If you go
Nonresident Utah fishing licenses cost $32 for a week, or $12 per day. Anglers fishing in the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam also will need a Flaming Gorge recreation pass for each automobile in the party: $5 per day or $15 a week.
Camping in the Dripping Springs Campground closest to the river access at Little Hole is $17 a night until they turn off the water supply. Camping and an outhouse remain available at reduced nightly fees after that date.
Steamboat Springs Even when the trout in the Green River act like the fussiest eaters in preschool, the seven-mile stretch of stream from Flaming Gorge Dam to Little Hole, where John Wesley Powell’s expedition camped in spring 1869, always gives up a memorable wildlife experience.
Two years ago, it was the river otter that seemed bent on making friends. The year before that, it was watching a pair of moose fording the river, and the year before that, it was watching three ospreys pluck trout out of the current. Four years ago, or maybe it was five, we couldn’t sleep all night because bull elk were bugling in the campground.
We were drawn to make the 3 1/2-hour drive and buy our Utah fishing licenses because the angling has the potential to be off the hook. But more often than not, when visiting the Green in fall, one is accepting challenging fishing conditions in exchange for relative solitude.
When the big browns and rainbows are smacking giant cicadas and Mormon crickets in June and July, the river is crowded with bank fishermen, fishing guides with clients in the bow and stern of drift boats, and rubber rafts stuffed with children from summer camps in Salt Lake City and Ogden.
We were particularly optimistic this trip because we’d heard a week-old report that with the unusually warm fall weather, the trout still were hitting grasshoppers in a wanton way.
Well, the temperature reached 88 degrees Sept. 19, but grasshoppers weren’t on the menu. In fact, the fish sent several of my best flies back to the kitchen because they were overcooked.
I’ve always ascribed to the theory that because trout have brains the size of a pea, their unwillingness to eat any flies but those most prevalent in the water is attributable to natural selection; the fish that expends the least energy to gain the most calories is most likely to contribute to the gene pool.
However, my faith in that axiom was shaken at the Green last week when my fishing buddy encountered the Einstein trout.
He floated a perfectly good imitation of a brown soldier ant over a brown trout that he could see holding in the current. The fish glided up the water column to inspect his offering, slowly shook its head and sank back to its holding spot. And that’s not all. The same trout came up a second time on the same drift, rejected the ant once more and actually might have sneered at my buddy.
Beaten up and demoralized, we retreated to the Dripping Springs Campground to feast on fajitas and watch a fat September moon rise over the canyon.
Promptly the next morning, we headed up the road to the hamlet of Dutch John, Utah, where we sought encouragement and advice from the professionals at Trout Creek Flies. The fishing guides told us to move up and down the river, constantly changing our fly patterns until we found a pod of fish that were willing to eat any of a half-dozen different fly patterns.
I should mention that the fly shops in Steamboat Springs have considerable expertise on the Green and are familiar with the seasonal insect hatches. I often bring basic fly patterns I bought in Steamboat and rely on the Utah guys to tell me what worked the day before.
Determined to persevere, we took advice of the guides, and by midday Monday, we were catching trout on a small black beetle.
I was trying to persuade the biggest fish of the trip to give up the fight when the annual wildlife experience arrived. A doe mule deer emerged from the willows to stand in the river and fix me with a quizzical look.
A second doe followed, and finally a fawn of the year. All three of them waded chest deep, and I resisted an impulse to put down my fly rod and pick up my camera as they proceeded to swim across the river.
October is not the easiest time of the year to fish the Green, but with the arrival of the tiny mayflies known as blue-winged olives, it should be more predictable than it was Sept. 19 to 21.
The road less taken
If you decide to make a trek to the Green this fall, and you’re hauling a pop-up trailer, your best bet is to take U.S. Highway 40 all the way to Vernal, Utah, before hanging a right turn at U.S. 191 for the climb into the Ashley National Forest. You’ll cross the massive concrete Flaming Gorge Dam before arriving at Dutch John. The 205-mile trip should take you about 3 hours and 45 minutes.
If you make the trip in an SUV with a fairly stout suspension, follow U.S. 40 only as far as Maybell before turning right on Colorado Highway 318 through scenic Browns Park. You’ll pass by the Gates of Lodore where the Green enters Dinosaur National Monument and view a part of Northwest Colorado that remains wide open and free of development.
The paved road ends temporarily at the Utah line, and be warned that if there have been recent heavy rains, the clay road surface can be greasy. Having said that, the road is in much better condition than it was just five years ago. Although the Browns Park route is 37 miles shorter, the travel time is just 15 minutes shorter in good weather.
And if you’re looking ahead to spring 2011, you have a chance to fish the Green when free-flowing rivers in Colorado are blown out. Just be sure to check dam releases in advance at www.fishgreenriver.com.