100 Best: Colorado RIver

Location: Northern Arizona

Type of stream: Tailwater

Angling methods Fly, Spinning

Species: Rainbows

Access Limited

Season: Year ‘round Supporting

Services: Marble Canyon

Short take: Lots and lots of ‘bows and some of ‘em are huge

Handicapped access: Yes

Closest TU Chapter: Zane Grey (Phoenix)

Drive to one of the overlooks above Lees Ferry off US Route 89. Far below, more than 1,000 feet, the Colorado River tailwater from Glen Canyon dam flows emerald and icy between sheer walls of red Navajo Sandstone. You can see an island, covered with green brush, dividing the river. At the top of the island, a motor boat is beached. One angler is fishing a side channel; the other the seam where the current breaks around the island’s head.

If you want to fish this, the best big water 15.5 mile run of the Colorado, you have to do it from a boat. There is no alternative. Shallow draft jet boats are preferred, though a very river-wise captain can negotiate its shoals with conventional outboards. Since the closing of the dam in 1963 and their stocking in 1964, trout, exclusively rainbows, have thrived in the upper river. Water is of constant temperature; the flow, relatively constant. The river runs clear as bottle glass to the mouth of Paria River just below Lees Ferry, that year-round fly-fishing Mecca at the base of Vermilion Cliffs.

Sharp and heavy rainstorms swell the Paria River and load it with gravel. Reaching the narrow valley floor it drops is load creating a small delta and shoal. The bar above the mouth of the Paria stretches about a third of a mile. Shallow to the west, it deepens toward the main channel which flows hard against the eastern bank. Boulders of a foot or two in diameter fill the course and trout lie in pockets behind them. Fish nymphs beneath strike indicators. Crustaceans constitute the primary food source here and scud patterns, particularly grey or tan in sizes #10 to #16 are most effective. Frequently a brassie in #16 to # 24 is fished on a 10- or 12-inch dropper below the scud.

When flows are below 14,000 cfs, fishing is generally best. On a typical summer’s day, due to peak power demands, flows can average 20,000 cfs or more. Winter flows are much lower and that, coupled with spawning and day-time highs in the 40s and 50s, make this an ideal time to fish the Lees Ferry reach of the Colorado.


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