The cold waters of the Colorado River beckon not just river rafters such as us but also anglers of all sorts. Many an inquisitive fishermen has phoned our office regarding fishing opportunities on their Grand Canyon rafting trips. After all, fishing is an art form that brings the participant immeasurably closer to nature than they could ever imagine. Between the fish, the bugs, the line and the scenery it would be difficult to get any closer to the promise of tranquility than when fishing in Grand Canyon.
The River: Remember that the mighty Colorado River was naturally a muddy river pre-dam. With the installment of Glen Canyon Dam much of the silt from upriver does not make it all the way down. Thus, from the Dam to Lees Ferry the river runs clear almost all year round. Below Lees Ferry there are quite a few side creeks and streams that flow into the river and during monsoon (July-September) season they can carry much of that natural sediment into the main channel. This might impact your fishing experience.
The Fish: Though trout are the main attraction when fishing the Colorado River, remember that they are not a natural species to this river. They greatly prefer the cool and clear portions of the river closer to the Dam. Thus the best trout fishing is at the beginning of the trip from Lees Ferry to the confluence of the Little Colorado River. The average for these guys is between 12-14” and usually Rainbows though you might find an occasional Brown. As you head downstream towards Lake Mead the water warms a bit and has more risk of not being clear. The natural fish, such as the endangered Humpback Chub, love the warmer water and the sediment but the trout not so much. Especially below Phantom Ranch you might experience more carp and suckers than trout.
The When and Where: Fishing is never allowed from our moving rafts. You may fish at camp both in the morning and evening and at any side stops. Make sure you discuss fishing with your guide beforehand to make sure it is okay at that specific location. Sometimes there might be too many boats or not enough time.
Check out the Arizona Game and Fish website for more information.
The Rules: Click here to see rules and regulations for fishing this section of Grand Canyon.
On the Fly:
- Gear: Most anglers on the Colorado River use a 9’ 5 Wt Rod. A four piece rod is preferable because they are more compact for storing while on the river. Make sure to bring a hard rod tube. For leader usually a 9’5x and tippet we recommend either 4x or 5x. Throw in a few lead weights also for when you need those things to drop. We don’t recommend bringing any sort of waders. There is limited space on the raft and they won’t benefit you much.
- Bugs: Use barbless hooks for easy release. You have multiple options here how to fish and it really depends on the river conditions and the weather. Bead head wooley buggers are always a great bet especially in olive or brown. Whether the river is running clear or muddy this is a great way to go. If you prefer using a dry or sub-surface fishing just note that the fish are not found in as large of concentrations as upstream and it will be more difficult if the river is muddy. We recommend using a dry-dropper technique. For the dry – something big and buggy like a stimulator. Sub-surface use something like a prince nymph or the ever popular zebra midge. If you are nymphing try scuds (pink or burnt orange) or San Juan worms (red or brown) as well and make sure your indicator is not too bright especially when it is sunny. Look for good seams and slower moving water.
*Note: Fly fishing on a rafting trip can be a bit cumbersome. We don’t recommend bringing any waders or boots. If you are going to go this route, just fish from the beaches at camp and keep it mellow. If the water clouds up you might be disappointed.
- Gear: The owner, Steve Hatch, likes to bring an ice fishing style rod that is short so that it can be more mobile. Make sure you have lighter monofilament line on it, like 4 or 6 lb test. Also, collapsible spin rods work great. Either way, make sure you have a rigid rod tube to store your rod.
- Lures/Bugs: Use single, barbless hooks for easy release. Maribou jigs can be a great way to go. Same as wooley buggers we like black and brown preferable ¼ oz. Make sure they are getting down, though. Also, Kastmasters in gold, silver or trout pattern work well. The color depends on sun conditions. Panther Martins and Super Dupers in similar colors work too.
If you are on the Full or Upper Canyon portion of the trip, stop in the shop at Cliff Dwellers Lodge. They not only provide the lodging for our guests but they are also a top notch fly shop. They can sell you a license, gear and bugs if you forgot anything. Questions about guided fishing beforehand? Give them a call at 800-962-9755. For current river conditions you can call Hatch at 800-856-8966.