Written by: Chuck Coolidge
Here is the is a recipe for an awesome fly-fishing trip in the American Southwest:
- 1 glorious 35-foot Cruise America RV
- 4 adults
- 3 dogs
- 1,658 miles
- 225 gallons of unleaded
- 2 Traeger grills
- 65 Hess brews in the Yeti
- 5 species of fish.
We launched our journey from scalding hot valley of Phoenix, and headed for the 46-degree Colorado River tailwater in Lee’s Ferry. We were lucky enough to catch a special time on this unbelievable fishery, the summer cicada sing. This white noise all along the river is the beautiful sound of opportunity, a chance to cast to some seriously big rainbows willing to come to the surface for these large tree bugs. Cicada patterns are perfectly suited to be thrown by themselves or as part of a dry-dropper rig.
We continued the journey by making a 6.5-hour drive north toward Provo, Utah. Halfway into the drive we noticed a small stream running through the town of Hatch. That had to be a sign to stop right? We decided to jump out to give the dogs a bit of a play break and throw a few lines in the Sevier River. The trusty San Juan Worm proved effective on the chunky mountain whitefish, which were holding deep, but we didn’t catch any trout.
We arrived in Provo at our campsite, which backed up to the Provo River, which is designated a Blue Ribbon trout stream by the Division of Wildlife. Featuring about 3,000 rainbow and brown trout per mile, with a typical fish in the 18-inch range, the Provo is also absolutely beautiful.
Our alarm went off at 5:00 a.m., and by 6:00, our friends from Traeger Grills were knocking at the door. These guys aren’t just grill masters; they are also fly-fishing advocates and great outdoorsmen. We hit the river early to make sure we got the spots we wanted, and it was suggested that we start off using a “Provo Bounce Rig.” You’re probably making the same face we did. Here’s the scoop, shown to us by our Utahn friends: Start by tying a double surgeon’s knot at the end of the leader and then cut just the top tag end. Tie the first fly to the lower tag end. Below, add another piece of tippet with another surgeon’s knot. Again, attach a second fly to the lower tag end. Make an overhand knot at the bottom to run whatever weights you need to literally have the strike indicator bumping along the bottom of the river. It takes some time to mentally adjust to watching so much action on your strike indicator, but the river moves so fast, any strike is dramatic, and it absolutely works!
The best parts of traveling to meet friends fly fishing is spending time on the water, learning techniques from others, catching fish, and enjoying everyone’s company. We took a midday break to get out the smokers, open the coolers, let the dogs out, and invite everyone to hang around the RV and recharge before the night session.
You read that right: we were going to hit the water after sunset. There is one part of the river near the dam that receives a slight reflection of the bright dam lights from above. Larger brown trout are normally nocturnal feeders, so the hour just after sunset is a great time to skate dry flies or possibly a mouse on the top of the water, waiting for a large splash or hard strike. The fish are looking for disruption on the water more than the actual presentation itself. It’s not easy, but it’s unbelievably exciting to stand by the river’s edge listening to all the top water action.
Our tour resumed with another six-hour drive to the Animas river in Durango, Colorado. Unfortunately, this incredible river was trumped by the even more incredible Colorado winter. The huge snowpack was great for the environment out there, as well as water storage, but the runoff had the river moving at 2,000 cfs (the average on that river at this time is 700cfs). Luckily, we were able to target some slower-water with bright streamers for a few brook trout, as well as some full-sinking-line dead drifts for one very nice rainbow.
Our final leg was a quick run to New Mexico for a drift-boat trip down the San Juan River. An unbelievable tailwater known for some remarkably big rainbow and brown trout. Unfortunately, earlier this year, the hydropower plant at the dam was removed for maintenance. Upon reinstallation, the amount of sediment in addition to the heavy winter created muddy, murky conditions making fishing extremely difficult. Things were so difficult, in fact, that most guide shops called customers to cancel for poor conditions. Luckily for us, the murky water had settled, the clouds were up, and the gals out fished the guys.
Hands-down the best part of this entire trip was a moment in which I wasn’t actually holding a fly rod. We were catching up with the other boat just before lunch and saw the gals throwing dry flies right next to the tall grass at the edge of the bank. We slowly made our way next to the boat only to witness a big fish feeding around the shaded and shallow areas. Courtney made several casts that had us all holding our breath, watching the fish swing over to look at the fly and not take it. Finally, Courtney placed her hopper pattern about two inches off the bank. The shadowy figure dug through the weeds, dipped a little bit under the fly, and gently sucked it underwater. Courtney waited and set the hook to both boats yelling and cheering. I am sure her favorite moment was seeing the net surround the 23-inch rainbow.
Next time you’re planning a vacation, consider making your waypoints include the rivers you haven’t fished yet, ones on your bucket list, or something your familiar with. You won’t regret it.
Chuck Coolidge lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and travels a lot to feed his fly-fishing passion.