The Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam
Bliss on a true dream stream
Two rivers contend for “dream stream” status in the Rocky Mountain West.
Fly fishermen and river anglers from around the world will attest that the stretch of the Green River in Utah below the Flaming Gorge Dam certainly deserves the moniker “dream stream.” Some say it is the dream stream — the best tail water fishery in the United States.
For the sheer volume of fish, the Green just below the dam is amazingly productive.
At its peak, there were densities of fish in the river reported at 22,000 trout per mile for the first mile or two. Now that stocking has been reduced, those numbers are down to about 15,000 fish per mile for the upper stretch and closer to 8,000 fish per mile lower down the river. Those numbers are unrivaled in the U.S.
Why is it so ridiculously productive?
When the Flaming Gorge Dam was first built, creating Flaming Gorge Reservoir, water released into the Green River was from the bottom of the dam only. But the consistently cold temperatures hurt the trout fishing potential and changes were made to allow water to escape downriver from the dam at different levels, creating warmer water for the releases into the river. That change created one of the best, if not the best, tail water fisheries in North America.
Variety is also an intriguing aspect of the Green. Directly below the dam is the greatest concentration of rainbow trout. But further down the river, brown trout, self-reproducing and on average longer that 16 inches, tend to dominate. There is also a population of cutthroat trout in the river.
So with that many fish, fed year-round by a prolific variety of insect life in the clear waters below the Flaming Gorge Dam, anglers feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven when fishing the Green. This is the benefit of it being such a well-managed tail water fishery. The river is packed with insects all the time.
And aside from the fishing itself, the area is beautiful.
“It’s like an aquarium,” says Jordan Gillespie, a guide at Roaring Fork Resort Fly Shop who’s been fishing the river for eight years. “You go through and you float and you see so many fish it’s like you’re going through an actual aquarium. To be able to see in that atmosphere with these huge, stunning canyon walls and the crystal clear waters, it’s definitely a treat for anyone.”
That’s right. Anglers from boats and from the river’s banks can simply look into the river to see abundant trout. There they are, thousands of them, waiting to be caught. It’s easy to see that a massive 30-pound brown trout was caught in the river waters below the dam in 1996.
“It’s artificial lures and fly only,” Gillespie says of the restrictions on the river. “No bait allowed, which allows us to have a large fish number. It’s generally regarded as a catch and release fishery.”
But, technically, anglers so inclined can keep some fish. “ You can keep two small trout under 15 inches and one trout over 20 inches. It’s sort of like an unwritten rule, that it’s a catch and release fishery, for most people who fish the Green River.”
The composition and the relative percentages of fish in the river change frequently, depending on weather patterns and river flows.
“The cutthroat are kind of on the decline. That’s the snake river spotted cutthroat,” Gillespie says. “The river primarily right now is 60% brown trout and 40% rainbow trout. You’ll find your greater numbers of rainbows up closer to the dam in the first three miles. And down below it’s predominately brown trout as you get closer to little hole, on your float down there. There’s a small number of cutthroat and even some brook trout in the river, but very, very small numbers of those in there. There is a real good population of cutbows, which is a combination (hybrid) of rainbow and cutthroat trout.”
Fly fishermen will want to know more about the insect life. A quick summary notes that hatches are abundant. Scuds tend to be a primary food source and scud patterns are effective throughout the year. Midges bring good results during the winter and early spring. Sometimes experimentation is needed to see if they’re being taken on the surface or below. Blue-winged olives spawn in incredible numbers in the spring. Big cicadas allow for exhilarating fishing, with big, easy-to-see patterns, during the early summer. As well, ants, hoppers and dry fly patterns can be very effective during the summer and autumn.
Best Way to Fish It
“Definitely the best experience on the Green River is from the drift boat,” Gillespie says. “You get to fish places where shore anglers wish they could and you get the opportunity to float down and see all the fish from the boat. And from a boat you can enjoy and see all the wonderful canyon walls and that atmosphere.”
Although partial to floating the river, Gillespie says there are other options.
“There is wade fishing accessibility throughout the river,” he says. “There are two main access points by the dam and by Little Hole. There is a trail that goes from the dam down to Little Hole that a lot of hikers do on a nice day. It’s a nice day hike. It’s 7 miles long. It’s very scenic, very pretty.”
“But definitely, the best optimum experience on the Green, to really take in the whole experience, is from a drift boat with an experienced guide,” he says. “A guide knows what’s going on. Can put you on fish. Can control the boat. Can help you make that perfect cast. That’s definitely the way to go, if it’s your first time coming to the Green River.”
Brian Raymond, Commission Assistant and Economic Development Director for Daggett County Utah, has fished the “dream stream” stretch. He says anglers should be prepared for change.
“In the spring, if there’s run-off, fishermen need to be prepared that they can’t always dry-fly fish,” he says. “They might need to sink a wet fly in there, and fish a little deeper, as the flows change.”
Raymond likes to help anglers with this issue by posting river flows and variations on the Daggett County, Utah web-site (www.daggettcounty.org). Check the site for the most current information, he urges.
“You have to be prepared that it can change,” he says. “As I get the information from the Bureau (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the dam) I post it on the Daggett County web-site.”
Raymond likes to remind river rafters and anglers that the Green River is a multiple-use resource. Anglers and boaters should mutually respect each other’s use of the river.
For newcomers to the river, he says there’s great advice to be found at Trout Creek Flies, Flaming Gorge Recreation Services, the Flaming Gorge Resort and Red Canyon.
“Those are the four businesses in that area,” he says. “Any of those guys will give a new fisherman information on how to fish the river, at any given time. They’re all really good at helping people have a good experience on the river.”
Watch for our next article on the “other” dream stream, the South Platte River in Colorado at Spinney Mountain Ranch.
Dream Stream has 3 sections
The Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam can be divided into three sections:
Seven miles long, this reach from the dam to Little Hole is very popular because of the water clarity and abundance of fish. It also offers beautiful scenery, with 1,000- to 2,000-foot red canyon walls. The first half is mostly flat and deep, which makes it ideal for floating. There are some rapids. The second half moves faster, offering pocket water, and some shallow areas that are well suited for wading. A boat launch is 1/4 mile below the dam and take-out area is located at Little Hole. During the summer, and especially on weekends, recreational boaters are very abundant on the entire stretch.There are some trails and some camping.
This eight-mile stretch from Little Hole to Indian Crossing in Brown's Park is less crowded. It also holds many fish. Downstream, Red Creek can make the water silty or even unfishable after rainfall. The Red Creek area also has some Class III rapids. The canyon is wider here, resulting in flatter terrain and better wading conditions. The foot trail ends about 3 miles below Little Hole.
Many say the final 17-mile length holds perhaps the largest fish.But there’s a trade-off, as the quality of the fishing overall isn’t as dependable. It is also the least crowded. It’s flatter on the water and the land here, rendering it good for floating and wading, but be prepared for stronger winds. This portion ends at the Utah/Colorado border.