As much as I can I try to keep the locations I’m fishing in a secret. At worst, I like to make it so you have to have been there to know where I am writing about. I do this partially to keep the spots I like to fish less crowded, but also because figuring out where to fish has been such a process for me. While there are some creeks I have read about online that show pictures of spots, flies and tactics. The creeks I have liked the most have been the ones I had to search out. The little blue lines at the upper ends of canyons. Lee’s Ferry is not one of those places. As much as I would like for it to be a less well known place, the Colorado River and high red walls are pretty much impossible to hide. To write a story about the area without talking about the river or the canyon walls seems to be a massive injustice. So, I’m sorry if you think I’m publicizing a spot and making it more crowded. But let’s be honest, the Ferry is hard to hide and was famous before I was ever born. Plus my writings will never even show up on the first page of google if you were to search for it!
Winter fishing in Arizona is often a winter rather than a WINTER. However somedays do dawn more coldly than others. I woke in the morning to find my sleeping bag and backpack covered in a hard layer of frost. The blue and grey bag was almost white with the thick layer of frost. Luckily I had left my waders in the car and rushed into them before the ice that had formed around me overnight had a chance to thaw out and get me wet. My friend Cole emerged from the back of the truck and reminded me I was covered in ice and sleeping on the ground wasn’t as wise as the covered bed of a truck. The sun was beginning to color the west side of the canyon walls and we knew it was time to rush to the water before its golden light hit.
Arriving at the river the grass along the edge was frozen and crunchy. Upon arriving a scared a flock of buffleheads and mallards rocketed out of the shallows and into the cold sky. A good sign, it means we were there first! We started by occupying my favorite section of riffle and in short order I felt a hard tug and reel stripping run. First fish of the day was on and it was a dandy! It was an almost magical scene to start the day, a hard charging rainbow jumping and flashing its pink sides to match the canyon walls. The fog rising off of the water added an almost storybook feel to the experience, more of something you would read about than ever get to experience. I will not try to paint the picture anymore, because like the quality of my camera and the quality of my words do not quite capture the feeling and scene that first fish of the day created. The strong fish jumped and showed its colors as it tried to run me first up, then down river. Finally, I got it into some shallower, slower water and was able to corral him into my net.
The fish had great color and appeared to be a strong male with a big head and shoulders. It is always good to see how healthy the fish are at the ferry this year.
After releasing the fish I sat in awe for a moment at the edge of the river looking at the spot the colorful fish had disappeared back into the river.
I stood up and took a cast from where I had been sitting, aiming for a submerged rock along the edge of the current, my indicator dropped and I lifted my rod tip! At first I felt only slack, must have hit the bottom.. Then the water exploded and the fish came rocketing across the surface! A short, but spirited fight later and I had anothe rbeautiful rainbow in the net!
Shortly after I had released that fish Cole was hooked into a strong fish that he managed to coax out of the strong currents where it had been hiding.
His first fish of the day was a gem, with a thick body and big head and bright pink stripe on its side! The fishing was challenging with the river flowing at nearly 17,000 cfs the amount of wadeable water was limited to the edges. The heavy current kept us on our toes and I lost multiple fish that I did not turn towards the bank fast enough and they rushed off into the heavy current.
My next fish was one of the most acrobatic I have ever caught. As soon as I set the hook the fish skipped first upstream, and then down! The fish seemed to run with only its tail in the water as it made hard upriver runs with only its tail in the water. After at least 5 to 6 strong jumps I had it in the shallows. As I reached to net him there was one last jump and run in the trout, catching me off guard! The next time I got him to the slack water I was able to land it.
Shortly after we had released the last two fish we decided to move down river away from the growing number of people beginning to head to the riffle. We moved downstream into easier wading at this high flow. The fishing slowed down but before too long Cole managed to hook another good fish and I lost one shortly after.
The water continued rising, pushing us ever closer to the thick Tamarisk trees growing along the waters edge. This turned out to be a good thing! As we moved further downstream and closer to shore I had a fish begin to play with my flies. The same spot multiple drifts in a row. Was it a rock? A fish? Weeds? It seemed I would not know the answer, my next two drifts came by with not even a bump.. But third times a charm right? Maybe not, nearly the whole drift passed with no action, past the spot my flies had been getting nibbled on. As the line began to swing back towards me they suddenly pulled the opposite way of the current! A fish was on!! The fish hugged close to the bottom and refused to be moved out of the current. A slow tug of war began, unlike the earlier explosive fights, this fish had a different strategy. A long slow tug and refusing to leave the heavier current, making me question the 5X tippet and multitude of knots tied in my old leader. Towards the end of the battle the fish decided to change tactics and went charging into the muddy waters of the Paria! This suited me fine as the water was almost slack and the fish far easier to reel in.
The best fish of the day was also our last bite, Cole moved upriver into a likely looking riffle and on the first cast it was fish on! After a slow start to the fight this fish began to show its strength, pulling his 6 weight rod down towards the water and stripping line! With 3 or 4 very strong runs and not much of a break in between runs the fish was not subdued until it was finally wrestled into some slower waters!
When the fish came to the net we were stunned at the size, while similar in length, this fish was far fatter than any other we had landed on the day. Unfortunately I do not have any better pictures, but the memory will stick with me for some time to come!
Another incredible trip to one of my favorite spots, couldn’t have asked for much more!