Three Amigos take a midnight drift down Lees Ferry AZ Fly fishing. What could possibly go wrong?
Dave a friend of mine and I left Phoenix at two am in the dark morning to rendezvous with Lou a new friend of ours at Flagstaff AZ in the early hours to head off for a three day Fly Fishing Trip to Lees Ferry in Northern Arizona.
We throw all our gear into Lou’s truck which is towing his big boat behind, nicked name Gator, to be ever notorious from now on in. The day started normal enough putting the boat in the water around eight am, loading up and off we went.
Weather was beautiful, the river was low as they were planning a flood on late Sunday night to wash away all the silt that had accumulated over the summer. Lou knew the river pretty well having fished here many times. The rig of the day was long leaders with scuds and nymph set up below indicators and then long drifts. We fished all day with little success. Lou caught one on a fly and one spinning, did I say spinning, well yes Lou has been a spinner in the good sense, all of his life and now has taken up the art of Fly Fishing, to his I suspect frustration!
We had taken the boat up about Eight miles of the river, then during the day started to drift back, also stopping off along the way and wading where we could. The problem in a lot of places was that along the banks there was heavy weed. That was just running just along the edges, out in places to broad areas making it hard to find a place to cast to without getting into the weeds. We fished hard changing flies, trying different depths looking for the perfect drift. The guides had taken over all the prime wading spots so we had some limits as to where we could fish. That’s their job, and they beat us there, not much you can say about that!
I caught a small one on a nymph and much later in the day a beautiful rainbow on a semi leech when we had landed on one of the banks to look at our engine, as we were having some engine issues. While Lou delved into the engine not wanting my limited engine knowledge, I walked up along the bank looking at these deep weeds, seeing an area where I could get a fly in and let drift along this weed bank. Bang, nice trout on, brought him in, and life was getting better!
Or was it! The news on the return to the boats was bad, we could not get it started no idea why! It was now beginning to get dark, and we were six miles up the creek, without the proverbial paddle!!!
Plan B, well we had an electric trolling engine, which we had used on and off during the day to steer the boat in different drifts, so we really did not know how long this would last. It was getting cold and very dark, so we decided to go for it. As Lou was getting into the boat off the side of the bank, he stepped into a hole and started to disappear. I was on the other side of the boat, Dave dove around and grabbed his arm as the top of Lou’s waders began to fill with water, and he was slipping away!!! Dave yanked him up and on and off we went. Lou was now on top of things wet and getting cold.
The current runs at about we think two knots, not sure about that but it was going in our direction, the good news, the bad news the stars look nice and bright up above the canyon walls, but no light was coming down on us. The walls run about one thousand to fifteen hundred feet in places, so you are down in a hole! After about an hour we decided that we needed help. Lou and Dave’s phones were not working, and my cell had one bar, but it was usable. First, we called our hotel to tell them we would be late but to keep our rooms and do you know of the rangers’ phone numbers as we need a tow.
They did and said have a nice night, we hope to see you!!! Ranger one voice message no return call. Hotel again, any other numbers we could call for help? Call ranger two, here his number. This time we did get through, Lou told him of our situation and that he was disabled had a heart issue, and Dave was a diabetic with asthma, and we could not survive the night. What!!! Ranger two, well it is too dangerous at night, and we are not allowed to come out and rescue you!!! Have a nice night! Wait what other options do we have? Ranger two, Well, you can call main dispatch here’s the number good number night!
Call the new number, but we keep cutting out, dispatcher, Lou I am losing you! No Shit!!! We know that! Hello, hello, Oh Hi Lou we lost you there for a moment!!
Well as I was saying, Lou give me the phone, we have a medical emergency we need to be towed out now. Dispatcher, Sorry but it is too dangerous, and we cannot do that”! Ok so what are our options? Dispatcher, well we can call rescue services, and they will dispatch a helicopter for you”!! That is it! Yep! Shit, I am thinking that going to be expensive, so hold off on that, we might get back to you. Dispatcher, have a nice night!!!
We look at each other and at that moment the boat picks up speed, and we hear fast moving water, Dave turns on his cell phone light only to see that we are heading for some fast-moving water and the canyon walls, Lou turn on the troll motor, and we avoid that!
We conserved the motor as best we could and decided to push on, as the night went on the light just diminished, even when we turned on our flashlights on our phones you could only just make out vague shapes and along the canyon edges plenty of reflected eyeballs of what we know not!
On the last turn into the landing dock it was so dark we had a very hard time making it out. The last thing we needed was to miss it as we were down on the red lights on our battery for the troll motor. We made it!!! Thank God!
We get to our hotel at nine thirty only to find everything closed no food, other than some great Burritos that Lou had made to bring on the trip. Best tasting. The plan in the morning was to work on the engine and if necessary go and get parts so we could get back on the river. Off to bed, the next morning we awoke to Lou banging away and telling us he has solved and repaired the problem, it was an electrical switching problem. Solved! Great, let go eat a big breakfast, just in case, and get out on the river!
Bacon, sausage, egg, toast and coffee, all fueled up let’s go! Back to the ramp offload. Dave takes the truck away, and I get on board Lou casts off boat running great! Out into the middle of the river, splutter engine stops, what the hell. Nothing, no power, dead, we are starting to drift fast down river, what are you Fu$$$!!!!@@@@@ are you kidding me!!! Lou start the troll motor, yep, nothing no power not working, boat is speeding up in the current, Lou throw out the anchor! Up front, Lou grabs his anchor throws it out nice splash, only to find out it was not attached to the rope!!!! Lou shouts to me to throw out the stern anchor, away it goes only to find it is too small and it is just slowing us down not stopping us!!! At this time there is another boat higher up that we shout too and they come and get us, towing us back to the dock.
Ok, now what? Lou goes over all the engines and finds out on the troll motor a wire had come off, so we get that repaired, working. Now, what can be wrong with the main motor? It comes down to no fuel in the tank!! We change tanks, and we are good to go. Anchors away off we go up the giant great waterway known as Lees Ferry!
We found some water that looked very fishable off some rocks about two miles up, putting the boat on a bank, we got off to wade. I found an outcrop of rocks with fast-moving water on the main river feeding into some deeper water off to the side. Looked good. I was using a purple leech with a small grey colored scud as the bottom fly. I had about five feet of leader under the indicator as the water was about four feet deep as it passed by. Second cast, fish on took off jumped out of the water and spat my fly out! A couple of casts later caught a nice fifteen inch plus rainbow, fantastic colors and a fighting fish.
Taking off a few times running the reel. Brought him to the net standing in fast-moving water, could not take a photo and let him go. After about an hour there we moved on up. Drifting back along the way also getting off the boat and wading. A little later on Lou could not resist and took out his spinning rod to catch a nice twenty-inch rainbow. You do what you gotta do!!!!
The rest of the day was spent drifting all different drifts and flies, no luck. We decided to go all the way up to the dam as Dave had not been there, the engine was purring like a cat, running great!!! At the top of the dam the water is very shallow and fast moving we hit one patch where our jet propulsion hit some submerged rock and banged the hell out of the bottom of the drive. To make sure we were good we pulled over and did an inspection, all OK!!!! What else could happen! After that, we drifted back fishing all over but no luck.
About at the five-mile mark we found a little cove with a great fishing hole, deep water but sandy bottom and a lot of trout just waiting for the right fly. As we started casting, we noticed three people, two girls, and one guy skinny-dipping, no big deal as we were concentration on these elusive trout we could see. First drift over nothing, so we went back around and drifted again. The naked group where going about their business not covering up and we not paying much attention to them as we had bigger issues on our minds. Those Bloody Trout we could not catch!
No luck and off we drifted fishing different drift. We decided enough was enough, so we started up the engine heading for home. Now about at least an hour later this big power boat came alongside us, asking us to cut our engine, which we did. In the boat were the two girls and a guy. One of the girls said we owed them an apology as we made them feel uncomfortable. We asked why, they said we drifted passed once and then went around again and drifted down. I said we were looking at a bunch of trout on the bottom not at them! We did apologize, but really it is the middle of the day on a busy river, and they are buck naked!!!! If they felt uncomfortable why did they not put on a towel or their bathing suits??? Crazy, I guess if we had not apologized the way our luck was running they would have called the sheriff and we would have been arrested on our return to the dock!!!
Off we went mumbling to ourselves about what about our rights, couldn’t we have been offended too? It goes both ways!! Around two miles out we are passing a boat that is slowly drifting down the river when they start waving at us, we go over to find that they had broken their prop and needed a tow back to the jetty. What a day we needed a tow in the beginning, and at the end of the day we end up towing someone else in!!!
The good news was we picked their brains as they had caught a bunch of large rainbows and one twenty two inch brown. What the hell!! You want a tow? What was the secret? Turns out they were jigging a big black fluffy jig in about twenty plus feet of water, just letting it drift and bounce off the bottom. Ok, we can get down there, Plan C was hatching as we towed them back.
We needed food and beer and not in that order! The hotels and bars close at eight thirty, so we had to hurry as we were very dehydrated don’t you know!!!
The bar menu offers a good variety of beers, I asked for IPA, no we are out, an amber out, a pale ale out, draft beer out! Ok what have you got and why no beer? This is the last day before we close for the season!!! Alaskan ale it is then!! Are you kidding me!! Nope, what about food? Wings, that’s it? Yep do you want the wings or not??? I give up, give me copious quantities of beer and whatever wings you deem fit!!! I have surrendered to the gods!
I was feeling no pain when I stumbled into bed that night!
The last day, Sunday we had hatched our plan we were going deep, long leaders weights at the end and drift down some deep water. We tried all kinds of flies no luck. The engine was starting to play up again, what the Fu$$$@@@@@@@, no fish, an engine not doing it thing, now what?? Since we were about four miles upriver we decided to hell with it, we would just drift where ever the current took us.
Now on to Plan D, off with indicators on with some black wholly buggers some heavy weights and we are going to bounce those fly’s off the deep bottom!!! Lou caught a couple, and so did I, poor Dave had just about pulled his hair out, but he is game to come back. All told it was an epic trip with great guys and I cannot wait to go back!!!!