A Downward Scramble

The canyon has a couple of “windows” where hiking and camping aren’t completely heinous. Spring and fall are the best windows with a couple of warm days in the winter thrown into the mix. As the days start getting longer, the call of the canyon starts to hit. If you have spent time in the canyons seemingly infinite amount of backcountry you get the “itch” every time the weather windows line up. The curiosity to check the next canyon over or the spot you hiked past last time. This trip was down a side canyon I had consistently driven past on my way to other canyon objectives. I had driven past not necessarily because this spot was any less interesting, but more so because it seemed like it was always there, so close it was easy to say “I’ll get that one next year”.

Next year became this year, which became today, we geared up to head down canyon, with the promise of a nice sunny day (ignoring that 30% chance of rain in the forecast). The drive up was easy and it looked like it would be a busy day at Lee’s Ferry, all the more reason to enjoy a nice side canyon all to ourselves. Upon arrival at the trailhead we did a final check (did I actually pack my reel and flies?) and headed out. The beginning of the canyon starts in a wide and sandy wash that rapidly transitions into pour overs and broken rock. This canyon is incredibly active, huge sections of walls crumbling off and some truly massive flows of sediment pass through it on a regular basis.

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The debris flow, I mean “trail”

We picked our way through the rock and debris from past floods and land slides. The saying that canyon miles are actually 2 regular miles was never more true than in this canyon. After some pretty consistent down climbing and scrambling, with the middle half mile of the trail seemingly more vertical than horizontal we got to a “flatter” section of canyon. The walking got a little easier and we could move in a generally straight line.

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A downward scramble
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Looking up at recently crumbled cliff faces

The bottom section of the canyon had a tiny spring that moved along it, the flow in it similar to turning on the bathroom sink. The edges of the creek were an incredibly slick mud covered in a thick crust of salt. A few little salt cedars clung to the edges of the tiny creek but other than that it was a very desolate and hot spot. The 80 degree high felt like it was on the edge of triple digits and we were very glad we could hear the roar of the river echoing up the canyon.

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The tiny “creek”
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First view of the river

At the end of the was was beautiful little sandy beach surrounded by boulders and any thoughts of fishing were quickly lost in the thought of cooling off in the clear water. We may have run into the water but quickly stopped, it felt icy cold! Standing in the water up to your knees was more than enough to seemingly instantly cool off.

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Looking back the way we came
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Big water and big rapids

A short bit of exploration revealed the eddy around the rocks at the beach were filled with fish, some smaller fish even rising while the big ones stuck to the depths.

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If you look close you can see a fish or two in soft water behind the rocks

We rushed to tie on some flies and started fishing. I put a pistol pete on the end of some sinking line and began casting to the edge of the current. The first cast I felt a bobble, bottom or fish? The second cast was definitely a fish and I saw a brief flash of silver before it was off of the hook. The third cast I had one on long enough to get a jump before it spit the hook and on the fourth cast I finally set the hook (I suck at strip setting the hook, I always try and lift the rod tip to early) and landed a beautiful little wild fish.

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Little wild rainbow

The little fish had some brilliant colors and still had par marks on it, its always good to see the young wild fish are healthy. We continued casting into the whole with lots of hits on the bugger and a few more fish landed.

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Big spotted fin
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Silver sides

I had hooked into quite a few smaller, but fun, fish before finally hooking into a larger fish. This bow fought hard across the eddy with 5 or 6 athletic jumps before it spit the hook (the curse of barbless hooks). The next cast into the same spot yielded another strong pull, after a good fight I had the fish in close to shore and on its first jump it showed off the deep red sides of a spawning Colorado River rainbow trout. While I was admiring the colors on the jumping fish it spit the hook and I had to duck as it shot straight at my head. I was really questioning why I tied a barbless hook at this point but at the same time the take and the fight are the best parts of fishing and I got that in spades with these last two fish. Also other than the glory shot picture I really didn’t miss much with my last two long distance releases ( I’m a pro at the long distance release unfortunately).

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Pocket water full of little trout

I fished upstream to above the rapid and picked my way through a couple little riffles along the bank. It was some beautiful looking water. Fortunately the trout agreed.

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Upriver views
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Fiber glass and fish on the swing

Kayla also managed some fish on her indicator set up with the fish keying in on tiny midges. The fight on a tiny midge is always an interesting thing, a small hook, a strong acrobatic fish and powerful current equals a tough fight almost every time.

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The sun always sets early in the canyon, with some spots slipping into shadow in the afternoon, while other angles stay light for hours longer. The long slide into twilight is always a beautiful time in the canyon and this was no different, even if it was starting to get more than a little windy. The fishing died down as the sun set and we moved towards setting up camp (a tarp on the sand).

 

 

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Pink cheeked

Once the sun had fully set and the canyon was filled with a blue light, we began hearing thunder rumble and see the occasional flash up towards the Vermillion Cliffs. “Maybe the rain will stay up on the high country”, “Wasn’t it only a 30% chance of rain”? All of these statements were rebuffed as soon as we got ready to cook dinner, I mean as soon as the food came out, the wind blasted in to camp swirling sand into everyones dinner. Thirty seconds later was when the real bummer happened, a wall of rain could be seen advancing up canyon in the evening gloom, further illuminated by flashes of lighting (monsoons don’t happen in April, right?). We quickly wrapped all out sleeping bags in tarps and huddled underneath a slightly overhung boulder, which means we only got slightly rained on. Sitting under the boulder allowed us to enjoy the show, lighting forking down at the river, illuminating canyon walls and swirling rain. The rain lasted for a little over an hour, leaving us crouched behind our boulder, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. Luckily the clouds blew by and we were treated to an incredibly clear and starry night. The temperatures in the 50’s were perfect to sleep in once we got dry and despite how it started, it ended up being a good night to be out under the stars.

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Post rain toad

We woke early the next morning and threw a few half hearted casts in to the spots we had fished the evening before, with one fish on and off as quickly as it was on. Probably for the best, because if the fishing had been good we wouldn’t have left until it was too hot anyways! On our way out we found a few rocks to climb to relax and break up the hike out. Going back up the rock falls is always easier than coming down and we were back at the car before noon.

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Connor at the crux
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Pebble wrestling

 

Once again the canyon was pretty incredible, not often you can fish for hungry trout in a setting like that, the only hard part about it is staying focused on the water and not looking around all day!

2 thoughts on “A Downward Scramble

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