Like most boys, I learned how to do everything from my dad. Some of my earliest memories are ripping through the desert sitting on the gas tank of his YZ 250, hauling ass up a windy road in his Porsche 911, and watching him catch fish after fish on a fly rod. To me, my dad was the coolest person on the planet, he seemingly did everything really well, and from a very early age in my life I remember trying to be just like him.
It wasn't very often Dad would keep brown trout, but every so often on a camping trip he would keep one and cook it for dinner. Here he shows off a nice one caught in a small eastern AZ stream.
10 year old me couldn't take the time to stop and drink the soda. I was way too excited to fish.
I got a dirt bike for my 4th birthday so we could go ride the deserts of Arizona together, and one summer evening in 1989, I being bored of bobber fishing with a spinning rod, and probably throwing a fit, my dad taught me how to fly fish. From that night casting parachute Adams to rising rainbows and browns in the White Mountains on, my dad and I would head out of the desert of Phoenix to the mountains to go fly fishing for trout together as often as we could, until the day he passed away to cancer, shortly after my 18th birthday. We connected through fishing differently than the countless other things we did together. Through fishing, he taught me about patience, about the need to love and respect nature, other cultures, other humans, myself, and what seemed to have the most importance, the fish.
My dad taught me how to cast a fly rod in this exact spot on Hawley lake, in eastern AZ, where he's coming tight to a fish.
Of all the fishing places we would go, there was one that was far and beyond his favorite; Lee’s Ferry, AZ. I have countless memories of camping at the Lee’s Ferry campsite, overlooking the Paria, and Colorado river confluence, with the giant Vermillion cliffs behind us, and the steep red walls flanking the river. Waking up drenched in sweat because of the extreme summer heat, or being frozen solid, in the brutal desert cold of winter, all to get on the river before the sun broke over the canyon walls, lighting up the water, and in most cases the fishing. On special trips we borrowed boats and learned quickly about the infamous “prop bar”, we would motor up to the dam, just to take in truly how deep the canyon was, and how big of a structure Glen Canyon Dam is.
To me, my dad was the coolest person on the planet
Every trip up the river he would tell me stories of the local Native American tribes that had inhabited the area for hundreds of years. How we as white men came in, forced a way of living on them, took their lands, and exploited them “for the better of our society”. He taught me that this was THEIR land, and we are just visitors, and to be nothing but respectful to the people and the land. We would travel up the canyon and he would tell me stories of how the Dine people of the area cherished the water of the Colorado, and lived within the canyon walls since the 1600’s. He told me about their beliefs in the power of the water, and the canyon itself, how spiritual of a place the canyon was for those people. My father was not a traditionally religious man, but Lee’s Ferry was also his spiritual place. He seemed to always be telling me how it just “felt right” being there.
I still make it a point to stop and fish this spot, as we did on every trip when I was a kid. 1992, and it still looks exactly the same to this day.
I remember this fish being a lot bigger than this picture from 1994 shows.
When My father passed away to Cancer in 2000, My family knew that he would not truly be at rest until he was put back into his favorite place, the place that just “felt right”, where his soul was at ease, the Colorado river, at Lee’s Ferry. I will never forget spreading his ashes around the banks. Watching the ash get carried out into the current, and downstream. I remember thinking to myself that it was not just the physical dust that we were putting back to the earth that day, but it was more so the soul of my father, being put back to HIS place. To this day, it was the hardest, yet most peaceful thing that I have ever done. I not only lost my father, I lost my hero, my mentor, I lost my best friend, but something about putting his ashes in his favorite place on earth made everything OK. I knew he was happy there. And more importantly for me, I knew that he would be there, whenever I needed to go say hi to Dad.
I will never forget spreading his ashes around the banks.
After my father’s passing, It took about 10 years before I even picked up the fly rod again, and about 12 years until I felt that I could to go back to Lee’s Ferry. It wasn't that I was afraid of remembering the day we put my father back to the earth, I was afraid that If I went back, It would change my memories of the river, and being there with him. Thankfully, I now know that I will never lose those memories, they are too engraved into my brain to ever be forgotten. And since then, I have only added to those memories, by sharing his special place with a few of my best friends, and most recently my girlfriend, on a trip home for the holidays.
On the first trip back to Lee's Ferry in 12 years, it felt as if no time had passed, and I was fishing with my dad again, I think he helped me land this fish.
For Christmas, I surprised my girlfriend Kayla with a trip to the Grand Canyon. With the help of my mom, I had it all planned out. We would drive up the day after Xmas, sight see around the south rim of the canyon for a day, taking in all of what the Grand Canyon is. Before finally ending the day up in Lee’s Ferry. I had reserved a jet boat from Lee’s Ferry Anglers, and a room at Cliff Dwellers lodge, and the plan was to spend the next day inside of the Grand Canyon. As much as this was a gift to Kayla, this was also a gift for myself. More than seeing the Grand Canyon, or catching a few fish in the river, I was excited about sharing a place that is so dear to my heart with Kayla. I got to show her the runs that I would fish with my father, tell her some stories and memories of him, show her where we would camp on the banks, and let her see for herself why that place really is so special. There really aren’t words that can describe being in that canyon. It's more than the vast landscape or the bright sky, and contrast of the red walls, it's a feeling. It just feels right.
Mandatory sight seeing selfie with Kayla.
Kayla looking down at a stretch of water that I have hundreds of memories fishing, tourists call it horseshoe bend, fisherman call it 9mile.
What horseshoe bend looks like from the river, something that most tourists will never see.
Sure, we caught a couple fish on that day in the canyon. I got to play with the new Hydrogen trout spey rod, and swing flies in a run that I remember catching fish in when I was 8 years old. I got to teach Kayla a bit about how important a realllllly long, natural drift is there, and how although those fish are small in the trout world, they fight like they are twice their size. But more importantly I got to fish with my dad again, and introduce the woman I love to him.
Renting these jetboats from Lee's Ferry anglers is the best way to explore the canyon and fishery on your own. Plus they are just as fun to drive as the fishing is.
The trout spey really opened up some water that is normally out of reach. Plus its no secret that Lee's Ferry fish love a swung fly.
Spey casting in the canyon.
When you're not starting at a bobber, and swinging flies, you can actually look up and take in what you are surrounded by.
Every-time I’ve been back to Lee’s Ferry, I have felt the presence of my father, and like no other place that I have fished, or get to fish on a weekly basis, I now understand what he meant when he said it just “feels right” being there, all those times. I'm thankful for everything that my dad taught me, and for showing me all of the fun things about this world. But more than anything, as I grow older, I realize more and more how privileged I was that I got to spend so much time with him in such amazing places, and how for the rest of my days on this earth, I will always have one of those places, Lee’s Ferry, to go say hi to dad.
Lee's Ferry fish aren't the largest rainbows in the west, but they don't seem to know that. These little dudes PULL. there are some bigger fish around too.
It's hard not to feel this good down here.
Kayla fishing a riffle that I distinctly remember fishing with my dad in 1990.
In the winter its not unlikely to have the whole river to yourself.
There is so much history surrounding the river, Kayla was ready to move into this old house.
Crazy geological formations are what makes the Grand Canyon area such a wonder. I think this is a petrified ice cream cone, for dinosaurs.
Native Americans have been adapting to living in this environment for 100’s of years, and their culture is still evolving, shown here by a contemporary giant wheat paste on a structure that has lasted for a long time in the harsh desert environment.
The drive south on highway 89a in northern Arizona is one of the most beautiful drives in the world.