April, 2016 Edition

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A day at Lees Ferry

Last year in April, I went on a pretty spur-of-the-moment Sunday morning fishing trip to Lees Ferry with my friend DeJay. It was the first time I had held a rod and reel in my hands in years.
We didn’t expect to catch much, if anything at all. When we walked up to the shoreline, a six-pack of beer and a cooler full of snacks were held with just as much priority as tackle boxes and fishing poles.
A gentleman wearing waders up to his chest and toting pricey looking gear crossed our path. He said he had been miles up and down the river all morning without any luck. Looking over his shoulder as we walked opposite directions, he quipped that he would try one more spot upriver before calling it a day.
It didn’t phase us one bit.
As we trekked down to the shore, I began remembering how I used to be quite the angler as a kid and young teenager growing up near Lake Powell. My mother, a lifelong fly fisher, still has a photo of the first fish I ever caught at a stream near Tropic, Utah. I know I couldn’t have been more than 4 years old – holding a blue and white four-foot long Snoopy and Charlie Brown themed fishing pole in one hand – the little rainbow trout that fell victim to its two-pound-test line in the other.
Sitting on the rocky bank of the Colorado River, I ran through my head all the things I still remembered about rod and reel fishing and frowned a bit as I realized it sure wasn’t much.
I learned quickly that a lot of components of fishing do not fall under the “just like riding a bike” category. Practice is definitely mandatory, and when you’ve been out of the game for close to a decade, some skills vanish entirely.
Shamefully, I Googled how to tie basic knots like the trilene and snell on the shred of data I was getting on my phone. I fumbled to run my line through the guides and even spooled the thing backwards at first go around.
But as soon as it came to casting the line, my reel sung like a bird. The bright green lure at line’s end plopped into the river more than 60 feet in front of me and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I felt the current take control of it. Muscle memory is a lot more reliable than the normal kind of memory.
Long story short: we didn’t catch a thing except some sun.
Lees Ferry is one of

Lees Ferry is one of those spots that isn’t necessarily a “go-to” destination when a traveler is researching the area; at least if he’s not looking to fish or take a raft downriver.

those spots that isn’t necessarily a “go-to” destination when a traveler is researching the area; at least if he’s not looking to fish or take a raft downriver. But I was pretty taken aback when we first arrived as it had been quite awhile since I was anywhere downriver on the Colorado.
As evidenced on the front cover of this magazine, it’s still a pretty majestic place.
Lees Ferry is often mentioned due to its historical importance and is either naturally passed through when one is on any kind of river trip, or is used as a launching point.
It served as a key staging area during the early expeditions of the Colorado River, as it is the only known location for hundreds of miles in either direction to grant easy crossing. It is also demarcated as the northernmost tip of the Grand Canyon National Park area.
The Navajo Bridge, located a few miles downriver from Lees Ferry, was built in the 1920s to allow consistent vehicle crossing. For decades, it served as the only reliable way for vehicles to traverse the canyon. The original bridge is roughly 840 feet long and 467 feet from the river below. However, a new bridge was constructed in 1995 to account for rapidly increasing traffic.
The old bridge was permanently closed to traffic, but is still accessible for pedestrian and equestrian use. The old bridge is also utilized for star gazing opportunities and local event hosting.
Lees Ferry proper is only about 7.5 miles away from Page as the bird flies, but will take roughly 45 minutes to an hour to get there by car. Take Highway 89 South and then turn onto 89A at Bitter Springs. Follow 89A until you cross the Navajo Bridge and immediately look for Lees Ferry Road on your right. There are interpretive services at both the bridge and Lees Ferry to learn about the amazing history of the area, as well as campgrounds, and loads of fishing opportunities. There are also two lodges further southwest on 89A. Go far enough and you’ll eventually come across Jacob Lake, the Northern Kaibab wilderness, and, of course, the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
Some lesser-known trails near the ferry provide challenging ascents, but rewarding views. One such journey is the two-mile Spencer trail which climbs to a steep plateau on the northern face of the canyon wall, giving a breathtaking view of the river snaking southwards.
The less used Dominguez trail takes hikers along the plateau, but then descends into the Paria Gorge before wrapping back to the trailhead.
Information on where to find these trails can be found near the Lees Ferry campgrounds.