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The fabulous Green River in Utah easily ranks among the best tailwater fisheries in the West. In the stretch immediately below Flaming Gorge Reservoir, shocking surveys have demonstrated over 20,000 fish per mile and we’re talking big fish, too, averaging 16 inches and up. Due to its abundant food supply, and mixing valves at the dam allowing constant ideal temperatures, this is arguably the most productive section of trout river anywhere in the world.

The trouble with the Green, as with many other famous western fisheries, is that it takes so much effort to get there. The towns that are reasonably close (Rock Springs, Wyoming; and Vernal, Utah) have no scheduled airline service. Salt Lake City is four hours away by car, and the region’s other major hub, Denver, is about seven hours away. Consequently, even when you fly in by airline, you’re still looking at a day’s ground travel, both coming and going.

One solution to this hassle, as I’ve mentioned before in this column, is to charter your own aircraft directly to the small airstrips that are frequently located near choice Western waters. At the Green, for example, there is a good little airport just outside the government hamlet of Dutch John, right on the rim of the canyon. True, this is an expensive option. But then isn’t your recreational time as valuable as your professional time? Another problem with going the charter route is the need to sift through a lot of information to find a good service. That’s burdensome when you put it on top of trying to find a good guide and suitable lodging.

At this point, you probably have come to ask the same question I have asked numerous times e.g., why isn’t there a western air charter service devoted specifically to fly fishermen which can take care of all this stuff for you? Well, there is. The new Denver based outfit is called Destination Fly Fishing, Inc. (*), and it specializes in chartered tours of the West’s most famous waters. I’ve mentioned this outfit before. Now, I have actually given it a try.

I took my test flight with DFFI last month. It involved a trip to the Green River and originally involved a visit to the Bighorn as well. More on that in a moment. First, let me point out that DFFI is the brainchild of two experienced, fly fishing mountain pilots, Jay Rozen and Kevin Martinez. Their partner is a man by the name of Mike Baxter. Both pilots are in the cockpit for all trips as an extra margin of safety. On the ground, they and Baxter serve as crew to the needs of their clients, making all logistical arrangements on a turnkey basis. Licensed local guides of your choice, or theirs, accompany all trips. The air crew stays with you throughout as assistants and instructors.

What can be a very complicated undertaking is thus made effortless and hassle free. Best of all, this concept allows you to fish two or more great waters, hundreds of miles apart, in as many days you just jump in the plane and go. As I said, our original flight plan called for hitting both the Green and the Bighorn on the same weekend. In no other way would such a trip even be conceivable.

On the 16th we took off from Denver’s Jeffco Airport about 7 a.m. in a two engined Beechcraft Baron. DFFI uses no single prop aircraft, which are hazardous in mountain flying. (Originally we were scheduled to fly a big KingAir, but with two last minute cancellations, we opted instead for the smaller craft.) Along with us on the trip was Angling Report subscriber, Chris Porter, a Denver attorney.

We set down at Dutch John about 8:30. By 10 a.m., we had our gear, food, licenses, boats, guides and crew bobbing down the Green. If we had handled this trip by car, we wouldn’t have been even halfway there! We devoted that first day to floating the "A" section below the dam, about seven miles down to the Little Hole takeout. Almost immediately we starting picking up fish on the double nymph rigs suggested by Orvis endorsed guide Eric Pietz. This technique, which deploys two droppers above a large split shot on the point, proved invaluable in getting down deep fast from a moving boat, and bouncing the bottom where the fish hang out.

That afternoon, there was intermittent dry fly action on BWOs, and again, Pietz showed me something new namely, the parachute version of these flies that he ties with florescent red, green or yellow polypro sails for increased visibility. Fish are not very leader shy here, and don’t seem to care that no BWO living ever had red wings. But this innovation greatly helps aging human eyes see little flies in the chop. For his gracious patience as well as expertise, I’d rate Pietz one of the better guides I’ve ever met. I would especially like to take one of his three day camp floats, leisurely exploring the entire 26 miles of this gorgeous fishery.

On the whole, surface activity was disappointing, as the BWOs were sparse this windy day and the PMDs hadn’t yet appeared. Apparently, a cold early spring has put traditional hatches on the Green about two weeks behind schedule. Still, it’s hard to be disappointed when everybody along took several ‘bows, cuttbows and browns averaging 17 to 20 inches, with some as large as four pounds. Our most effective flies were small rust and olive "larvae lace" scuds, with occasional takes on tiny pheasant tails and RS 2s.

That night we stayed at the comfortable Flaming Gorge Lodge (*) closest to the canyon, which also offers a good flyshop, guide services and restaurant. Destination Fly Fishing made local arrangements for our stay through Flaming Gorge Flying Service (FGFS)(*), which operates the Dutch John airport, a small shop and one of the area’s top guide services. When the airport and nearby government village are privatized next year, FGFS plans to open a lodge right next to the strip, adding a new dimension of convenience to visiting this area. Call FGFS for aircraft services or to book guides such as Eric Peitz.

We were privileged to have FGFS owner Mark Brown guide us our second day on the Green, a walk wade excursion downstream from Little Hole into the "B" section of the river. The "B" section is known for fewer but bigger fish and on the Green, "fewer" means only 8,000/mile. Personally, I enjoyed walk wading just as much as the previous day’s float. As it happened, we had far better success that brilliant, sunny day than the A section floaters had. Again, small scuds were the ticket, with sporadic afternoon surface action on BWOs, gnat or midge clusters, and small Adams.

That evening, Brown steered us to dinner at the Red Canyon Lodge, an old, rustic resort reopened and expanded last year with cabins, condos and a gourmet restaurant. If you don’t mind the greater distance to the river (nine miles), this is a good lodging alternative to keep in mind. It has cheaper prices and better food.

Our third day was scheduled for flying up to Montana’s Bighorn below Yellowtail Reservoir. By charter, the river is only an hour and a quarter away. Unfortunately, a major storm front moved in that morning and we barely got back to Denver ahead of it. Had we been in the much bigger, top of the line KingAir, normally used on such trips, we might have challenged it, but I’m just as glad we didn’t. Four small planes taking the gamble went down that day in Colorado alone (the same storm later killing the governor of South Dakota), and conditions on the Bighorn were brutal anyway. Storms like this can suddenly blow in during spring and spoil ordinary trips. With DFFI, however, you either get your money back or head for another great fishery in the opposite direction. Had we wished to, we could have gone to the San Juan or Lees Ferry instead, in no greater time.

Although DFFI is still refining its system, on the whole I have nothing but praise for the value and practicality of their operation. They are gearing up to offer charter package trips anywhere in the Rockies with a small airport nearby.

There are two key tests in evaluating such a service, I think, and DFFI passes them both. The first, and most important, is the question of safety. As an experienced flypacker myself, I want assurances that my pilots are properly certified, amply experienced in the rigors of mountain weather and operate the best equipment. Rozen has seven years of small plane experience in the Rockies, and Martinez has logged over 3,000 hours as a jet certified corporate pilot. Their insistence on two pilots, two engines, double attention to detail and willingness to pull the plug in unsafe flying conditions impressed me.

Secondly, is it affordable? Modern aircraft rent for hundreds, even thousands of dollars a day. Is the time you save worth the premium price? As a rule of thumb, DFFI services cost $500/person/day, excluding airfare to Denver. Mind you, that is for a turnkey package. Add up the parts of the package (car or van rentals, boats, guides, lodging and meals) and you will be around $300 to $350/day anyway. So, for about one third more, all this is handled for you. Now, figure in the value of the time you save. If that’s $150/day, you’re breaking even.

Two cautions come out of this trip; not about the charter concept, but the nature of the Green itself. One is a federal mandate to provide endangered downstream squawfish with high spring floods, simulating their natural spawning conditions. Starting May 1, flows will be cranked up to 4,500 cfs for this purpose. While this won’t hurt the trout, it will seriously impact fishing for them, and make both floating and wading more dangerous. Unfavorable conditions will prevail on the Green through May, and I wouldn’t schedule a trip there until flows recede in June. Another advantage of waiting: June July hatches of big cicadas and "Mormon Crickets" turn the river into a mongo dry fly orgy.

The other caution is the crowds, which from now on out will be large. On the day we floated, 60 odd dories and rafts, plus a record 59 belly boaters, went with us down the "A" section. In addition, dozens of others walked in on streamside trails. Although this canyon is very remote, don’t expect a solitary experience. There are two ways to beat the crowds, according to guide Eric Pietz: "Leave at dawn and get out in front, or push off around noon, after all the other boats are well downstream. Believe it or not, you can sometimes go long stretches and not see anyone." Hugh Gardner.

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