Fly Fishing Techniques, Rigs and Gear.

Fishing Techniques:

Depending on the season, water flows and conditions, we use a number of different fishing techniques at Lees Ferry. The food base is more limited in diversity than many other rivers, consequently our main food items consist of Scuds (freshwater shrimp), Midges (50 different varieties!), and worms (San Juan). As a result, most of our fishing is done with nymphs, however we do have some dry fly fishing which is not as predictable as nymph fishing and mostly occurs in July when we have a huge cicada hatch.

The only way to access the 16 mile section of river at Lees Ferry is by powerboat. We leave the boat ramp and head upriver. Water levels and conditions decide whether we wade or fish from the boat. Most times we can do either or both. However in high water conditions we mostly fish from the boat.

If we are planning to wade, your guide will  find the best possible spot to catch fish. One of the rules of the river is that if an area is occupied, we do not pull in and fish the same bar as other anglers so that everyone can get the maximum enjoyment from their trip. The guide will pull onto the bar get rigged up with the right flies and then discuss tactics and techniques. Our nymphing tactics and the techniques that we use at Lees Ferry are likely different than those elsewhere.  We will discuss them below.

At Lees Ferry, we often say “there are perfect dead drifts and all other drifts” … it is all about the drift, it has to be perfect and natural in order to catch fish here. One of our techniques that we use is called the “extended drift.”  The way that we do the extended drift drift is after the cast, which is cross stream, we make a large up stream mend.

After the mend, we begin to shake slack line out of the rod tip which allows the strike indicator or dry fly to travel downstream in a perfect drift dead drift. The easiest way to shake slack out of the rod tip is to move it side to side and let the friction of the water pull the slack line out the tip.

There are times that we fish an entire flyline downstream. It is very successful here and on other large rivers. It is a great way to cover lots of water, have your fly in the strike zone for the maximum amount of time, and show your fly to the most fish.

The water at Lees Ferry is always clear and if the conditions are right, we can wade and sight-cast to either groups or individual fish using dry flies, dry fly with a nymph dropper, or nymphs.

This is what we hope to see … a big fish looking for something to eat.

And if everything is done just right, the cast, the drift, the set, and the fight; you just might get to hold a fish like this.

Drifting and Fishing from the Boat:

When we fish from the boat, we use two different strategies: we either anchor the boat in riffles or we drift. We’ll talk about anchoring and fishing from the boat first.

When anchored, we use the same “extended drift” technique that we do when wading. First we cast and then mend. The mend is dramatic and all of the line is lifted and placed behind the strike indicator so that the indicator goes downstream first.

Then slack is thrown out of the rod tip and and the drift is long and drag free.

When drifting, we will do a couple of different things. We’ll most commonly set up a long drift by motoring above the area that we want to drift.

Then we will drift downstream covering lots of water. Most of the time your line and flies will be drifting at the same speed of the boat and current so there is not a lot of casting required.

Drifting is a great way to enjoy the river and if the conditions are right, to catch a lot of fish.

Rigs and Equipment:

If you were to bring one rod it should be a 9-foot 5-weight. Longer rods are good; rods shorter than 9-foot don’t work so well on large rivers like the Colorado. We use floating lines for all our nymph and dry fly fishing. Leave your bright colored fly lines at home; our clear water and bright colored lines (yellows, reds, orange) will spook fish. We occasionally fish streamers and woolly buggers with sink tip lines. A 10-foot fast sinking tip will work for this in most flows, in higher water a T-200, 20-foot heavy sink tip works best.

We basically fish five different rigs which are determined by water flow, depth we are fishing, available food, and what the fish are eating.  Our rigs are heavy nymph, light nymph, dry fly, dry fly with a nymph dropper and streamer.

Below are details on  a couple of our rigs.

This is our classic “heavy nymph rig” – it is usually 9-foot from the indicator to the split shot or longer depending on the depth and speed of the water. This is the type of rig that we often use when fishing from the boat or doing the extended drift technique. Use can use either yarn or a “thingofabobber” for the strike indicator.

This is an example of our light nymph rig or “double tiny” rig. We use this rig when the fish are feeding on emerging midges in deeper water.

Tippet size is very important to fishing success on our river. Our water is so clear that we must use very light tippet or the fish will not eat our flies. On many occasions we have seen anglers switch to a larger tippet size and stop catching fish and then switch back to the lighter tippet and start catching fish again. We never use any tippet heavier than 5X (for streamers we use heavier) and as light as 7X.


We use many different types of flies. Your guide will carry a good selection of flies for you to use and you will only be charged for those you lose. Please bring any flies that have along on the trip; you just might have the right fly that the fish want to eat. Many of our flies are specific  to this river while at times we might use a Royal Wulff.

Here are some of our flies:

The Zebra Midge was invented here on this river by Ted Welling and is now used around the world. It imitates an emerging midge or midge pupae. We tie it in many different colors from a size #16 to #20. We usually fish these as part of a light nymph rig, or as a dropper below a dry fly, or as a dropper on a heavy nymph rig below a scud or worm.

These are scuds or fresh water shrimp. This particular pattern was developed here on the Colorado River by Len Holt. We tie this in many different colors (this is ginger) and from size#14 to #18. This fly is usually fished as part of the heavy nymph rig below a San Juan worm or above a zebra midge.

These are San Juan Worms which obviously imitate worms which live in most rivers and streams. We tie these in a sizes #14 and #16. We tie these in several different colors, however, the natural colors often work best. These are used as part of a heavy nymph rig.

An actual scud and worm.

Glo-bugs or egg patterns imitate trout eggs. The trout here spawn for most of the winter and all spring, producing millions of eggs which are a good food source. We tie these in size #14 to #20 in several different colors. This fly is usually fished as part of a heavy nymph rig as the point fly or the dropper.

An example of different colors and sizes of scuds.