It's been 40 years, but Doug Hoopes still remembers the big ones his grandfather used to pull out of the Provo River.
"But back then it was like any blue ribbon stream. Everything seems bigger when you're younger, but I remember fish over 10 pounds and some over 12 pounds," he said.Hoopes, who runs the Flyfisher's Den in his home town of Pleasant Grove, is one of four original members of what is now called the Utah Valley Flyrodders club formed 13 years ago. For years, he and other anglers raised on the Provo watched the river's fishing quality dwindle as the river became more popular and as road and dam construction proceeded with little consideration for the fishery.
But fishing has made a comeback in recent years, especially brown trout fishing since regulations were implemented in 1980 between Deer Creek Dam and Olmstead diversion Dam. Anglers hope the river's best fishing is still in the future.
"This river has really made a great comeback since regulations were changed to allow only artificial lures and flies" and let anglers keep only two fish under 15 inches, said Sundance Manager Brent Beck. "It's coming back to what it was 20 years ago.
"There for several years it was kind of downhill. But it's become a great fly-fishing stream. It would be a shame for us to ignore it and not take better care of what we do with it."
Especially when the river's fishing quality has drawn the attention of two major magazines, Beck said. While a Field and Stream article is still in the planning stages, an article in Fishing World is scheduled for publication next spring. Editors from both magazines, including fishing authority George Reiger, visited The Provo last summer and "were really blown away by the Provo River and the quality of the fishing. They constantly remarked about the beauty of the river and its accessibility."
Unfortunately, local anglers say say, not everyone shares their respect for the Provo River and its resources. Had representatives from 14 seperate groups been unable to reach a compromise last month, flows from Deer Creek Reservoir likely would have dropped from a federally guaranteed flow of 100 cubic feet per seconds to 60 cfs.
While Bureau of Reclamation officials have claimed the reduced flows were necessitated by water shortages, anglers claim the bureau has aggravated problems by overselling Provo River water.
Study results released Monday indicate that a flow of 60 cfs would have damaged fish habitat and devastated the six miles of high quality brown trout fishery between Deer Creek Dam and Olmstead Diversion Dam. Instead, flows were reduced to 85 cfs, with fishing being disallowed indefinately on the six-mile stretch/
Charlie Thompson, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources regional fisheries manager, said anglers who ignore regulations put an added burden on the division's efforts to improve fishing.
"By now, we had hoped to let people keep two 20-inch fish, but we're not there yet. People are still stealing fish."
Approximately 500 people are arrested annually for disregarding regulations. Thompson said people who want to use or keep more than two fish can fish below Olmstead. The area, whcih was stocked with 35,000 rainbow trout this summer, is still open for fishing, he said.
"For people who know how to fish the Provo River, it's really an excellent place to fish," he said.
Thompson hopes results from the biological study will dissuade the Bureau of Reclamation and others from recommending further flow reductions.
"There's already a habitat loss" from last month's reduction, he said. But because the flow was dropped before spawning began, Thompson is optimistic next year's egg hatch will be good.
"It's just too soon to know how we're going to come out," he said. "I don't know know where we'll end up."
Thompson said the river has been managed better in recent years than in the past, but recent progress to improve fishing could be easily reversed. Anglers who know the history of the Provo River agree.
"Our natural resources are very limited. Why rape them in the name of progress?" Hoopes asked. "If you don't respect what you've got, then you won't have it very long."
Added Beck: "All of us need to protect a quality water like this for its beauty, the hiking along it, the train ride and the fishery. There are a lot of reasons for us all to protect that river."
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