Trout Bum: Bowling for olives doesn't always pan out

Thursday , March 29, 2018 - 5:00 AM

Standard-Examiner Columnist

It was the type of day fly fishermen dream of: overcast, calm, with the possibility of a light drizzle.

More importantly, if things went according to plan, the day would mark the change of seasons. The groundhog looks for his shadow to signal an end to winter. Fly fishermen look for the first good blue-winged olive hatch (fly fishermen love to refer to blue-winged olive mayflies as “olives”).

The only problem was the temperature. A firm breeze played the river’s surface like a harp, causing all of us to huddle deeper into our coats and hats. If the wind would die down we’d be able to take off our streamers and tie on a dun pattern.

John Gierach stood in the back of the boat and I had the front. Our guide Charlie Card was on the sticks, masterfully moving us into position at the tail end of a large eddy on the Green River. The three of us looked wistfully at the water, almost willing a hatch to start. But it was just after 10 a.m. The hatch wouldn’t be on for at least another two hours.

Charlie asked John if he wanted to fish a particular streamer pattern. John politely declined, lit a cigarette, and went about tying on his own streamer.

I took Charlie up on his offer, and not five minutes later I pulled a small rainbow into the net. John nodded, Charlie told me good job, and the fish went back in the river without much fanfare.

It was a fish, but we hadn’t caught it on an olive so it was almost anticlimactic. I was surprised to boat the first fish, and more surprised that I’d beaten John to the punch. The day before, while wading a spring creek, John caught the first dozen fish.

Our mutual friend Bob White — the acclaimed sporting artist — was on the trip, too. He and Ryan Kelly, our other guide, were in another boat a few hundred yards downstream. I glanced up to see Bob’s rod bent under the weight of a fish. I couldn’t make out details from that far away, but I imagined the grin on his face.

We were floating the B-Section of the Green, which flows from Little Hole to Brown’s Park. It’s a gorgeous, unique piece of water with a personality at odds with the varied water of the A-Section. The B-Section is nine miles of water that looks relatively the same, while the A-Section alternates between long, slow pools and quick rapids, seemingly at every turn.

Ryan and Charlie pulled the boats over for lunch right before 1 in the afternoon. John and I had witnessed a few lone olives buzzing bravely in the increasingly windy air, but not enough to constitute a proper hatch.

I asked Bob what he’d seen. Aside from a few nice browns, he hadn’t seen anything of note, either. We sighed with the collective attitude of people disappointed that nature wouldn’t bend to our will, while at the same time astutely aware that we were in absolutely no position to complain about our circumstances.

It was the middle of the week, Charlie was grilling pork chops, and we had one of the country’s most famous trout rivers to ourselves.

Getting into olives this early in the year is always a gamble. No other hatch is as dependent on the weather as the blue-wing hatch. It’s almost as if the planets have to align just so for a great olive hatch to spur the kind of surface feeding-frenzy emblematic of fly fishing.

When we got off the water that evening, I mentioned to John the hatch must’ve been off because Mercury was in retrograde, or something. He nodded in agreement.

That was the second day of a trip I’d planned for months. Bob and John made the trip from Minnesota and Colorado, respectively, and I felt a sort of responsibility for the scarcity of the hatch. I’d lured them to Utah with the promise of big trout, big bugs and easy fishing.

The trip was far from a bust, but it didn’t resemble the picture I’d painted for John and Bob. But then, does any fishing trip ever really match up to what we imagine it could be?

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, TROUT Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. Spencer is the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum and owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.