Some sections of the Green River in Utah have 22,000 trout per mile and it is arguably the best trout fishery in the US. When Prof Brent Nelson invited me to fish there it didn’t take me long to accept.
Salt Lake City (SLC) is a vast desert surrounded by the rocky mountains. At this time of year, there is still snow on most of the mountains and many higher altitude lakes are still frozen. It looked vaguely familiar and I could picture John Wayne coming down the mountain. What I found amazing was that anyone would settle in a place like SLC, coming over the mountains on wagons and just seeing miles and miles of featureless plains. They were definitely very tough people.
Upon arriving at Brent’s house, we got straight into renovating his bathroom. This was necessary as they wanted to use it during my visit. Academics are theorists and shouldn’t be allowed to do anything too practical. Yogi Berra said, “in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is.” All of the bathroom’s electrical appliances worked properly except one set of lights. Also earlier, a large spark was inadvertently generated due to a short. After much bumbling around, we isolated the problem to a loose wire deep in the guts of the wiring. Quietly pleased that nobody got electrocuted, I helped Brent fix the rest of the bathroom, hang the door and everything was operational.
BYU and the Trip to the Green River
The next day, I gave a seminar at Brigham Young University (BYU). One of the best audiences I’ve spoken to, they asked very good questions about our work. Anyway, completed my talk without embarrassing myself too much and shortly after, we embarked on the 4 hour drive to the Green River.
On the way, we stopped at a 7-eleven. In the photo below, the small one on the left is a pint (600 ml) and the big one 1.9 L. I’ve seen 2 L bottles before but never a 2 L cup. Two of those are enough to kill you.
Here are some pictures that I took on the way to the Green River.
That evening we walked the banks of the Green River. A large Osprey dive-bombed a trout right in front of us. It sounded like a bomb going off.
Here is a picture of where we stayed, we don’t get that much snow when we go skiing.
Didn’t sleep well that night, dreamt I lost my fishing rod. The next day we were at the Flaming Gorge boat ramp on the Green River. The weather was far from perfect. It was snowing, we had a force 10 gale and it was cold enough for the line to freeze in the guides. Even wearing all the clothes I brought (gloves, thermals, shirt, fleece and parka), I was still cold.
After a quick breakfast we met out guide, Ryan Kelly (www.greenriverflyfisher.com). He has the perfect life. In winter he is a skiing instructor and at other times he is a fishing guide. Utah has great skiing and hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. Notable resorts include Sundance, Snowbird and Park City. Next time I’ll try them out, those mountains look scary, more sheer drops than ski slopes.
We put the boat in at Flaming Gorge Dam. Ryan remembered Brent because his eccentric brother-in-law hammered the trout using a crappie jig on a previous trip.
The river was crystal clear and we saw plenty of fish, sometimes twenty at a time. Started fishing a bobber (actually, fly-fishermen call them strike indicators) under which was had a sow bug and a zebra nymph. For those non-fishermen readers, a nymph is an underwater bug. Ryan made the (fishing) joke that we were nymphomanics. The morning started slow with the trout picking up the flies and then dropping them before.
Let me digress and discuss the mayfly which is key to trout fishing. It spends most of its life as a nymph on the bottom of a river. Trout eat lots of them so fly-fishermen use imitations fished underneath the surface of the water to catch them. When conditions are right, it rises to the surface and becomes a dun and then molts into a spinner.
The spinners mate, lay their eggs and die, hence the title of a book, “Sex, death and fly fishing”. All this happens within 24 hours, making it comparable to a Shakespearian tragedy.
Fly-fishermen spend lots of time waiting for conditions need to be right so the mayflies hatch in enormous numbers, causing the trout to throw their natural caution to the wind and go into a feeding frenzy. In this case, called a hatch, we fish what are called dry flies on the surface of the water, and the trout rise to take the flies.
Drifting is a beautiful way to fish as you want to present your flies so that they look like they are drifting naturally along with the current. Since the boat travels roughly the same speed as the flies, one can get really long drifts. After missing the first few, Brent caught the first trout and shortly after, I got this one.
We caught a few more before lunch and things picked up after lunch. We were soon catching a fish every cast.
Into the afternoon, the weather improved a little and there was a pretty good mayfly hatch (blue winged olives or BWOs to be more precise). We switched to tandem dry flies, a BWO and a cripple in a much large size than the natural and caught a lot more fish.
Much too soon the day was over. The fishing on the Green was better than anything else I had ever experienced. One might at first think that fishing the Green would be like shooting fish in a barrel, but the trout are very cautious in general and require some degree of finesse.
Ryan was a fantastic guide in all respects, a great fisherman, friendly and willing to give advice. He would often row upstream so we could fish the good drifts several times and always had the boat in the right position. He has the river completely wired and predicted everything that was going to happen before it actually did. His clients have never been skunked guiding on the Green, an amazing record considering the wide variety of abilities with which he must have to deal. If you ever fish the Green, I would highly recommend him.
The next morning we were to fish the Provo River which only has 3000 fish per mile. This beautiful river is right next to Brent’s house and is smaller than the Green. We were expecting it to be a circus with lots people as it was a Saturday. It turned out that there were not very many at all but we later found that the highway leading in was closed due to a truck accident.
Again it was cold enough for our guides to ice up. We did not fish for long before Brent lost a nice brown trout and then almost immediately after caught another.
Adjusting my strike indicator, I snagged the bottom. I was trying to get it off for a while when it started to move! Fought the fish for a while but this battle ended up in a long distance release. However, a short time later, I caught this nice fat rainbow trout.
After lunch, we fished the upper Provo, expecting another mayfly hatch. Unfortunately, that day there were millions of people on the Upper Provo waiting for the same thing and we only saw a small number of trout even we had a really good hatch. We think the large number of people flogging the water scared the trout away.
On the way home, we went to Deer Creek Lake which had only recently had ice-off (we had considered fishing Strawberry Reservoir but it was still under a few feet of ice). There were huge rainbows there that people were catching on powerbait and we saw some patrolling the edges. Unfortunately, they weren’t too interested in the nymph I presented. I am still wondering what would have happened if I had fished a streamer on a sinking line.
That evening, I was taken kicking and screaming to a BYU ballroom dancing concert that Brent had to attend. It was pretty good but I think I prefer fishing.
Following the concert we played pool. Wanted to play all night but we were both tired.
In Search of Coffee
The next day was a Sunday and I took a bike ride all through Utah in search of a place to have a cup of coffee. Here are some pictures.
Couldn’t find the pub though.
I had a wonderful time in Utah and look forward to returning. John Gierach put it best, “I don’t know what fly-fishing teaches us but I think it’s something we need to know.”