Grand Canyon Fly Fishing

Ever since I was little I’ve been a fly fisherman. My Dad passed on his obsession to me. There are pictures of me at 18 months old in a backpack on my dad’s back watching him fish. He likes to tell the story of my reaching into bushes and trees from the backpack to help him get un-snagged. I’ve been conditioned to love fishing since the beginning.

My Dad isn’t a casual fisherman in anyway, I think part of what drives him and me to love fly fishing so much is the adventure of it. Yes it can be relaxing and peaceful but it can also make you feel like Indiana Jones searching for some lost golden temple. Around every bend could be the perfect fishing hole, under every boulder an underwater giant could be lurking just waiting for your fly to come by. The unknown is exhilarating.

When I was six years old my Dad loaded me up with a tiny backpack and we hiked up the Uinta Mountains to go fishing. When I was seven we did the same into the Wind River Mountains. I’m sure my Mom wondered if taking a 6 year old backpacking was the smartest move, but I (and my Dad) didn’t care, we loved every minute of it. I for sure would have been miserable at home imagining my dad up in the mountains somewhere catching trout the size of whales out of some cool mountain stream. Those backpacking trips, and the many others we did every summer of my youth prepared me to do just about anything for good fishing. My Dad always says something like “If you want the best fishing you have to go where others aren’t willing to go.” I’m sure there are some powerful life lessons in that, but I’ll stick to the story and maybe we can analyze that statement in a different blog post.

So now that you have some backstory maybe you’ll understand just a little about why we do what we do. Not only is my Dad an avid fisherman but he loves to hike. A few years ago on one of our hikes into the Grand Canyon we discovered the Shang-gri-la of fly fishing in the lower 48 states (at least in our minds). When we originally discovered it we were absolutely shocked, we didn’t know there were even fish where we found them.

Now quick disclaimer I’m going to be ambiguous about where we found them, I promised my Dad to keep it low-key. We want our little secret spot to stay that way. I will tell the story of our adventure, but I’ll try to do it without dropping many names. If someone really wants to find this place they could probably piece together the clues and pictures and figure out where it is, and if you’re dying to know you can reach out to me and I will conduct an interview to see if you can be trusted.

Anyway, we found this spot at the bottom of the Grand Canyon not only do you need to know where it is, but you have to be willing to do what it takes to get there. That’s easily the tallest task. To get to this special place you start at the top of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, on the Kaibab Plateau, the trailhead is over 8,000 feet in elevation. This year the night before we were supposed to leave, the Kaibab had a big snow storm that left a couple feet of snow on the roads. With the help of our friend, between his truck and our jeep we were able to punch through the snow and out to the trailhead. We had to put chains on the tires and shovel ourselves out of snow drifts a couple of times but we finally got out there.

You’re probably wondering a few things right now, maybe something along the lines of “why are they going on this hike in December?” Yeah it would be nicer to wait for a beautiful spring day but we’ve learned that there are only a few months during the year that the fish are in our spot. The reason being that our spot is a small tributary of the Colorado River, made up mostly of natural springs that come out of the canyon walls. The trout from the Colorado River swim up this tributary to spawn for just a few months a year and they happen to be the winter months.

So for the love of fishing we punch through the snow to get to the trailhead. Then we start the hike, which is an epic descent from 8,000 feet elevation down to 2,000 feet on the banks of the Colorado. This descent isn’t gradual, the whole hike is around 12 miles so we’re talking huge drops. It’s basically like going down the stairs of 5 Empire State Buildings. Now, wouldn’t we all rather go down stairs than climb up stairs? That’s what I thought before I started doing this hike, but when you have a 40 lb. pack on your back every step feels like you are crushing your knees and spine. You start feeling muscles that you never knew existed in your legs and by a third of the way down your legs are shaking.

Thankfully the scenery is beautiful and so diverse as you go down. You start in the lush pine tree forest, walk across a Mars-like rock desert and then you get to the bottom where there are different kinds of cactus and deciduous trees. We realized from trailhead to river bank you cross through 5 climate zones. The views show it.

Probably the coolest part of the hike is when you come to the natural spring shooting out of the canyon wall. It is so surreal to see a hole in the wall and water shooting out like the equivalent of 10 spewing fire hydrants. The water rushes out and forms a beautiful waterfall on its way down to the river. It is so clean and pure you don’t have to filter it, you can just drink right out of the stream. It makes for a really nice rest stop as you’re walking down.

This year was the first time my brother Kade was able to come with us. When you start off that first day you’re excited and ready to go but as the day wares on you start to question your decisions. Kade started developing blisters on the pads of his feet along with his shaky legs. I lost my big toenails last year from the hike down. When we finally got down to our campground on the beach Kade told me during the last couple hours of the hike, in his mind he was asking himself “Is this worth it? Why am I here? I know there will be good fishing but at what cost?” I laughed when he said it because I was thinking the same thing, even though I knew how much fun the fishing is, you start questioning a lot of things because of that painful hike.

Once we got down there it was just getting dark, the funny thing about going in the winter is that it gets dark around 5 PM and doesn’t get light until 7 AM. It’s a long dark night. We set up camp in the dark, cooked our dehydrated meals over the mini-propane stove (since you can’t have fire in the Grand Canyon) and crawled gingerly into our sleeping bags. The sleep is deep after a day like that.

The next morning, as soon as the sun light started creeping into the sky we were up rigging our fly rods for the day. Yeah, our legs were sore but we knew we were going to stand in icy creek water all day so we wouldn’t feel the stiffness. With our rods rigged, we jumped into the stream.

I’ll mostly let the pictures do the talking about how the fishing is down there, but I will say that this stream is a picturesque fly fishing stream, it has deep pools and long runs. At one point it flows through a slot canyon.

When you’re standing down there in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, in a slot canyon stream about 10 feet wide catching big 15-20+ inch trout you feel like you’re in paradise. It doesn’t get much better. Not only are the fish big but they are plentiful. You barely go 5 or 10 minutes without hooking another one. We had a blast, catching fish watching eachother catch fish. It almost makes you forget about the pain of the day before.

We stayed down for two full days of fishing, we fished from sunrise to sunset because it gets dark so early. One of the benefits of having so much time in the dark is getting to star gaze. There isn’t a lot going on down there at night so you have time to stop and watch. One night we saw 14 shooting stars as we watched. Nature can be really humbling when you realize how big this world and universe is; at the same time it brings you back to your roots and can help center you and focus you on what is most important.

On the second day as we were fishing we were visited by a large Big Horn sheep. He just watched us for a little while from the opposite creek bank and then slowly meandered away. That lucky guy lives in a Big Horn’s paradise.

The night before the hike out you start to get a little nervous, it gets real that you have to climb out the way you came in. We got an early start that morning so we could get the jeep before dark. Your legs get shaky but in a different way as you’re going up, now you’re climbing back up 5 Empire State Buildings so you use different muscles. This time it’s a major cardio workout too. I usually deploy my headphones and music on the way out so I don’t have to hear myself breathing. The hike takes about 8-9 hours on the way back up. We made it, it was slow and painful but we made it.

Once again when I reached the trailhead my mind started to wonder, “was this worth it?” I started thinking to myself “I’m never doing that again”. I realized I said the same thing last year, yet there I was again.

I guess, over time the pain wears off and then you only remember the good times and the awesome fishing. There is definitely another life lesson in that statement. Like my Dad says “If you want the best fishing you have to go where others aren’t willing to go.” So If I had to guess, I’ll be back again next year.

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