Mean green machine

Utah’s Green River is a monster of a trip
green river utah
Utah's Green River (photo: Kris Millgate).

Married 16 years and my husband is still waiting for a dull moment. It’s definitely not going to come at the takeout of section A on the Green River. Definitely not.

I’m wound up tighter than the burning line on my reel that’s just been violently yanked into the water two-foot tugs at a time. The rainbow stripping in opposing direction didn’t want to meet me and I don’t blame him. I poked him in the lip. He wants nothing to do with me. The bow flips me his middle fin and my fingers lose hold. So much for the grip and grin double Charlie Card is trying to photograph. Stands to reason I can’t brag with any skill. Bragging doesn’t float my boat anyway. Fishing does. Especially fishing with my husband in the nose of the boat and Card on the oars. I take the knee brace in back so my cast isn’t analyzed while I analyze the scenery instead of the seams.

“Take three seconds to look around at where you are,” says Charlie Card, Trout Unlimited, Northeastern Utah backcountry coordinator. “This is pretty good.”

I first met Card in 2011. I was shooting Green with Envy, a film about the possibility of piping the waters of the Gorge and the Green over the Continental Divide to Colorado. The pipeline is still a pipe dream, but at the time, it was my job to capture the Green’s red rock country with an emerald ribbon cutting through it. It was also my job to add the grit of the people who need the Green to stay where it is. Card is one of those people. So is Walt Gasson.

“The Green River is the sort of place where we go to get our boots dirty and our souls clean,” says Walt Gasson, Trout Unlimited Endorsed Businesses director. “It’s hard to tell for us where the land leaves off and we begin. Where the river leaves off and we begin.”
Three decades separate Charlie and Walt, but they are on the same page when it comes to the Green.

“If there’s one thing that’s been constant through the history of the interior West, it’s been bad decisions about water,” Gasson says. “But this isn’t just about water. This is about home and people will do things for home, they won’t do for anything else. I can’t stand by and watch our home place be lost.”

green river double - trout
A Green River double (photo: Charlie Card).

His home place is stunning and by the end of the summer, I make four trips to the Green. Interviews are done. Scenics are in the can. I just needed a bit more fish porn. That’s all Charlie and I were after in September. I started shooting with an underwater camera that year and it revealed a world we’d been blind to. In a system with at least 16,000 fish per mile, there’s no doubt my underwater footage was fishy, but on day three of the shoot, all my footage went overboard.

I hadn’t had time to dump footage to a storage drive the night before. Three days of irreplaceable money shots were on the camera slipping out of my hands and into the water. I hovered between crying and puking as I watched the camera roll along the river bottom. Damn the Green for being so clear. I could see every bruise, bump and punch to my lens. It was rocky torture.

“We’ve only got one shot at this,” Card had told me. “The water is too cold for a second try.”

green river gorge
A view of the Gorge (photo: Kris Millgate).

It was hot enough for sweat to pool in my breathable waders, but the water is never above chilly. I knew I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to beat the cold and the current so Charlie stripped from the waist up and promised one retrieve attempt. He’s modest so I promised not to shoot any footage of his naked chest if he’d just dive in right now. He did. I held my breath.

The drowning camera recorded the whole event and watching it later reveals just how strong of a swimmer Charlie is. Not that I care about technique when first his hand holding my camera surfaces and then he emerges. You see me grab for the camera and leave my hero bobbing in the water. The blooper reel still turns my stomach to this day.

I still fish with Card every summer, but when I head his way these days, I leave my cameras home and take my husband. We’ve spent many wedding anniversaries rowing over the mean green machine that is the river Card loves. The Green still slaps me every time I seek it out. This year it’s taking back our double before we have proof. The Green gave up my camera, but it doesn’t give up its fish. Not even for grip and grins.