Colorado River - Trout Fishing Profile

Fishery at Lee's Ferry, Arizona

Excerpted from Trout Fishing Sourcebook by Mark D. Williams

Location: Northwestern Arizona; take U.S. 89 north from Flagstaff (110 miles), U.S. 89A to Marble Canyon, and then go north on Lee's Ferry road.
Section: 15 miles from Lee's Ferry to Glen Canyon Dam
Maps: USGS Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah—Arizona, Glen Canyon Dam, Page, Ferry Swale, Lee's Ferry
Type of stream: Tailwater
Best seasons to fish: Good year-round fishery
Species to be found: Predominantly wild rainbow trout, stocked rainbow trout, some brook and cutthroat trout.

Average sizes: Sixteen inches sounds like a big fish on average, but you'll rarely catch one smaller. Trout 16 to 20 inches are the most common rainbows caught, and the trophy trout run 8 to 10 pounds. The squaretails and cutts don't attain any great size but do reach 23 pounds occasionally.

Regulations: Only two trout in possession and they cannot fall between 16 to 22 inches; only one of the two may be larger than 22 inches.

Places to fish along the river: Stop off at the gravel bars and sand bars, and wade fish (and sight fish) the riffles and long, deep pools, back eddies, and other feeding areas.

Recommended Equipment

Sinking lines are a necessity to reach the trout holding in the deeper pools and runs. Float lines on 3 to 6 weight rods are excellent for midge dry flies and for running droppers through the shallower water. Nine-foot rods are best. Anglers will need to use a powerboat, one over 16 feet with lots of power to boat upriver in the sometimes swift, powerful water. The river level fluctuates, sometimes high, sometimes low enough that you'll wish your boat was flatter and had less draw. A lifejacket is also a necessary item on this mighty river. If you wade, wear neoprene waders in this cold tailwater.

Top fly patterns: Hatches are almost nonexistent except for morning midge hatches in the slower water. Fish under the water with Scuds in pink, orange (10 to 16), Glo-Bug, Midges, Woolly Buggers (2 to 8), Zonkers (2 to 6), Leeches (2 to 8), shrimp, Woolly Worm, and San Juan Worms. If you don't use a high-density sinking line, use heavily weighted nymphs. Spincasters have good luck on the Colorado with jigs and spinners.

Recommended Techniques

Using long, thin leaders, dead-drift a weighted dropper rig with a Glo-Bug on top as an attractor, followed by a scud. Some anglers use strike indicators. In the spawning season, fishermen often sightcast to big schools of rainbow trout. Spin fishermen should work the numerous deep pools. The river fluctuates so often that the best lies change from hour to hour. With this kind of complexity, the first time or first few times you fish the river, it is best to hire a guide.

Best access points: Lee's Ferry is about it, but there are some spots along shore where the river can be reached near the Paria River confluence. Below the Paria River, the fishing isn't very good due to mud and silt, but this area is one of the better places on the river to wade fish. Willow Beach also has a launch.

Quality of Angling

The river has been degraded since 1990, when repeated drawdowns severely affected the food chain chemistry of scuds and moss, and spawning sites. The addition of weaker hatchery trout to the stressed native trout in the river has diluted the overall trout population. Parasites threaten the health of Colorado River trout, as well. The number of trophy trout is reported to have declined. Even with all the problems, the Colorado is still one of the top tailwater fisheries in the country. There are still an amazing number of 1 to 3 pound trout, all three species, and a good number of 5 to 10 pounders. There are even bigger ones in there, but they're hard to land. Catching a 20-inch rainbow is still fairly common. Fishing on the river means fishing in the shadows of the beautiful, red sandstone cliffs. With a guide, expect to catch 10 to 20 trout in a day (sometimes more), many over 2 pounds. That's pretty good fishing in anybody's book, and the potential exists for the Colorado to return to its former prominence.

Wadeability/floatability: Anglers must ride in a boat to get upriver to all the prime fishing water. There are many gravel and sand bars along the way that are best fished by anchoring the boat and wadefishing.

Fly Shops, Guides, and Outfitters of Interest

Lee's Ferry Anglers, 800-962-9755


Campgrounds can be found at Lee's Ferry and Willow Beach. Boulder City in Nevada is a close city with accommodations.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press and Mark D. Williams. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


park finder
step one
Where are you going?

step one
What do you want to do?

+ More Activities

GEARZILLA: The Gorp Gear Blog

Receive Gear Reviews, Articles & Advice

Preview this newsletter »

Ask Questions