The thought has bounced around in my head for quite a few years now, ever since I learned about the service that provides transport. My brother, Daniel, has committed to the trip, along with a longtime guiding colleague, Kelly Bobye. The players are set. The destination: Lees Ferry, Arizona, specifically the top 15 miles below Glen Canyon Dam.
The trip will entail three days of fishing in the canyon by raft and two nights of camping under the broad Arizona skies that are squeezed in tight between desert varnished walls. The starting point is Lees Ferry, Arizona. Up stream is 16 miles of smooth river, downstream is a couple hundred miles of the wildest whitewater canyon in the world. The crossing and boat ramp area are named after John Doyle Lee who inhabited the area in the late 1800s.
Wilderness River Adventures provides the backhaul service for rafts of my size. There are many companies that offer to take kayaks, SUPs and canoes upriver as far as you want to go. Kayaking horseshoe bend is a popular float given the ease of access for anglers and paddlers. Reservations are made far ahead of time for the backhaul service.
The camping is first come, first served at all six of the designated camping sites from Lees Ferry upstream. Campers must bring their own firewood as there is no wood gathering in the canyon. The designated campgrounds are also supplied with self composting toilets, an amenity for campers not prepared to pack it out.
Meals will be made on a camp stove that rides along in the raft. And yes I am planning on having fish for dinner one night. Even as a professional fly fishing guide, it’s not all catch-and-release. Dad taught me and my brothers to fish for a reason. I’ll never go hungry.
The fishing is standard tailwater offerings for fly selection. The world renown Zedra Midge nymph was developed in this area. As the best imitation of a midge in the larva and pupa form the zebra midge catches fish twelve months a year in any watershed. However, when you arrive at Lees Ferry the zebra midge produces fish after fish. Red, black and olive are some of the more popular colors. But tyers well adept at spinning wire and string can some up with some closet concoctions the trout are guaranteed to never have seen.
Another popular fly is a scud. I know what you are thinking, “A scud, really?” Yes and let me explain. The water level in the canyon above Lees Ferry is heavily controlled by the Glen Canyon Dam. When Las Vegas wakes up and turns on the air conditioners and begins to pull extra electricity off the grid the dam responds accordingly and opens the gates to address the energy need. As the need for electricity diminishes later in the day, gates are closed and water level drops leaving gravel bars exposed. When the drop comes it happens fairly quickly and scuds are left to die exposed on the gravel bars. The increase in water level returns and rises with the cycle on the next day and those dead scuds are washed into the river where trout feed heavily on the deceased scuds. Anglers will want scuds tied up in rest, orange and burgundy to mimic this feeding pattern. A dead scud is an easy meal.
As a word of warning, the quick rise in water level can dislodge even the best anchored watercraft. It is common for anglers to find the water rise around their legs while fishing. The increase can be deceptive but nevertheless noticeable in the end. Anglers should be able to relocate as the fish will move to continue their feeding activity.
We will have one bonus night at the end of the camping. Our accommodations will be at Cliff Dwellers Lodge, owned by Terry and Wendy Gunn. World class anglers, authors and fly fishing celebrities … I look forward to seeing these two again. And dinner’s not to be missed. Their award-winning chef creates specialty items like a coffee crusted pork chop and avocado pie. Yeah, ponder that for a moment. Think cheesecake consistency but unmistakably avocado.
Campsite at the top of the Grand Canyon. Angling for cold water fish in an unmistakably desert environment. Dining at a world class restaurant. All with my brother and one of the best angling buddies around. Yeah I’m planning a trip. And it’s going to be a good one.