FISHING WESTERN TAILWATERS – PART 2 By Dick Landerman

FISHING WESTERN TAILWATERS – PART 2

“THE AQUARIUM” – UTAH’S GREEN RIVER

By Dick Landerman

Typical Green River brown - colorful spotting & healthy


Fishing Utah’s Green River
can be a daunting experience. It can also be very rewarding.

It is affectionately known in these parts as “the Aquarium.” There’s a good reason for that: the Green, below Flaming Gorge Dam in northeastern Utah, is one of the clearest rivers you might ever see. There’s an abundance of underwater plant life, and it’s possible to float over as many as a dozen large trout in just a few yards. What a thrill to look down and see these large fish lazing along the pebbled bottom, occasionally nuzzling aquatic plants for scuds or nymphs.
The maddening part is that you can throw a number of nymphs, streamers or dries at them and they don’t even seem to notice. That is, until the famous annual cicada hatch turns on the end of April or early May. Then watch those trout kick into overdrive! But I’m getting ahead of myself.



OVERVIEW. The Green originates many miles upstream in Wyoming, where there’s also plenty of excellent fly fishing opportunities. The river is then dammed up to create Flaming Gorge Reservoir, a very large & deep body of very clean, clear water which spans both states’ borders. The reservoir itself provides many fishing opportunities for rainbows, large browns, and huge lake trout (fished very deep). You can also have a lot of fun fishing for small mouth bass in the shallower parts, with either jigs or fly fishing gear.

Rainbow - fell for a bunny leech

(NOTE: This article will deal with 30 miles of the Green in Utah, with special focus on the 7 mile “A” Section, just below Flaming Gorge Dam, the most easily accessed section. If you’re interested in the other two sections, B & C, I suggest you arrange for a guide, as this is rewarding but very “technical” & tricky fishing, depending on weather, hatches, and many other difficult factors. These two sections are also much easier to float than wade.)
This portion of the Green, the 7-mile “A” section immediately below Flaming Gorge Dam, has been designated as Blue Ribbon water, and for good reason: it holds (I’m not making this up!) about 20,000 fish per mile, with an average size of over sixteen inches! You’ll find mostly rainbows for the first few miles below the dam. Then further down, you’ll find a mixture of rainbows, Snake River cutthroat, cut-bows (a hybrid of rainbows and cutts), and browns. Browns make up about 30% of the trout population on this river; the bulk of trout found around Little Hole, about seven miles below the dam, are browns.
The Green sees about 100,000 visitors a year; maybe a third of those visitors are not fishing, but floating the river in large rubber rafts, more interested in the beautiful red rock cliffs that line the river, and for the thrill of running its many whitewater rapids. Heaviest use is weekends; for this reason, the best times to fish the Green are during midweek. Whether you float in a drift boat (Mackenzie-type), or a “kick boat” (one or two-man light pontoon), life jackets for anyone on the river are mandated by US government rules regulating access and use of the river.
The river is divided into three sections: Section A is the 7-mile section immediately below the dam downstream to Little Hole. There is a boat access ramp just below the dam spillway, and three boat access ramps at Little Hole, as well as a 21-unit rough campground (toilet facilities) nearby. Section B is the 9-mile portion from Little Hole to Brown’s Park; and Section C is the last 15 miles to the Swallow’s Canyon takeout at the Colorado state line (see Map).
There is a footpath the entire length of Section A, making the river accessible to wading fishermen. But the best way to fish the Green, in my opinion, is to float it. If you don’t have your own boat (or have a friend with a boat), then I strongly suggest you hire a guide and float the river. That way you can cover more water while getting the benefit of an experienced river guide who knows the water and what patterns to recommend.
The river is open year-round; a Utah state angler’s license is required. Catch & release is highly recommended; but for those wishing to take fish, there’s a limit of three. You can keep two under 13” and one over 20.”

19" brown taken with #20 baetis "crippled" emerger & my favorite 4-wt. Thramer bamboo

EQUIPMENT. The Green is a pretty good sized river; I highly recommend taking two rods: one 8.5’ to 9.5’ (5 or 6-wt) for throwing big dries, nymphs & streamers, plus the ease in mending; and a smaller rod (7’ to 8’, 4 or 5-wt) for wading & fishing the riffles with small dries or nymphs. These fish have post-doc’s in artificial fly identification, so long leaders are usually the norm, typically a 5x is recommended. I say “usually,” because when the cicada hatch is on, shorter and stronger (3x or 4x) leaders can work. Because it’s “tailwater,” the water is cold year ‘round, so I recommend waders. A net is helpful, especially if you snag a biggun. Weather is often changeable in the fall through spring, so bring along rain gear; also sunscreen.

 

 

 
FLY PATTERNS. Let’s go by season. Winter: midges, midge clusters, Griffiths gnats, tiny nymphs such as zebras work. On cloudy, stormy days you’ll see PMDs & BWOs, size 18-24. It’s surprising, but on the Green, it seems the nastier the weather (even snowing), the better the BWO hatches! Also, don’t be afraid to present big streamers, dark leeches or bunnies work. Also try scuds in tan, olive or pink. The scud is an important food item for the Green. San Juan worms are effective, too, in orange, tan or red.

Grinning ex-law partner, Rusty Snow & his first trout taken on a fly

Spring: similar to Winter, but try RS-2s, WD-40s, Serendipity, and some emerger patterns if you see some bugs starting to come off the water, usually when the air warms up above 45 degrees and the water temp is at least 48 degrees. I have a crippled baetis emerger I really like on the Green; size 18-22. Don’t be afraid to fish wet or soft hackles, either. Also, try glo bugs or other egg patterns, since the rainbows are starting to spawn.
Cicada season, late April, sometimes clear through to end of July: big (size 4-10) cicada, Madam X, attractors, or Chernobyl Ant patterns (the Chernobyl was created on the Green). Slap ‘em against the banks, strip, and hang on!
Summer: best bet for dries. Just match the hatches: Stoneflies, black, brown & golden stone; often PMDs, sulfurs, Green Drakes (actually much grayer shades than the Eastern variety, making them look more like a Gray Drake); blue quills, red quills; Adams, regular & parachutes work very well. I also like throwing a sulfur or PMD, size 16, with a greased Swisher “no hackle” #18 trailing about 18” behind. They tend to hit the trailer fly. Look for evening caddis hatches: elk hair olive, tan & black bodies, sizes 12-18. Standard nymphs such as hare’s ear, PTs, Prince, also work. Also try terrestrials (ants, beetles, and I also like to use tiny Royal Wulffs); and try the hopper-dropper rig using a Copper John as your dropper. Again, scuds, San Juan worms, and small beadheads, such as “le Bug,” can work. Early morning, and just after sundown, fish big streamers, leeches (black, purple, olive), tandem bunnies, Muddler Minnows, or mouse patterns deep against overhanging banks, or drag them through riffles.
Fall: similar to summer; but later in fall, especially on cloudy days, the BWOs are back, and when they are, the hatches are thick!

20" cutthroat (making it a GR Grand Slam) taken with "le Bug" nymph & Phillipson Peerless bamboo

LOCATING THE FISH. Many first-time anglers on the Green make the mistake of fishing mostly in the middle of the river. But based on my experience, these fish tend to lurk along the banks and in riffles or eddies. So don’t be afraid to toss your fly right against the bank and slowly strip it back toward you. I’ve found that a couple strips, rest, a couple more strips, rest, and repeat, really works. There are some spots where you can beach your boat and wade the riffles. Be stealthy, because the water is clear and the fish spook easily.


 

 

 

 

 

SAFETY. I’ve mentioned the life jacket rule. Be careful wading; the rocks are sometimes slippery. In spite of the clear water, you can misjudge depths. Don’t be wussy about using a wading staff in the riffles; currents can be deceptively swift. Even though it’s temptingly clear, don’t drink the water (unless you accidentally fall in and swallow some). Be on the lookout for rattlesnakes along the banks, especially in the more rocky areas; there are a few around, and summertime & fall requires care. Mosquitoes are mostly a problem at night.

Tricky casting under rock overhang
- Guide Bob Ingle displays a nice brown taken with #20 BWO dry.

GETTING THERE, GUIDES & FACILITIES: As I mentioned in the previous article, Part I, Salt Lake City is served by several airlines. Flaming Gorge/Green River is about 3.5 hours driving time from Salt Lake City via Interstate-80 through Evanston, Wyoming; continuing east about 35 miles to the town of Fort Bridger (approx. 1.5 hours). Continue east on Wyoming state highway 414/Utah state highway 43 to town of Manila, Utah (approx. 1 hour). Then continue east on Utah state highway 44 to Greendale Junction; then US 191 to town of Dutch John (approx. 1 hour), located in close proximity to the dam at Flaming Gorge.
There’s a nice lodge, the Flaming Gorge Lodge, at Greendale Junction, that caters to fly fishermen, complete with restaurant, gas station, and boat storage facilities. You can contact them at (435)889-3773. Also try Trout Creek Flies & Lodge at Dutch John, phone (435)885-3355. They have a complete fly & tackle shop, plus guide/shuttle service, restaurant & convenience store, and gas station.
For campers, there’s Dripping Springs camp ground, a 21-unit facility halfway between Dutch John and Little Hole; open year ‘round. Camping is NOT allowed on the A Section.
All of the Salt Lake-area guide shops mentioned in the previous article (plus a few more mentioned here) provide guided float trips on the Green: Orvis Shop; Western River Fly Fishers 801-521-6424; Fish Tech Outfitters 801-272-8808; High Country FlyFishers 1-800-397-1629; Jans Mountain Outfitters, Park City 435-649-4949; Trout Bum 2, Park City 877-878-2862; The Quiet Fly Fisher 435-836-2319; and also Bob Ingle of Clearwater Flyfishers 866-321-5268. Typical cost is US$375/day per first rod, and rates modify for additional anglers.

NEXT: PART III – THE SOUTH FORK

Dick Landerman, 62, is a former lawyer (“I used to be a lawyer until God found out and I was so ashamed, I quit.”). He now owns a private merchant banking company, Robertson & Co., where he devotes only enough time to pay the bills and support his fly fishing addiction. In addition to being an avid fly fisherman (averages over 60 days a year), he plays trombone with a neighborhood jazz ensemble and writes about fly fishing; soon to publish his first book of fly fishing essays: THE FLY ROD CHRONICLES, and his first novel CATCH & RELEASE. He is working on his second novel THE MAN FISHER. He also buys, sells and collects bamboo fly rods. He lives in Salt Lake City with his wife, Janet, who teaches high school French, and an overweight Pug, Simon

Sincere thanks to Dick for putting this article together and for letting me use it