National Parks 7 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing in Zion National Park

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

August 10, 2020

Zion National Park in Utah

Carved by glaciers and the waters of the Virgin River, Zion National Park is one of the must-see locations to visit in United States on the bucket list of travelers, tourists, and anglers everywhere.

Massive red, pink, and cream sandstone cliffs wall in the sheltered table lands of this green and verdant valley.

Snaking its way north and east through the park is the Virgin River, creator and sustainer of this natural treasure.

In the spring and summer, green trees and grass carpet the landscape, with treeline falling away at altitude to reveal the sunset hued mountainsides.

The unspoiled beauty of this place is the experience of a lifetime, and even if you aren’t there to fly fish you could still spend days or weeks exploring the breathtaking sites tucked away in the foothills of the nearby mountain ranges.

About Zion National Park

What brings anglers to Zion National Park are the reservoirs, trout streams, and lakes though. The Virgin River and reservoirs in the surrounding area are all stocked annually with adult rainbows, cutthroats, and browns every spring, and fingerling trout of the same species each fall to maintain overwinter trout populations.  Some of the fisheries surrounding Zion are the least pressured fisheries and offer some of the best fly fishing in Utah.

The Virgin River and its tributaries have no dams, so fishing conditions are dependent on annual snowmelt, runoff, and rainfall. Some seasons the water is teeming with trout, while others have far less to offer visiting anglers, and these boom and bust seasons can vary from year to year.

The good news is the Virgin River is on public land, and those willing to follow the hiking trails or highway along the East Fork will find that there are some giant rainbows ripe for the taking.

Browns and cutthroats are a more rare occurrence within the park itself, but try your luck in the surrounding mountain streams and reservoirs. You may be surprised by how large some of these high altitude fish can grow.

Zion National Park Fishing Map

map of fishing access spots in Zion National Park

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish in Zion National Park

The best fly fishing within the borders of Zion National Park are along the East Fork of the Virgin River, but there are several other destinations within the park that can yield impressive catches as well. Here are the places to try your luck.

North Fork Virgin River

This is where the native fish (species of the spindace) like to congregate and breed. The trout population doesn’t thrive much here due to the deeper sediment at the bottom and the frequent flooding in the Narrows. The water temps here are also less trout-friendly throughout the year, and so trout of all species are found in fewer numbers except near Big Bend and upstream from the Narrows. The North Fork of the Virgin River can be accessed from Highway 128 as it makes its way through Zion National Park.

East Fork Virgin River

Fishing is consistently good here year over year, and the larger 14”-24” rainbows like to roam the waters of the East fork of the Virgin River as it makes its way through the southern reaches of Zion National Park from Mount Carmel east of Parunuweap Canyon all the way to the confluence of the North Fork in Springdale. Stick to the sections of the river north of Highway 89 for the best trout fishing.

Kolob Reservoir

In the high northern reaches of Zion National Park lies the Kolob Reservoir and Kolob Creek. The lake here is stocked with trout annually, though few survive the cold, high altitude winters and make it to the following spring. Fly fishing from the banks, floating, or boating at Kolob Reservoir are all great ways to land some decent sized browns, rainbows, or cutthroats, though you may find some eager strikers south of the reservoir along Kolob Creek if the lake isn’t fishing well for you when you visit. You can get to Kolob Reservoir by following UT 9 West along the western border of the park.

Honorable Mentions

Navajo Lake

Northeast of Zion National Park in the mountains east of Cedar City lies Navajo Lake. This is one of the best fishing lakes in Utah, and it is within easy reach of the borders of Zion National Park as well. Trout of every species can be found here, and they tend to thrive in this more mountainous, less sedimentary water compared to their stream running cousins further south and west. You can reach Navajo Lake by taking UT-9 East and then US-89 North through Dixie National Forest. Bank fishing, wading, and boating are the preferred methods for fly fishing at Navajo Lake.

Panguitch Lake

Only 11 miles due north of Navajo Lake is Panguitch Lake, lying almost due west of the town of Panguitch. This high altitude mountain lake supports a large annual trout population, as well as providing shelter and breeding grounds for many local species as well. Panguitch Lake is well known for its trophy size fish, and there have been rainbows and browns as large as 24” caught in these waters. To get to Panguitch Lake, just stay on US-89 North past Navajo Lake, and you should be on the shores of Panguitch Lake just a short time later.

Check the Zion National Park website for more information on how to get to these lesser known fisheries.

Best Time to Fish in Zion National Park

Due to the annual stocking occurring in early spring, the best time to fly fish Zion National Park is  generally shortly after annual stocking is over. Summers are hot here, and if you can’t find shelter during the heat of the day in the early afternoon and evening, you need to bring some sort of protection with you. Taking shelter during the hottest hours of the day during summer is generally the best option.

Winters get cold in Zion National Park, so unless you are a fan of ice fishing you aren’t likely to land much when the weather turns cold for the season at the end of October. As cooler weather sets in, the surviving trout in the rivers, streams, and lakes start their annual feeding frenzy to survive the winter.

You also have less to worry about in terms of the daily air temperature in the fall, though you will want some sunblock and protective clothing to help you avoid any nasty sunburn from long term sun exposure while you fish.

Deciding when to visit is something of a paradox: there are more trout in the river in the spring, but it is also runoff season followed closely by extremely warm daily high temperatures in the summer.

Zion National Park Fishing Tips

A 9-foot rod with a 4-5 weight is just fine for fly fishing in Zion National Park. Waders are a must if you are trying your luck along the Virgin River and its tributaries. You will definitely want some sort of barrier between your skin and the sun. Sunblock may not be mandatory, but it definitely should be.

Additionally, pack plenty of drinking water as the average daily high in the summer gets up to 105+ degrees Fahrenheit. Electrolyte supplements are also a good idea, as the high altitude and sunlight makes it easy to become dehydrated quickly.

Regarding what sort of flies to keep in your box, the best results for Zion National Park are generally obtained using nymphs and terrestrials. The local trout are hatchery stock, and so tend to strike at most food since it  can be hard to come by just after stocking and during the hot summer months as well.

Best Flies for Zion National Park

Here are some recommended flies that have proven effective for fishing in the Zion National Park region:

  • Elk Wing Caddis (natural #14)
  • Vernille San Juan Worm (red #14)
  • Bead Body Scud (olive #18)
  • Klinkhammer (gray #16)
  • Schroeder’s Parachute Hopper (tan #14)
  • Adams (natural #16)
  • Higa’s S.O.S (black #16-18)

Zion National Park Fishing Reports

There are a number of area fly shops and guide services that can provide an update on current fishing conditions in and around Zion National Park. A few to check out are listed below.

Zion National Park Fishing Regulations

Regulations governing fishing in the state of Utah and Zion National Park are as follows:

  • Fishing is permitted year round
  • Anglers must have a valid resident or non-resident license for the current fishing year.
  • No artificial lures with more than 3 hooks
  • Bait fishing using live baitfish is prohibited by law
  • Limit is 4-trout per day of any species, no more than 2 cutthroat or tiger trout per day (must be over 15 inches long)

Check regulations for specific bodies of water here starting on page 26. If you want to avoid violating state fishing regulations and maintain the privilege of fishing in the state of Utah, you want to read over the state fishing regulations closely.

Trip Planning Tips

Visiting anglers flying in to try their luck at Zion National Park fly into Cedar City, Utah about  30 miles north of the park’s Northern Entrance. You can catch connecting flights to Cedar City in Salt Lake City, as well as at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

Many visitors to Zion stay at the centrally located Zion Lodge. Available rooms include traditional hotel rooms and more rustic cabins with more modern amenities. 

For those who don’t mind roughing it, you can also camp out near Zion Canyon at Lava Point Campground and Watchman Campground. Camping site reservations fill up fast year round, so be sure to book in advance if you plan to camp out in the park while you are visiting for the fly fishing.

The nearby town of Springdale also offers hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts where you can rest up for the night before heading back out to the water to land that monster trout.

Be sure to check out local vacation rentals in Cedar City, Panguitch, St. George and other nearby towns. You may score yourself an unexpected bargain on a place to stay closer to the park and less expensive than traditional accommodations.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in America and Best Fly Fishing in Utah

Feature image by Diliff