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Monday, June 30, 2008

Adventures in Fly Fishing Part One- The pursuit of Trout at Lee's Ferry

When you think about Arizona, the images that usually come to mind are classic Sonoran desert scenes. Hot , parched sand-scapes dotted with endless Saguaro cactuses, creosote bushes and Palo Verde trees in valleys beneath mountains of twisted volcanic rock.

If you have ever been in that area of the world , perhaps you can quickly conjure the memory of summer heat so penetrating as to scald the flesh and threaten mortality. About the last thing you may envision is a leaping wild trout on the end of a crisp, tight line.

Well welcome to Lee's Ferry and the mother of all tailwaters - the Colorado River! Downstream from here is one wild and woolly river and one Grand hole in the ground. Those who choose to run the Colorado through the biggest canyon in the world depart regularly from this spot on the river. And on this day while we waited for our guide in the early dawn hours, we watched the river runners prepare for their coming adventure as all around them trout rose , dimpling the surface.

We knew that our own adventure of a different sort was just ahead.Today I am fishing with with my father in law and brother in law ,Tom and Matt . Our direction will be upstream and opposite of most, traveling by jet-boat the fifteen miles as far as Glen Canyon Dam. Sheer cliff walls rise hundreds of feet on either side of us and amazing rock formations in an array of colors command our attention as the beauty alone is worth the trip. This is truly a unique and wonderful place!

As we rolled upriver our guide Luke Blaser ( ) explained the tactics of fishing this powerful and fast flowing river. The daily release from the dam is on and the river is rising quickly. We will work out of the main flow in the side eddies and seams, looking for trout that in this water are primarily "insectivores".

In this crystal clear green water it is not hard to see fish holding , cruising and rising to the surface to ply the "scum-line" for their meals. In short order we were on a pod of feeding rainbows, and dries and dry-droppers were the ticket. We fished primarily zebra midges below a larger indicator flies , casting to the pod of feeding fish and allowing the flies to drift with the swirling water, mending where appropriate to keep the confused drift as natural as possible.

The first take for me was "epic" as I watched a rainbow turn 180 degrees , spot the fly and race 5 feet over to inhale the midge. The indicator dry was instantly sucked under , a hook set and game on! These wild fish fight hard! Jumps , runs and dives are the norm today , and on our light rods and barbless hooks we are all entertained by the vigor of our quarry.

The down side of the great action was that it didn't take long for the fish to be spooked by the fight of their brethren and soon it would be time to move on. No problem though as there seem to be endless hotspots and an amazing population of wild fish in this "rainbow nirvana".

Luke explains that though the fish here grew to tremendous sizes 20 years ago, even reaching double-digit weights. These days due to the constantly and hugelyfluctuating water levels and its affect on the hatches , it is no longer so. An average fish now is in the 12- 15 inch range with the occasional 20+ incher to be had.

Good enough for us!As the day progressed some of the faster runs required an extended drift . This was achieved with a double nymph rig below an indicator, short casted and stack-mended as fast and furiously as possible to keep up with the flow.

Often I was well into my backing before calling it a drift and stripping in to water-haul it back upstream for another go. As the day heated up so did the action, and soon it seemed that between the three of us there was always someone into a fish.
The lunch break had an extra dimension to it that only underlined the uniqueness of this awesome place. As we pulled up on shore we spent some time to hike the short distance to a site of petroglyph rock-art left over a thousand years ago by the Anasazi people.

While we studied the beautiful art forms we soon noticed we were being studied ourselves by a curious Chuckwalla lizard who seemed eager to make friends ... evidently people are not all that uncommon as it is obvious he is used to being bribed with snacks.

As the afternoon began to wear on, the temperature started to soar. Matt solved the problem by joining the fish in the 47 degree river! The rest of us weren't quite that hot. Still, it wasn't long until it reached 105 degrees and we were thinking about a cool restaurant and a cold beer.

Just before we pulled up anchor I had one of those oh so familiar .. " just one more cast "... moments. The fly landed a nose ahead of a feeding rainbow and I was rewarded with a gulp and a tight line. As the fish leaped and splashed I couldn't help thinking what a rare and perfect ending to the day it was to have scored on my "last" attempt.

It was time to go, but I'll definitely be back again.I hope you are all enjoying the summer and .....

Tight Lines!
John Clouser
SAO steelhead guide

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