Throughout the past century, the construction of various dams and reservoirs has resulted in the creation of a number of tailwater river systems. A tailwater is considered a dam controlled piece of water. The dam controls the flows and thus the temperatures. With more stable temps and stream flows, insect numbers are through the roof, therefore supporting a larger quantity and size of fish.
It’s no secret that tailwaters have great fly fishing, so as you could imagine pressure from other anglers can be high. But, most of these rivers support a large number of anglers due to the large populations of fish in the systems so no need to worry. Adding a boat into the equation of the fishing trip can help eliminate the pressure from other anglers and open up more opportunity. In the Central Rocky Mountains, there are a handful of great tailwaters to check out all within reach of a weekend or even a day trip for some. But in my mind the two tailwaters listed below are the top 2 tailwater fisheries to float fish for trout in the west and everything you need to know to float them.
#1. The Green River
The mighty green river is considered to be the best in the west. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources the Green River has between 8,000 and 22,000 fish per mile, you could be safe estimating around 10,000 fish per mile throughout the different sections. If the fishing doesn’t get you fired up then the scenery will. The steep red canyon walls and vast wilderness areas, with nothing but wildlife, are not to be missed. It is best fished from a boat due to the larger size and minimal access points along the lower points of the river.
Tucked into the Northwest Corner of Utah, the closest town to the fishing access on the Green River is Dutch John, Utah. The small town of 145 people, has a couple of stores, restaurants, resorts and fly shops. The closest airport is Salt Lake, Utah, about a 3.5 hour drive.
Where to Go (The Sections):
The Green is divided up into three different sections, the A Section, B Section, and C Section. The A Section starts at the first boat ramp right below Flaming Gorge Dam and flows 7 miles down to Little Hole Boat Launch. The A Section holds the most numbers of fish and also receives the most pressure from anglers. Section B is a 9 mile stretch that starts at Little Hole and ends at Browns Park. The section receives less angling pressure than the A Section due to the more technical rowing (Class III Red Creek Rapids), longer shuttle and lower fish per mile. But, the section is still insanely productive with some of the most insane dry dropper water in the west. Section C spans 12 miles and ends across the state line of Colorado. This is the least crowded of the three sections but has some of the best dry fly fishing in the system. The fish counts are lower but there are some real trophy trout in this section.
When to Go:
The best time of year to hit the Green can be anywhere from Early April to Late October based on weather patterns and flows. Winter time can be extremely cold but the river still fishable, with midges being the main table fare. As temps heat up in the spring the Blue Wing Olives begin to come off in full force followed by the famous Cicada hatch in early to Mid-May. Come June PMDs, Caddis, Yellow Sallys are common, with terrestrial starting mid summer. Huge trico hatches are prevalent in August, followed by the BWO’s in September and through the end of fall. The river is also considered to be one of the most productive streamer fisheries throughout the year.
Like most fly fishing systems, tactics are based on the time of year, bugs hatching, water flows, etc. The Green is considered to be a dry fly paradise, with fish constantly snacking on the surface during the different hatches throughout the year. So having an arsenal of the different dry fly patterns and your favorite floatant is key. During the famed “cicada hatch” each summer large quantities of bugs dump off the banks and a dry dropper rig is the most effective.
When the bite goes subsurface, then it’s time to get the deep nymphing rods out. Since some of the holding water is 10-20 feet, using long leaders (10-15 feet) with multiple flies, split shot, and a larger indicator is more effective than your classic 9 foot leader nymphing rig here in the Rockies.
For streamer fishing, like most trout streams any kind of pressure change in weather can turn the fish on. White and Gold Streamers are the most effective patterns on the Green.
There are a plethora of different options. This river is definitely best fished from by boat, so if you can’t bring your own hiring a guide is definitely worth the money. There are also plenty of BLM campgrounds scattered throughout the river as well.
- Flaming Gorge Resort, 435-889-3773, email@example.com.
- Trout Creek Flies, 435-885-3355, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dutch John Resort, (435) 885-3000, email@example.com
#2. The Grey Reef (North Platte River):
Considered to be the best rainbow trout fishery in the lower 48, Grey Reef or “The Reef” is a section of the North Platte River. The 40 mile tailwater starts below Gray Reef Reservoir, a small impoundment below Alcova Reservoir, it then flows north towards Casper, Wyoming. If it wasn’t for the construction of the dam and reservoir this river probably wouldn’t be the trout fishery it has become to be known. The cold clear water controlled by the dam supports some of healthiest hardest fighting rainbows in the country. The river meanders through Wyoming’s sagebrush prairie environment and can be very susceptible to high winds.
The reef is located just outside of Casper, Wyoming, the second largest city in Wyoming and only a surprising 4 hour drive from Denver, Colorado. Making the river very accessible for many anglers. The North Platte River system begins in Northern Colorado near Walden, Colorado where it flows North into Wyoming it then reaches Casper and then turns East where it meets the South Platte River and flows into Nebraska eventually joining the Missouri River. The North Platte has numerous different dams throughout the system, resulting in a variety of different fisheries. The Grey Reef is one of the more productive trout fisheries and one of the only two tailwaters in Wyoming to be considered Blue Ribbon.
Where to Go: Similar to the Green River the highest fish numbers are right below the dam, but so are the number of people. The most popular float is starting at the Grey Reef Dam and floating down to Lusby (7 mile float) or Government Bridge (8 mile float). 3 miles after Government Bridge is By The Way Access and then another 2-3 is Sechrist Access. Sechrist to Bessemer Bend is around 5 miles and then Roberston Road/Paradise Boat Ramp is about 9 miles from Sechrist. Then about 5 Miles from there is the city of Casper, Wyoming where there are a handful of boat launches, Morad Park, Mills Bridge, and Amoco Park.
The lower floats of the Grey Reef have less fish and can be more inconsistent fishing conditions but hold some of the largest trout especially big browns. For the first time floaters, the best stretch is right below the Alcova/Grey Reef Dam.
When to Go:
The Reef is a year round fishing destination, the five dams upstream of buffers any sort of freezing of river flows. The winter can pose very cold and windy temps. But, with a break in the weather for a couple days can pose a float fishing opportunity for an adventurous angler. The fishing really starts heating up in March and through the rest of spring. With midges, scuds, leeches, egg patterns, and baetis being the main table fare.
Typically during the month of March the BLM “Flushes” the river. The flow is increased from 500 CFS to 4000 CFS then down to 500 CFS for 10 days. It is a way for the river to rid of bottom sediment to create more favorable spawning grounds. The flush moves a lot of food turning on the fish to have a feeding frenzy.
The summer means the most diverse hatches of the year including Caddis, PMDS, Yellow Sallies, Tricos. The streamer fishing also heats up, the river’s bank vegetation (weed beds) are prime habitat for larger fish to ambush baitfish. So retrieving streamers through these weed beds can produce some trophy fish. The end of the summer and into the fall means cooler temps and fewer insect hatches but still consistent feeding activity. The big browns come out to play in the fall and it can be the most underrated time to fish the reef.
The reef is an odd trout system where a lot of the fish will hold in the deeper troughs in the middle of the river. So ultimately you have to fish the river inside out. Which means floating closer to the bank and casting into the middle of the river. The most common way to fish the river is with deep nymphing rigs with multiple flys and heavy split shot to get the flies down in the fast current. Eggs, leeches, scuds are all very effective patterns year round.
When the hatches are coming off the fish will be sipping flies and spinners off of the surface in the back eddies. Since there is a swift current and deep pools, bringing a sink tip for your streamer setup is crucial.
The Reef is navigable by the most novice of rowers but the system takes a certain code to crack the fishing due to the unique environment. Hiring a guide can lead to instant success. Also, be sure to check the wind forecast, the area is notorious for high wind gusts and crappy weather.
- The Reef Fly Shop, 307.232.9128, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Cowboy Drifters, (307) 331-2031, email@example.com
- St. Petes Fly Shop, 970-498-8968, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hopefully, this motivates you to venture out to float fish the Green or Grey Reef River, especially when our rivers here in Colorado are barely fishable. Do remember to make sure to get your out of state fishing license and check the current fishing regulations. Be sure to swing by the shop or give us a call for more information on these rivers.
Patrick Perry, Former Guide and Content Contributor, @patperry
Cover Photo: Ryan Kelly @greenriverflyfisher