The Flow Regime of Flaming Gorge: Air, Water and Driftboats

Maxwell Agnew

My overpriced fly-rod, coincidentally manufactured by a company called Powell, was no match for the extreme winds of Flaming Gorge. Gusts of wind of unknown velocity would occasionally burst upstream, as if there was a pattern to their timing, making trout (guest fish) sampling very difficult. However, these up-canyon bursts would last only several minutes, leaving tranquil conditions after they spoiled my casting and knocked my lunch box into the river. Before Flaming Gorge Dam, the natural hydrologic flow regime was similar. Lasting for several weeks, spring peak floods would occasionally top 20,000 cfs, until the last of the snowpack was melted. Afterwards, flows would return to a trickle, at least when compared to the spring floods. I’m sure the other Powell also had difficultly getting his mission accomplished in such a harsh and variable environment, especially if he was around in late spring. It’s hard, if not impossible, to consider a scenario where small wooden boats were maneuvering through the canyon at 20,000 cfs. The native fish in this system had little trouble thriving in this environment, only because they evolved to be highly specialized to the natural flow characteristics. In fact, native fish would time their spawning cycles on the spring peak flows and rely on them to create backwater habitat that is crucial to the survival of juveniles. Non- native fishermen, like myself, had much difficulty due to the gusts of wind, as well as the other objects that were flowing through Flaming Gorge: drift boats. At any point in time during our float, I was able to see 2 to 6 drift boats in the close proximity of our rafts. Don’t people have to work on Tuesdays? How there were fish still to be caught after dozens to hundreds of casts had been placed over their heads was amazing to me. When I finally was able to hook up with a Flaming Gorge brown trout, it seemed to be exhausted and fought nothing like a fresh and unmolested 18 inch fish. Most definitely, this particular fish had been caught earlier in the morning. After being caught, at least a few times, the poor brown trout then had to undergo a gastric lavage for scientific purposes, where water is forced into his stomach, causing him to regurgitate all of his hard-earned aquatic invertebrates, mostly consisting of scuds. At times, the canyon below Flaming Gorge Dam can be a harsh place for the fish, fishermen, and explorers.


This is a photo showing the extreme congestion of drift boats in the Green River tail-water fishery.