Mention the Green River to trout fishermen and most will automatically think about the stretch of river immediately below Flaming Gorge Dam in Utah. The 15-mile stretch of the Green River below the reservoir is legendary and nationally acclaimed for its fly-fishing and the incredible number of hefty trout that reside there. Biologists estimate that the river there holds between 12,000 and 15,000 resident trout per mile. That is an outrageous number of targets for anglers. Some are naturally spawned brown trout, but the majority are rotund rainbows supplemented by plants that will average 15 inches. The browns average slightly larger and tend to be more difficult to catch.
Because of its reputation, the Green River below Flaming Gorge is busy, especially from late spring through early fall. Drift boats line up in the pre-dawn darkness to join the parade for their shot at the preponderance of trout.
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In contrast, the Green River above Flaming Gorge Reservoir to its origins in the Bridger Teton National Forest and Green River Lakes has far fewer trout per mile, but far fewer anglers, too. Many would agree that the trade off is worth it.
One thing that’s attractive about the upper Green River is the variety. Mike Kaul of Two River Emporium Fly Fishing Outfitters (www.2rivers.net) in Pinedale said that multi-species catches are the rule. “You’re going to find rainbows, browns, brookies and lake trout in the Upper Green in the early spring. The lake trout will run from 20 to 28 inches. You’ll also find the occasional Colorado-strain cutthroat and native whitefish.” The mix makes for an interesting potpourri. With few exceptions, the fish are all wild and exhibit the spunk and tenacity you’d expect from wild fish.
Being a freestone stream, run-off is an issue during part of the year on the Upper Green, but even when it’s high, it’s relatively clear and fishable in spite of the glacial-like run-off that gives it a greenish tinge and its moniker according to Mike Kaul. “Fishing usually starts in late-March or early April during the pre-run-off,” advised Kaul. “The river is usually very fishable then and fishing is usually good. The problem is access. Some years we still have a lot of snow and access is limited.” Fishing remains good until late May or early June when the spring deluge begins.
By July, the river is back to normal and the summer months present some of the best, most consistent fishing on the Upper Green. “There is a constant parade of caddis hatches in July and August,” said Kaul. “Blue-winged olives hatch all year long. The Green offers ideal habitat for stoneflies and there are a lot of different varieties of stoneflies. Every four or five years we get a big hatch of the giant stoneflies. The trout just go nuts when that happens. From August through September the terrestrial fishing can be exceptional. A hopper looks like a big steak to a trout.”
Although Kaul prefers to fly-fish, he’s not above taking spin fishermen. “If we’re taking spin fishermen we just cut all but one of the hooks off the lures to facilitate catch and release.” Kaul uses drift boats and rafts to access the Upper Green and a float is as much of a scenic adventure as it is a fishing trip. There’s something to be said for fewer fish and fewer anglers.
Whereas access is very limited on the Lower Green below Flaming Gorge because of the steep canyons it traverses, you’ll have no problem finding a place to fish on the Upper Green. Green River Lakes Road parallels the very upper portions of the Green and there are numerous road ends, bridges and campgrounds along the river where an angler can gain access. Roads parallel the river its entire length.
While trout numbers in the Upper Green do not compare to those found below Flaming Gorge Reservoir, there are more than enough fish to keep anglers happy. Wyoming Game & Fish biologists estimate that there are between 200 to 500 trout per mile in the Upper Green with numbers as high as 628 per mile. Most are in that 14- to 18-inch slot that bring a smile to angler’s faces and keep them coming back.
The Green River can be deceptive, especially for someone use to fishing rivers in the East. The ultra clear water belies its depth and force. You don’t want to get in the water much more than knee deep and corkers or some type of cleats are advised. Floating is an ideal way of fishing the Upper Green and lets you cover water and avoid the treacherous wading.
With a half a day to kill before our horseback trip into the Wind River Range, I elected to check out the Green River between Three Bridges and Pinedale. East Green River Road parallels the river for some 27 miles there and provides access to more water than an angler could cover in an entire summer.
I carefully negotiated my way down a steep bank to the tail out below a series of extended rapids when I saw a raft coming bouncing down the riffles. The guy on the oars was pulling for all he was worth to slow their drift and position the craft while the angler in front was methodically placing his fly along the seam created by the river’s edge and vegetation.
I got my camera out just about the time the angler in front hooked a good brown. I could not have planned it better. I burned images as the angler battled the trout. The brownie proved to be strong and stayed in the faster current. The angler deftly angled his rod to coax that trout into the calmer warm along the river edge where his partner on the oars quickly scooped up the trout with a long-handled net right in front of me. It was only then that the duo realized they had an audience.
We exchanged pleasantries, talked about the fishing as they held up the trout once more before letting it go. The lucky fisherman told me what he’d caught the trout on, but I couldn’t hear what he said over the roar of the river. I knew it was a dry fly. The pair changed positions, I waved them good luck and they continued on their journey.
I’d bought my spinning rod so their advice was useless, but I was confident that my Mega Buggers would catch trout in the Green. They did everywhere else. I tied on a fairly heavy, black version wanting to get the “fly” deep and bouncing along the rocks. After only a few drifts the jig got hung up and I lost it. The replacement lasted only slightly longer. I elected to try a slightly lighter version. The lighter creation didn’t tick bottom as much, but every once in the while it would catch or hesitate on a boulder. One time when the line stopped I lifted the rod and the line began slicing across the current. The run reminded me of a Great Lakes steelhead and I swore the trout had to be five pounds. The rod stabbed for the surface as the trout dug for bottom and it was several minutes before I could steer the 16-inch brown into the shallows. Once on the rocks, I dove for my camera and while fiddling with the settings the trout began flopping, the jig popped out of its mouth and went flying and I stumbled along on the rock trying to corral the trout before the quarry made it to the water and shot back out into the current. So much for pictures.
The tail-water below Fontenelle Reservoir, often referred to as the Middle Green, offers consistent water levels and fishing. Controlled run-off means the river there is very fishable most of the year. “There’s only a short window where the Green will be running 6,000 to 8,000 cfs,” stated Green River office fisheries supervisor Robb Keith. “You can find good trout fishing all the way to Flaming Gorge. Above where the Big Sandy River meets the Green, the river tends to run clearer. Below Big Sandy, the Green is more sediment-rich. In general, you’re going to find higher densities and larger trout above the Big Sandy River.” This same stretch includes the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge that teams with wildlife.
“There’s a seasonal influx of both rainbows and browns from Flaming Gorge that follow the Kokanees upstream in the fall,” added Keith. “We also see a seasonal run of 16- to 24-inch lakes trout that stack up in the 2 or 3 miles of river below the dam during the winter. Some anglers target them before the stretch immediately below the dam closes from Oct. 1 through December 31 to protect the spawning Kokanee salmon.”
Keith noted that habitat damage incurred when tie hacks began floating logs down the river have had long-term affects on the trout habitat in Upper Green River. He said not all the water on the Green is suitable to trout. “The Green has a lot of what biologists call “rubble glides” that are better suited to whitefish than trout,” Keith shared. “Trout do better in pool-type habitat that makes up about one-third of the river.” Anglers should take note.
“Public access to the Middle Green River is good with numerous service roads coming off of Highway 372 (Labarge Road) on the west side of the river,” offered regional fisheries biologist Troy Laughlin. “For specific information regarding public access areas, readers should refer to the BLM Land Status Maps.”
“One of the main things that anglers thoroughly enjoy is the quality of the experience fishing the Green River. The Green River provides excellent scenery the opportunity to view numerous wildlife species, and generally a low density of other anglers. Whether fishing from shore or drift boat, the aesthetics of the Green River are outstanding, allowing for a wonderful experience.“
That is a huge understatement.