|An ex-resident's idiosyncratic overview of flyrodding options within a few hours' drive of Silicone Valley|
|Fishy doings in and around Vegas|
|Rural southern Nevada|
|Southern Utah streams|
|Further afield --|
|Southern California, salt and fresh|
|Premium tailwaters: Green, San Juan|
|Some general Las Vegas links||Highlights-only version Easier-printing (76K) version|
Yes, you can actually avoid the glittering, tawdry superficiality that surrounds the Las Vegas's bleak, tawdry core. Yes, you can indulge your taste for various sorts of outdoor recreation within a few miles of its monotonous suburban stucco-sprawl. But no, there is not much fly fishing in metropolitan Las Vegas.
|Some non-outdoors Vegas sites|
|"Hack Attack." Raffish, not heavily updated, cabdrivers' view of the area's alleged attractions, including the earthier ones.|
|LV Convention and Visitors Authority's official, slick view. Includes interesting stats about fools and their money.|
|Formerly gateway sites with distinctive personalities that reflected the newspapers behind them, "Vegas.Com" and LasVegas.com" are now essentially clones for tourists.|
|"Las Vegas Online" guide -- pretty standard compendium, mainly of smaller businesses, arranged by subjects.|
Aa couple Orvis-affiliated stores and two independent fly shops come and went between the time I moved there in 1989 and left in 2001. Now there's a big-box outfitter with a mermaid show by the door. The three-decade-old local fly club won the Federation of Fly Fishers McKenzie Cup in the early 1990s and has effectively merged with a much younger Trout Unlimited chapter, reportedly doing well and doing good.
And sometimes there's even a fair amount of water near at hand in the summer. But if, like me, you don't gamble, don't drive to drink, and don't have any use for upscale shopping malls, the then best thing to be said for Vegas is that it's a relatively convenient place to be from -- a few hours' drive to the beach in California, a few to trout-filled mountain streams in Utah, a few to trophy trouting in the Colorado River in Arizona.
I've put together this guide primarily for fly fishers who are passing through the Vegas Valley for some other reason than to go fishing in the Mojave Desert, but I hope it may prove useful to folks contemplating moving into region (along with 4,999 others every month).
Most of the places I discuss are within day-trip distance (i.e., five hours' legal one-way drive) of metropolitan Vegas, though I've added a few spots further down the road east at the end. There are lots of places I don't discuss, but the places I do, I mention because I have fished there. And maybe even caught a fish or two.
There are some park ponds in the metro area (the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, and Boulder City, and the unincorporated urban areas of Clark County) that are planted with trout during the winter and catfish in the summer. Predictably, for the serious flyfisher these ponds can smack too much of casting practice mixed with combat fishing. though there can be real bruiser carp in many of those ponds and good panfishing in the lowermost lake at Floyd Lamb State Park (aka Tule Springs) [review] off US 95 on the northwest side of town.
Lake Las Vegas Resort, a $4.4 billion enclave of upscale hotels, golf courses, and plush homes, offers big bass, seasonal trout, and "Great Basin bonefish" to hotel guests and clients of its resident fishing pro, John Campbell. As an instructor working for John, I have been fortunate to fish there now and again for several years.
Nearby are Lakes Mead and Mohave -- big, federal impoundments of the Colorado River above and below Hoover Dam, respectively. They are managed as part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The Park Service initiated access fees in 2000. Nevada and Arizona have reciprocal licensing for the border waters, but you need to buy a stamp from the opposite state.
Lake Mohave is a bit of a pain to reach from Vegas these days, owing to construction of the Hoover Dam bypass on US 93 (toward Kingman) and truck traffic diverted to US 95 (toward Laughlin/Bullhead City) as an anti-terrorism measure.
Formerly world-class trout fisheries, they are now primarily striped-bass holes, with a rebounding population of largemouth in the upper reaches of Mead (and reports of stray smallmouth and tilapia, and the occasional small alligator). The latest exotic species in Mead,and spreading downstream and outward from there, is the quagga mussel, described by biologists as a "zebra mussel on steroids,"
Trout are managed as put-and-take fare in both: right from the hatchery truck to the cooler or the bellies of the stripers, which have learned how to herd the planters. Both lakes have lots of big carp, which amuse bread-tossing tourists and irritate some species-snob anglers.
There have been some holdover rainbows in Mohave that try to return to the Willow Beach federal hatchery to spawn in the winter months; the best population seems to be closer to the dam. Willow Beach is a semi-developed Park Service recreation area about a dozen miles downstream from the dam on highway 93; roughly an hour from McCarran airport, construction and traffic permitting. I'd usually park by the hatchery and fish around the perimeter and upstream from my tube, though there is some interesting waterand better scenery -- depending on the flow through the dam -- below the little marina. While sometimes you can do well wading (and I used to take a stepladder as a casting platform to extend my options), a float tube or the like will improve your odds.
Befitting tailwater dwellers, the returning spawner wannababes used to get pretty big -- record-sized. Their population had collapsed by the early 1990s, and I simply stopped trying for them for several years. But since 2000, I'd been hearing reports of big rainbows upstream from Willow, and I caught a fat but sluggish 25-incher just outside the hatchery on a club fishout in January 2001. How many of these big fish are merely released brood stock and how many grew large in the wild, neither I nor hatchery officials can say. The hatchery was refurbished to produce endangered native species as well as some trout.
The conventional explanation of the decade-long trout shortage is that the stripers came over the Hoover Dam spillways in the 1983 "El Nino" floods and literally ate up the trout fishery. I expect there were other factors as well, perhaps tied to forage, nutrients, and, especially, fluctuating water levels. Meanwhile, the federal hatchery has been shifting its mission more toward supporting populations of indigenous endangered species, which can be viewed in the raceways.
Whether the trout there are state or federal products, newly planted or naturalized, try when midges are most active: before the sun hits the water in the morning or after it has set below the canyon rim in the later afternoon. In the winter, start with a midge nymph a couple feet below a midge dry (I'm partial to a Usual, size 18 or 20), then replace the dry with an olive beadhead woolly bugger as the sun gets higher; later, reverse this sequence. January through March, I've seen trout working within easy casting range of the bank, often behind the wading anglers and their PowerBait picket lines.
The trout cruise in pods in the ultra-clear flat water, so it's better to cast ahead of the pack and wait for it to come to the fly than to cast right to a fish. Carry some white streamers and heavier tippet in case there are stripers present.
(Of course, now the problem is a record drought that began in the late 1990s, prompting ever-more severe restrictions on water use throughout the Colorado basin.)
The Mead striped bass range from about a pound on up. The biggest striper I've seen caught on a fly went almost 25 pounds, just outside the Willow Beach trout hatchery on Mohave, in April 1993. In the second quarter of 1995, at least three 50+ pounders were caught in the upper end of Lake Mohave by bait and hardware users. Another that size was landed in late February 2003, rather early for the spawning run in the closed waters immediately below Hoover Dam. With the shortage of forage fish (including trout., striper sizes in both lakes reportedly dropped back to low single-digit average. weights.
Both lakes have lots of big carp, which amuse bread-tossing tourists and irritate some species-snob anglers. For the wily carp, pack some wooly buggers (weighted and slow sinkers) and nymphs. Where the tourists set up chum lines, try patterns that imitate such exotic lifeforms as cheese puffs and popcorn -- like my "Improved Celine."
Access to the Mead shoreline is getting tight as the National Park Service works out new policies to recover operating costs and balance user needs. There is a lot of conflict among boaters, jet-skiers, divers, shore-based anglers, and even float-tubers. Enforcement is reportedly very uneven, and rangers report that their job can be more akin to urban policing than to conservation and education.
When I still bothered to deal with Lake Mead, the standard fly fishing technique was to use a float tube and a 9-wt rig, usually with a sinking line, and green/white, brown/white, blue/white (and maybe red/white) streamers about 3-4 inches long.
Hemenway Harbor on Mead was historically popular, but crowded with litter-spewers and too near the jet-ski (sorry, that's "personal watercraft" and other lower lifeforms) area. While the brush along the shore there is good cover for largemouths during the spawn, I gave up trying to put my tube in there because of the locals' boorishness. Because of conflicts between shore-based and waterborne anglers, it is now regulated as shore-fishing only; wading is OK, but not tubes nor boats.
I've kept meaning to try to fish the cove at Kingman Wash, on the Arizona side just upstream from the dam (though approached from below it), but so far I've only taken pictures. I'm told it can be very good for stripers -- it's a great looking location for "boils" -- and for largemouth on the fringes. Look for the sign off the east side of the highway a few miles south of the dam, then several miles of casually graded dirt road, scenery, and feral burros.
The local striper authorities recommend April and October, with a nod toward the spring spawning run, for action in fly-fishable depths, particularly into the evening if you're willing to risk it. Jim Goff, of the Fish, Inc., guide service in Boulder City (702/ 565-8396 ph) has had good things to say about fishing out in the lake in June, when shad can be plentiful on top. Stripers will "boil" on the surface for shad in the summer, but the heat, brightness, and idiocy of boaters and jet-skiers can conspire to make chasing those fish unpleasant.
There are two daily newspapers in Las Vegas, along with several free weeklies, and spotty broadcast coverage of outdoor recreation. Both dailies try to run midweek reports on the waters I've mentioned, from the Nevada Division of Wildlife, but they seem to regard those reports as filler.
The Sun, the smaller, crankier daily, ran Barb Henderson's column on shooting sports, hunting and fishing on some Fridays; it's pretty easy to view archives of her Sun and other writings on her website.
There was no regular outdoors columnist for most of 2004 in the major paper, until the Review-Journal started running Thursday pieces by Doug Nielsen, a Nevada game warden and freelance writer. I haven't read enough of his work to form an impression of his orientation toward wild fish. He appears to be an avid fly angler, but not terribly experienced yet. Some columns by his predecessor, John Kimak, are still in the R-J's archives for 2002-03. Kimak didn't show much interest in fishing unless it was chucking bait or plugs at stripers; for him, trout seemed most interesting as fresh striper feed or an opportunity to muse about Power Bait.
The Las Vegas Fly Fishing Club meets the third Tuesday of the month. Anyone can come to the meetings, which are now in the archery room of the new Bass Pro Shop megastore at the Silverton casino, just off I-15 and Blue Diamond Rd., on the southern edge of the Las Vegas Valley.
LVFFC meetings start about 7 p.m., after half an our or so of informal "wet fly" socializing. Featured programs begin around 7:30, following club business and the always well-stocked raffle; odds are considerably friendlier than you'll find elsewhere in town.
The club sponsors monthly "fishouts" in Nevada and adjoining states during the warmer months, sometimes in conjunction with stream restoration projects. There's also a Junior Club, the Skunkbuggers, that sometimes seems to be be more active than the grown-up group.
The TU chapter formed in early 1997 and grew fast wtih the Valley's population boom and the benefit of a national brand. The joint LVFFC operations with TU happened well after I left town. Find contact and program information for each at the SNTrout site.
It seems that a metropolitan area with nearly two million residents can support only one fly shop at a time. Clearwater Flyfishing, the first real shop, lasted most of a decade then closed, suddenly, mysteriously, and with a lien notice on the door, in 2002. A couple of Orvis shoppes came and went pretty quickly in the early 1990s. The most recent independent shop, Las Vegas Flyfishing, had a longer run than most. I had mixed feelings about the people who ran the place -- and some buddies were frankly hostile to them -- but I suspect that the shop couldn't compete with the big-box Bass Pro for convenience, prices, and its hosting of FF-related events.
In further proof of the transformation of Vegas into a destination for outdoor recreation, REI is also in town, next to the Green Valley Ranch resort in Henderson, but the store opened after the co-op had quit the fly gear business.
One or another aspect of fly fishing is offered pretty regularly through the continuing education programs of both the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Community College of Southern Nevada. Clark County Parks and Community Services and its counterpart in the City of Henderson regularly offer inexpensive workshops. Ivy Santee of the Nevada Division of Wildlife (702/ 486-5127, ext 3503) does free sessions on casting and tying, with an emphasis of children, throughout the year; she was also the founding mother of the LV Fly Club's Junior Club.
I have helped teach fly stuff at most of these places at one time or another, usually working with John and Carolyn Campbell (702/ 499-8921) of The Outdoor Source, a family firm that specializes in teaching fly fishing to groups, from families to corporate retreats, with as much levity or seriousness as the clients request -- an interesting addition to the repertoire of destination management. The Campbells and their sessions are great fun. They also do their clinics and corporate training programs in Park City and southern Utah.
Out of nearly two million local residents, only a couple are FFF-certified flycasting instructors. I highly recommend Steve White, both as a caster and as a person. (702/ 647-2812 ph; 702/ 647-1385 fax; email). Steve is a fine and gentle man who is organizing a foundation to introduce local children to the joys of fishing.
Within three hours of Vegas are some reservoirs and tiny streams with trout and other game fish, if you know where to start. The Nevada Division of Wildlife has begun to publicize some of them, and the region is a tolerably frequent topic in the Las Vegas Review-Journal's "Trip of the Week" column.
Two well-known reservoirs are in Nevada state parks in Lincoln County: Spring Valley (commonly called "Eagle Valley") and Echo Canyon (both near Pioche).
The lakes are tubable, and the tributary/outlet streams are surprisingly full of trout -- browns as well as rainbows -- though only a few feet wide. The fish are pretty opportunistic feeders, except in beaver pools. Some have escaped plantings in the lakes, but others are streambred.
Outside the scenic little town of Caliente -- nearer Vegas but further into the boondocks and 10-20 degrees cooler -- Beaver Dam State Park had been a great place to practice your small-stream skills or teach a kid in Beaver Dam Wash or Schroeder Reservoir. But after severe flooding in winter 2005, authorities breached the dam as a safety measure. There were trout above and below the old lake, which was too small and too shallow to be a thermal buffer or refuge, but big enough to be a target for helicopter stocking in the old days. It could be a neat place to watch natural processes reclaim the silted-in lake bed.
West of there is the Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area, also known as Sunnyside, a collection of half a dozen ponds maintained for fishing and waterfowl. These are pretty rich lakes, so expect to use lots of damselfly and callibaetis nymphs, maybe some snails, mostly fishing deep from a tube. There are bass as well as hefty trout. There are restrictions on some parts of the water, for the sake of the ducks. Sunnyside is deep in the middle of nowhere, so bring sufficient supplies. There is a campground. The area is stark, usually windy, with typically Nevada temperature extremes. Not entirely my kind of scenery. Access is sometimes restricted by legal car racing on the road to Ely.
The late LJ DeCuir posted a trip report to the Flyfishing Digest List about his visit to Sunnyside during a convention visit in the early 1990s that also included a day trip to the Lees Ferry tailwater on the Colorado in Arizona.
Sunnyside is on the road to Ely, an old copperoplis hurting from recent mine closures, seat of White Pine County, and still the biggest crossoads town on "the loneliest road in America," US 50. I've not fished up there, but there are some experts on the region in the Las Vegas Fly Fishing Club, and it sometimes gets written up. For a while, Comins Lake was the go-to spot for big trout, but now they are rare, because some clown put somoe pike in the lake.
The Nevada Northern Railroad, a steam tourist line, and Great Basin National Park are nearby attractions.
This is a part of the state where the Air Force does a lot of fighter-pilot training, secret-weapon testing, and according to at least one local broadcaster (who acts like he's been cosmic for years) and assorted mystics, UFO-hiding. These stories center on "Area 51" or "Groom Lake," the secret base featured in movie, Independence Day (though the filming of that tedious epic was much further north, near Wendover). The Official Nevada "Extraterrestrial Highway" begins in this area, running away from the Lincoln County fishing areas.
At least in its treatment of southern Nevada waters, Richard Dickerson's Nevada Angler's Guide (Frank Amato, 1997) sets a low standard: spotty coverage, clumsy writing, and negligible editing. Portions read as if they were lightly retouched tourist brochures and NDOW reports. Some of the discussion -- for example, the claim that it is "an easy float" down Beaver Dam Wash to Schroeder -- is so bizarre that I doubt he's actually been on all the waters he purports to guide one to. But Dickerson is based in northwest Nevada, so he'd have little reason to venture to the drier, uglier opposite corner.
For stream fishing, head four or five hours' drive north on I-15 to southern Utah. The Sevier River system, especially its upper reaches and tributaries above Cedar City, is mostly meadow stream: brown trout water. Expect runoff to cloud up most stretches in April and May.
The Sevier system parallels US-89, a road that also gives access to Bryce and Zion National Parks and the spectacular Cedar Breaks National Monument; you can get to 89 by travelling through Zion from Hurricane/St. George, mixing with traffic via Cedar City and Duck Creek, cruising a good two-lane (Rt 20) from south of Beaver to north of Panguitch, or white-knuckling the logging road from above Beaver to Junction.
A well-publicized tributary of the Sevier is Mammoth Creek near the town of Hatch (named for the senator's family, I believe, though coincidentally there is a state trout factory there): browns and cutts there are a lot of fun, and there is adequate casting room even in the narrower sections. The stream combines the oxbows and cutbanks of a cattle-laden meadow stream with the pocket water of old lava flows. One of the most interesting, accessible sections, the Hatch Ranch permits angler access but not camping. As early as 1999 rumor had it that the owner intends to restrict angling to artificials-only. It wouldn't hurt. Best to check in Hatch or Panguitch, to protect yourself and the access.
If you prefer steeper gradients and pocket water, stay on I-15 and try the Beaver River and its tributaries in Beaver Canyon above the town of -- you guessed -- Beaver, seat of Beaver County, about four hours north of Vegas.
These are very fertile streams, with good populations of trout and insects. (Unfortunately, in 1998 whirling disease was reported in the Beaver and two dozen other Utah waters. It was first discovered in the Fremont River in 1991.) Additionally, a handful of small lakes (Kents, Little Res, Anderson Meadow, Labaron) lie off the Forest Service's (and timber truckers'!) gravel road up Beaver/Tushar Mountain, a route that eventually joins US 89 in the town of Junction. The lakes and upper stream are above the 8,000-foot mark, so expect cooler temperatures -- and don't repeat my mistake of inflating a float tube down at only 2,300 feet. After a heavy-snow winter, there can still be snow drifts and masses of spring wildflowers in the meadows in mid-July, with more snow to be seen up the road at the Elk Meadows ski area.
these streams are among my favorite waters, so forgive me if I don't say much publicly about them. You'll enjoy exploring this part of the Colorado Plateau anyway.
Generally, you won't have to worry about hatch-matching in these streams. Attractors and elk-hair caddises (try a size 18 dark gray or tan in mid-summer) are usually productive, with midges and terrestrials as backups and streamers or buggers for spring's high water and the fall brown spawn. Spinner falls are a joy in summer an hour or so before dark (and earlier if the water is well shaded); try size 14-16 Hendricksons, both spentwing and hackled. Bivisibles (light dun, gray gray or black [white-faced], and brown [orange faced]), sizes 10-20, are among my staples. Beadheads and soft-hackles, fished upstream, are effective nymphs. Big stonefly nymphs can be effective even when the water is off-color. Terrestrials are staples; big ants and smallish hoppers have worked best for me.
Most of these waters are legally fishable year-around, and I've had some fine success on balmy February days as well as April ones; runoff can be a problem. The Sevier will color up, as will its major tributaries such as Mammoth and Asay Creeks. But there are springfed brooks flowing into the upper Sevier that run clear and in the 50s just about year-around. This being the mountain West, streams can change character notably from one year to the next, sometimes because of irrigation drawdowns and other human degradations, sometimes beavers, sometimes spring runoff or summer monsoon flash floods undoing the beavers' work.
The Aquarius Plateau above the East Fork of the Sevier and the town of Escalante is famous for big brook trout in high lakes, but I don't have enough experience to comment on them. However, John Campbell, who runs the Outdoor Source, has for many years run guide trips and a small camp based in the area. However, he is gradually backing off from that service.
The Fremont River nearby is one of the most publicized streams in the area. I've fished the stretch in the Fishlake National Forest between Johnson Valley and Mill Meadow reservoirs. The lower end is easier to get to, mostly meadow water, with lots of room to camp -- and more pressure. Further up the mountain the stream is hemmed in by small trees and bushes and crossed by snags and rocks -- good places to practice specialized tactics like dapping and the bow-and-arrow cast in pockets -- with the occasional glade. Access gets more difficult further up. There are some great possibilities downstream, around Bicknell, if you hunt for them. (While in Bicknell, try one of the plate-sized pancakes at the Aquarius Inn.)
This is the region President Clinton, from safely across the Grand Canyon, turned into the Staircase-Escalante National Monument in time for the 1996 election, and now it is suffering from growth and tourism as a result. It may be merely coincidental, but it seems that since 1997 a lot more fencing and "posted" signs showed up along favorite stretches of the Sevier system, and more roads are being paved.
The town of Panguitch is the major center along the Rt. 89 corridor between Kanab and Richfield, not too far from a pretty good, eponymous lake fishery. (Fishing olive herl scuds from shore at the dam at Panguitch Lake just after most of the ice had gone got me some 15-17" brook trout and some similarly sized rainbows early one April.) Mammoth Creek, other Sevier watershed opportunities, and Bryce Canyon National Park are nearby. Sqatting at a right-angle bend of US 89, Panguitch is a bit less than four hours from Las Vegas.
Do not expect haute cuisine along Rt.89. In Panguitch, the Flying M restaurant is a serviceable place to eat: good pancakes, tacky touristic decor. A cowboy barbecue joint -- not far from the local espresso stand -- has gotten good reviews. There are also some fast food outlets, albeit with shorter hours than most of their ilk.
Panguitch Anglers Fly Shop and Inn (435/ 676-8950 ph; 435/ 676-8519 fax) lies between Panguitch and Hatch, not too far from the road to Bryce Canyon. When I was last in their original shop, in downtown Panguitch, the selection was small, but the owners seemed very well plugged into fishing news and conditions and reported that they had gotten local teens enthusiastic about flyfishing and conservation. They have expanded and now offer guiding and a bed and breakfast. I'm interested in seeing how the enlarged operation turns out.
There are a few other stores catering to fly anglers in the region. Gart Brothers in Cedar City (home of the Utah Shakespearean Festival, among other events) and Dixie Rod and Gun (adjacent to Outdoor Outlet) in the retirement/ golf-course/ LDS Temple community of St. George have some fly gear, and even some bargains, and were for years staple, unsatisfying places to get minor gear and information.
Licenses are available in the shops (usually closed Sundays) and the inevitable Wal-Marts and K-Marts.
Utah was the first state to put its entire fishing regulations ("proclamation") on the web, along with other interesting information. And, of course, keep track of web resources, among them Jack Amundsen's Utah Flyfishing Home Page.
Utah waters get limited coverage in the Vegas papers, which may be just as well. Steve Cook's large Utah Fishing Guide (published by Utah Outdoors) briefly profiles many waters in this end of the state, leaving out some favorites but including many I didn't know existed. Its maps and directions are about as accurate as I'd want to find in a publication describing "my" waters. So they can sometimes mislead, but the descriptions do include GPS coordinates and Delorme Utah Map and Gazetteer page references. (Not that Delorme is perfect: it continues to misplace one of the Forest Service campgrounds near the Beaver River and its directory page misnames a reservoir near Fish Lake.) I'm inclined to disagree with Cook's recommendations about tactics, which have to be sparse in such a big reference book. For the conscientious angler, Cook includes advisories about waters tainted by whirling disease, along with reminders about etiquette and conservation.
Part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Lees Ferry on the Colorado upstream of the Grand Canyon in Arizona is about a four-and-a-half-hour drive away from Vegas. In fits and starts, fishing there is returning to its former glory, after years of mismanagement of Glen Canyon Dam.
Most of the fishery at the Ferry really requires a boat, and your first float trip should be with someone who knows the river, both for the sake of getting into some big, strong trout and for the sake of not destroying the boat on the rocky bars. I was aboard when a former FFF president holed his on the aptly named Prop Bar, which set in train a comedy of errors leading to the boat being trailered upside-down into a snowbank on the road back to Vegas. The prop was recycled as the club's annual fishing-disaster trophy.
Lees Ferry Anglers (HC-67 Box 2, Marble Canyon, AZ 86036; phone 520/ 355-2261 or 800/ 962-9755 ph; 520/ 355-2271 fax; email: firstname.lastname@example.org), is a good shop with first-rate guides and a jetboat rental, and e-mail reports in addition to a handsome, informative web site. Now located at Cliff Dwellers Lodge, it's about 15 miles from the Navajo Bridge and the turnout to river access. Terry Gunn, co-owner, is a fine guide (though some of my friends say his wife, Wendy, is the better angler). I really like George Peat, an MD who got fed up with the healthcare rat race. George is especially good with inexperienced anglers: when my then-girlfriend and I took a trip with him (a trip Terry and Wendy donated to a Las Vegas fly club raffle), she outfished me 28 fish to 15! (She says it was 29 to 13 .... Ahem.)
There are other guides as well, but I can't speak from personal experience. Dave Foster (Email:LEESFERRY@aol.com) has a good reputation.
The "walk-in" section of the Ferry has really come back in the past few years, sometimes even out-fishing the boat-in areas. This stretch can be intimidating, since trout are not as easily spotted, and the current can be nasty over the slick rocks.
Bring a wading staff and/or studded or metal-cleated wading sandals, along with the water bottle, big hat, and sun screen you should be carrying anywhere. If you can bring only one rod, or you're still learning the water, a five-weight is about the lightest you can go comfortably to meet various conditions. Heavier rods give you more options with weighted flies and the wind. Lighter outfits make midging more interesting, particularly since the walk-in section fish don't run as large as their upriver cousins, but you can rue their limitations when you have to hike back to the parking lot for something more potent when the wind is up and the fish are down.
The main stem of the Colorado here a big river, but there is plenty of cover, hence trout, along the edges. As on so many tailwaters, anglers will march toward the edge of the deepest water, right through or over lots of fine fish. So when they're throwing heavily weighted scuds on 6-weights into the current, I'm having a fine old time inshore of them with a 3-weight and a size 26 herl midge emerger. Often I'll fish the water just downcurrent from pairs of rocks (I look for saddle-shaped waves and drop the fly just above them) and eddies within a rod's length of the bank.
The walk-in describes a broad "S" curve, generally wide and flat water at the upper end, narrow and swifter at the lower. In slack sections and eddies there can be fine top-water midge fishing for most of the day, especially on weekends (and, as of 2000, summers). The boulder-filled flat water below the boat ramps can be challenging, technical, and fun when fish are rising to midges. Now that populations are bouncing back, this section is fishable at most flow rates. Pay particular attention to side channels and pockets. It seems that the smaller fish are especially inclined to take midges on the downstream swing, whereas the bigger fish want dead drifts. Streamers can also be effective, though I've seen comparatively few anglers use them. At the bottom end, you can watch what other anglers are doing, since much depends on the flow. The bar and hole at the mouth of the Paria River are especially popular and can be treacherous.
You'll need mostly midge nymphs and scuds in various colors (gray and brown nymphs, usually with contrasting ribs; olive or orange scuds), fished on weighted leaders with strike indicators. Yarn indicators, rigged so you can adjust depth, are best. Egg patterns and woolly buggers are handy during the winter spawning season. Two-fly rigs are pretty conventional: a bushy indicator dry with a midge nymph a foot or so beneath it, a pair of midge dries or emerger with a couple feet of fine tippet between them, an egg pattern trailed by a midge nymph. Very long-line drifting -- working most of your line downstream in a current seam, with a swing at the end -- is very popular at the Ferry, but I've not mastered it. Conventional wisdom says the weight on your tippet and its distance from your fly are more important than patterns: change your shot before your fly. I've found this true with weighted flies in fast water, but less so in the flat.
There is a Park Service campground there for $10/night (cash only), and there is very limited, primitive camping (permits required) upriver. Along the river, summer highs around 120 are common. Camping fees do not include the main entrance fee. So remember to bring water bottles and sun protection. Expect temperatures in the 25-50 bracket during winter, the more popular fishing time because of the spawn. When the sun drops behind the canyon wall, there is a distinct cooling effect you should prepare for. Winds can be very nasty as well, so be ready really to nail down your tent at any time of year.
There are some general stores around, but you'll save money on gas and groceries in Hurricane, UT, about halfway between Vegas and the Ferry. Incidentally, the access to the higher, less-crowded, more-scenic North Rim side of Grand Canyon National Park -- May to October, snow permitting -- is on your way: take a right at Jacob's Lake instead of the left to the Ferry. (I've never fished the Grand Canyon.)
the restaurant next door to Lees Ferry Anglers has the finest food in within at least a 100-mile radius (with an excellent selection of beers from all over), though Nedra's in both Fredonia, AZ, and nearby Kanab, UT, has good Mexican dishes. The Marble Canyon Lodge/post office/store/laundromat, right at the turnout to the Ferry from the Navajo Bridge, is a better bet than the other lodgings in the region simply because it is the biggest motel around. There's a small general-aviation landing strip there as well. Page, AZ, the nearest town of any size, is an hour or so away, overlooking Glen Canyon Dam. There's even fast food and a Wal-Mart.
The scenery is striking: red canyon walls, pillars, hanging rocks, just like in a John Ford Western. Of course, he filmed some there. More recently, the Ferry and runaway stage scenes in the Maverick movie were filmed there, as were major segments of Broken Arrow. (Reflecting my Eastern upbringing, my taste in mountain scenery runs toward gray granites and limestone, with plants, so I'm not the best judge of whether you'll like it.) Wildlife abound: I almost always see bald eagles and ducks, and now several California condors have been released in the vicinity. (See also the Arizona Game and Fish condor page and my discussion of where I've fished in Southern California for links to their nature and home turf.)
The future of the Lees Ferry trout fishery is always more or less in doubt, though perhaps the latest "Adaptive Management Plan" will actually work. In spring 1996 (and then in fall 2004), federal agencies released controlled floods through Glen Canyon Dam to simulate pre-Dam spring high water. The idea was that this "spike" would move sediment off the bottom of the river channel and redeposit it as bars, beaches, and terraces downriver in the Grand Canyon. (Or course, most of the sediment that would naturally have gone into those beaches is trapped behind the dam, but no matter.) A permanent flow regime, based on several years of flow studies that (at least in the short term) had generally screwed up the trout fishing, went into effect in late 1996.
Government officials with the the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies project initially said the bar-building was generally successful, but vegetation, the base of the trout food chain, took an early hit. Trout habitat improved in later years, but eventually the folks behind the fake flood admitted it failed.
So call one of the local guides or web-check flows before making a special trip to the Ferry. New flows regimes call for these big simulated floods every decade. Remember, though, that the drainage for the entire Upper Colorado collects behind Glen Canyon Dam for management. In years with high snow packs and/or extreme electrical demand, expect dam operators to run greater flows so that the reservoir doesn't get too high.
And making things even more interesting for game fishers, rumors circulated among anglers that the Phoenix office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service was pressuring Arizona Game and Fish to outlaw catch and release angling around the Grand Canyon (cf. this Bureau of Reclamation 2003 press release but ultimately through the Colorado River drainage. The goal is to protect endangered native fish from non-native predators like trout and bass. Perhaps the next step will be for the feds to blow up their own dams. (Slick interest group brochures with that goal are already showing up in environmentalistically correct gear stores.)
Northern Arizona's high country around Flagstaff has a lot of other fly fishing opportunities within four or five hours of Las Vegas (or two hours from the Ferry, or a couple hours of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon).
In wet years, the trout in Northern Arizona lakes will be big by fall, owing to the lakes' fertility; I prefer these Arizona lakes to the Nevada ones I mentioned earlier. They are vastly more scenic. Marshall Lake, a natural depression atop a plateau with a lovely view of the San Francisco Peaks, a dozen miles south of Flag, is especially appealing. It's easily accessed, just up the hillside above Lower Lake Mary (a pike fishery). Half an hour closer to Vegas on I-40, the Kaibab National Forest above Williams has some fun ponds, including the rehabilitated J.D. Dam, which the Northern Arizona Flycasters have taken under their wing. When there's water, J.D. can be great fun in a float tube, if only to watch the birds and damselfies. I've taken lots of trout there on August days when the bait-chuckers said there were no fish left.
Watch out for early-summer "monsoon" storms. You don't want to be in a tube on the wrong side of an impenetrable weed bed when lightning strikes. One the other hand, rain that time of year makes big carpenter ants -- nearly the size of common wasps, only brown-black -- swarm, creating tempting tidbits for big trout. I designed my Flagstaff Flying Ant pattern to match the swarms on Marshall Lake, but they work elsewhere -- in 1999 they were very effective in mid-June on the San Juan River in New Mexico, provided it had rained within the previous 24 hours.
As to streams: there is some natural reproduction, along with heavy stocking and heavier tourist pressure, in upper Oak Creek, between Flagstaff and Sedona. Oak Creek Canyon is scenic and the stream fertile, but it's not a destination trout stream unless you live there. On the other hand, it can be challenging and solitary fishing between October and March. Sedona is too touristy and enthralled with "New Age" mystical claptrap for my taste.
Further east, of course, are the streams and impoundments of the White Mountains, where you can try for rare and exotic fish like Apache trout and even grayling. These areas are popular with folks from the Arizona lowlands, so they get written up in the Phoenix papers and can get pounded. You'll need a special tribal fishing license to fish on the Apache reservation. There are some general tackle shops and general stores around, but I'd suggest checking with fly shops in Flag or metropolitan Phoenix for reports and appropriate fly supplies. Arizona Game and Fish posts brief fishing reports on its website, by fax-on-request (602/ 530-2210, Document #4001), and on their Recorded Public Call-In Line (602/ 789-3701; 800/ ASK-FISH), among other places.
The Northern Arizona Flycasters meet the first Wednesday of the month, 7-9 p.m., at Northern Arizona University Recreation Center, next to the NAU Lumberjack Stadium, September through May. You can get meeting information, and usually the current newsletter, at Babbitt's Flyfishing and Peace Surplus (site of 6:30 pm "Lie and Tie" sessions on the second Monday of the month). Since 1996 they have experimented with not holding meetings over the summmer; I don't know whether this will continue.
NAF sponsors a regional conclave and banquet every May or June; the raffles and door prizes are good, with excellent odds.
For the best information on the region, check with Babbitt's Fly Shop in Flagstaff (520/ 779-3253 ph; 520/ 774-4561 fax) for reports. At 15 East Aspen Avenue in the middle of downtown and diagonally across from Babbitt's camping store (formerly called the Edge) up the street, they're an Orvis store, usually with a good bargain bin. Peace Surplus (520/ 779-4521), across Route 66 from the Flagstaff Amtrak station, has developed a good fly fishing section as well, including the locally rolled and built Steffen Bros. rods. Both stores are solid supporters of the fly club.
Downtown Flagstaff has all sorts of neat places to eat. It's not angler-food, but to get ready for a day on the water or the road, try the oatcakes (only one -- they're very filling) at La Bellavia or the breakfast couscous next door at Macy's; both are on Beaver St, just south of the very busy Santa Fe rail line. Flagstaff also has a pair of microbreweries, an excellent public library, and a very good, undergrad-oriented university. The usual chain eateries are near I-40, especially at the west end of town by the junction with I-17, a section that has grown appallingly ugly in just a few years.
National Public Radio did an interesting, if excessively breathless, feature story on "Flag" on March 7, 1998. (Try NPR's Real Audio version.)
If you have the time, and you can't take Vegas any longer, consider the alternatives on your way to somewhere else.
Plenty of people would not think of greater Los Angeles as a desirable destination, not even as an improvement on Vegas. But there are various fly fishing resources in Southern California. Two dozen member clubs of the FFF Southwest Council are there, most within 100 miles of Los Angeles. I'm partial to the Long Beach Casting Club: good people, good programs, and a neat old clubhouse and casting pool in a park just down the street from Cal State Long Beach, where I used to teach political science.
The finest fly shop I've ever encountered, Bob Marriott's, is on Orangethorpe near Magnolia in Fullerton, not too far from Disneyland and the I-5 freeway. It's a fly fisher's candy store, with a huge inventory and very helpful staff. Prices are for the most part list, both in the shop and the catalog, but the closeouts and bargain tables have been very good to me over the years. The shop also sponsors a big "fly fair" every fall, with assorted big-name anglers and tyers leading seminars and demonstrations, with displays and sales tables with outfitters and manufacturers. It has effectively absorbed the old FFF Southwest Council conclave.
What about actually fishing? When I lived in Long Beach in the late 1980s, with the entire Pacific nearby and "the word" talking up Bear Creek and Deep Creek in the San Gabriel mountains for trout and King's Harbor at Redondo Beach for major saltwater action, I always went 100 or so miles north, where I had a free couch to sleep on for a weekend. This was even more true when I'd make the long drive west from Vegas and felt no need to enter the LA Basin. So I can't give a full picture of the urban fishing opportunities there. Check the "FF@" listserv's archives or the SWCFFF member club webpages for a well-rounded "Southland" itinerary.
My favorite California fishing is on the beaches around the city of Ventura: the Pacific surf from Oxnard's Mandalay Beach north to the landslide-impaired community of La Conchita (called "Punta" on some topos), notably including Ventura Harbor, the mouth of of the Ventura River at the fairgrounds, and the now-removed oil piers at Seacliff. Long ago, before access got difficult (and I'd figured out more about flyfishing the surf) I enjoyed chasing trout in Sespe Creek above Ojai.
Pierpont Park on the north side of Ventura just looks like it should have fish along and behind the breakwaters and jetties. But the only memorable fish I ever caught there was an undersized halibut. When Bob Johns still had his shop in Ventura, though, I heard tales and saw pictures of big halibut taken there, and along the beach south from the county fairgrounds. (The fairgrounds are near the Great Pacific Iron Works/Patagonia headquarters store (which no longer has a fishing section), not far from the junction of the 101 and 33 freeways. Real Cheap Sports, the Patagonia outlet (though independent since 1998), is a couple blocks away on Santa Clara, on the edge of the historical mission district downtown.)
Immediately north of the Ventura fairgrounds, the area at the mouth of the river offers an interesting mix of sand and cobble bottom, with kelp to make things interesting. Oddly enough, expert opinions are divided as to whether one should fish on the high tide or the low. I think it is easier to fish high water, because structure is submerged, drop-offs more numerous, and the river actually empties into the sea, but I'm not sure it's more effective; low water makes it easier to pick out the holes and rips (and to observe the urchins and little crabs among the bowling-ball rocks there). At any rate, tides don't seem to follow the typical six-hour cadence I usually expect of the salt, so it's worthwhile to get a tide table from a local shop or newspaper or online.
Paid parking at the fairgrounds is accessible off California or Figueroa Streets. The lot is popular with surfers, a class with which I confess I don't have cordial relations (though if only because surfing requires skill, they rank several notches above jet-skiers); park at the lot nearest the river and start fishing the surf across the beach from the road wash-out. Free parking is available on Main Street between the Rt 33 overpass and the Ventura River bridge, on the bike trail that connect Ojai and the sea. The free lot and trail are popular during the day, but I'm not brave enough to park there for an evening's outing.
Mandalay Beach in Oxnard doesn't have the manmade structure that Ventura does. There's just the Santa Barbara Channel extending out to the Channel Islands National Park. But it has classic bar-and-trough bottom contour that is great for surf perch (especially in the winter) and corbina in the summer.
While they are easier to catch, especially when schooled up in holes and rips, I never got into seriously going after the perch; I'd take a few palm-sized ones incidentally, which were overmatched by my then-standard surf rig: a 7- or 9-wt rod with a high-speed, high-density sinking shooting head rated two steps above the rod. Lately a school has developed that uses lighter, floating lines, and very long leaders. (SoCal surf fly guys have become much more technical since the early 1990s, when I worked those waters most frequently.) Since fishing troughs in clear water can be a lot like freshwater nymphing, throwing a WF6F makes a lot of sense; it feels better at the end of the day, too.
Corbina, on the other hand, run several pounds, and they feed right on the edge of the troughs and in the rips of bars. It's frequently sight fishing, mixing a couple different genres: I'd wade up the trough against the current, casting either weighted ram's wool sand (mole) crabs or MOE bonefish flies, neither more than about an inch long. Corbina look like the drum species of the Atlantic, to which they are related. The corbina season corresponds to the beach season, so you have to watch your backcasts. (On the other hand, watching your back cast is a plausible excuse for sneaking peeks at the Baywatch wannababes.)
There's a lot of coastline to explore to the north, toward Santa Barbara. Highway 101 runs on a rip-rap berm right along the beach, which (points aside) tends to have much broader, sandy flats than in Oxnard. At many points, segments of the old 101 provide additional access, if you can get through the clustered motor homes.
A section of the 101 at La Conchita is not officially freeway -- which doesn't make a lot of difference to traffic zipping by at 70 -- so it is legal to park on the long shoulder and clamber over the barrier and down the boulders to the beach. (It was seldom safe and is no longer legal to make U-turns there: use the next exit in the freeway stretch to turn around.)Access to Seacliff is more protected, though it takes a bit of navigating through the community to get to the freeway underpass. There had once been wooden piers to oil wells there but they were removed some time around the turn of the millennium; some maps still show them. (Tidbit: a scene in the dreadful Chinatown sequel, The Two Jakes, took place on one of them.) The removal of structure and habitat from the beach strikes me as a mixed blessing, but this is California, after all.
The best online source for general, seasonal advice about surf fishing in the area is Gary Bulla's "SoCal Fishing Conditions", by a local guide. Gary archives his "surfcast" reports and offers favorite fly recipes and an online bulletin board. While we've never fished together, he has been very helpful and forthcoming when I've been in touch with him over the years. He also does marvelous woodworking.
I remember when Ventura had three fly shops, and then had none. Fortunately, there's now a good selection of fly gear and tying supplies at Eric's Tackle ((805/648-5665 ph.; formerly Moore's) on E. Thompson Blvd. in downtown Ventura. The folks there seem pretty forthcoming with reports and advice, and the memorabilia lining the walls are amusing. A few dozen miles closer to LA, in Thousand Oaks, California has a license requirement for saltwater fishing, with assorted stamps required as well, depending on where and for what you're fishing. The usual chain sporting goods stores and *-marts sell them. You must wear the license while fishing.
The Sespe Creek in the Los Padres National Forest above Ojai deserves its wild-and-protected river status, even for the parts that don't flow through the refuge set up for the California condor restoration project. A user-fee system, the "Adventure Pass," for stopping in the national forest, is tremendously controversial there and frequently flouted.
I like the Sespe near Lower Lion campground, a few miles from where Rt. 33 passes through Rose Valley. The stream is a bit bigger than the Nevada streams and most of the Utah ones I've mentioned. There have been lots of rainbows, though none big -- and some nice size sunfish in slower stretches -- when I've fished it. The fishing aside, the road there passes through simply lovely country. (the region around Ojai stood in for Shangri-La in the original movie of Lost Horizon.)
Formerly, from the Lower Lions campground I'd hike up the jeep trail that parallels the stream, then wade back, fishing upstream, but in 1999 this vehicular access to the area was restricted because of an endangered amphibian species, adding most of a mile to the walk.
Matilija Creek is a nearby stream that parallels Rt. 33 through Wheeler Canyon between Ojai and the Sespe. I've not fished it, but it looks like a nice pocket-water stream, and the Sespe Flyfishers Club has done outings and workshops on it now and again. The creek enters what's left of the Ventura River, which historically had steelhead runs (as did another tributary, San Antonio Creek, a brook just south of the village of Oak View on Rt 33.) Former Interior Secretary Babbitt announced that the removal of the dam on the Matilija would be one of his showpiece programs, since its breaching might recover some spawning ground for the scarce southern strain of steelhead. When? Years away.
If you're inclined toward lakes -- I'm not -- Casitas Lake is nearby. It has a reputation for producing big largemouth bass, but I know nothing about flyfishing there.
After being closed entirely to outside boats in early 2008 to reduce the likelihood of exotic quagga mussels getting into the reservoir, it now has an inspection/quarantine system in place that appears to apply to kayaks and float tubes as well as power boats. Check with the water district for details and timelines.
If you're really anxious for fine, wadeable, big-water fly fishing, the famous Green River (northeast Utah) and San Juan River (northwest New Mexico, near the Four Corners) tailwaters are within ten hours' one-way drive from Vegas at legal speeds. Because the Conejo Valley Flyfishers, another FFF Southwest Council club, maintain handy, well-linked Green and Juan pages in their lovely club website, I don't have to say much here. Besides, these rivers are standard topics in the glossy magazines and commercial websites.
It's hard to get skunked on the Green's "A" section (the first seven miles below Flaming Gorge Dam), where 90 percent of the anglers fish. Downstream, the fishing is tougher, the browns bigger, and the solitude a relief. I prefer the scenery around the Green to what I've seen along the San Juan or at Lees Ferry.
If you're not camping at the Green (relatively expensive in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area campgrounds [map], cheaper at local state parks and BLM areas in Brown's Park), try Flaming Gorge Lodge in Dutch John or -- an hour from the river but cheaper and nearer more varied food and supplies -- the Sage Motel in Vernal.
If you're willing to face crowds and traffic in the greater Salt Lake City area, try the storied Provo River. It's not on the best route to the Green from Vegas (going across country through Price, Duchesne, and Vernal is faster, with some lovely streams en route), but you shouldn't miss it if you're in the area: lovely setting, clear water, big fish. Even further north more or less on I-15, the Logan (above the town of Logan) was fun on a sunny April afternoon.
You can stop by Lees Ferry on your way to the San Juan from Vegas. At the Juan, I usually camp in the state park Cottonwood Campground. Abe's Motel and Fly Shop, the historical Ground Zero for Juan flyfishing, is more adapted to anglers who might cook for themselves. Across the street, Float'n' Fish, is my current favorite. Raymond Johnson, the owner, [email: email@example.com; 505/ 632-5385] has been very forthright with river information, his selection of fishing and tying gear is good, and his prices are standard retail rather than inflated by the proximity of the river. I have been pleased with the guides working out off both shops.
The Juan's premium fly fishing waters are inside state park boundaries [park map], so if you go remember to carry some extra one-dollar bills or your checkbook to feed the user-fee boxes.) the state Game and Fish Department has a pretty good website, with frames of fishing reports, license fees, and a Frequently Asked Question list in lieu of a full-text posting of the regulations.
The two eateries in the central business district of Navajo Dan, NM, are casual places, catering to visiting sports and local working people. I prefer the food at Abe's, though some folks I fish with swear by the Sportman (perhaps because of the bar). The fare in both is what marketers might call "hearty" -- not the stuff to preserve your simple girlish figure. On the whole, I'd rather cook my own, which I generally buy at the nice, large Safeway in the little town of Aztec, about half an hour from the river. I've a fondness for the Aztec Restaurant, though in view of my remarks about the Sportsman, perhaps I'm not consistent.
There are lots of reports and tips for fishing this river in the "FF@" archives -- see especially posts by Henry Kanemoto.
ENCORE: Some other Las Vegas guides on the web
|"Hack Attack." Raffish, not heavily updated, cabdrivers' view of the area's alleged attractions, including the earthier ones.|
|LV Convention and Visitors Authority's official, slick view. Includes interesting stats about fools and their money.|
|Formerly gateway sites with distinctive personalities that reflected the newspapers behind them, "Vegas.Com" and LasVegas.com" are now essentially clones for tourists.|
|"Las Vegas Online" guide -- pretty standard compendium, mainly of smaller businesses, arranged by subjects.|
Explore the Web through my favorite portal: the Librarians' Index to the
Internet from the Library of California.