns are muddler minnow, wooly bugger and spruce fly.

Lures can also be used on the river. Minnow imitations have worked well, such as Rebel and Rapalas, and lure such as the Panther Martin, rooster tail, Meps and lead-headed jibs.

Good dry fly patterns would be blue wing olive, Griffiths gnat and parachute Adams. Later in the year stimulators and caddis patterns work well.

The key to fishing the Provo, however, is an education. The more time and study put in will be rewarded with fish.