By Jim Brearton
The Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam has been divided into three sections. Section A is from the dam to Little Hole. Section B is the stretch from Little hole to Brown's Park, and Section C is from Brown's Park to the Swallow Canyon take out, just past the east exit of the Swallow Canyon gorge. Each section is several miles long and the last section ends just a few miles from the Utah/Colorado border.
Access to Sections B and C is somewhat restricted due to distance and road quality. The float from Little Hole to Brown's Park presents no problems with rough water except for the area where Red Creek enters the river and faster water and large boulders create problems for Mackenzie type boats. A short portage solves the problem and rubber rafts can navigate this area most of the time. One can drive to Brown's Park from the south or the north. The south road begins as one leaves Vernal to the north and gets real rough toward the end as it drops down to the river. The north road is much better, but also much longer. This road takes off from the highway to Rock Springs about nine miles past Dutch John. The turnoff is well marked and after 21 miles of travel on a well-maintained dirt road one reaches Brown's Park. This is a state road that hooks up with Colorado so it gets lots of attention. At Brown's Park a network of roads parallel the river and there is even a Bridge crossing the Green at Taylor's Flat, some 2 miles back upstream from Brown's Park.
In many respects this truly is a completely different river than the dam to Little Hole stretch. This is sparsely vegetated, open desert country. The river is lined with Cottonwoods with an occasional Ponderosa, but gone are the steep, red rock canyon walls, except for the Swallows (a slow meander through a high, narrow canyon devoid of foot trails at the end of the Section C float). This slower, deep section starts to pick up trash fish and characterizes the Green from the Colorado border on to the Gates of Lodore, a popular white water rafting area.
The differences between the lower and the upper stretch also extend to the characteristics of the river and the fish. The open terrain causes the river to flow in a much more even pattern, with long riffles and even-depthed runs. The bottom is rocky and boulder-strewn, and the fish are dispersed more widely than on the upper end, where the fish line up along seams and in runs, between pools and fast water.
Estimates of fish numbers are way down from the upper end, also (from as high as 13,000 fish per mile near the dam to just 2000 fish per mile at Brown's Park). Brown trout pre-dominate on the lower end with other species not able to withstand the temperature variations and the increased silt load. Browns are harder to catch, and, in fewer numbers, this is not the "Disneyland" of fly fishing like the upper end has been labeled.
With this preface let me detail my float of Section C. I floated with my friend of several years, Emmett Heath, a guide for Western Rivers Flyfishermen. Emmett has fished the Green from Little Hole to Colorado long before its recent popularity. He has floated each section hundreds of times as a guide. He shares the river as he floats it, recalling hundreds of fishing successes or spots of special beauty. The river is his best friend and he treats it with both passion and reverence. He is one of the most powerfully built, huge men I know, but also one of the gentlest. When he talks about his concerns for the river, I listen. The crowds on the upper stretch are disturbing to everyone and both Emmett and myself and anyone who has fished the lower sections would hope that this area could maintain its tranquility. We saw only one other boat on this day.
This lower section has some built in checks and balances that help keep the crowds down. It is much less accessible. The fish are fewer and harder to catch. It is not as esthetically pleasing to some and the river is harder to read. Also, one the main inhibitors is Red Creek. Although just a dry wash most of the time, when storms are present it picks up and throws clouds of red muck into the river from the clay basin well before Brown's Park, making fly fishing an impossibility. Most days I've fished the Green there has been at least the threat of rain.
This day we were blessed with clear skies and beautiful river conditions. The wind was ominous all day and my backcasts suspended parallel to the water like a frozen rope in the gale force assault. We threw large dries, cicadas, humpies, even a salmon fly pattern when I ran out of cicadas, and raised fish on all patterns. In an afternoon of fishing we probably raised 20 fish, hooked a dozen, all browns in the 17 to 20 inch range, except for one small rainbow. There seemed to be lots of little rainbows near the Burnt Tree area and some planting has occurred. Emmett reports that large rainbows and cutthroats are regularly hooked but our experience proved the preponderance of brown trout in this section.
Most of the fish we took were right up tight to the bank in smooth glides between boulders or in riffles the entire width of the river. Fishing reminded me very much of the Madison outside the park. Most of my misses were caused by setting the hook too fast.
The water is so clear one can see the take from the upright postion on the boat long before the fish reaches the fly and it is so hard to wait!! One fish took my salmon fly pattern while my head was turned as Emmett screamed for me to strike. By the time I set the hook the fish had totally engulfed the fly, my most solidly hooked fish of the day. One large brown slowly rose to my fly from a lie Emmett deemed worthy of a cast, took the fly and headed back down as I set the hook. It instantly shot up in the air 3 or 4 feet and the fight was on. I landed that one, but another large fish took my fly right next to the shore and, as was very common, headed for midstream and shelter when it felt the hook. I rapidly stripped in line but when the fish saw the boat it headed upstream like a freight train as I tried to play out line. With line everywhere flying after the fish the inevitable happened, the line caught around the leg braces and the fish was gone, soon to be halfway to Little Hole. Great memories with a great friend.
Emmett let me try my hand at the oars while he worked his cicada pattern. I found that to be harder than it looks and I soon got us in some real trouble, but Emmett hooked some fish in spite of my problems trying to avoid rocks, drop anchor, net fish, etc.
As I experienced the river here, I was glad for the absence of crowds and hope it stays that way until some tighter regulations are enacted and enforced.
Sooner or later the crowds will discover this section of the river. Hopefully it will be a better, more conservation minded fisherman, not interested in numbers of fish but in quality fishing that is attracted to this area.
We've got time to protect sections B and C and prevent some of the problems present on section A. Slot limits, such as on the Provo, protecting the larger, reproducing fish, limits on number of boats allowed per day, catch and release only sections, special fees designed to reduce the number of fishermen and to pay for garbage collection and enforcement are some things that come to mind.
Copyright Dave Webb, 2005