Imagine fishing in the Grand
Canyon on crystal clear water for rainbow trout whose bright red bands
echo the colors of the cliffs that tower over you. I did this at Lee’s
Ferry, Arizona, a unique tail water fishery below Glen Canyon Dam on the
Colorado River. The drive from LA takes about 10 hours, so if you leave
early enough you can get in a taste of fishing at the “walk-in”
section of the river in the late afternoon. Most fishing on the 14 mile
stretch of water between the put in and the Glen Canyon Dam is accessed
via boat, as we did the next day.
Larry Garfinkel , and I left at first light from the dock at Lee’s
Ferry with our guide, Jeff Parker of Lee’s Ferry Anglers and his dog
Otis, a nine year old German shorthair pointer. This was a trip I’d
bought at last year’s auction. Thanks to Lee’s Ferry Anglers for the
It can be bit of a drag race to find the best spots on the gravel
bars that line sections of the river. As we speed upriver we watch vees
of ducks, buffleheads and golden eyes, wheel out of our way. I’m a bit
apprehensive about whether we’ll find good sections to fish.
The river winds through deep red canyon lands rimmed by 1,000 foot
high sandstone cliffs. One shaded section, known to locals as “The
Icebox”, never sees the sun all winter. The water is stacked with
fish, as many as 40,000 per mile according to some reports. We chat with
Parker, 34, whose been guiding for eight years. He guides the Boulder
Mountain area of southern Utah in the summer, and Lee’s Ferry in the
winter. His dog Otis goes with him on all of his trips. Parker says Otis
is a great chuckar dog, and can spot fish too.
We watch as the rising sun paints the canyon walls a copper shade,
which is reflected on the clear, slightly greenish water. This is Larry’s
first trip here and he’s suitably impressed. Our guide cuts the motor
and we glide onto a gravel bar. Otis hops out, eager to look for fish.
Parker carefully sets the anchor on shore. The river starts low in the
morning, but power generation to meet demand during the day can raise
the flows substantially in a short time.
Soon Larry’s into fish. A lot of fish. He’s watching his yarn
indicator above a cheese colored egg pattern and a “zebra midge”, a
small copper bead on a size 18 hook wrapped with black thread and thin
copper wire. (These patterns are at the club’s website cvff.org).
Larry sets the hook on the slightest hesitation of the indicator and is
rewarded with beautifully colored rainbows from 14 to 16 inches. Larry’s
on his way to a 40 plus fish day.
Most of the fish don’t fight too hard, perhaps because the water is
cold, a constant 46-48 degrees all year round, as Larry is to find out
later when his waders fill with water after a misstep. But the color of
the fish is amazing, the normally “rainbow” pink strip along the
lateral line is a brilliant crimson. Trout were first stocked in 1963
after the building of the dam, and are able to reproduce in the
Colorado. According to Ambassador Guide Service’s Bill McBurney, the
area we are fishing hasn’t been stocked in the last four years. The
abundance of scuds and insects means that the fish grow rapidly.
Meanwhile Otis is patiently waiting further downstream. He holds a
point. Sure enough, he’s spotted some rainbows feeding leisurely on
the emerging midges. Parker sets me up with a dry/dropper combination.
The dry fly acts as an indicator, and supports a zebra midge, egg, or
scud pattern. Arizona fishing regulations only allow two hooks, so
Parker bends down the hook on the dry fly so he can suspend two
offerings. I cast and see the dry fly hesitate as it drifts and set the
hook. I’ve got a wriggling, colorful rainbow on the end of my line.
Otis follows the fish into the shallow water. Fortunately he’s a
pointer and doesn’t try to retrieve my fish. But he does check it out
We stop to eat lunch and hear the sputtering sounds of canyon wrens,
they sound like they’re running out of gas. Lee’s Ferry and Marble
Canyon are home to golden eagles, peregrine falcons, an occasional bald
eagle, blue herons, and California condors. In 1996 the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service and Peregrine Fund released six condors nearby in an
attempt to preserve this nearly extinct species. Adult condors weigh up
to 20 pounds and have a wingspan of nearly 10 feet. But we aren’t
lucky enough to see a condor today. Parker has seen condors, and also
bobcats and fox, and the occasional cougar track.
I’m having a good fishing day, though it’s hard to imagine having
a bad time here, the scenery alone is worth the drive. Having “reasonable
expectations” is important for clients to enjoy themselves, according
to Parker. He says that folks don’t always get 40 fish, and that 20 is
a good day. He adds that people need to be aware of the temperatures,
which can range from zero in the winter to a 110 in the summer.
Parker takes us to a spot where we can view petroglyphs created over
a 1,000 years ago by Anasazi Indians. We see a tribal symbol and
drawings of animals; perhaps they were sketches of the big horn sheep
that still walk down to the water in summer when it’s hot. Much later,
in 1871, John Doyle Lee (for whom Lee’s Ferry is named) became the
first permanent non-Indian resident of the area when he established a
ranch on the valley floor near our put in. Ferryboats operated across
the Colorado here from 1873 to 1928. Most of the early Mormon emigrants
from Utah, heading to Arizona, crossed the river at this site.
Now the area draws many fishermen, especially in the winter. This can
lead to some crowding, but we experience first hand the cooperation
among the guides when Parker invites a party from a rival guide service
to fish below us after they ask if we mind. That’s key, according to
Parker, “If they ask politely I say okay.”
We’ve brought our own gear, but if you want to travel light Lee’s
Ferry Anglers can rent you boots, waders, rods and reels. Parker
encourages people to call or email the shop to find out what to bring
and what to wear in each season, and find out what flies are working. He’s
even emailed patterns to fishermen who like to tie.
That night we stay in an RV at the campground a few miles from the
launch point. We go on our own the next day in an 18-foot shallow draft
rental boat from Lee’s Ferry Anglers. It has a 45-horse jet drive
outboard, so we don’t have to worry about loosing a prop on a gravel
bar, but won’t win the morning race to choice spots. We do well,
despite our leisurely upriver cruise, and find some good spots in the
morning. About noon the river suddenly rises and gobs of green muck
float down as the fishing slows. We cruise back downriver, enjoying the
scenery, and are careful not to miss the takeout, the next one is 226
miles downstream. Larry’s tied up some gray bodied zebra midges with a
black head, “Garf’s Two-Tone” we call it, and it works great while
the bite is on.
When we turn in the boat that evening we find out that the energy
emergency in California has caused the dam’s operators to crank up the
flows to almost double the normal rate, which spoiled the fishing.
Deregulation strikes again!
On the way home we discovered that when someone at the RV dealer
says, don’t worry, you can drive the Winnebago when the rear end
howls, we’ll fix it when you get back,” they aren’t necessarily
accurate. The differential blew about 40 miles south of Vegas, where we
had it towed, rented a car, and drove home.. After some adventures in
repair estimates, we had it fixed and drove it home. So the Winnie is
ready for more fishing this summer.
IF YOU GO
Lee’s Ferry is located off Highway Alt. 89 on the west side of the
Colorado River in Marble Canyon, approximately a 10 hour drive from Los
Angeles, or a five hour drive from either Las Vegas or Phoenix. There is
a commuter flight service to nearby Page, Arizona. The National Park
Service charges an access fee, payable at the machine at the entry
Fly Shops and Guides
Lee's Ferry Anglers, Marble Canyon (6 miles from Navajo Bridge),
(800) 962-9755 or (520) 355-2261 email firstname.lastname@example.org
website www.leesferry.com . Guides, boat rentals, fishing tackle and apparel, and
advice. Guide Jeff Parker is also available at J.F. Parker Flyfishing
(435) 648-2868 or email@example.com
Marble Canyon Guide Service, Marble Canyon, AZ. (approx. 1/4 mile
from Navajo Bridge) (520) 355-2245 or (800) 533-7339
Ambassador Guides Services Inc Marble Canyon, Arizona (800) 256-7596
Current Arizona Fishing License Fees are Non Resident one day $12.50,
five day $26.00
Lee's Ferry Fishing Regulations:
A valid Arizona Fishing License is required. Only barbless flies and
artificial lures allowed. As of January 1, 1999, the daily bag limit is
two trout under 16 inches. All trout over 16 inches must be returned to
the water immediately. The possession limit is four fish. Possession of
live fish is prohibited. Catch and release of all trout is encouraged.
Marble Canyon Lodge (1/2 Mile from Navajo Bridge) (800) 726-1789 or
(520) 355-2225. Rooms are about $65 - $75 per night.
Lee’s Ferry Lodge (6 miles from Navajo Bridge) (520) 355-2231.
Rooms are about $50 per night.
Lee's Ferry Campground
This campground is located about one mile from the boat ramp. The
Park Service does not take reservations. There are 50 campsites, on a
first come basis. Water and flush toilets are provided and there are
fire rings at the sites. There are no R.V. hook-ups. Campground fee is
currently $10 per night, in addition to the access fee.
Lee's Ferry Upriver Camping
Camping is permitted in designated areas only on a first come basis.
Upriver campsites are provided with toilets and raised fire pits. Boat
out your trash. Dumpsters are provided at the boat ramp for trash