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Green River Update

  • By: Brent Prettyman
  • Photography by: Brent Prettyman

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>Northeast Utah’s Green River harbors up to 20,000 trout per mile; thanks to flushing flows in 2011 those fish are now feeding on improved aquatic insect hatches and growing fast.

This doesn’t come as a surprise: Fisheries biologists, guides and long-time Green River anglers—recognizing the value of an occasional flush—have been asking the Bureau of Reclamation for big spring flows for years. The federal agency typically ignores those pleas in favor of holding back water for energy demands.

Fortunately, Mother Nature didn’t give dam officials an option in the spring of 2011, when high snowpack in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains—headwaters to the Green—quickly filled Flaming Gorge Reservoir and forced Bureau officials to release more water than has been seen since 1999.

The massive flow ran for five weeks, peaking at 9,000 cubic feet a second. Spring flows vary, but eight of the past 13 years have seen flows no higher than between 4,000 and 4,700 cfs.

It took a while for things to settle down after the flushing flows in 2011, but the fishing remained solid even during the surge. Meanwhile, anglers and guides were seeing some things that had them chomping at the bit for the 2012 season.

“You could see the average size of insects getting smaller every year before the spring of 2011. It wasn’t just the fish getting smaller,” said Ryan Kelly, a 12-year veteran guide with Flaming Gorge Resort. “Without an occasional flush the river bottom starts to fill in and it destroys habitat. We were seeing less insects, less variety of insects, and they were smaller.”

Few have spent as much time on the Green as Kelly. He started fishing the river while “helping” his dad as a 3-year-old. That was 32 years ago, and Kelly has been a diligent student since. He’s kept a journal throughout that time and has noticed some unique things since the flow of 2011.

“The last time we saw rainbows like this was back in the early 1980s. Others agree with me; the rainbows seem to like high and erratic flows, and we find the bigger fish on the lower sections,” said Kelly.

Kelly has also noticed an increase in the number of stoneflies and craneflies, and the reappearance of big scuds.

“I thought [the scuds] may have gone to the wayside. This is purely my opinion, but those big scuds seemed to bury themselves in the thick moss beds,” he said. “The flows tore out the old moss beds and spread [the scuds] out where we can see them and the fish can find them.”

Other guides and anglers are noticing big changes, too. So are researchers. Scientists at the noted “Bug Lab”—also known as the Bureau of Land Management/Utah State University National Aquatic Monitoring Center—in Logan, Utah, have conducted various research projects on the Green for years.

According to Ryan Mosley, Flaming Gorge/Green River Project Leader for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, a summary six months after high flows receded showed the highest invertebrate densities recorded over the past decade—including four times as many mayflies and twice as many scuds. Mosley reports that fish sampled in September of 2012 were a little thicker and a little longer on average than in previous years.

Kelly said 2012 was one of the best years he can remember, and he only expects 2013 to produce more behemoths.

“There are definitely more big fish than I have seen since at least the early 1990s,” he said. “There were times in the ’90s when you might catch five or six 20-inchers in a day. In 2000, when I first started guiding, you were glad to get six or seven 20-inchers in a season. In the last few days I worked in 2012 I had double-digit 20-inchers every day.”

Green River Update


Photograph courtesy Brett Prettyman

by Brett Prettyman