A Guided Fly Fishing Trip on the the Green
I started fly fishing only last year. Steve Cook, author of the Utah Fishing Guide (see article in this issue) had prodded me for years to try a sport that he had enjoyed for years. His patient prompting finally wore me down and I relented. Now I feel a little foolish for waiting as long as I did.
It only took one trip and I began to understand that fly-fishing is much more than getting a fish to take a hook and to successfully bring it in. For me fishing has become much more a way to spend quality time with my family, to get centered, to momentarily leave the world of deadlines and pressures and to commune with nature.
I was fortunate to have rediscovered fishing and to be introduced to fly-fishing by a master. Steve is an artist and was kind enough to be patient with my impatience until I began to understand the nuances of the water and the fish. As I began to fly fish more here in Utah and talk to others that participated in this serene embracing of nature, I heard more and more about the Green River - drift boat fishing, monster brown trout, football rainbows and sandstone canyons with unrivaled beauty.
I became intrigued and investigated more. Soon my curiosity got the best of me and I was reading everything I could about the river and its fish. It didn't take long and I came across a wonderful book, Dennis Breer's, "Utah's Green River, A Fly Fisher's Guide to the Flaming Gorge Tailwater."Beautifully written and packed with information to answer my many questions, this book was a wonderful resource for learning about the famed Green River. As I read the book I got caught up in Breer's personal anecdotes and distinctive style. I really started to like Dennis Breer, despite the fact we had never met.
I made up my mind that if I really wanted to experience the Green River in all of it's splendor, I needed to meet the man who knew it so intimately. I found his web site and made contact with Dennis at his business, Trout Creek Flies. When I talked to the man that I felt I already knew, I really got excited about floating and fishing the river. We set up a guided drift boat trip for two weeks later. The anticipation at times was almost unbearable.
I called Trout Creek Flies on my arrival at Dutch John and Dennis' wife and partner, Grace, told me she would send someone right down. Lee Cruzan greeted me with huge smile, I would conclude later this was his predominant facial expression. Lee is a tremendously happy and likeable guy. It only took moments to discover that he was as helpful as he was friendly.
Dennis pulled up a few minutes later with a drift boat in tow. I liked him immediately. We gathered our things and headed down towards the boat launch, just below the dam. After a little small talk Dennis began to describe what my day would be like. Still, I really didn't know what I was in for, having never fly-fished from a drift boat. It would turn out to be an experience I will never forget. Although I am sure there are many excellent guides on the river, I really got lucky with Dennis. He seemed, instinctively to know when I needed help and without fail his advice came at the right time. I listened very carefully.
We assembled our fly rods and Dennis pulled out a huge box of flies, many I had never seen before. He described what was happening on the river and how that would effect the fly selection. We would start out with a Cicada Trude that would also serve as an attractor and strike indicator. The dropper would be an olive colored biot nymph. He tied the two flies onto my tippet while explaining the knots he was using. I felt pampered from the very beginning.
An angler in waders, almost up to his armpits in the ice cold runoff, was casting to rising fish near the ramp as we launched and began our journey. As I looked around in awe at the beautiful surroundings; crystal clear water, canyon walls of red and brown, speckled with giant pine trees; Dennis gave me a historical background of the river and the trout that called it home. He talked about the blue wing olive and midge hatches that were beginning to occur along river. It was like I had entered another world with an all-knowing guide. The fishing tips and secrets poured from the man like an endless fountain. Now I wished I had brought my tape recorder. But then, how do you record a lifetime of experiences?
Just a few minutes had passed when Dennis told me to ready my rod. He pointed out a riverbank that we would try first. "Cast there, about two feet from the bank,"he said as he pointed to the edge of the riffle. He showed me how to use the knee locks and I clumsily cast my fly, not quite close enough, but he told me to leave it. "The more your fly is in the water, the more fish you will catch,"he said. I soon realized the huge difference between fly-fishing in waders and fly-fishing from a drift boat. Dennis handled the oars like a master craftsman and perfectly matched the boat's speed with my fly drifting along the edge. The fly floated along for 40 feet, no retrieve required, only an occasionally mend. And if I didn't mend when I should Dennis would gently prompt me to do so. "Mend...mend...mend."It was almost soothing to hear and I followed his instructions without question.
Nothing on the first cast but a couple more casts, closer to Dennis' target water, and I got a strike. It almost caught me off guard when the attractor dove sharply under water. I pulled back quickly and hooked my first fish of the day, a beautiful 16"rainbow. Dennis coached me each step of the way, "take him out of the main current, bring him in near the bank."he said. "You don't want to exhaust the fish. Bring him in as quickly as you can.""Let him run, give him some slack. We're in no hurry. Be gentle so somebody can catch him again."
He coached me at every move and was quick to acknowledge when I did something right. I was learning from a master - no ego, no condescending attitude, only a vast knowledge of fly-fishing the Green and the passion to want to share that knowledge with everyone he can.
We finally brought the fish near the boat and Dennis scooped the fish up in his net. Every step of the way he handled each trout gently and affectionately, as if it was the most important fish in the river, because at that moment, to Dennis, it was. He removed the hook and held the rainbow up for me to see. A perfect fish! I was excited, and showed it. Dennis smiled as he returned the fish to the water, letting him recover before he swam back to his home. "There's more where that one came from,"he said as he handed me back my fly and picked up the oars.
As we went from one hole to another, Dennis would explain to me the special features of the water we were about to fish. And, each time he would tell me where to cast, why we were casting there and when to mend. Dennis would expertly maneuver the boat to maximize my access to the hole and then matched the boat's drift to my fly.
He made me look good! When I started to pay less attention to the beautiful canyons and more attention to the water and my strike indicator, I noticed fish everywhere. And I mean everywhere! Dennis told me that the Green River averaged 12,000 to 14,000 fish per mile and at some places contained almost 20,000 fish per mile. If you do the math that is an amazing 4 fish per linear foot. No wonder everywhere I looked I saw fish and no wonder this stretch of the river is fondly known as "The Aquarium."
Within an hour I had brought in about a half a dozen trout, most of them wild browns. I had many more strikes but, too many times, was distracted by all of the huge fish swimming everywhere around the boat, and my fly.
After about an hour of floating through and catching trout on my dropper in one of the most beautiful canyons in the world, the fish began hitting my attractor. Dennis suggested that we switch to a dry fly. I switched rods and went to it.
Midges were coming off everywhere and the fish were starting to feed on top. It took awhile before the fish noticed the dry fly but soon I was getting some action.
Now I had a new problem to deal with. Because the water was so clear and the fish so visible, I started missing fish. It wasn't because the fish weren't interested in my fly, but because I could see them so clearly. I'd watch as a fish would notice the fly, become interested, move in on the fly and, just as it was about to engulf it, I'd pull the fly out of its mouth. Time after time I set the hook too early! What an amazing experience to watch this process and see the fish's behavior at every step.
We caught a half a dozen rainbows on a midge pattern in the next hour or so. Dennis continued to display the patience of Budda as my inexperience dominated the day. All in all I caught about fifteen fish in the five-hour period and missed many more.
Our journey came to a conclusion much too early. 7.2 miles, a vertical drop of 75 feet and a wealth of knowledge later, we maneuvered into the Little Hole boat ramp. As Dennis loaded the boat we talked about our day. "Once in a lifetime experience" was the theme of our discussion.
The serenity of the river and landscape, the guide that had taught and prodded me, the intimacy with the fish that we caught and released. This was an experience that everyone should have.
We got in the truck headed back to Dutch John. I really didn't want the day to end so I invited my new friend to dinner, to talk about what had occurred and treat him to a meal that was well deserved.
From Dutch John, it took only 20 minutes to reach the Red Canyon Lodge, where I would be staying that evening. I had been told that this was really the premiere lodging establishment for those visiting the Flaming Gorge area and I wasn't disappointed. Mark Wilson, the proprietor, met me at the door. After a cordial greeting he signed me in.
After checking out my room I headed down to the restaurant and in a few moments I was joined by Dennis and Lee. Red Canyon Lodge has a great reputation for its extraordinary food and it really was a treat. We topped off the meal with some homemade apple pie alamode. I made the decision to start my diet after returning home.
After spending the day with Dennis on the Green I didn't think the day could get any better, but I was mistaken. Red Canyon Lodge is a beautiful resort with two private lakes, one that serves as the front yard for the main lodge facilities. My cabin was situated along the lakeside and was cozy and charming. A wood burning stove completed the rustic perfection and it was easy to relax. 40,000 people visit the Red Canyon Lodge area each year and there is little doubt why it is so popular.
The next day I toured around the lodge property and was amazed at all it had to offer. Red Canyon Lodge was really designed for the whole family; a children's fishing pond, private lakes loaded with huge trout, mountain biking, hiking, birding, horseback riding and much, much more. I thanked Mark and his staff for their wonderful hospitality and loaded up the last of my gear. Mark suggested I drive the 1/2 mile to the Flaming Gorge overlook. It was breathtaking. No wonder Flaming Gorge is such a popular destination. (Learn more about Flaming Gorge in our June issue)
During the four hour drive back to the big city I reflected on my experience. Floating and fishing the Green is now definitely on my top ten list. Whether you are an avid fly-fisherman or not, floating the Green is a must. When you are old and looking back at your life this is one experience that will rise above the rest.
My special thanks to Dennis and Grace Breer and Mark Wilson and his staff. You couldn't have made my trip better! It's obvious that these people jump out of bed in the morning excited to get to work and to provide people like us with "once in a lifetime"experiences. If you are ready for a once in a lifetime experience it's time to book a trip on the Green River.
If you would like to talk to Dennis or any of the guides at Trout Creek Flies, give them a call at 435-885-3355 or check out their web site atwww.fishgreenriver.com.
Red Canyon Lodge can be reached at 435-889-3759 or you can reach them on the web at www.redcanyonlodge.com.