The trout was strong, especially in the swift current caused by the extremely high water. Maybe, I thought to myself, this was going to be a different Green River adventure and I wouldn't have to relearn how to fish the river, like I've to on other trips.
The healthy fish flashed stubbornly on its trail, which was under 1 1/2 feet of clear water. He was tiring but still causing me concern about my 6X tippet in the powerful wash of the river.
He had taken a beadhead cranefly nymph and the pheasant tail dropper had wrapped around him as he finally came reluctantly to my net. With excitement I noticed that it was a cutbow — my first from the Green — of about 16 inches; very healthy and thick through the shoulder area. The coloring was terrific with the flash red gill covers and the typical rainbow stripe.
This was my first trip to the Green alone and this first fish gave me a little confidence considering the Green River has never been exceptionally kind to me. I have heard or read numerous accounts from fishermen who claim 20 or 30 fish per day. I have never had that blessing in five years of fishing the Green at least once and usually twice a year. But I love fishing the Green so much that it doesn't really matter.
The river normally runs from 800 to 2200 cfs at this time of year but now it was running at 4500 cfs. All the holes I normally fish were under another two feet of water. Many of them were now simply flat water and inaccessible unless I wanted to swim.
Several casts later, a five inch brown followed by an eight incher, both on the cranefly, kept my hopes up. From then on it was pure sweat trying to get a fish convinced my nymphs were Big Macs.
Nymph fishing is always difficult for me on the Green because of the size of the river and the interacting currents which pull the line in all kinds of directions and put almost instant drag on the flies. Now the challenge was even greater.
It was almost dark before I gathered my flies and started back to the car. At least I wasn't going to be skunked this trip, but I wasn't entirely comfortable trying to explain a five and an eight incher to my fishing cousin and usual fishing partner, Gary. Gary wasn't able to accompany me on this trip because his wife had to have some emergency surgery. But he is an excellent fisherman and usually has more luck than I. He would respond, "Those are the size I use for bait." I have played this game before.
Still, while driving to my camp at Dripping Springs the cutbow made me feel good as I remembered its flash and determination. Maybe this was going to be the 20 or 30 fish trip.
I was back on the water by 7:00 a.m. the next morning. The water was still so high that often I had to go into the water over my knees just to stay with the trail.
Only a few anglers had showed up yet and I had high hopes for a super fishing day. I have reached the point in my angling career that I don't have to catch fish to have a successful trip. But it sure helps. My hopes were high today and the absence of excessive competition contributed to my early morning euphoria.
After two hours of fishing with nymphs and having only hooked and lost one fish, I started losing faith. No matter how I tried to cast and mend the line, I either immediately picked up drag or else caught on the bottom because the anchor I had to use for weight in that wild water snagged on the big rocks that are normally dry on the bank.
Suddenly, I started to hear a high pitched vibrating noise coming from the pines along the river. Cicadas were singing their song. I had never had much success using those big bruisers on the top, but I quickly changed to a floating leader and gave it my best shot.
I reached a nice run that ended under a huge ponderosa that had fallen into the river. I had fished for about an hour with the big cicada but had only had a few fish rush up to look at it before making screeching U-turns and flashing back out of sight to deeper water. One fishy look per fishing spot was all that I could muster.
I had to climb over some large boulders to get in position to fish the run and slipped off a boulder that twisted under my foot and caused me to fall — hard. After uttering some words requiring repentance I made a successful cast while rubbing my sore knee. A large brown inhaled it and immediately headed for the branches of the huge pine.
With a 4 weight rod, I didn't have a lot of argument and I expected the 6X tippet to part, or the knot to give way, or to fall off another rock, but somehow I turned him and soon had a beautiful 18 inch brown in my net. He had almost swallowed the bug, but I was able to get it out with minimum damage and quickly released him.
Fifteen minutes later and about 50 feet upstream the first brown's twin gulped the fly. He didn't have any snags immediately available and I was able to bring him to net after a strong struggle. Like his sibling he was fat and sassy.
Six hours of intense fishing with a sore back and a throbbing knee finally connected me with another fish. I had hooked four others and felt their weight against my rod, but had lost each of them just before I could get them in the net. I was determined not to lose this big dude if I had to swim after him.
He didn't fight as hard as the browns, but I still enjoyed beaching an 18 inch rainbow. He was healthy and fun and beautiful of color. He was a first for me on the Green because my former Green River rainbows had all been relatively small.
By 6:00 p.m., I had hooked about three other nice fish but had lost them also. One very interesting but uncharacteristic situation occurred while I was fishing a relatively calm backwater. I could see a nice fish of definite reddish tint feeding near the bottom next to the shore. I drifted what I thought was a nice presentation over him about three times without even a recognition that the fly was there.
On the fourth presentation, he stopped my breathing for several seconds by slowly positioning himself vertically with his nose about one-half inch under the fly. He drifted downstream vertically for about five seconds and then formed a "U" with his body and slowly started back down to the bottom. Just as his body was beyond the fly he hit it with his tail at least three inches into the air, as if showing terminal disdain for my humble offering.
I don't usually buy into anthropomorphizing (attributing human traits and emotions to animals), but this fish definitely appeared to have an attitude. Who says they aren't smart....or at least smart alecky.
The next day I started early again and using my big cicada immediately hooked and landed two 18 inch browns. They were hard fighters, great jumpers and a joy to bring in. Then again nothing for hours.
My biggest fish of the trip was a 19 inch brown that really caused me some heartburn. What appeared to be a sizable rainbow flashed up and just as quickly rejected a damsel fly imitation, after which the brown immediately came up and slammed it. After I got my heart back in its sack, I started playing the brown for real.
He decided to wait out the fight on the bottom and I couldn't get him to move for almost two minutes. I thought he had got off and I was hooked on the bottom, but then he gave himself away and started to swim to the other side of the river. This is the first time I have ever had a fish run all my fly line out to the backing. I was sure I was in trouble because he went downstream so that I had to fight both him and the river. But my luck held and I finally persuaded him to visit my net.
He was very broad and solid. I don't know what he weighed, but he was worth the whole trip. I had such a hard time getting him in I was afraid I had worn him beyond his ability to recuperate. But he finally started finning significantly and slowly escaped from my hand into the deeper water.
I didn't catch a lot of fish on this trip and I didn't come up with a new fish-shattering technique. But I survived my back pain, my injured knee and the high water to have an adventure that will always stand out in my mind as one of the great ones in my life.
I love fishing the Provo, the Weber and the High Uintas, but often one trip turns out like another and they become muddled in my memory. But I don't think I will ever forget catching that beautiful cutbow or slamming it out with that 19 inch brown on this memorable trip to the mighty Green River.