Scott Barrus has been fishing Utah's Green River for decades. He's also the owner of one of only a small handful of licensed fishing guide services on the river! With 15,000 trout per river mile, the Green River is home to some of the best fly fishing in the lower 48! Watch and listen as Scott recounts his stories and shares his knowledge from nearly 25 years of being a professional fishing guide.
TripAdvisor: Spinner Fall Guide Service
Andy Walker: Hey everybody! This is Andy Walker and Christian Covey from Walker Covey Wealth Advisors. And we're glad to have you here today. A lot of our clients love to be outdoors, and a lot of them like to do some fly fishing. And so today we thought we'd bring in Scott Barrus to talk with us today who owns a fly-fishing company here locally and has been a great friend of mine for a long time. Actually, I've had an opportunity to fish with Scott. He's amazing. And so, we're grateful to have him here with us. Thanks for being here, Scott.
Scott Barrus: Thanks for having me.
Christian Covey: You caught a lot of fish when you went with him, supposedly...
AW: I did. I did quite well, but it was a lot of fish, a lot of fun. And the weather was great. And we just had a great time. So many great memories that I will never forget. But anyway, Scott, just wanted to maybe have you introduce yourself a little bit and maybe tell you tell us a little bit about where your love for fishing came from?
SB: Yeah, so I grew up in Salt Lake City, and my family has a cabin about an hour outside of Salt Lake about, you know, 30 minutes from Park City, UT. So I grew up spending the summers with my grandparents and fishing, you know, and that was pretty much my favorite thing to do since I was three years old. And I got to where I was about 12, and the fishing was just kind of became too easy for me with the spinner out there, you know, there was a river that was stocked with rainbows. I could go out there and catch you know, 30-40 fish, you know, when I was 12. And that almost became easy. And I'd seen my grandfather and some older kids fly fish, and I thought it looked really cool. And so I went out and tried it, and I couldn't catch anything. And I really liked it because it's hard, and then so you know, my grandfather gave me a few passing tips and stuff, and I was able to catch some fish on a dry fly. Once I saw the fish visually come up and eat my fly, I was I was definitely hooked on it.
AW: That's great. Yeah, you've told me there's a difference between fishing and catching right? So that's great.
CC: So, you mentioned the kind of a dry fly and that kind of got you hooked and the challenge and everything. What is it that you love most about fly fishing? And if you had to pick something, what what is it that you love the most about it?
SB: That's hard to pin it on one thing, but I think it's being out in nature. That's kind of similar to golf in that that you're in a beautiful place. You can do it by yourself, you can do it with friends, and then you can always get better you can always improve and learn so I think those aspects you're what
CC: Yeah, I know what you mean. I've done a little bit of fly fishing through the years I've been with on some tours with fly fishing guides like yourself and in Montana by the West Yellowstone Area and even around the Provo River once. But like you said earlier, if you have a dry fly and you see a fish come get it, it's one of the great experiences in nature to see that so totally know what you mean. But I haven't caught a lot of fish. So that's the difference.
AW: Where has been some of the, you know, coolest places that you've fished before? You know, here locally and then maybe also, you know if you fish? I know you just recently got back from a trip down in Argentina.
SB: Well, yeah, so that was definitely kind of a trip of a lifetime for me. I was able to jump on a trip last minute and go fish Jurassic lake in Argentina. And it's it's kind of world renowned is the best rainbow trout fishery in the world.
SB: So, catching a 10 pound rainbow there on a fly. It's nothing to worry about. That's kind of kind of a normal fish. I was able to fish there for six days. And you know it caught three fish there about 15 pounds and one that was 17. I was letting go of eight pounders like there are nothing which would be the fish of the year here you know on a stream in the US.
CC: Are you doing dry flies or wet flies are a little bit of both?
SB: Yeah, so I did both. So I ran a dry fly like a big cicada like a pretty big size 4 cicada as an attractor and your indicator, basically. And then four feet below that I put a fly either a Scud pattern, which is a freshwater shrimp, or a little fly that looked like a leech. And so I definitely caught more fish subsurface, but always had the opportunity to get them on top too.
CC: Is the water clear?
SB: Yeah, it was crystal clear and very desolate. There's, there's not a tree for probably 2030 miles around. There is no tree, windy most of the time. And it's a desert. So it was very different climate and no, this was January. So is there July, basically. And one day it was warm, but the rest of the days, you know, it's kind of like being in Alaska or somewhere where it's, you know, 50 degrees is the high for the day.
CC: So that's Argentina. Have you been any other kind of notable places? You've been fly fishing?
SB: Yeah, I've done Costa Rica, Florida, Mexico. Did Ireland. So I've done a handful.
CC: Oh, wow. That's a lot!
SB: Yeah, if I were to win the lottery, I'd be saltwater fly fishing a lot. Because it's a lot of fun. And there's always a bigger fish out there.
AW: Are there quite a few differences between, say, those different locations? Or was there one that really was quite an adventure for you to in your fish in there?
SB: Yeah, I mean, there are huge differences. Now the saltwater, there's different species that you're going for - Tarpon are probably my favorite to go for. They have very hard mouths so you have to strip set the hook extremely hard to get it to just pierce their mouth to stay in there. A lot of its windy so requires you know good casting in the wind. So you know, definitely practice before you go out to do those. And then saltwater guiding you know, they expect you to not catch a fish at all. So if you get one you have to get day. You know, very different than what I do if people don't get one when I take them there. They're pretty buttoned where they almost expect to get one trout fishing where saltwater? Yeah, you're hoping to get one.
CC: Wow, that's really cool. So most of what you have done is with is with trout as far as as far as guiding, right?
SB: Correct. Yeah, so I'm on the Green River, I wrote a drift boat, it's about a 16-foot boat, where I'm in the center of the boat with, you know, 10-foot oars, and have one angler up in the front and one in the back. And then I'm rowing them and keeping them off the bank giving them an angle to where they can fish down in a head to where the fish are before the fish see is coming.
CC: So that kind of leads to a question that we have on, you know, kind of how did you start your business? Because obviously you told us about your love for fishing and how that came at a young age? How you started to fly fish. But how did it transition from something that you love to do into, you know, starting a business and doing it for work?
SB: Yeah, so I, one of my friends from high school became a guide for Spinner Fall Guide Service and took me up on the river and I was just blown away by the size and the beauty size, the finish to the beauty of the game and so the next year he sent me up to where I could be a shuttle driver. So, I would drive the guides vehicles after they would launch their boat, I drive their vehicle down to the takeout. And so I did that for a summer and just went fishing every day and just you know, listen to the guides and just absorb as as much knowledge as I could from them. And then the owner of the company told me if I got a drift boat that I could start guiding for him the next year. So, I dropped out of the University of Utah and got a boat and started guiding the next year and just you know, I loved it. It was so much fun. The big challenges though, you know, rowing the boat is a whole different skill set. It takes a long time to learn that. So, I did that for a few years, and then Spinner Fall used to have a fly shop in Salt Lake. They basically got in they moved to a bigger facility and got in over their heads and lost the fly shop aspect, but they still had the guide service. But the owner was in his 70s and ready to retire so he didn't want to kind of start fresh, so he made the offer to myself and his nephew who worked for him to buy the company and we were 25 at the time and didn't really have much money to our names as fishing guides making $30,000 a year. So, we brought in a third partner who was a little older and brought a little money to the table and were able to buy the company from the original owner. Then in the years since then I've bought those two guys out of the business.
AW: How many people do you have working for you now?
SB: So we're all independent contractors, but I have about 15 guys that work for me. But some of those guys only, you know, will guide 10-20 days a year. And then some will do you know, 150 days a year.
AW: How many days do you typically do a year?
SB: I'll guide about 85 or so. I'm up there from April till September.
CC: Is your business, Spinner Fall... is it exclusively the Green River right now?
SB: Yeah, we have guided other places, but we tend to just focus on the Green River. The Green is kind of recognizes is one of the you know, top five trout rivers in the lower 48.
CC: In the whole United States?
SB: Yeah. I mean, Alaska is a different ballgame.
CC: Yeah, that's incredible! And you, Spinner Fall… what's the significance behind that? I know I've been fishing, and I use a spinner, right? But what's the significance behind the 'Spinner Fall' name?
SB: A spinner fall is a stage of a mayfly's life. So mayfly starts as a tiny egg, and then spends, you know, several months underwater becomes a NEM, that nympho eaten moss and debris underwater. And then eventually, it will grow big enough to where this all takes place, within about a year, when the air pressures ride and whatever, you know, nature's signals trigger it, the bugs will produce the nymphs will produce an air bubble within their body. They'll ride that air bubble up to the surface. And they'll sit on the surface of the film and dry their wings out. Once they dry their wings, they'll they'll fly off. So they're, they're very vulnerable to the child at that stage. Then they'll fly to the bushes, and they'll actually shed their skin one more time. So before they find their call to done the malt their skin one more time and they become a spinner. And then they will mate. And then after they made, they will, they'll basically do a dance above the water and they'll fall kind of like a helicopter down to the river surface. And that's the spinner fall. And then again, they're very vulnerable to trout, because they can't fly away at that point. So it's definitely one of the trout favorite and easiest safest meals.
AW: Yeah, speaking of that, I know that with fly fishing, there's lots of different flies, how can you know exactly which fly to use there?
CC: Yeah, I have a lot of experience using the wrong fly. There have been times, I'm serious, when I've been at a lake or something. And you see, you're seeing the fish jumping everywhere around you, like literally. And there have been times when I've put out a fly, like right there, like, Oh, that was a good cast, and just completely ignores it. And I'm wondering if they all look the same to me, how do you know? It's incredible.
SB: It definitely can be very hard, you know, one of the, the frustrating parts of my job can be that trying to figure it out. You know, I've been doing it long enough now, where I just, I just kind of know what's going to work what time of year, but then, you know, always, you know, tying flies, trying new patterns, changing things up, you know, as, as places get fished harder, the fish get more educated. And it seems like you have to go smaller flies or skinnier profiles on your flies, definitely makes makes a difference. But, you know, look trying to figure out what they're eating, you kind of look at what bugs are around. You can pull up rocks that are in the bottom of the river and look underneath those and see what bugs are there and try your best to match you know, something that looks like those bugs as well.
AW: So you're able to kind of look around and sometimes identify bugs that are flying around and say oh, you know, may fly or whatever and let's try that.
SB: Yep. And then, you know, I fished a lot of attractor patterns to you know, the Chernobyl and some pretty famous fly and that was invented on the Green River. Fish, you know, that type of fly like kinda like I did at Jurassic lake with a dry dropper setup. So and then that matches what's underwater and then a big attractor, bug that's like floating a Snickers bar down the river that might tempt somebody out.
AW: So you tie your own flies, is that right? And how long have you been doing that? Have you been doing that? Since you've been fishing? Or how did you get involved in the flight time?
SB: Yes, I bought a flight training camp when I was 13 with a buddy and we just, you know, after school, I just go and tie flies sometimes at his place. And then I ended up you know, just, he didn't love it as much as I did. So I kind of ended up taking it over from him, and then just kind of, you know, was self-taught. And nowadays, it's a lot easier because you have YouTube videos where you can watch exactly how somebody's typing something and they give you a, you know, a recipe, so you can go buy the exact hook the exact thread, or the perfect materials for that. So it's, it's become a lot easier to do that.
AW: That's cool. And circling back to when you were talking about rowing the boat, down the river, I'm sure that's a...I mean, I got to watch it in action. It was a lot of rowing. So that's a lot of work. But then also you were talking about kind of the skills as far as not letting the fish see where you are and everything. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
SB: Yeah, I mean, I think rowing, rowing the boat is definitely an art form, you know, and that's what, that's what will set the veteran guys out on the river apart from the beginners, it's just little subtle things they can do with the boat. You know, if I have one of the anglers on my boat, and I'm not, they're not treating me nicer, or I'm not liking them, I can give them a bad angle - favor their wife or whoever I like better.
AW: Kind of like the guy we were fishing with, right? You gave him the bad angle and gave me the good one, right?
SB: Ehh, he was pretty good.
AW: Yeah, well, he's a lot more he had all the skills, I didn't have any skills. So I needed all the help. So you're, you're very helpful for me on that, for sure.
CC: So, tell us about the uniqueness of the Green River. And maybe what makes it one of the best, you know, fly fishing rivers in the in the country. I mean, what, what's what is it about it?
SB: So the Green River is a tail water. It's right below Flaming Gorge dam. It's one of the few dams in the world where they have a selective withdrawal system. So they can, you know, the dams 502 feet tall, and they can adjust where they draw the water out of the dam. So they can take it off the top if the reservoirs fall, or anywhere from 40 to 120 feet down, or off the very bottom, so they can keep the water for the trout more or less perfect. So ideal trout temperatures, 55 degrees, and it almost never gets above 60 degrees coming out of William gorge dam. So it's kind of like a natural Spring Creek basically for the fish. So because those temperatures are ideal, the biomass is very large as well. So the trout population can be there.
CC: So they're able to kind of keep the temperature of the Green River kind of ideal for the trout. So they're able to thrive there.
SB: Correct. Yeah. So the selective withdrawal system was put in in the mid-80s. So before that, we had way more trout, but they were all really small. And then once they were able to warm the water up, the fish got bigger and bigger. And so now our average trots about 16 inches there, which is a good size compared to most rivers.
AW: What's the largest drought you've seen caught there?
SB: I had a lady in 2008 get a 31-inch brown trout on dry fly so, about 11 pound trout.
CC: So did you - you said a dry fly - did you see it and see it all happen?
SB: Yeah, it was pretty amazing! Her her dad was actually up in the front of the boat. And they both have the same fly on a giant like size 2 grasshopper pattern, and the fish came up, I could see him from a ways away, it looked like a big alligator mouth just out there chomping on bugs and
CC: So you knew it was big beforehand?
SB: Oh, yeah.
CC: Yeah, you said we gotta get this one.
SB: It was a windy day it was blowing the wind sideways and just blowing grasshoppers off this big bank and he was just down there just eating. So the dad's fly comes down first fish eats it, and he dropped his fly rod. So didn't set the hook didn't do anything. Fish that says fly back out. And then her flies coming like 15 feet behind it. Fish comes up and eats it, and she sets and gets that. So, I just wrote as hard as I couldn't stayed within, you know, 30 feet of the fish as long as I could. The fish ran up to the top of the pool, and then all the way down to the bottom. We followed it for probably a quarter mile, you know, just stay right next to it. And after about 30 minutes I was I was going to net it, and you know, I'd never had a fish that big before. So I was really worried about knocking the fish off and ruining the whole experience there. But it was fortunately able to get it into the net.
CC: That's when you have this big celebration!
AW: Lots of pictures right?
CC: Yeah, after 30 minutes, too. That's, that's quite the fight.
SB: Yeah, yeah. There's something I'll never forget for sure.
AW: Besides the you're talking about the dam and everything else, what are their things, can usually, I don't know a ton about fishing, so what other things can add to have a good day on the water? Like weather or anything else like that helps the fishing?
SB: Yeah, I definitely think the weather is probably the biggest factor. I think a stable or rising barometer, the trout fishing will be better. When the air pressure is dropping, it seems like the fish get unhappy, like they have a bellyache or they're just uneasy, and they're not. They're not feeding nearly as well. So those you know, bright, sunny, hot days in the summer that we have, because their waters cold fish really, really well, where I think most rivers, you want a cloudy day where the fish feel safer from predators, but on our river that typically fishes better when it's bright and sunny.
CC: I grew up with my dad and family telling me that fishing’s best...I have no idea if this is true or not, fishing is best in the morning and at night. But when it comes to fly fishing, it probably just depends on the river. And, you know, if it's warmer, I don't know flies come out? Or how does that, you know, the time of day, how much does that matter?
SB: It definitely changes through the system, or through the season. I mean, so in the springtime, we want to cloudy and are blue and all the patch, which are little mayflies, gray, mayflies that come off, and that Andy fished with me. They usually start around 11 am to 1 pm, and then the hatch will last for about four hours. So the trout will do you know, 85% of their feeding for the whole day in that in that small window, so the you know, the morning so it'll be a little slower until, you know, the flies in the mornings have to hit him kind of in the nose to get them to eat it. Later in the day, they're, they'll move in the water column and just actively, you know, chase nymphs and eat dry flies and stuff too.
CC: Yeah, because it's interesting. Like I mentioned earlier, I've had the chance to go with a few guides before, up in the kind of West Yellowstone Area, which is a great place as far as I understand for fly fishing. But my dad and my older brother went once, and they told me about this experience. Supposedly, it was like this very unique, unbelievable day where there was some hatch, and the fish were just going crazy. They were big, and they just caught, you know, I can't remember if it was like over 100 or something crazy. But supposedly, it was just a unique day, where it all came together. They were in the right place at the right time. Had the right flies and everything. Whereas I had a cousin and my uncle I think went you know, same area, right? Great area, West Yellowstone, and they went with a guide. But I don't think they caught a fish the whole day. It's crazy to me the difference, you know, in in a day, so the conditions right? Having a good day versus a bad day. I'm sure there's a lot of things that kind of have to come together to have one of those special days.
SB: Yeah, definitely. I think you know, paying your dues going fishing lots, how you hit those, those good days, but you know, most hatches start lower in the river system because the waters warmer, and then we'll slowly work their way up. So we have 30 miles of river, the A, B, and C section that is divided into. There are times where the C sections fishing in the very best, even though there's far less fish down there because the bugs are there and the fish are more active. And that hatch you know through a two week period or so will slowly move up into the Upper A section.
AW: I think we hit the B in the C section, I think - is that right, when we went?
SB: Correct. Yep.
AW: Yeah, that was a great day.
CC: You have to have as a guide your company like certain licenses or permits or, or things like that. As you mentioned, the Green River being one of the most popular fly fishing rivers out there. How do you how do they stop it from being overcrowded?
SB: That's a great question. We're regulated by the Forest Service. I have one of 10 permits to guide fly fishing on the Green River. So every day, I have to report to the Forest Service, who's in my boat, how much they paid, and which section of the river den and all the companies are limited to on the A section in the morning of how many trips they can put out. Some companies only have one that they can put out on an average. We've grown to where we can put out four. But then I have to watch that to make sure that we don't overuse it. Because if we overuse it, then I can get my permit, put on probation. Then I get another strike, they can take my business away. So it's, it's great. They take 3% of my revenue, but they also keep any competition away from me as well.
CC: Yeah, very interesting.
AW: And there's a lot of rafters that go down the Green River also, right? Has that ever caused concerns for you? Or does it cause problems for you as you're trying to guide these people through the river?
SB: Yeah, I mean, it's, it's everyone's river, right? So you get a lot of Boy Scouts and church groups that go by and, you know, they're having water fights and screaming.
CC: Scaring the fish away!
SB: You just have to pull over and have a coke and just take a break and let them go through. You know, in the summers, I don't do the A section as much in the summers because of that reason, especially on like a Friday or Saturday where it tends to be busier. So I usually will go downstream or electrician who mentioned go, you know, really early in the morning to get away from people or lunch late, sometimes we'll launch it like 5 pm to and just fish till dark, and avoid people that way as well.
CC: You had mentioned, you have multiple guides that are that are working for you. And, you know, being it's such a great place to fish, how do you how do you keep your guides happy and stay with you? You know, you've got competition out there? How do you? How do you best? Keep them? You know, with you and your company?
SB: Yeah, no, that's awesome question. No, they're, they're kind of my lifeblood. So I need them to be happy. And, you know, that's John, Utah, we're based out of this small little town, you know, it's like 200 people, so not really any bars or girls or anything for him there. So they, they're there because they love it. And then to keep them I basically, I am always the most expensive or right, right at, you know, near the most expensive. Then, I try to pay them the best of anyone else on the river so that they they're happy staying with me. So, you know, if you have really good employees, and they're happy, then the customers are going to be happy.
AW: As I've mentioned, I don't know a whole lot about fishing, in general, but as far as fly fishing, if somebody is just starting out, what would you encourage somebody to do to kind of get started on fly fishing?
SB: Yeah, I mean, definitely go to a, you know, a small fly shop, like a local fly shop. And, you know, you can pick their brains for knowledge and you don't have to spend a lot of money to fly fishing, you can, just because you have the nicest fly rod doesn't mean you're going to cast it the best, you know, $150 setup is, is a great way to learn. And just because you have that expensive brand doesn't mean you can cast it further anything. So, you know, if you have Tiger Woods golf clubs, doesn't mean you can hit it like Tiger. Then just be observant, you know, look around to the bugs, watch people. Now watch some videos of casting. You know, hiring a guide is a great way to learn to from a professional that can work with you and be patient. You know, on the Green River fishing out of drift boats is a huge advantage because we can, you know, we can run back up with the boat back through a really good spot. And you don't have trees and stuff in your back cast to get in your way when you're learning as well.
CC: So and it seems like when you mentioned earlier, you did a lot of observing and just learning through trial and error. I've had a lot of error when I have gone, but, you know, hopefully seeing a little improvement over time. So you mentioned, you know, maybe local fly shops if you do go with a guy trying to retain as much knowledge, there's a lot of a lot of videos online now that you could learn. What about for knowing what to use? I've found that sometimes that's one of my biggest problems that is you know is. Sometimes I've even asked shops before but how do you get better at knowing the flies and knowing what to use?
SB: I think a lot of it comes down to confidence. You know, I could get the Green with probably ten different flies. If I was just limited to ten. I could probably make my whole season work with those ten flies. You know, there are there are definitely be days where it bit me in the butt because they didn't have the exact fly. But I would say overall, your presentation trumps the fly pattern overall. So having it presented perfectly in a, you know, a close size match to what they're eating is the most important. Two things. You know, if a fish comes up and looks at your fly and doesn't eat it, you know, the best thing to do is stop and don’t cast to it again, take a break and change your fly to something smaller. That’s doing two things: it's presenting a different fly to them and making sure the fish isn't uncomfortable and feeling like something's not right. So they're always they only seem to be looking up, You know, they have on the green, at least they have Osprey, Eagles, River otters, bigger fish and humans after them. So they're always kind of on alert, basically.
AW: That's great. Well, this has been amazing. It’s been great to hear all your knowledge about what it is to fly fish, especially on the Green River. I know I had a great experience, especially with you. It was an awesome day, and I hope to do it again soon with you. But we just really appreciate all that you've shared with us today. Christian, do you have any other comments?
CC: Sounds amazing. Yeah, I need to get out. And as far as, you know, like you mentioned earlier, some of my cousins and I, we talk about there's no better feeling than when you say, “I got one! I got one!” So I just got to… I haven't been fishing in a while. I got to get that feeling back of catching that fish. Thanks thanks so much for your time and knowledge and we appreciate it, and now I got to get out to the river.
SB: Thank you guys so much for having me. Appreciate it.
AW: All right. Have a good one