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When serious flyfishers discuss the Green River, they almost invariably talk about the famous catch and release section below Flaming Gorge Dam in Utah. And for good reason: This premier tailwater is probably the highest density trout stream in the world. But what about the nearly 200 river miles of the Green which flow through Wyoming, upstream of the reservoir? This “Other” Green River, as I call it, is almost never heard about, getting only a tiny fraction of the attention accorded the river’s more glamorous Utah reaches.
Before Flaming Gorge was constructed, the upper river was widely considered one of the best trout fisheries in the West. Today, this appellation would be stretching the truth. Wyoming’s Green River is no longer among the Top 10, nor, for reasons explained below, will it likely ever be. But the fact remains that this is still a good fishery, one that deserves serious consideration as an adjunct to a Flaming Gorge or Jackson Hole trip, or as a destination alternative in its own right. With its many unique qualities, also explained below, the upper basin clearly belongs in the Top 15 or 20.
The Green begins high in the Wind River Range, forming from numerous glacial lakes on the western slopes of the Continental Divide. Since the Green flows another 200 or so miles below Flaming Gorge before it joins the Colorado, technically that section should be called the Lower Green, and the entire Wyoming section the Upper Green. With respect for Wyoming convention, however, the “Upper Green” will hereafter refer to the headwaters area, headquartered by the town of Pinedale, and the “Lower Green” will refer to the downstream sections between Fontenelle Dam and the inlet to Flaming Gorge, near the town of Green River.
As a general rule, the Upper Green mainstem is a fishery with built in limits. The high headwaters produce water so pure it is almost sterile. The lack of nutrients means little bug life, and thus the stream can’t support large numbers of trout. There is also limited overwintering habitat; the wild, undammed Upper Green is subject to naturally low winter flows. In addition, the river was badly damaged by 19th century “Tie Hacking” practices for the transcontinental railroad. Enormous timber cuttings were stockpiled in forested headwater areas, then pushed downstream by spring runoff in huge flotillas. These gigantic logjams had the effects of flattening out the river bottom and straightening out its banks. Though much stream improvement work has been done in recent years, the damage is still much in evidence.
Another problem here has been overharvest. The fairly recent imposition of restrictive slot limits is having an effect, though. In the 15 or so miles of Forest Service headwaters, fish numbers have tripled since 1990. The improvement notwithstanding, fish numbers still remain quite low at about 420 per mile.
The great thing about the Pinedale headwaters area is not the Green itself, but the area’s strategic location as a trailhead, a jumping off point for reaching the vast fishing riches at higher altitude. The west slope of the Wind River Range (at 110 miles the longest continuous mountain range in the Lower 48) contains literally hundreds of natural lakes and streams that abound with all common species of trout, including outsized brookies and world record goldens, plus exotic grayling. Although you can backpack this wilderness on your own, guided horsepacking is recommended for newcomers in less than good shape. A good local outfit specializing in this backcountry is Matt and Liz David’s Wyoming Rivers and Trails (*). In addition to horsepacking expeditions, WRT offers a nifty canoe camping trip on the Green River Lakes. Good food is a hallmark of their approach. They are also planning trips by mountain bike.
Another good local contact for high country trips is Tim Singewald of Bridger Wilderness Outfitters (*), who also operates a small guest ranch north of Pinedale. In addition,