Guided Green River Fly Fishing Float Trip

I have always known my education as an outdoorsman was incomplete until I could regularly catch dinner from almost any stream and that means fly fishing. I have been fishing since I was about seven years old and have been cooking my own fish since I was about 10, but I never learned to fly fish because I didn’t live near a trout stream until I moved to the West.
fly fishing

#1 On the Bucket List

Other than the fact there have been many outdoor activities that have occupied my time, I don’t have a good excuse as to why I have lived near some of the best fly fishing in the country (possibly the world), for 20 years and did not fly fish.

I believe if one of my good friends hadn’t moved out of state, I would have spent thousands of hours standing in cold water by now, but he did move away and so the only trout I caught have been on spinning gear or by drowning worms or though I hate to admit it… on Power Bait.

Back in March, my old friend Barry, that I had not seen face to face in 20 years invited me to join him on a September fly fishing trip from Glacier National Park down to Yellowstone. The trip was #1 on Barry’s bucket list and learning to fly fish was also high on my list.

It was obvious that Barry had caught the fly fishing bug and in 16 years of fly fishing has caught 46 species of fish on a fly rod. His excitement about fly fishing was contagious and his invitation was almost… Almost… enough for me to consider fishing instead of elk hunting. I had already applied for mule deer, elk and moose tags, so I did not commit to the September trip.

After bouncing a few emails back and forth, I managed to plant an idea in Barry’s head about coming here in July or August to fish my local streams and high elevation lakes. I suggested we could even do a guided float trip on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is in the 3-corners area of Utah where Utah, Wyoming and Colorado meet.

Next thing I know, Barry has an airline ticket for August 1st and we were researching fly fishing guides for the Green River. After researching for a couple of days and a final recommendation from another guide Barry previously fished with, he booked a trip with Old Moe’s Guide Service out of Dutch John, Utah. Now all we had to do was wait four months until August 2nd.

Finally, the day arrived and I picked Barry up at the airport. We had a busy four day schedule. In addition our Green River float trip, we planned to fish two or three other streams and some high altitude lakes with the goal of adding two more species; Cutthroat trout and Arctic grayling to Barry’s species list. If we were successful and if we still had time, Golden Trout could be a third new species.

After the trip back from the airport and lunch, we fished the local stream near my house for several hours, where Barry caught his first western brown trout on a bouncing rig he tied for the first time using a nymph and scud patterns suggested by our local fly shop.

We needed to meet our guide in Dutch John at 7:30 the next morning, so we stopped fishing in time to make the 3½ hour drive just after dark and camped on BLM land just north of town. Dutch John is a small town of only about 250 people in the Summer, but there are options for lodging at Flaming Gorge Resort, Red Canyon Lodge, Spring Creek Guest Ranch and the new Sweet Lorraine’s B & B. We just chose to sleep out under the stars.


Bubba Had a Fine Idea

When we arrived at the meeting place (the Conoco gas station, which is no longer a Conoco station) in Dutch John to meet our guide the next morning, there seemed to be a little confusion about who was guiding us that day. Barry had already been told that our original guide had been changed, so we were to meet guide #2. When we found guide #2, we were told he was not our guide. He quickly made a phone call and within a few minutes, guide #3, Dave McDonald showed up and introduced himself.

It’s a little disconcerting to be passed around from guide to guide, especially at the last minute. We hoped we hadn’t made a mistake. We didn’t.

After our initial introductions, Dave asked us if we had time for a long trip that day. He felt like fishing both the “A” & “B” sections (approx. 17 miles) of the Green River that day if we were up to it. Floating any of the A, B or C sections of the river is considered a full day trip, so the chance to fish longer and see even more of the river was definitely a bonus, so Hell Yeah, we were up for it.

He had a plan to put in below the Flaming Gorge Dam and row down the river for about 30 minutes or so to get ahead of the all the other boats before we started fishing. By the time we got to the Little Hole Day Use Area, where the “B” section begins, most of the “B” fishermen would have been long gone and the fish would be settled again. Like Forest Gump said, “Bubba had a fine idea”, and so did Dave.

While Dave paddled the drift boat down the river, he teased us about not looking at all the fish we were passing over in the clear water. He said it would drive us crazy to see that many big fish and not wet a line. He was right. It is crazy to pass over that many big fish and not try to catch them, but by doing so, we saw only a handful of other fishing boats all day.

Fishing the A and B Sections of the Green River

green river drift boat

Fishing the Green River in a Drift Boat – BLM photo

Dave dropped anchor and before he started rigging up the gear, he asked if we wanted to nymph or fish with dry flies. As a fly fishing virgin, I had no preference, but soon learned that some fly fishing purists believe the only way to fly fish is with dry flies (as Reverend McClean in “A River Runs Through It”). Barry didn’t care which method we started with, he just wanted to start catching fish. Dave suggested we start off nymphing with a bouncing rig and then try some dry flies later.

Bouncing Nymph Rigs

Dave rigged up the bouncing rigs with three split shot at the bottom, a scud pattern just above the bottom, a prince nymph on top and another nymph in the middle, with all nymphs about a foot apart on a rig that was about 9 feet long.  I hoped I could figure this fly rod thing out and catch a few fish, but most of all, I didn’t want my inexperience to get in the way of Barry’s float trip.

Within a few minutes after we started fishing, Barry latched into an 18 inch brown trout, which as he said, was already a “day maker” in all of the places he normally fishes in the east. Barry quickly caught a couple of more “day makers”.

green river cookie cutter brown trout

Typical “cookie cutter” brown trout on the Green River

A 16 inch trout might be a big fish at most streams, but as Dave put it, the average cookie cutter fish on the Green River is between 15-17 inches. Barry said his largest trout was a 22 inch rainbow, so he had high hopes that he could catch a new personal best.

Even I, the fly fishing rookie, started getting strikes. I missed quite a few strikes and had a few nice fish get off before I landed the first one, a “cookie cutter” brown. Handling a fly rod for the first time takes a little practice to manage the loose fly line and to bring in a fish by retrieving line by hand and not on the reel. I bungled a few fish, but finally started getting the hang of it.

Barry hooked and then lost what would easily have been his largest trout ever. A few minutes late, he hooked what seemed like another monster, but when he finally got a look, it was a whitefish (mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni)). For Barry, the whitefish was an unexpected species he could add to his list of species caught with a fly rod.  Later that day, he caught another whitefish, which was probably the hardest fighting fish we had that day at about 19 inches.

As the hours and miles of stream drifted by, we had dozens of strikes and Barry landed dozens of nice browns and a few rainbows. Most fish were in the 15-17 inch range, except when we passed the Little Hole area that was recently stocked with small rainbows. I caught a few fish too.

The Biggest Fish of the Day

The biggest fish of the day was Barry’s 20 inch brown trout (see photo below). We certainly didn’t set any records for the Green River, but this was a new brown trout size record for Barry. The “cookie cutter” brown is my largest trout on a fly rod.

20 inch brown trout

Twenty inch Green River brown trout.

We missed the monster cicada hatch on the Green River this year that had people coming to fish the Green from all over the world. It was still early for the grasshoppers, so the last hour or so of the trip, Barry switched to a cicada to try some dry fly fishing and managed to catch four or five more nice brown trout in the 15-17 inch range.

We caught so many fish, we lost track of the exact numbers, but I estimate we landed close to 40 fish that were 15 inches or larger and probably 10 fish that were 18 -20 inches.

I don’t know about Barry, but I missed dozens of nice fish strikes and we both hooked at least another dozen very nice fish, but lost them. Barry easily caught three fish to every one I caught.

The Green River was very Warm in July

We noticed that most of the fish caught were Brown Trout, which was a little surprising to us. Except for some recently stocked rainbows, I don’t think we caught a single large rainbow trout in the B section.

Dave told us that July had some record high temperatures that seemed to have driven the rainbows upstream to the cooler, higher oxygenated water. When we got back home, I looked up the water temperature measured downstream near Jensen, Utah. On July 17th, the water temperature was measured at 25.8°C (78.4°F) which can be fatal for Rainbow trout depending upon the amount of dissolved Oxygen. I don’t know if the water in the B or C sections got that warm or not, but that could explain why there were few large rainbow trout below the “A” section. Brown trout can tolerate temperatures slightly above 80°F for short periods of time.

It is probably lucky for the trout fishery that there is a minimal flow from Flaming Gorge Reservoir which is mandated under the Endangered Species Act to protect Endangered Fish (razorback sucker, pikeminnow, bonytail chub and humpback chub) farther downstream.

Man-made Trout Water

The upper green river below Flaming Gorge Dam is a tail water trout fishery that was artificially created after the dam was completed in 1964 and the reservoir was filled by 1974. The water released from the reservoir is clear, cool and relative constant flow compared to the warm, high sediment water with seasonal flooding that occurred in the Green River before the dam was built. The same dam and reservoir that created the great trout fishery is the reason the native fish in the Green River and other upper Colorado River drainages are endangered.

I wonder what the possibilities are for a worst case scenario where releasing minimal flow is not possible on very hot days in the future. That would be very bad for both the trout and the endangered fish farther down stream.

Recommendation for Guided Fly Fishing Float Trips on the Green River

For anyone that has not yet taken a guided trip down the Green River, that needs to be added to your bucket list.  According to the Utah Division of Wildlife, there can be as many as 120,000 fish (15,000 fish per mile) in the first eight miles of stream below the dam (A section). The guides know how to handle the boats and they know how to catch the fish.

Most trips are half day trips unless you schedule a full day or get lucky like we did. If you are worried about the river being crowded, try to schedule both A and B sections and plan on a thirty minute head start on the A section.

Though “Old Moe” seemed confused about who was guiding us that day, it couldn’t have worked out better in the end. A good time was had by all and the use of alcohol was not suspected, just good times and great fishing. We give Dave McDonald and Old Moe’s Guide Service all thumbs up and look forward to doing it again.

I know I will be back and hope Barry will be back as well. Barry said this was the best guided fly fishing trip and he has been on more than a few. Now that we have seen the Green in early August, Dave suggested we fish it in March or April. Sounds like another plan.

FYI, a nice lunch was included in the trip and it was nice break to stop at picnic table at a campsite on the side of the river. Cold soft drinks were also provided, but all we wanted and needed was cold water.

This time of year, the water was low so the ride was very tame except for one short section. Barry and I walked around the rapids and with our weight out of the boat, Dave was able to take the boat through the rapids without any trouble. Another drift boat (without a professional guide) attempted the rapids with at least two passengers and a dog. Their boat was turned on it’s side and they were all standing in the water below the rapids trying not to lose all their gear. Luckily, no one was hurt.

After making sure everyone was OK and that help was on the way, we proceeded down river. There is a reason life jackets are required on that part of the river. Why should we be surprised that none of the people involved in the accident were wearing life jackets.

My First Fly Fishing Trip

As for my first fly fishing trip, casting a nymphing rig from a boat is not as challenging as casting a dry fly. Both Dave and Barry were patient instructors, but you know I had my fair share of backlashes and tangles. Most of the time I was able to keep out of everyone’s way and made it through the entire day without hitting anyone in the head, so Dave never had to put me in the penalty box (whatever that meant).

As far as the rest of Barry’s visit, after fishing 11 hours on the Green River, we hit it hard again and fished two streams and three high mountain lakes the next two days. We had a blast, got a little sunburned and a good case of ass-a-draggin-itis by the time it was over.

Barry caught fish every place we fished. We were not able to land a cutthroat trout for him, but did catch Arctic grayling, so Barry’s list of species taken on a fly rod now stands at an impressive 48 species. My list is three species, but how many greenhorn fly fishermen do you know that can claim Arctic grayling?

I caught my first trout on a large stream and I caught trout on both nymphs and dry flies.  But now I have a new problem. I need a fly rod.



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Comments

  1. Seems like you guys really had fun especially since you’re doing the kind of activity that you both love so much. It was quite an adventure to travel from one place to another just to go fishing. You must really love the sport for the complexities that it can bring.

    • Backcountry Chronicles says:

      Yes Patricia, we had a great time, but what do you mean “just to go fishing”? For some, fishing is the purpose of life. And yes, I am really enjoying learning to fish with a fly rod. I just got my own equipment and fished by myself for the first time. Nothing to brag about, but I learned enough to fool a couple of small rainbows with flies. Old dogs that learn new tricks could be dangerous.

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