Photo by Quinton Inglet
I was two days into a raft trip down the lower Green River, a silt-filled ribbon of brown soup that winds through one of the deepest canyons in the world. As we approached camp for the night, I saw a crystal-clear stream that poured into the river, carving a silver arc far out into the muddy silt and sand.
Then I saw big shapes darting through the water — fat and healthy trout, rushing to safety.
We beached the rafts, grabbed our rods, ran upstream and skipped the usual rock-rolling and surface scanning for insects. I tied on a hopper-dropper. Below the creek mouth, clear water hugs the Green River bank for about 200 yards.
We stood on the bank in the afternoon sun and watched three large trout feeding lazily on nymphs. My 23-year-old son Dave headed upstream. I greased the stimulator, extended line and shot the fly 20 yards across the water. It landed softly and danced across the riffle, its greased elk hairs glistened. I stripped line, my eyes fixed on the bobbing fly.
Moments later, both flies lay near my feet. Nothing! Picky fish.
Jones Hole Creek is one of the greatest wonders of the Utah desert. Ice-cold and crystal-clear, born from springs 600 feet above the canyon, it rushes down the canyon for four short miles before being consumed by the muddy waters of the Green. Every foot of it is filled with trout.
“This is God’s gift to trout fishing,” said a local game warden who checked my license. I couldn’t agree more, and there are many reasons why. At the creek’s headwaters is Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery, which produces 175,000 pounds of trout a year. The really good news is, it leaks!
A FISHING OASIS
Back at the bank, I rolled rocks in the clear water. It was a veritable smorgasbord: mayfly nymphs of varying sizes, abundant caddis cases, small leeches, an occasional sow bug and worm. These fish could be eating anything.
I tied on a caddis nymph — the most abundant variety on the rocks — and tossed it upriver. Immediately the stimulator streaked across the water’s surface. I lifted the rod tip, felt the tight line and with drag singing, watched the line race out into the current of the Green. The fish dashed downriver, jumped once and — snap! My line lay limp on the water.
Just then, six river rafts and four kayaks rounded the bend and beached, right in the middle of our fishing hole.
“Let’s try the creek,” David said.
The creek is an oasis. On all sides, massive sandstone cliffs rise 2,000 feet above the canyon bottom. It’s dotted with sagebrush, juniper and piñon pine. The creek itself is lush with overhanging cottonwoods, box elders, grasses, nettles and brush.
A consistent year-round flow supports a healthy, varied insect population. This varied menu makes the trout selective. We’ve had success with generic fly patterns. But when you match the hatch successfully, the creek explodes with fish.
Much of the creek is narrow and brushy and difficult, but excellent fish can be found in pockets along its margin. Shorter rods are preferred, and an occasional slingshot cast can produce. Beautiful holes open up with regularity.
The Whirlpool Canyon section of the Green is one of the most popular commercially rafted rivers in North America. Large groups occupy campsites at the junction during the spring and summer. The creek’s bottom section and large open holes at the mouth are fished heavily by rafters. But few venture more than a mile upstream.
The creek can also be approached on foot from the trailhead at the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery. This is well-maintained trail is a gentle four-mile descent toward the Green River and a vertical drop of only 600 feet. Along the way are enormous overhanging sandstone cliffs, outstanding pictograph panels and abundant mountain sheep and deer that are nearly oblivious of your presence.
About two miles down the trail, the Ely Creek tributary flows in from the west. Near the junction are two campsites with tables. Permits are required for their use, and no fires are allowed. Fish include brown trout that were probably introduced around the turn of the century, and rainbows that escape from the hatchery.
Early-season fishing on the creek can be excellent. The paved road to the trailhead is usually open in March. But to get there, you have to cross Diamond Mountain at over 8,000 feet. The road is plowed regularly, but fast-moving spring storms can close it temporarily. Early-season fish are hungry and less selective. Still, the best strategy is to match the hatch, which varies depending on temperatures.
Local experts report success in the early season with caddis larvae, wooly worms, egg patterns and lures. Raft trips don’t begin until the end of April, so a trip down the canyon now gives you water that hasn’t had any pressure for several months.
As is our habit, David and I walked for 20 minutes before fishing the creek. This was difficult, passing up one attractive hole after another, but we knew we needed to get away from the fishing pressure from below.
Finally, we jumped in. Recalling our earlier failure, I began rolling rocks right away.
“Dad!” said Dave, “Look at your hat.”
Five No. 16 dark brown caddis flies were sitting on the brim, and another half-dozen in the air. I tied on a pattern to match. Six casts later, a 12-inch, fat rainbow lay in the net.
“See ya, Dad,” said Dave over his shoulder. He headed upstream and disappeared into the brush.
Two hours later, we met at the Ely Creek junction, shared fish stories and a granola bar.
Jones Hole also has quite a history. A rock shelter in the canyon, excavated in 1965, records occupation by 14 different Native American cultures over the past 7,000 years. Rock art along the trail was painted by the Fremont Indians between 1,000 and 1,200 A.D. The first European to visit the creek was John Wesley Powell. During his exp
edition down the Green in 1869, he named it for his photographer.
Nowadays, strict restrictions apply, so keep handy a copy of the Utah Fishing Proclamation. Only artificial flies and lures are allowed. You may keep only one brown trout, and it must be longer than 16 inches.
I’ve had a lot of success with finicky trout using two patterns. A favorite combination is a No. 12 stimulator with a No. 14 flash back, beadhead pheasant-tail nymph. Although that’s kind of a mouthful, the nymph pattern is really versatile, and the stimulator catches a lot of fish.
Anglers rig their hopper-dropper patterns differently, but I always tie mine in series. If you’re not acquainted with this technique, tie the stimulator to the end of the tippet and tie a second leader about 18 inches long into the bend of the hook of the stimulator, using a double clinch knot. Then tie the wet fly to the end of the leader. The length of the leader varies depending on water depth. This length works well on creeks like Jones Hole.
In the early evening, the color of the cliffs had changed from brown to orange to gray. The air was filled with the soft crunch of wet shoes on the trail, the buzz of insects in the evening air, the rustle of deer bounding through the brush, the gentle hiss of the breeze and above all, the ripple of the water. It’s been like this for thousands of years, and it’s there right now. I can’t wait to go back!
For fishing regulations and information, contact the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Vernal, Utah, at (435) 781-9453. For park information on Dinosaur National Monument, call (970) 374-3000, or visit NPS.gov/Dino.
For a detailed trail description and regional map, log on to go-utah.com/Jones-Hole. For camping reservations, call (435) 781-7700.
For Green River float trips, call Adrift Adventures at 1-800-758-5161, or visit Adrift.com.