By Randy Scholfield
It’s a trout angler’s dream challenge: One fly. One legendary river. One full day of fishing.
Trout Unlimited held its fifth annual Utah Single Fly tournament Aug. 26-27, with nine four-man teams (and 18 volunteer guides) testing their fishing skills while benefiting river conservation on the fabled Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming border.
The basic rules are simple: Each angler gets to choose one fly for the day. You lose it—you’re done. Each team is scored on how many trout they catch and release, with additional points for two measured fish and bonus points for big trout over 20 inches.
There are high-stakes fishing tournaments that take themselves seriously—the Utah One Fly isn’t one of them.
“This is about camaraderie, good fishing and good times,” said Dave Kumlien, director of TU’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program and organizer of the event. “And it’s about supporting conservation work in Utah that ensures healthy fisheries.”
That’s not to say there wasn’t some friendly competitive spirit in evidence at the reception dinner at Red Canyon Lodge in Dutch John the evening before. As you’d expect, there was a lot of strategizing and talk about the pros and cons of particular flies.
Some of the participants had already spent a day or two on the water, seeing what was working. In one conversation, someone allowed that they’d been having good luck with a Hippie Stomper.
“I gotta get one,” the person next to him said.
“Sorry, there’s none left at the fly shop,” the first said, bursting into maniacal laughter.
Many competitors didn’t choose their fly until the very last minute. The choices were all over the map, from nymphs to dries to terrestrials.
I wasn’t there to compete, so when an unexpected opening came up on the State Street Irregulars team, I felt lucky to be sent into the game.
So, which fly? I actually had bought a Hippie Stomper earlier—but ended up going with a parachute black cricket, which had been having some steady success on the river. Besides, it’s easy to see, and casting one of these all day, I wanted something visible for my aging optics.
We launched the next morning at the 8:30 time slot with our guide Dave White, an old hand on the river.
The “one fly” rule changes things, in an interesting way. You don’t have to worry about fly selection—you’re locked in, for better or worse. I worked the banks carefully, a bit tight with my casting, afraid of snagging up 100 yards from the boat ramp and winning the Biggest Loser Award (earliest lost fly). I also tied my knot more carefully than usual, testing it more than once to ensure it was solid. A lot was riding on it.
At one point, my fly snagged on a rock by the bank while we drifting through a fast run. I couldn’t flip it loose and thought it was all over as I played out line. But Dave oared the dory toward the bank downstream and the fly popped loose as we entered slower water.
Whew. Close one.
As anyone knows who has fished this river, it’s an amazing place, with a pristine water clarity that’s a sight to behold. In many stretches, trout can be holding almost anywhere in the river. You know that because you can see them, clear down to the river bottom.
My black cricket was not exactly on fire that day, but teammate Chad Chorney of the Idaho Water Project and I managed to bring several healthy browns and rainbows to the boat. Every now and then, amid the frenzy of casting to the next great spot, we simply had to stop ourselves, sit back and look around at the soaring spires of red rock canyon and neon green water and marvel at this magical place.
Protecting these special places is what the Utah Single Fly is all about. The event benefits TU programs in Utah, including TU’s Utah Water Project, which has several field staff working in the Green basin on everything from habitat improvement projects on key tributaries of the Green to campaigns to stop the Million pipeline. The latter would suck water from the Flaming Gorge region and send it 500 miles to Colorado’s Front Range. The Million boondoggle is a nonstarter among anglers and anyone who cares about preserving this amazing fishery. The event also benefits TU’s Aquatic Invasive Species program, which works to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, from didymo to whirling disease.
At the end of the day, everyone had a great time, judging by the laughter and stories at that evening’s awards banquet. Dave Kumlien gave a special shout-out to the Green River Outfitters and Guides Association and the 18 guides who volunteered their time to make the event happen. “We couldn’t do it without them,” he noted.
Want to have a float trip of a lifetime and benefit trout conservation at the same time? Mark your calendar for the 2014 Utah Single Fly, scheduled for Sept. 18 and 19. For more information, check out event details on TU’s website or contact Dave Kumlien at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And the winners are. . .
Among the award highlights: The First Place Team was Cache Anglers (Paul Holden, Gary Hillyard, Guy Jardine and Bryan Smith) with 176 combined points. They were guided by David Peters and David Schneider.
John Willis of Team TU received the award for Largest Trout, a big 21’’ brown. Paul Holden of Cache Anglers received the Most Trout award, bringing 17 trout to the net.
The Most Unique Outfit was a shoo-in with the Wee Lads team and their Scottish kilts.
Matt Hyde nabbed the Bird Dog award (best fly save) for diving in to retrieve his fly, which was wrapped around a cable across the river near the put-in point.
Calvin Hazlewood of WY TU Bucking Fish team secured the honor of Biggest Loser by losing his fly earlier than anyone, at 12:01 p.m.
The Bomar Tipton Award (for the guide with the most points for his boat) went to Darin Bowcutt of Team TU, who guided Steve Trafton and John Willis to a top score of 99 points on Section B.
Randy Scholfield is director of communications for TU’s Western Water Project.