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Personal accounts of fly fishing trips in Arizona


What’s Your Favorite?

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Some places speak distinctly. Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain coasts are set apart for shipwrecks.

-Robert Louis Stevenson

As any father can tell you, kids are full of questions. Probably the first that comes to mind is the ubiquitous “Why?”.

At some point kids get on a “favorite” kick for their questions. What is your favorite color or flavor of ice cream, for example. Perhaps it is because we are always asking them what their favorite things are. So I guess we are always asking each other about our favorite things.

If my son were to ask what my favorite place to fish was, Lees Ferry would be pretty high on the list. The scenery can’t be beat and the fish are strong, beautiful, and catch-able. It is a combination better than Neapolitan ice cream, which seems to be no one’s favorite.

This past weekend I was able to take my son, Matt, to this place of good favor. It was a great opportunity to spend some time with Terry Gunn who has a son of his own about Matt’s age, Troy. We arrived at the Gunn household Friday evening and while Terry and I settled in, the kids made fast friends.

In the morning we waited for the chill to break and headed up the river.

I am not used to such high flows on the river. As we rounded to corner to 4-Mile I could see the bar was already completely submerged. This is the time for drifting, so we pulled into some shallow water below the run to prepare. As Terry was rigging up some rods, I noticed some heads rising upstream in a small current. Oh boy!  Casting to rising fish is my favorite. The riffle was coming off the beach and a number of fish were sipping bugs. Terry handed me a rod rigged with a dry dropper. After a couple cast I hooked one, but it popped off. Another followed with the same result. By now, a little overzealous, I snapped the dropper off on a third. Finally I was able to hook and land a smaller fish.

Meanwhile, the kids had been poking at bushes from the boats. Terry mentioned the “box toy” where a cardboard box is often the greatest gift you can give a young man. Boxes can be favorite things.

Terry had finished rigging so we pulled  anchor and he sight fished to a few rainbows which were pushed up along the bank in shallow water. The first pass was received with several refusals. A later pass produced  one which Troy remarked to his dad “That sure is a small one!”. Ouch.

Troy, Matt, and Terry

The kids enjoyed drifting taking turns with the rod and net. I’m not sure which one was more fun. Troy, who has more practice at this was first to get one in the boat. Matt had several pop off in the current. Finally he hooked a decent on and Troy was able to corral it in the net. He was overjoyed.

Terry and I has some business to attend to, so we called it an early day and headed back to his house.

Montezuma Castle and dino tracks

On the trip home the following day, we took some time to sight see.We stopped at the dinosaur tracks outside Tuba City as well Montezuma’s Castle. Matt though they were both pretty cool.However, when I asked him what his favorite thing was about the weekend, he did not hesitate: “Catching that big fish, dad”.


Lees Ferry

Five Dogs in The Gap

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

When a man’s best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem.

-Edward Abbey

It had been a while. Fall fishing is some of my favorite and it had not been a good year. Parental obligations and poor health kept me off the water for the most part. Due to a surgery, I even missed a deer hunt after waiting on a tag for six years. To say I was ready to get out is an understatement. My skin was crawling.

So when I got a phone call on Sunday afternoon asking if I wanted to head up to Lee’s Ferry, I was all in. A friend had someone unable to make a planned trip. Norris was looking for a last minute replacement when he gave me a ring.  A little over an hour later, we were on the road.

Lee's Ferry Rainbow

Four Mile Bar Rainbow Trout

Many of the trips I have made to the Ferry the last few years have been with friends Rusty and Scott. One reason I like traveling with them is that even though we are all forty-to-fifty-something, we are not afraid to let the kid come out a little. An example of this would be a game they came up with: “Guess the Number of Dogs in The Gap”.

The Gap is a small Navajo Nation town between Tuba City and Page on Highway 89. On the way to Lee’s Ferry, it is little more than a wide spot in the road; the speed limit only drops by 10 mph. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in canine population. So to play “Guess the Number of Dogs in The Gap” everyone chooses a number of dogs which they think will be visibly present between the two town limit road signs. The closest guess, without going over, wins.

If you call it up front, three-legged dogs can count for two.

It was nearing sunset last Sunday as Norris as I approached The Gap. After a brief explanation of the game and the rules, I offered up the number five and he chose four. Slowing down, we scanned porch, driveway and roadside for pooch. We counted to four pretty quickly. It appeared beginner’s luck was in his favor as we approached the sign on the far side of town. Just in time a dog appeared in a gulch. It was a narrow win, but a win none-the-less: five dogs in The Gap.

Less than an hour later we arrived at Lee’s Ferry Anglers. At the shop, Ted had some ominous news: the weather looked grim. While not a lot of rain was forecast, high winds were expected. Owing to the fact I needed to be back in town for work on Tuesday, Norris and I resolved to go out on Monday anyway, if possible. After all,  the best time to fish is when you are there. Following a nice dinner we retired for the night mixed with apprehension and anticipation. The apprehension was concern for the weather. Dreams of trout supplied the anticipation.

More than most places, Lee’s Ferry has provided anticipation. I know I am not alone either. On my first pilgrimage there more than two decades past, a friend and I stayed at the campground. He woke me in the middle of the night with cries of “Mike! Mike! Did you see him! Did you see him! Get the net! Hurry!”. After realizing he was dreaming of big trout, I zipped back up my sleeping bag and went back to sleep.

The anticipation is still contagious to this day. I woke early on Monday and could not get back to sleep. With a couple hours to dream about fish of my own,  tying up some zebra midges was in order. The vise, thread, bobbin, beads, hooks and wire did the trick. It was breakfast and ramp time in the blink of an eye.

Four Mile Bar, Lees Ferry

Four Mile Bar

We met Tyson Warren at the ramp and were off to Four Mile. Being a weekday with a poor weather forecast, there were few boats on the river. As Tyson and Norris headed up to wade the bar, I headed to the channel. Every time I looked upstream, it seemed like Norris had one on. I was doing pretty well at sticking them on a zeeb, but they kept popping right off. After losing four in a row, I checked my hook. Sure enough the point was broken off. I must have damaged it pinching down the barb. Like the fifth dog in The Gap the day before, the fifth hook-up was the winner and I got it to hand.

One thing I have learned about fishing Four Mile, is the day goes fast if you are not paying attention. The two other boats which were on the river had come up and then gone back down when the wind started kicking up. We were pretty much alone on the river; two anglers,  one guide, and hundreds of thousands of trout. Some of these had worked there way up into the shallow channel and when the wind was not ripping the surface I could sight cast to them. Occasionally seeing one move to the side when my fly was in the vicinity  I would raise my rod and be fast to a hard fighting fish in current. The current was picking up with the rising water too. Before lunch the entire bar was covered which was washing insects into the water. Outside of fishing the foam eddies and the summer cicada season, this is one of the few opportunities to fish up top at Lee’s Ferry. So we threw foam terrestrials for a while and each brought a couple more to hand.

After lunch we headed upstream for a pleasure cruise. The wind was blowing too hard for drift fishing and the bars were submerged. So we just enjoyed the ride and Tyson’s history lessons. Afterward, we headed back to Four Mile and worked the back channel for an hour or so. It was a little more sheltered. Norris was on fire hooking up on almost every cast. I did not do nearly as well, but still enjoyed every minute of our fleeting day.

Back at the ramp we bid goodbye to Tyson and settled in for the long trip back to Phoenix. It was nearly dusk as we approached The Gap and storm clouds were on the horizon. We were tired and did not play the game, but did count the dogs just for sport. We saw two and they were both lying down.

Norris with a fish on at Four Mile Bar

Four Mile Fight

Leaky Faucet

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Not only is there no God, but try finding a plumber on Sunday.

-Woody Allen


A leaky faucet. Sometimes you can tune out the constant drip, but it is always there reminding you. Other times the drops crash out like drum cymbals rising above the din.


Fishing holes can be  like this too. Maybe it is a lake you had some success at or maybe it is a section of stream which haunts you. You may not always be thinking of them, but they are lying in wait – ready to pounce  to the forefront when your mind wanders.


I have a leaky faucet of a stream. Idle thoughts turn to plots of a return. It is not the most scenic water nor are the fish the biggest. Yet they are all stream bred and opportunistic feeders. A dry fly of just about any pattern will usually work and, maybe best of all, you are unlikely to see another angler. This is the kind of place which remains unnamed.

Plunge Pool

Last weekend Matt and I had the chance to relieve the incessant drip with a return trip.

The water was low and clear making the fish a little more spooky than usual. We also found that many of the pools from the past year had filled in with high flows. Sadly, all the beaver dams had been scoured away.

Of course that did not stop us. We hiked our way along still finding a few spots to fish. Staying in the shadows as much and possible, while keeping low we threw caddis, hoppers, cicadas, and even Wulff patterns. All caught fish.

Freestone Stream

It was nice to return. And like the beavers, we will be back. The dripping won’t let us forget.

Hand-sized Streambred