Peninsula Fly Fishers

It's Too Early for Cicadas

Several months after Mary Nishioka first asked if I'd be interested in going with her on my first ever float trip the reality finally set in on Saturday, March 24 as we touched down in Salt Lake City after an easy, early morning flight on SouthWest Airlines. Mandy Anderson had also signed on and we were meeting Mary's daughter, Laure, who was flying up from L.A. for the drive to Flaming Gorge. Although she had never fly fished before, Laure had plenty of spin casting and fish handling experience and was described by Mary as a "fish magnet". I was glad my wife had picked up a copy of Dennis Breer's Utah's Green River/A Fly Fisher's Guide to the Flaming Gorge Tailwater for me for Christmas. I was still fretting over whether leaving my one-piece ski suit and extra sweaters at home was a good decision, but as usual, I was still the most over-packed person in the group.

The 265 mile drive starting on I-80 to the northeast corner of Utah passed quickly and included a leisurely lunch in Little America, Wyoming. The landscape was stark and small bands of pronghorn antelope were spotted along the way. The original plan to take on provisions in Rock Springs, Wyoming were scrapped in favor of going the more southerly route on Hwy 530 from the town of Green River so we could enjoy views of the reservoir on our approach. We found a good-sized Smith's grocery in town but had to hit a liquor store for alcohol per state law. As we gained elevation on our approach to Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the high desert sage and pinion pines gave way to stands of aspen and lodgepole pine. Roadside markers conveniently identified impressive geologic formations for our education. We arrived at Flaming Gorge Lodge just south of the 500 foot dam before dark. The one bedroom condo had a double and single bed plus the pullout sofa and rollaway for $140 per night. We hit the Lodge restaurant right away before the prime rib special was sold out.

We arrived well before 9:00 the next morning to meet our two guides and purchase our $8/day licenses at the fly shop outside of Dutch John, Utah. Veteran Doug Burton has 14 years experience on the Green and now guides there exclusively about 80 days year round. Darren Bowcutt is in his fourth season there and his youth and enthusiasm were a good compliment to the master's methodic approach to delivering his clients to the fish. It was a short drive back to the boat launch just below the dam. Snow still covered the shaded areas of the canyon walls. The air and water temperature were not much above forty degrees but we were all comfortably layered and the fingerless gloves were soon shed as we got underway.

Fish were visible within several feet of the boats as we watched our guides add 9 foot 5X leaders to the lines of our 5 and 6 weight rods. We started with large poly indicators on the leader butt and dropped a small bead-head about 8 inches off the bend of our upper nymph, trying four different flies on each boat for this first test run. At times we used one or two small Palsa floats or a small, round orange indicator. There was little sharing of conversation or fishing tips between our group and the fishermen who were also rigging up this morning. But there was no doubt the ladies had been noticed as all eyes were on Doug's handsome African mahogany drift boat when he put in behind us and glided Laure and Mary past Lunker Flats just beyond the launch. The anticipation couldn't have been greater as I wondered whether we would catch fish, keep lines from tangling, do it gracefully, not hook ourselves or the guides. Mandy was in the bow and I in the stern of Darren's dory as we quietly slipped past dozens of trout slowly undulating in the crystal clear water below us. I now understood why the "A" section is sometimes referred to as The Aquarium. It was like peering into a fishbowl. This river was definitely green from the abundant aquatic vegetation and these were big fish. My fears about fishing well (or getting lucky) were dispelled as we all had boated a sizeable fish before reaching One Mile Pool. Smiles abounded.

Due to overnight rains and wind the third day of fishing, we decided it best to stay on "A" section of the river which is the first 7.2 miles of this tailwater fishery. Red Canyon's walls of Pre-Cambrian rocks are among the oldest in North America. They often exceed 800 feet in height but drop to below 400 feet just before the downstream takeout at Little Hole. The river drops only 75 feet in this stretch but does contain nine named rapids. Our favorite was "Mother-in-law", so named for it's unpredictable behavior. River flows were low at about 1000 cfs. The scenery alone was worth the $290/day per boat fee, but the quantity and quality of the fish made this a priceless trip. There are up to 14,000 fish per mile in this section, including rainbows, browns, cutthroat, and cutbows. There is the occasional whitefish and Mandy's largest catch was a 21 incher.

The trout were the most beautiful I have ever seen, displaying fantastic coloration. Broad iridescent violet bands marked some of the rainbows. The browns had huge bright spots over a browned butter background tansitioning to bright olive shoulders. All were in top condition, fighting all the way to the net. Everyone caught at least 10 fish per day and my smallest was 13 inches. Most fish were in the 16-18 inch range. Laure, the new fly fisher, undoubtedly caught the most fish the first day. Every time I looked up from my indicator she had another one on. Darren's boat took around 45 fish on the second day and by the third morning everyone at the launch ramp was talking to or about the "ladies who were knocking them dead".

It did not surprise me that our boats were among the most productive on the water. Our guides both worked hard to make frequent fly changes when needed or shorten leaders to three feet or lengthen to over nine feet within a very short distance on the river as bottom conditions and fish behavior dictated. They rowed back upstream, making multiple passes over the best water. The fishing was almost exclusively with nymph rigs. The third day when the water was covered in midges with sporadic blue wing olives coming off we did switch indicators for big cicadas or hoppers but continued drifting the little dropped nymphs. We also frequently used a "Pinkie" as the dropper. It looks more like a jig weighing 1/125 oz. with a pale red band behind the head and a slight tail. It is probably taken to be a scud. Because the boats' drifts were so well controlled by Darren and Doug, we only occasionally needed to add a single BB shot in order to get the flies down to the fish. I can't say enough about the skill of the guides, both in boat handling and in catering to their clients. Streamside lunches were well planned and included fried chicken, salads, burgers on the grill, or sandwiches.

Our weather could not have been better for the last week of March. Highs the preceding two weeks had been in the thirties with snow flurries but our low was 32 climbing quickly to 50's by midday. Our final day was fairly breezy but we enjoyed sun for most of it. The only precipitation was the thunderstorm the first night. This did not affect the river since there is only one small stream flowing into the upper section "A".

Exhausted after our second day of fishing we finally forced ourselves to throw together some dinner at about 9:30 but couldn't get up enough energy to consider another game of hearts. (O.K., so maybe I'm a sore loser and wasn't all that tired, but at least I worked on dinner, even though it didn't compare to Laure's Greek pasta with shrimp). If you ever travel with these women, don't let them bring cards.

On our third and final day of fishing, Mary and I fished together for the first time on Doug's boat. Mandy and Laure continued hauling in the trout as we drifted near each other off and on. They became so tired from landing fish that they were putting their rods away as we approached them on Paradise Alley not far upstream from the takeout point at Little Hole. They had just scored a double, getting both a rainbow and a brown together to the net and decided they would end on that note. They drifted alongside us watching as I was able to land my last four fish on a tiny beadhead nymph using a sizable dry as a dropper. My heart stopped momentarily when my surface fly was finally hit by a big fish. Unfortunately I had become tuned in to striking quickly on any movement of the indicator and did not wait long enough before setting the hook. The big brown was gone in a flash. As we stowed our gear in the final hour of sunlight, Laure (the novice fly fisher?) inquired "what was the big dry fly that fish hit?" "A cicada", mom answered. "Isn't it way too early in the season for cicadas?" sounded to me to be more of a statement of newly gained knowledge of this magnificent river than an innocent question.

We loaded our Jeep back at the fly shop after Tuesday's fishing and headed 43 miles south on Hwy 191 through the Uintas Ashley National Forest to Vernal. More interesting rock formations and a herd of about 60 wintering elk near the phosphorus mines made for an enjoyable drive for tired travelers. Dinner at the 7/11 Ranch House Restaurant was affordable and filling. The next morning we left the Best Western and visited the Utah State Field Museum adjacent the motel before heading east 23 miles to the Dinosaur National Monument. An innovative building houses a large section of the fossil bed which has yielded many of the country's best museum specimens over the years. The others also indulged me in my pursuit of prehistoric Indian sites by driving further east to check out the outstanding (and unvandalized) ancient Fremont Indian petroglyphs. From there it was a three plus hour drive on US 40 back to Salt Lake and a 7:20 PM flight home.

For three of us, this was our first guided float trip. Would we do it again? You bet! Even if it required my ski suit.

Alan Fisher

Peninsula Fly Fishers 1976-2021
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