Fishing: Flying on the Green (with new video)

Published March 19, 2010 5:55 am
Utah's famed Green River offers bounty, beautiful scenery.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bre Campbell was confused. She was supposed to be on a fly-fishing float trip on Utah's famed Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam, but she couldn't help feeling as if she had ended up at an aquarium.

"I was expecting to see big fish, but not like that. They were everywhere around the boat," said Campbell, who spent her 25th birthday last fall floating the river with her father, Bryan. "It was so fun to see them, but it was a bit frustrating. I wanted to just reach down and grab them with my hands."

Campbell, like most anglers who visit the Green, did hook fish on her birthday trip, probably due largely to the new pink rod she received as a gift. And -- like most other people who have made the trip to fish the Green -- she can't get the incredible scenery and the fish off her mind.

"It was almost like a dream. I was so focused on the fishing that I didn't fully realize just how beautiful it was until I got back and looked at pictures," she said.

Many anglers, from Utah and the world, do go back to the Green. A 2005 statewide angler survey showed that there were 198,000 angler days (four hours) spent on the river flowing out of the Flaming Gorge Dam.

The river also generated important revenue for the small county in which it sits. A survey conducted by the U.S. Forest Service in 1991 showed that the Green generated $24.8 million annually. Chances are the value is much greater now.

The Green River tailwater fishery in northeastern Utah provides the quintessential Western fly-fishing experience: a big river in a remote location with stunning scenery and a better-than-average chance of catching trout.

"Most people have heard the high numbers of fish per mile on the Green and that is a huge selling point to get them here, but the visual experience they encounter is what they remember," said Darren Bowcutt, a guide for Western Rivers Flyfisher on the Green. "People don't just see the fish in the river or when they get them to the boat; they see the fish react to their fly, and that is a special thrill."

Whether that fly is an oversized terrestrial pattern like an ant or a beetle or a fish-imitating streamer, the clear, cold water with a green hue makes it likely anglers will see a fish turn to the fly and then, if they are lucky, hit it.

For the record, there are an estimated 14,000 trout per river mile just below the Flaming Gorge Dam, at least according to a survey conducted by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) in fall 2009. The waters around Little Hole, the boat ramps about seven miles downstream, average about 12,000 trout per mile. Try wrapping your brain around those numbers. The number of fish per mile shrinks exponentially the farther from the dam you get. By the time you reach the lower stretches, the numbers are in the hundreds, not the thousands.

State wildlife biologists conduct electrofishing collections each spring and fall to track the numbers and health of the fish in the river. The fish each receive a pit tag, an electronic identification marker, which allows biologists to track its growth should it be caught again in a later survey.

With a stable and mostly healthy population, on the Green there have been few changes in management through the years. The river is under an artificial-fly-and-lure-only regulation. Anglers are allowed to keep three trout (two under 15 inches and one longer than 22 inches), but rarely do.

Ryan Mosley, a biologist with the Flaming Gorge/Green River Project, said 25,000 rainbow trout are stocked in the Green each spring. Many anglers joke that the planted fish are merely food for the big brown trout the river is famous for, but they don't complain when one of the rainbows starts putting on a jumping exhibition on the end of their line.

The surveys also show that brown trout dominate the river, particularly in the lower stretches. Last fall, 65 percent of the fish at the dam were browns. There is traditionally an equal split in the number of rainbows and browns below the dam in the spring. At least one 9-pound fish almost always shows up during the electroshocking.

Mosley said there has been interest from anglers to mix up the daily catch.

"People seem excited about the potential to see cutthroat here again," he said.

There are, in fact, cutthroat in the river now. Back in 2008, the state planted 13,000 Colorado River cutthroat trout as fingerling. The fish are growing, and some showed up in the fall electroshocking.

An old remnant from the days when Snake River cutthroat trout were stocked in the river also showed up in the survey last year.

"We got a 7-pounder, so there are still a few of those guys swimming around," Mosley said.

Thoughts of those big fish, and the place where they are found, are what keep anglers coming back to the Green.

"It is hard for to explain to my friends what is so special about the river and the canyon. It is kind of surreal, kind of like you are totally immersed in nature," Campbell said. "Sometimes I can't sleep at night because I dream about the big fish there. I need to go back."

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Getting buggy on the Green

The Green River is open to fishing and you can catch fish on flies, even dries, throughout the year. The bulk of fishing and recreational pressure on the river happens between April and October. Expect company and lots of it during those months. It is possible to find yourself alone on the river during the off-season months.

Fly fishers find a midge hatch daily on the Green, but things really ramp up in the early spring. April is also when blue-winged olive patterns start to produce. Other dry patterns to keep in your fly box include yellow sallies and pale morning duns. If the cicada hatch happens, the big bugs should start showing up in May. If the hatch is on, this is a must-fish for any angler within a thousand miles. Large terrestrial patterns are popular as the summer progresses. A popular method many fly fishers use on the Green is the dropped technique. Nymph patterns fished below large dries can be effective. Streamers work throughout the year, but the fish are really on them in the late fall, winter and early spring.

Beta on the Green River

The blue-ribbon section of the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam meanders some 30 miles to the Colorado state line. There are three recognized sections of the river.

Three sections

The A section » The first seven miles to the boat ramps at Little Hole.

The B section » Approximately nine miles from Little Hole to Brown's Park.

The C section » About 15 miles to the border with a boat takeout at the end of Swallow Canyon.

Guided float trips

There are several outfitters that provide guided float trips on the river. It is also possible to float the river privately and a permit is not required.


There is also a trail between the dam and Little Hole that provides hiking access along the river for wade fishing.

Visiting the Green River

Dutch John is about a four-hour drive from Salt Lake City. There are several options for lodging and food, including Red Canyon Lodge, Flaming Gorge Lodge and Trout Creek Fly Shop. There are also several Forest Service campgrounds, including some boat- or hike-in sites on the B section of the river.

If you go

Dutch John is about a four-hour drive from Salt Lake City. There are several options for lodging and food, including Red Canyon Lodge, Flaming Gorge Lodge and Trout Creek Fly Shop. There are also several Forest Service campgrounds, including some boat- or hike-in sites on the B section of the river.


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