Lees Ferry is a tremendous fishery located in northern Arizona on the Colorado River above Grand Canyon. Created with the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, this tail water is crystal clear and a constant 47 degrees, providing anglers with an exceptional fishing opportunity 365 days a year. The river here is managed as a trophy fishery by the Arizona Department of Game and Fish anglers can expect rainbows averaging 14” to 18” with a good chance at fish of 20” or better.
This stretch of the Colorado is accessible only by boat, guarded by the 700-1500 foot red sandstone cliffs of Glen Canyon. This and the nature of the river, that is shallow riffles and gravel bars interspersed with deep unflyfishable water, insure a feeling of having the place to yourself. These shallow gravel bars can also present a navigational hazard to those unfamiliar with the river. It is suggested first timers use great care in navigating the river or use a guide.
Lees Ferry is primarily a nymphing river with opportunities for dry fly fishing during certain times of the year and certain river conditions. The primary food sources for our rainbows are scuds (Gammarus Lacustris), annelids, terrestrials, and nearly forty species of midges. For the most part, the chironomid and emerger stage of these midges are the most important to the rainbows. However, fish are often found in back eddy scum lines feeding vigorously on the adults.
The spawning season at Lees Ferry is somewhat unique, beginning in January and sometimes continuing through May. At this time of year, many fish move into the shallows and provide anglers with a chance to spot, stalk and cast to large rainbows in water often only inches deep. Fishing at this time of year puts a premium on casting accuracy, not distance, and is primarily nymphing although large attractor dry flies are sometimes effective.
Beginning in mid-March and continuing to October, midge hatches increase with increased sunlight in the canyon. At this time, fish move into vegetation filled runs and riffles. Vigorous feeding patterns resume and a variety of methods may be employed depending on flow releases from the dam and river conditions. A very popular method employs large attractor dry flies with a shallow running chironomid imitation below. This technique is very effective in the shallow riffles along the margins of gravel bars where midge activity is highest.
Starting in mid-June and continuing through August, the temperature in the canyon rises and begins the awakening of the terrestrials, such as the cicada. The fish begin to move to the vegetation lined shores, and begin looking for cicada or any other terrestrials they can find drifting on the surface. The primary method employed is casting from a rowed boat to the shoreline. This method puts a premium on distance casting.
Beginning in September and continuing through December the temperatures begin to drop with the angle of the sun lowering in the southern sky. The population decline of the terrestrials and midges follow this fall to winter weather change. The primary method employed is nymphing with scuds, and annelid patterns as well as the chironomid, and emerger patterns of the midges. Another method often used this time of year is streamer fishing with heavy sink tip line, which is also a productive method year around.
“On a recent trip to Lees Ferry at Marble Canyon, I had the opportunity and pleasure to film a fishing show with Rocky Lovett, the owner of Marble Canyon Outfitters. The temperature was 102 degrees and the sky was crystal clear. I have fished Marble Canyon many times over the years but this was the first time I filmed there. Rocky and I started our day at 7:00 a.m. at the lodge and worked our way to the dock to find the water like glass. The conditions could not have been more perfect. Now all we had to do was get into the fish. It was early July and the cicadas were just getting hot along the shores. Knowing my love for fly fishing, Rocky set me up with one of his own Cicada Patterns and the rest was history. Big Rainbow trout after Big Rainbow trout were landed from 7:30 a.m. until he pulled me off of the river at 4:00 p.m.! Rocky is a first class guide not to mention an expert on Lees Ferry and Marble Canyon. During the course of the day we covered all 15 miles of that amazingly beautiful canyon of 1,000 ft. walls. I couldn’t have asked for a better day, better guide or better outfitter not to mention a better day of filming and fishing. The show that Rocky and I filmed will air on the FSN Sports Network.”
Joe Rossi Producer/Host of Joe’s Wildside Adventures