Saturday, 21 March 2009
The Green River, just across the Utah border and below the Flaming Gorge dam, is reputed to have more fish per mile than any other stream in North America. I see numbers as high as 15,000 "catchable" trout per mile for the seven or eight miles of river below the dam. The average sizes are 14 - 18 inches and there are browns, rainbows and less commonly, cutthroat trout. Browns and rainbows dominate with the brown trout perhaps holding a slight majority over rainbows. Most of the fish so clearly visible from the bank are browns; rainbows are still holding in the deeper runs in this pre-spawn period.
Garrett and I fished on Thursday and Friday. It's a bit less that four hours drive from Laramie and we were on the river at 11 having left town just before 7AM. Thursday we fished the upper section just below the dam. The trail down to the river from the upper parking lot is rather spectacular here. With a flow of around 750 cfs the river is wadeable and it is just barely possible for me to cross at certain points. The photo above shows a drift boat passing by as we walked down the trail to the river. We wade fish from the bank and I have never hired a guide. For me, figuring out the fishing is what it is about.
We hooked up with small midge patterns (size 22 gray bodied RS2's and WD40's were hot) and, although we were hoping for a hatch of blue winged olives (Baetis), we saw none. As the day warmed (to maybe around 55°F) the midge hatch came on stronger and some fish started rising so I switched to a dry fly. A size 22 thread midge with a wrap of hackle, no wings or tails, gray body. I did catch one nice brown on the dry fly and hooked up with two more that I did not land on the tiny drys. The water in the Green is just crystal clear and sight fishing is the norm. In almost any good spot you may see ten or more fish lined up along the bank. To sight fish to them you move into position to avoid unnatural drag on the fly from intervening currents and to get the best drift, and cast hoping not to put the fish down. If you have the wrong fly, it will not work. All of these fish have been caught many times each and are highly selective feeders. I caught eight to ten fish all between 13" - 16" and Garrett may have caught twice as many. Garrett fished subsurface midge patterns and caught more fish than I did but I do love to watch a trout rise and take a dry. He was fishing the edges of the deeper and faster runs and hooked up with more rainbows than browns. I concentrated on slower shallower water sight fishing to mostly brown trout. Reflecting on the days fishing I realized that the Baetis hatch was more likely further downstream where the icy water had a chance to warm a bit.
We spent the night in an overpriced room at the Flaming Gorge Resort (discounted winter rates) and ate dinner at the restaurant there sharing a table with a couple of fly fishermen from California. They'd fished the Provo before coming up to the Green and ran into heavy Baetis hatches there. Frank is the flyfishing guy at the Western Sport Shop in San Rafael. It is one of the last great mom and pop outdoor stores in the country with a nice selection of rifles, shotguns, top quality fishing equipment and a really nice selection of new, used and rare sporting books.
Friday morning we drove down to Little Hole parking lot which is seven miles downstream from the dam. Later in the season, this parking lot can get full but there were only three other cars there when we arrived around 9:30 or so. We walked past fish rising in the long flats up to where there is a bit of broken water. We started hooking up on the same gray bodied RS2's and WD40's. Garrett fished that same rig all day long and I believe he must have caught more fish than anyone else on the river that day. He must have caught 30 trout the largest being about 19" or 20" and most being 14" - 16". I caught only a third as many but concentrated on fishing the dry fly. It was a warmer day with temperatures as high as 60°F, though it chilled down when the clouds blocked the sun. Being Friday, there were a lot more fisherman out on the river.
Around 2PM I saw two Blue Winged Olives hatch and the fish got very active. I believe they were taking Baetis nymphs. Garrett was fishing a deeper run below a wide riffle and was catching fish one after another, still fishing his underwater rig with a pair of grey bodied midge imitations. Fishermen walking upstream along the trail on the east bank would stop and watch him. Throughout the day we only rarely saw other fishermen into a fish so his productivity was rather astounding. I finally gave up on the drys after pricking and missing a beautiful rainbow who came up for my crippled Blue Winged Olive pattern in a perfect porpoising rise.
There's nothing like success. I switched to Garrett's rig and started hooking up right away. Missed landing two fish and then landed a nice rainbow. We were near waist deep in the middle of the river and with both of us hooking up we started to attract other fishermen to the run with us. By now it was around 4PM and a second flotilla of drift boats was coming through so it was a socially active scene. I hooked to another rainbow and after a rather extended fight, this one swam between my legs and was holding up under a shelf on a large rock. Rod in one hand and net in the other he swam up and went back between my legs again and against the submerged rock. Trying to move away from the rock I stumbled and gently rolled backwards as I netted the trout. The water temperature was around 40°F. It flowed down over the back of my waders and the icy cold water running down my legs was rather stunning. I released the trout and waded out laughing and cursing. I haven't fallen in a river while fishing for about 14 years. Last time was mid-winter while steelhead fishing on the Salmon River in upstate NY fishing with Peter McDonald. Garrett and I walked back to the truck and dry clothes which were a bit less than a mile downstream It would have been just fine, but I did manage to briefly dunk my camera which now does not work.