American Fly Fishing

By Bryan Anglerson

South of Salt Lake City in Utah’s Spanish Fork Canyon, in 1983, a slow landslide dammed Thistle Creek, inundating dozens of homes and structures below 200 feet of water, and washing the old railroad town of Thistle off the map. The slide buried US Route 6 and a major railroad corridor under 300 feet of soil and created a new lake that snaked 3 miles up Thistle Creek. Because the slide nearly bifurcated the state of Utah, disrupted transportation for a year, and greatly harmed the local and national economies, the Thistle Slide is the costliest landslide in the history of the United States. Although officials considered allowing the new lake to remain permanently, a tunnel was eventually bored through the pile of rubble to drain the
unintended impoundment.
   Today, 35 years later, Thistle Creek is fully recovered from its year-long inundation, flowing naturally for 10 miles northward from Birdseye to the Thistle ghost town at the landslide site. The creek’s abundant brown trout are easily accessible from US Route 89, which parallels the entire length of the short stream. Although there are a few posted private sections (I unwittingly fished into a private ranch and was kicked off politely), the majority of the creek is either public or accessible because of walk-in-access agreements with landowners, and there are numerous fence ladders and designated access points. 
   Willows can be thick, but beavers keep the river corridor pruned enough to be passable. Beavers also provide woody dams and fishy structure. Although the creek flows straight in a few sections, generally, it is a winding string of deep runs below fecund riffles. Brown trout stack up in these holes that provide all they need for cover and food. Catching two or three 10- to 13-inch trout from each hole is not unusual.
   Upstream (south) of a small collection of ranches called Birdseye, Thistle Creek begins as a tiny unfishable trickle. Mapmakers use a dashed blue line to indicate that it is ephemeral, although it isn’t.But it is tiny.Ninety percent of its flow comes from Nebo Creek, but geography necessitated that Nebo Creek be renamed Thistle Creek downstream from its confluence with the diminutive tributary. One mile farther downstream, Bennie Creek contributes worthily to the flow. After a mere 10-mile journey, Thistle Creek ends at its junction with always off-color Soldier Creek within a police shooting range built at the landslide
dam site.
   All the usual freestone insects crawl around the creek bed, but I rarely need anything more than utility flies for prospecting, such as parachute-style duns in gray or tan, small Prince Nymphs, and Higa’s SOS. In the fall, hoppers drive the brown trout crazy.
   Thistle Creek is open all year and fishes well in all seasons. On a recent hatchless day in early March, I was nymphing with a brace of flies under a small yarn indicator, and some of the browns would inspect or strike at my indicator. After one brown chomped solidly onto my yarn ball and bent my rod momentarily, I switched to a bushy dry fly; but, alas, I could not match whatever bug the trout thought my yellow yarn was imitating. I rerigged with a heavy Prince Nymph and a Higa’s SOS and contentedly resumed hooking 10- to 12-inch browns from the deepest holes. The depth of holes varies enough that I have decided to use my Euro-nymphing rig (long rod, long thin leader, and no floating indicator, but rather a colored monofilament indicator) next time to probe the depths better.
   Any time of year, Thistle Creek is a reliable fishery and is a quick-and-easy half-day destination for anglers along the
Wasatch Front.


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