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!!!!
End of summer another try at Canyon Creek AZ
Well, I had decided after being skunked the last two tries to leave the canyon alone until we had a good flood. September fifteen, my resolve faltered, my wife was out of town with our daughter, so it was just me rattling around the old house. No Fun!
Of I went, arriving around nine in the morning, as I was putting my rod together, noticed another fly fisherman already in the hole I planned to attack, Bummer!!
Took me so long to get ready he was gone, in for a pound in for a penny as they say! Stealth mode was the key for the day, the water was super low with watercress really clogging the little water that was visible. Standing way back from the pool casting a bright six-legged grasshopper with a trailing nymph.
Fished the pool hard nothing, nada, zip, zilch! That combo always does well, I figured the other guy had also put too much pressure on that pool. Wading up to the next run, same set up. The water was so low the nymph was getting caught too much on the shallow bottom. The watercress was everywhere with little free-flowing water showing. Very precise casting to narrow runs, some not more than two feet across bordered by fly grabbing watercress. In the pools I could have cast some streamers, I just do not enjoy that as much. Maybe next time, I know friends that catch a lot of trout that way!!!!
Off with the nymph, it was all dry fly now. Grasshopper just did not work, tried various dries and sizes no luck. Then I remembered a buddy of mine who fishes here a lot had given me two cool looking ants he had made. He swears by these ants on this stream!
Further up, there is a long shallow run that you have to double over and crawl on your knees to get within long casting distance and not be seen by the fish! Crawling along, feeling my old knees creak and groan, I got within reasonable casting distance. Squatting down behind some tall reeds I took my time to watch the water. At the very head of the run under an overhanging branch was a nice trout feeding on the surface from time to time.
I was only going to have a few chances at this guy, and it was not going to be an easy cast, I had to unroll the fly just under the bush onto the higher water to drift down. One perfect cast later, luck of the devil!! Fish on took immediately running straight back down at me, rod high pulling in line as fast as I could. Thirty seconds later he shook the fly out on the top of the water, gone!! Sitting back on my hunches pondering my next move. He had disturbed the water for sure, but it was pretty long and wide. Might as well do a few more casts covering different parts.
As luck would have it, on one short cast in front of me, a beautiful brown could not resist. Skating all over the surface, dancing, rod again very high in short order brought him straight into my net!!! About 10” plus inches just starting to get fall colors not as bright as the summer fish.
Took the fly out of his mouth keeping him in the net in about six inches of water. Fumbling to get my phone out to take a picture, just as I was going to take, he just casually swam over to the edge of the net and jumped into the river and was gone!! Another fisherman’s story!! Right!!
That was the last fish encounter for the day. I decided to leave around two thirty in the afternoon, taking the dirt road towards Young about seventeen miles away. On the way came to a signpost for Haigler Creek which runs into Tonto Creek. Eight dirt miles later, came to the stream only to find people swimming in the nearby holes. This creek runs through some beautiful rugged country in a canyon. Very tough stream to fish, as it goes into canyon walls that you have to wade to move on. I will fish there but only with other guys. This is a wilderness and not for the faint of heart. Bear country as the signs warns and a lot of steep banks that have to be scrambled up and down.
It is very surprising to me how many great streams we have in the high country in Arizona. Including the Mogollon Rim, White Mountains, the Apache reservation and so much more. This does not include all the different lakes we have access to! The elevation ranges from four thousand feet up as high as Eleven thousand five hundred feet on Mount Baldy. The cliffs you come across are made up of Limestone and Sandstone with vast Ponderosa Pine Forests. Often time these streams are nestled into canyon walls and then more open spaces. If you need a Fly Fishing guide Cinda Howard of Fly Fish Arizona and beyond is excellent. I have used her services many times.
I would guess that most of the population of Phoenix has truly never gone that far off the beaten track to experience these wildernesses. I am also surprised that some fishermen want to keep this all a secret, their honey holes, etc.! Just a few for sure, but I have been told I should not write about my experiences. This is God’s country, we all should enjoy and experience the wildness of it!
I have lived and traveled all over the world, been very lucky, the beauty of the high country has its own splendor that can match anything. Get out there, it is under your nose and not that difficult to get to. The summer months are best, most places you can use a car, make sure there is no rain in the forecast!! However, once the weather changes you will need four-wheel drive and a lot of common sense as some of the dirt roads get very bad, with a few having very steep if not vertical drops that are only a few feet from your tires.
The fishing can be un-real and it also can be slow, like anywhere. A lot of the streams are stocked at certain times of the year with rainbows.
The big trophies for me are the wild brown trout, the native Apache trout along with brook trout and the Gila trout.
Some of the streams are for Fly fishing with barbless hooks and are catch and release. However, most are for bait fishing. Check out before you set off. Don’t forget the Salt River nearer to Phoenix, this is also stocked at certain times with Rainbows, along with native Bass, Catfish, Bluegill, carp and Sonora suckers excellent fighting fish!
Also, go to Oak Creek Canyon nearer Sedona, it is beautiful and has a great Brown Trout population as well as stocked rainbows. There is a guide service up there, Sedona Fly Fishing Adventures that you can use that is very knowledgeable. I have not used them, but I know one of the part-time guides, and they know their stuff!
A little nearer to Phoenix is the Verde River, great place to fish, fish just above Cottonwood. Again there are small lakes which are stocked as well as the stream. In the stream just next to the lakes I have caught plenty of Rainbows, there is also Bass, Catfish, and Carp. So you see we have plenty of selection and it is nice to get out of the heat in summer!
Till the next time, tight lines!!!
So one day watching a fly fisherman doing his thing, with his dog patiently sitting at his side by the stream, reminded me of an occasion fishing a nameless stream with my dog.
The truth be told he was not really a fisherman’s dream, this dog loved to roam and could not understand for a moment, the boring idea of watching his master cast flies endlessly into the water. Trying to catch these silvery, slippery odd looking, smelly, slimy creatures. This description from the view of a dog, who of course, could succinctly converse with me, can’t they all?
The day had been long, to be fair to my faithful companion. Endless casting and cursing my luck or lack thereof! He was off running behind me amusing himself with all manner of smells and places to endlessly pee, marking his spot. God knows what he would have done if one of the resident Bob Cats came out to tell him to bugger off, this was their land, and they could easily out piss him!!!
So he was in happy land finally escaping my disapproving eye; on this one particular long cast, reaching back, casting further and further out, that big old trout had to be out there, somewhere! I let my line hang back in time, so far back it must have been in another dimension. Just as I was about to load up going forward, I heard this yelp, and my line took off backward. This was more fun than a huge trout running the line!
Off he went, now I understood what was happening, my line had caught him on his ear, and he had gone ape shi!!!! Howling he went, heading for the trees, safety from whatever this was in his ear that was the worst sting he had ever had!!
So about this time to make matters worse, the local wild horses turned up out of the bush to see what this ruckus was all about. I suppose that if dogs can talk to us humans, horses are easy to communicate with! No idea what was said, but the horses definitely were looking on with disapproval. This was after all a Sunday! Gods and horses day of rest!!!
Now my dog after taking my line out to the backing decided he needed my help and made a huge loop and turned running for me, which at the same time went around three horses on the outside of the group. They say lack of communication spells disaster, nothing could be more accurate, as now I had three horses heading my way at considerable speed trying to kick off this line that was running up their hind legs.
The other horses looked on with great amusement, this was better than Sunday TV!!!
At this point, I looked, had no options left, get trampled on or dive into the stream away from this Malay of horseflesh and hooves looking to trample anyone at this point.
It was not a pretty dive, lucky I was wet wading, but under I went, coming up for air only to see four heads standing there looking at me. My dog and now his three best buddies all wondering what I was doing spluttering and trying to get out of the stream!
Dog are wondrous forgiving animals as he waited for me with a torn bloody ear, waiting to give me a lick and say, I think it is time to fish another day!
Lees Ferry AZ
Just returned from a trip with a friend of mine to Lees Ferry AZ.
If you get the change go there, absolutely breathtaking scenery. We hired a guide and boat for one day of fishing, you can wet wade near the boat ramps which has some great fishing, but to really enjoy the fishing you need a boat and guide with local knowledge.
It is impossible to walk and fish higher up from the boat ramps as you are in the canyon walls. You can get dropped off the boat in certain spots to wet wade most times of the year. Unfortunately for us, this time the river was too high in the canyon to do that. So we just drifted in different runs for eight hours. The river at this point runs about fourteen miles so there is plenty of water to fish.
The fishing was on and off but we caught plenty of fish, all rainbows that really fought well. They are wild and spirited. I had many fish that once you got them on the reel they took off running. Taking a while to bring in to the boat.
Great fun!!! We wet waded the first afternoon on arrival in high winds that made it a challenge. Rigging up a red worm under an indicator with a trailing black and silver nymph. In general we had the flies about three feet under the indicator and the nymph another two or three feet down. Due to the speed of the water flow, you needed one or two split shots above the top fly to get them down quickly. Moving the indicator up or down depending on the depth we were fishing. The water is very fast moving and getting out to your waist is about as far as you want to go, the water is so very powerful and easy to trip and go under, so be respectful of mother nature! The water is cold they say about Forty-eight degrees, it is very noticeable so wear socks under your waders, I did not, and my feet and legs did get cold. Strange when your upper body is so hot!
Fishing with an indicator with two flies and split shots on a longer leader is a challenge, if you are not used to that do some practice first, it will save you a lot of time later on in avoiding messy tangles. So frustrating!!
At the end of the first day off to the lodge, there are a few different ones to choose from, all reasonably priced. Cliff Dwellers Lodge was our destination as they provided the guide service. Much easier to book altogether. At the lodge, dinner was very good and a few beers later we were feeling no pain and boy did the fish get larger as the night wore on!!!!
The next day was the big day, meeting our guide at seven am at the boat ramp, loading up the gear he told us not to wear waders as the water was too high and that we would be drifting all day! Setting up the fly rods with about nine to twelve feet leader with two flies followed by one or two split shot dragging under the last bottom fly. The flies I used with success was a worm followed down with a scud, which imitates a crustacean. The guide would maneuver the boat at the top of the run, and we would drift over mending the lines as we went so there was no drag on the indicator. If no strikes we would do again then move on to new water. Make sure you check and if you are not wading wear good boots on the boat, so you have sure footing. Standing on the bow with no railings as he maneuvered the boat into the fast current you need to be steady on your feet!
Eight hours is plenty long, as it can get very hot in the canyon and at the end of the day you are tired. The lodge provided us with a very good lunch, drink plenty of water and keep hydrated! All in all a wonderful experience with knowledgeable, friendly guides.
Too tired to fish any more, what’s a boy got to do? Beer and shrimp flour Tacos started the night, many beers later, off to bed. Up early the next day and off wet wading again staying on the river until one lunchtime. Plenty fish caught, into the truck and a four-plus hour drive back to Phoenix. The guide told us that October is one of the best times of the year to fish there with perfect weather and good fishing so we will be looking for people to join us on our next trip. If interested contact me or Brian Foss of Desert Fly Casters. The more people we get to go the bigger the saving on accommodation and fishing. Highly recommended!