What You Should Know

Cliffsnotes for all things Lees Ferry. New to the area? We’ve got you covered with basics, techniques and how to prepare for a good catch.

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Fishing Basics

Techniques

Spin Fishing

Walk-In Area

Wildlife

Weather & Clothing

Fishing Basics

Fish are not always going to be in the same spot. This is especially true at Lees Ferry where you have water that fluctuates on a daily and monthly basis. A spot that is stacked with fish at one flow may be a “fish desert” at another level.

Food and shelter are two things that determine location of the fish. If there is no food present there is no reason for a fish to be in a specific location. However, if you find the highest concentration of food, you will always find the highest concentration of fish, assuming that this concentration of food has been present long enough for the fish to locate it.

At Lees Ferry we have two different feeding plots (each with hundreds of sub-plots). The first is prolific midge hatches. Midges hatch throughout the year; however, by far the largest hatches occur in the spring. The life cycle of a midge is very similar to a butterfly, where the adult midge’s sole purpose is to make babies. Fish do feed on adult midges but mostly on the carcasses of dead midges that accumulate in back-eddies. The importance of a midge as a food source occurs in the emerging stage. When midges hatch, they often do so in mass numbers and for long durations. The fish know this is happening and move into the riffles to feed on the emerging midges.

With weather, any change can shut off fish feeding. Impending weather change makes fish at Lees Ferry not want to eat. It might look like a normal day, the sun may be shining and not a breeze is blowing, but a storm is on the way and the fish know it and for whatever reason they decide to take the day off from eating.

Techniques

Depending on the season, water flows and conditions, we use a number of different fishing techniques at Lees Ferry. The food base is more limited in diversity than many other rivers, consequently our main food items consist of Scuds (freshwater shrimp), Midges (50 different varieties), and worms (San Juan). As a result, most of our fishing is done with nymphs, however we do have some dry fly fishing which is not as predictable as nymph fishing and mostly occurs in July when we have a huge cicada hatch.

The only way to access the 16-mile section of river at Lees Ferry is by powerboat. We leave the boat ramp and head upriver. Water levels and conditions decide whether we wade or fish from the boat. Most times we can do either or both. However in high water conditions we mostly fish from the boat.

If we are planning to wade, your guide will find the best possible spot to catch fish. One of the rules of the river is that if an area is occupied, we do not pull in and fish the same bar as other anglers so that everyone can get the maximum enjoyment from their trip. The guide will pull onto the bar get rigged up with the right flies and then discuss tactics and techniques. Our nymphing tactics and the techniques that we use at Lees Ferry are likely different than those elsewhere.

At Lees Ferry, we often say “there are perfect dead drifts and all other drifts.” It’s all about the drift, it has to be perfect and natural in order to catch fish here.

Spin Fishing

The most effective way to spin-fish Lees Ferry is to drift from a boat. This style of fishing can be highly productive and is a great way to see and experience the river and its spectacular scenery.

We motor up to the top of the run, kill the motor and begin drifting. Your guide will usually use oars to keep the bow of the boat facing into the current (upstream.) When the drift is completed, you’ll motor back up to the head of the drift to repeat.

The key to spin-fishing success at Lees Ferry is keeping your lure on or bouncing along the bottom for as long as possible, only reeling to pick up extra slack. Lees Ferry fishing regulations require barbless hooks, so be sure to crimp the barbs on all your lures.

Walk-In Area

This is the stretch of Colorado River that leaves Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and enters Grand Canyon National Park. You are literally fishing the headwaters of the Grand Canyon.

The Walk-In stretch of water is the area of the river that offers easy drive up access. Drive to the river near the boat launch or park and hike across the big gravel bar to access the area near the “Big Rock.” This is the most productive area of the Walk-In stretch (about a mile long) and, depending on the water flows, can be easy to wade and provides a huge variety water and fishing situations from classic pocket water to flat runs mixed with some swift riffles. This stretch of river holds thousands of healthy wild rainbow trout and can be fished 365 days a year.

This fishery is considered one of the most beautiful places to fish in the U.S. Not only are you fishing in a spectacular setting, but you will also have the opportunity to encounter some of the most incredibly healthy native rainbow trout to be found anywhere. Many opportunities await you at the Walk-In. This is big water and can be intimidating, but it is also equally rewarding. Visit Lees Ferry Anglers Fly-Shop, located 9 miles from the Navajo Bridge, at Cliff Dwellers Lodge. It is here that you will find a helpful and knowledgeable staff dedicated to providing you with the best information to help you maximize your fishing experience while visiting this section of the Colorado River.

Wildlife

Most of the wildlife in this area and on the river is nocturnal. Coyotes, badgers, beavers, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, and ring tail cats are rarely out during the daylight hours.

The Desert Bighorn Sheep is the only large mammal that you might see along the river if you are lucky. These spectacular animals were eradicated by the early pioneers, but reintroduced to the area in 1984. There is currently a very healthy population of Desert Bighorns and they are becoming more common along the river each year.

If you like birds, we have lots. The Colorado River is a major flyway and great feeding habitat for waterfowl and wading birds and is a major nesting area for migratory songbirds. We also commonly see Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Red Tail Hawks, and Peregrine Falcons.

The river gets more than 20 species of waterfowl that migrate here for the winter. The most recent arrival to this area is the California Condor which is America’s most endangered bird species. The condors were released here as part of a project to attempt to bolster the wild population. We currently have more wild condors here than anywhere else in the world, more than 80 birds.

Weather & Clothing

We generally get snow a few times in the winter, but it is rare that it lasts more than a few hours before melting. Our spring usually begins the middle of February and the weather this time of year can be anything.

Our summers are warm to hot, but the humidity is normally low so it is a very tolerable dry heat.

Our fall weather begins in September and continues through the middle of November; this is usually the best weather of the year.

The Colorado River at Lees Ferry is 850-feet lower than the lodge, so expect the weather to be different. In the summer, the temps may be 5 to 10 degrees warmer along the river; however, because the water temp is 48 degrees, the air temps on the river can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler.

 

What to Wear

Summer: Lightweight, light colors, light jacket.
Spring and Fall: Medium weights, light sweater or sweatshirt, warm morning and evening jacket, wool or polypro hat for riding in the boat.
Winter: Very warm clothes to be layered. Ski-type parka, hats, gloves, boots, et cetera.
All year: A good long-billed cap with sun protection, rain gear.

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