Fishing a Reservoir on Fire
When visitors drive across the top of the towering Flaming Gorge dam, or look up at its heights from the boat ramp below, they are likely marveling at how this impressive place came to be. How on earth was it built? How much water is in that huge reservoir? What did it look like before it was developed? And just maybe, how’s the fishing? (Hint: it's really good, learn more)
Flaming Gorge Resort, a motel, general store and fly shop, is located just a few miles up the road from the edge of the dam. If you walk up to the cashier and turn around to look around the main room, you will see mounts of some true Flaming Gorge leviathans. Many fly anglers will ogle over the obscenely large brown, rainbow and lake trout for a few moments — could they possibly be real?
Well, the mounts certainly are real and numerous state record fish have been pulled from Flaming Gorge Reservoir since its creation in 1964. It is true that most of these behemoths were caught while trolling very deep and there’s no doubt that some were even fooled with bait.
What many people do not realize, however, is that the slightly smaller (but still very large) cousins of these fish can be caught on the fly. Not only that, but with red rock walls and pine-covered hills surrounding the water, Flaming Gorge is one of the most picturesque bodies of water to fish in the west.
From the Water and Shore
If anglers are have already brought a boat down to float and fish the Green River (Read/Watch: The Green Less Traveled), then there are ways that a drift boat can be used effectively to find some of the reservoir’s lurking monsters. The most effective method to target bigger fish is to use sinking lines and streamers along the defined structure of the many large rock walls. Mind you, it is usually best to have a small outboard on hand to move about the lake. If the wind comes up, you can return to the boat ramp without having to break your back on the oars.
When large terrestrial insect events like the cicada hatch take place, trout will stack up along the edges of the reservoir similar to the way they will hold along a river bank, waiting for any unwary bugs that find their way into the water. As a result, wade anglers can experience tremendous success walking along defined banks and casting large dry flies tight to structure. The sight of a largemouth slowly gulping a dry from the lake’s glassy surface is hard to beat, but anglers will need to say “God Bless America” before setting the hook in order to not take it away from the fish.
Probably the most exciting way to fish the Gorge is to find one of its shallow bays and go out for a long wade. In the knee-deep water, the experience can feel very similar to stalking saltwater flats for bonefish. Whether there is a hatch occurring or not, this is the best way to sight fish the reservoir as one can spot trout cruising as they forage. Starting out with a large dry is always a good bet and if that doesn’t work, then using wooly buggers, leech patterns, and small nymphs can be a good way to attract a fish that isn’t actively feeding.
Pair with the Green
In many ways, the reservoir is worthy of a stand-alone trip, as anglers will not only have the chance to land a real trophy but also get some phenomenal sight fishing opportunities. Another popular option is to combine it with a Green River trip (see the itinerary), as it is very easy to tack on a couple of hours fishing at the reservoir either at the beginning or end of the day. A good way to beat the infamous 8 o’clock guide rush on the river is to sleep in, fish the reservoir for a couple of hours and then float the A section from noon to sunset.
If you are interested in either option, a great place to stay is the Mustang Ridge campground, which is fully featured with showers, but also has quite a bit of seclusion in the individual campsites. Located just a few miles up the road from the dam, the campground is positioned so that it gives anglers easy access to multiple wading opportunities and is right next to the Mustang Ridge boat launch area.
So go ahead and give the other side of the dam a shot, with or without a boat. Either way you won’t regret it.