Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Return to the Grand Canyon

A week ago I found myself standing knee deep in the cold, clear flow of Bright Angel Creek where it meets the mighty Colorado River. It had been too long since I'd been there, fly rod in hand, watching the morning light illuminate the surrounding temples and canyon walls.

On this trip I decided to focus primarily on fishing the Colorado River, rather than Bright Angel Creek. I didn't see the need to engender the frustration and sentiment that was sure to surface with a stroll down memory lane. I'll always have fond memories of fishing the creek, but memories are about all that is left after ten-plus years of National Park Service trout-reduction efforts have devastated the creek's fishery. Enough on that subject.

With the exception of the lower Marble Canyon reach, the Colorado River is still teeming with trout, primarily rainbows that rarely see a fly. The fishing was good, with a couple of dozen rainbows and a brown or two caught. Flannelmouth suckers kept our rods bent between trout, and fought hard in the strong current. San Juan worms were by far the top producing fly; burnt orange and red took top honors. Pink eggs were effective, and a couple of fish took a dead-drifted zonker. I spent hours methodically working the soft water on river right from Boat Beach to Silver Bridge with a 200-grain sinking line and a variety of streamer patterns, hoping all the while for a big brown, but didn't connect with a single fish - hopefully the trophy-size browns haven't all succumbed to the weir.

The river began to color up the second morning of the trip, and was pea-green by early afternoon. After getting home and looking at the flow charts, the reason was clear... the Little Colorado River had inexplicably spiked by 200 cfs on the 19th... it doesn't take much for it to muddy the Colorado through the Grand Canyon.

As the trip drew to a close, I continued to fish in the increasingly muddy Colorado, fishing harder than I should have. It was as if I was desperately searching for something lost.

Hiking into the Grand Canyon is an incredible experience in and of itself, the fishing is just the proverbial icing on the cake. For those who experienced Bright Angel Creek's trout fishery at its best, it can be difficult to let go of the past. Yet the canyon hasn't changed. I still wonder and marvel at it, I find inspiration from it. I am humbled by it. I will always return to the canyon, but I foresee the day when I will no longer pack along a fly rod, choosing instead to remember what was and appreciate all that is.
Sign of the times: A recent NPS photo of a weir-caught BA Creek brown.

The confluence of BA Creek and the Colorado River.

250+ cfs = clarity issues through the Grand Canyon.
Extreme daily flow fluctuations create issues for wading anglers.

Bill Jordan hooked up with a Colorado River rainbow trout.
The Colorado River offers good numbers of 12-16" rainbows.
The Colorado River as viewed from Silver Bridge near Phantom Ranch at approx. 8,500 cfs.
This one is for you, Matt. 


  1. Great report. It's slightly sickening to see those big browns get pulled out of there. Do you foresee a point in the future where they will abandon their current efforts on Bright Angel or is this the future of the creek?


    1. Thanks, Ben. It was good to get back. I used to think that they'd eventually pull the plug on the project, I'm not so sure anymore. Maybe when we're old and gray BA Creek will come back...I'd love nothing more than to have one more epic day of fishing for big trout there.

  2. Where are the pictures of the Flannelmouth Suckers? Don't leave out the good stuff!!

    1. I put one up for you, reluctantly. They did fight pretty hard, and they will take a fly... a worm anyhow.