In the heart of Utah's fly fishing dreams lives a float down the A section of Green River. Ignoring the weather reports I embarked on an unforgettable fly fishing trip with John Isola from Missoula and his brother Nick from New York. Our quick trip took us from the quaint streets of Park City to the remote fishing haven of Dutch John, with the legendary waters of the Green River as our destination.
As we navigated the treacherous roads to Dutch John and the Green River, blanketed in snow and battered by howling winds, our spirits were high. John was driving his 4 runner and pulling the raft. Although we had high spirits John’s nerve endings were on fire. The roads were absolutely treacherous and we barely dodged several road closures on the way. At one point I got out of the truck and was almost blown over.
We had come prepared, not just with our fishing gear, but also with a bottle of high-quality bourbon from High West Distillery, a renowned Utah establishment. This smooth, warming bourbon became our Green River evening ritual, a perfect end to our challenging days, sharing stories and bonding over the fire's glow.
Upon reaching Dutch John, we settled into the cozy confines of the Red Canyon Lodge. The lodge, nestled amidst bluff a small lake and the rest of nature's and grandeur, offered us a serene retreat after our demanding days on the river. Here, we planned our daily excursions, eager to explore the famed A section of the Green River.
Oddly when we arrived temperatures were so bad that the new and improved cabin with a bit more spacious room was frozen solid. Frozen so solid that the plumbing froze and was completely inoperable. The management made it up to us by moving us into a smaller original cabin, refunding us the difference, delivering a case of great beer, and offering up a few other extras. Long story short it wasn’t what we expected but hell we were sleeping and cleaning up after floats in this place so it was all we needed.
The Green River, with its thin dark canyon, icy embrace, and tame currents, was both a challenge and a thrill. Our focus was on tossing streamers, a technique demanding skill and patience, especially with the wind playing its tricky game. Because of the cold and unpredictable weather combined with a short winter day we wanted to maximize time and effort without the concern of getting stuck in the dark.
We also knew that because of the weather and cold the likelihood of seeing another angler was just about obsolete. That's pretty standard for winter fishing on the Green River. Sure enough, we were able to fish off of the walking path the night we arrived with a little success. While there we noticed no footprints, a ramp that looked completely deserted, and surprisingly weather that wasn’t as bad as we thought. Excited for the morning we headed back to the cabin for freshly made burgers, a bit more bourbon, and a little rest.
Up early, with a bit of a hangover and ready to row we took off with an intended 11:00 takeoff on the float. All rigged up with nobody around Nick and I waited for John to drop off the truck and trailer for the shuttle driver.
Knowing we had to get down and go slow we fished pretty heavy sink tips with 7 inches per second sinks even though water was low. Righ off the bat, John sunk a chartreuse and white streamer called the MOB into a great brown. We hadn’t been on the water 10 minutes so we were feeling confident.
One challenge we faced several times throughout the day was retrieving our streamers from the clutches of downed trees or rocks that lay submerged in the Green River. These obstacles tested our resolve and dexterity, often leaving us with the difficult choice of abandoning a favored streamer or risking a cold plunge into the river's depths. One particularly funny scenario was me retrieving a fly duo from an underwater rock. It looked relatively tame until I took one extra step in the ultra-clear water that was only within 2 inches of the top of my waders. I got so light on my feet, it was a bit tricky. However, I was able to grasp onto another large boulder and laugh it all off without catastrophe. Our perseverance paid off, as we were rewarded with seven magnificent brown trout, each a testament to the river's classic cookie-cutter size but beautifully colored up.
The landscape surrounding the Green River was as much a part of our adventure as the fishing itself. With the two of them never seeing the canyon I was stoked to hear them commenting on how amazing it was. Even better, we were graced with sightings of big horn sheep, elusive moose, mule deer, and awe-inspiring bald eagles. These encounters with wildlife added an enriching layer to our experience, reminding us of the intricate balance of nature.
Throughout the day I performed most of the rowing so the two of them were able to experience the fishing. It worked well as both of them were able to bring in several fish while also resting here and there to warm up their fingers from the cold water and wind.
Although, were were teased by two or three small groups of risers it was always so little and so unoften that the choice was to remain on streamers and hope for a monster to take a chance. The monster never came but we had quite a few follows and a number of eats.
As our journey neared its end, we found ourselves reflecting on the experiences we had shared. The treacherous drive, the high-quality bourbon, the challenging fishing, the encounters with wildlife, and the warm hospitality of the Red Canyon Lodge had all woven together into a well-worth adventure for day one.
On the drive back to the cabin we were excited to see that the weather for Sunday looked even better. We slammed a meat-lover's pizza, a few more of those free beers, and quite a few more pulls on the whiskey bottle. Needless to say, after all the cold and wind we were ready to hit the hay and start our day two on the Green River early.
The idea was to get out on the water a bit earlier and take our time down the river. This would allow us to hit numerous areas with a bit more effort and hopefully more success. Before lights out we had a plan and were feeling confident. Let’s get up earlier be on the water by 9:00 AM and float and be off by 4:00 PM so we could have a reasonable drive back in the dark.
Sadly overnight our plan went to shit. We woke up to about 6 inches of snow, the weather turned from 35 and sunny to windy in the 20s. The reports were calling for day-long storm warnings and road closures.
Not happy about the weather flip-flopping we still departed Dutch John with more than just memories of fish caught and bourbon savored. We left with a deeper connection to the beauty of Utah, a strengthened bond of friendship, and countless stories to laugh about. John returned to Missoula, Nick to New York, and I stayed behind in Utah, each of us carrying a piece of the Green River in our hearts.
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