Fly Fishing Arizona: Bright Angel Creek

24 - Colorado River
Colorado River

My wife and I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to stay at Bright Angel Campground for two nights. This gave me the perfect opportunity to explore and fish Bright Angel Creek. We made our way down the South Kaibab Trail and made it to the campground around 1:20 in the afternoon. After securing our campsite and setting up our tent, Michelle gave me the nod to rig up my fly rod and see what was in Bright Angel Creek.

Bright Angel Creek
Bright Angel Creek
21 - I Fish AZ
I Fish AZ

Bright Angel Creek has been the scene of some controversy in the Arizona fly fishing scene. Back in the mid 1900s, non-native brown trout were stocked in the creek. Based on it’s location it doesn’t see a whole ton of pressure and those browns thrived in this beautiful creek. Non-native rainbows from the Colorado River also made their way into the creek, and both species made Bright Angel Creek a fantastic fishery. In more recent years, there has been a movement by the National Parks Service to eradicate the voracious trout in an effort to restore the humpback chub in the Bright Angel waters. Their efforts culminated in a huge electroshocking/eradication project this past winter, and I was nervous to see if there were any trout left in the water. Here are some others who have written more on the topic:

Iain at Oak Creek Angler 

Will at 111º West

David at The Trout Zone

Mike at Arizona Fly

and from the National Parks Service

18 - Hopper:Dropper
Hoppper/Dropper

I rigged a hopper/dropper and set out right next to the campground in an effort to work my way up the creek. After a few casts a small rainbow nipped at my fly and found it’s way to my hand. I worked my way up the creek, changing flies occasionally and found a few more hungry rainbows. With the weight of a possible skunking off my shoulders, I settled into a grove and worked the water until dinner time. We made it an early night, as our knees and joints were a bit achey from our descent with plenty of time the next day to fish.

25 - Colorado River Rainbow
Bright Angel Rainbow

The morning came quickly and the sun warmed our little canyon quickly. We picked our way along the creek until we reached the mighty Colorado River. The river was running like chocolate milk and nixed any opportunity to work the fast moving riffles.

23 - Bright Angel Creek
Bright Angel Creek

I worked the bigger runs at the bottom of Bright Angel Creek, and as I drifted a heavy streamer through a good looking run, my line paused and I lifted the rod. Everything went a bit crazy at that point. I saw an orange tail as my fly rod really started to bend. My first thought was “Big Brown! Don’t screw this up!” I hoped beyond hope that this was one of the big Bright Angel brown trout that had possibly survived the electroshocking efforts

27 - Bent Rod
Bent Rod

The fish stayed on the bottom of the pool, making it difficult to see what I was dealing with. Orange flashes kept my mind on holding a big brown trout, but as I worked the fish to the bank I realized that my dreams of a big Bright Angel brown trout were going to have to wait. What I later found out was a flannelmouth sucker had picked up my crayfish pattern. I held this heavy fish, admired it’s unique features, and released him back into his home.

26 - Flannel Mouth Sucker
Flannelmouth Sucker

As I continued up the bottom portion of Bright Angel Creek, I kept seeing more and more of the big suckers in the slow waters. After talking to a park ranger, he verified that the flannelmouth suckers were currently moving into the lower creek to spawn. I heeded his suggestion to move farther up the creek. Although bummed that the fish I caught was not a brown, it was cool to hold one of these fish. Although not endangered, the flannelmouth suckers are considered a threatened species.

29 - Bright Angel Creek
Bright Angel Creek

I headed back up the creek with my beautiful and patient wife in tow. The gorgeous photos that accompany this post are all hers, and I appreciate the time she took to follow me around. From the bridge at the top of the campground, I spotted a silvery rainbow working the far side of the stream, clearly feeding on passing insects. I walked below to the creek and started to drift flies to the hungry rainbow. After several drifts, the spunky trout attacked a big hopper with a splashy take. I set the hook in front of a growing crowd of onlookers. After landing the chunky little rainbow, I released him back to the ice cold waters to live another day. There is nothing like the pressure of an audience when fishing.

34 - Bright Angel Rainbow
Bright Angel Rainbow

I fished through the afternoon and with the sun bright overhead, I was able to sight fish for rainbows with nice big foam hoppers.

28 - Colorado River Rainbow
Bright Angel Rainbows
30 - Bright Angel Rainbow
Bright Angel Rainbows
31 - Bright Angel Rainbow
Bright Angel Rainbows

I did find one little brown still left after the electroshocking and secretly I hope there are more.

28 - Brown Trout
Bright Angel Brown Trout

With all this unfolding through the afternoon, my wife graciously continued to take pictures and read on the bank of the creek. She listened to me babble about creek fishing and looked when I pointed out fish. After seeing me catch a good number of fish, I could sort of tell that she was paying more attention and asking more in depth questions. I offered if she would like to give it a try. Sure enough she said yes and started to cast and drift flies through the fast small creek riffles.

Mrs. AZWanderings
Mrs. AZWanderings

She was doing something right because she had a half dozen trout rise to her fly. Anyone who knows my wife, knows that she is as competitive and stubborn as I am. She would not give up and in the end her perseverance paid off when she set the hook on a healthy Bright Angel rainbow. She played it to shore were we both admired the beautiful fish.

33 - Mrs. AZWanderings
Mrs. AZWanderings and a beautiful rainbow

It was one of the greatest experiences to see my wife catch her first fish on a fly and it is something that I will not soon forget. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I look forward to fishing with her again. Lord help me if she ever catches the biggest fish of the day.

35 Responses to “Fly Fishing Arizona: Bright Angel Creek”

  1. Brian Davis

    Nice post, Ben. I dream of the day my wife picks up a fly rod. At one point she said she’d go fly fishing with me. Then she bought me a Sage rod and asked if that could count as fishing with me. Well . . . Yes!

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Brian, Sounds like you still got a good deal. Thanks for the kind words.

      Ben

      Reply
  2. GSFeder

    Nice report and photos, Ben. And good to see my favorite hopper dropper combo. While she’s patient reading on the banks for now, better to get her hooked. For your sake, I hope she does get the biggest fish of the day from time to time. Especially if she’s a little competitive, that will keep her coming back. Then think of all the new gear y’all can accumulate!

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Exactly my thought Greg. Although if she catches the biggest fish, I’ll never hear the end of it. At every dinner party for the rest of my life, I’ll have to relive it. It would be great to have my best friend along though. Thanks for the kind words.

      Ben

      Reply
  3. Jay

    Great post. Thanks for sharing the Flanelmouth Sucker. I always enjoy seeing the species that a lot of anglers regard as “trash fish.” Considering that species is “threatened” and a native fish in native waters, I think it’s more special than those Rainbows… even if it’s not as pretty. I’ve visited GC and hiked down that same trail. I didn’t know enough at the time to bring a fly rod along. Thanks for showing me what I was missing out on.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Jay. The Flannelmouth was definitely cool and I was glad to catch him. He had my heart pounding there for a minute or two. I agree that it is cool to see big native fish like that in their natural habitat.

      Ben

      Reply
  4. Rainbow Chaser

    Ben, great post and beautiful pictures to support it. Wonderful experience for you and your wife. Thanks for sharing with all of your readers.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Mel for the kind words. I’m lucky to have such a good girl to tag along with me.

      Ben

      Reply
  5. SWYD

    Great stuff Ben. Love the photos and fishes. Looking forward to more about the trip. Congrats to Michelle!
    Kyle

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Kyle. Looking forward to Pyramid for sure. I’ll tell you all about it on our endless drive there.

      Ben

      Reply
  6. Iain Emmons

    Ben, great write-up, and your wife takes great fly fishing photos! Cool to see her land a fine Bright Angel rainbow too. That flannelmouth sucker is a pretty neat catch; I think suckers are pretty underrated as a game fish, they can be more picky than trout, and can put up quite the fight.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Iain

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Iain,

      Thanks for the kind words and all the insight you gave. It was a great experience and one I hope to do again.

      Ben

      Reply
  7. Dan Wight

    Great post! Being 62 and having a couple of artificial knees, yet still a life long outdoorsman I admire what you are doing. The situation with regard to the trout in the area is similar to the local issues facing the residents of the Pend Oreille River valley here. Attacking the symptoms and not the cause. The difference being that you are in an area that truely is remote aside from a chopper and hiking. I dont know what the table quality is of the chubs but I have my suspicions. The trout on the other hand I have no doubts. As for your evaluation of the removal, I too feel you are correct about the waste of time and funding when consideration being made for the dams construction trumped all things environmental ever returning to the past. Keep doing what you are, you are the eyes of a good many of people that find it difficult to be in two places at once.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Dan. I appreciate your insight and support. I’ll keep at it as long as I’m able.

      Ben

      Reply
  8. GourmetSportsman

    Thanks for the report. My buddy fished it last year and said there were some really nice fish in there. We were worried that the electroshocking left the water devoid of any trout. Good to see that’s not the case.

    I need to get there before things change. Although I’m not looking forward to that hike!

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      GS, The whole experience is well worth it. The Grand Canyon and Bright Angel are pretty spectacular. I highly encourage you to do it.

      Ben

      Reply
  9. Jonathan

    Thanks for sharing your experience Ben. That trip has been on my mind for about the last 6 months or so. I want sure if it would be worth it (fishing-wise, the hike and views and experience of being down in the canyon is pretty cool in itself). I may try to work it into my future plans.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Excellent Jonathan. The hike alone is worth it to do, but the fishing is the icing. Best of luck working it into your plans.

      Ben

      Reply
  10. David Knapp

    Amazing trip Ben! I have been wanting to return to BA and the Grand Canyon ever since I left a couple of springs ago. That sucker is an impressive fish, although I would have been pretty disappointed if I had hooked it and it wasn’t a big brown. Glad you had a good trip and hope you are able to take many more…

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks David. Your posts definitely spurred me on to do the trip. I appreciate the kind words.

      Ben

      Reply
  11. Greg

    What a great read Ben. Congrats on getting “Mrs. AZW” her first, and what a beauty! The fish wasn’t bad either. 😉
    Those are some interesting looking bows w/very few spot. That’s my kind of fishing!

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Greg. I was so excited that my wife was able to catch that fish too. I’m a lucky man to say the least.

      Ben

      Reply
  12. Kirk

    Great post – you’re a jerk though for fishing hoppers in March just to rub it in our faces. I’m sitting here reading this with my wife. Her comments: “That sucker is actually pretty if you don’t look at its head.” “We’ve got to go to the Grand Canyon.” “Nice rainbows for such a small creek.” I agree with all her comments!

    Probably the wisest thing you wrote: “Lord help me if she ever catches the biggest fish of the day.” I’ve been there a few times, and I am frequently reminded of each of them! It’s totally worth it though!

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Kirk and sorry about that. But when it’s 115 in a few months, you’ll have the last laugh.

      Ben

      Reply
  13. Will Jordan

    Hey Ben – Glad to see that you made it to BA Creek, and had a good trip! Did you see any sign of ongoing efforts to remove trout from the creek?
    Will

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Will. Ever since I read your book, I’ve been dreaming about heading down in there. I did not see any active signs of trout removal. Is spoke to the rangers and they were very clear for me to keep all the trout (which I didn’t). They had also said that they taken down the weir that had been near the confluence. I’m interested and disheartened to see what they are planning on doing next.

      Ben

      Reply
  14. Rod Smith

    Great post, though sorry to hear the NPS has intentionally destroyed the brown trout fishery. Some of the best brown trout fishing I’ve ever experienced was at Bright Angel Creek. Have been considering another trip down, but if the browns are gone, guess I’ll go elsewhere. Too bad government employees have been allowed to implement idiotic ideas. They don’t seem to understand that Glen Canyon dam has turned the Colorado River system into a cold water fishery.

    Reply
  15. Doug

    Great blog I stumbled into here…

    Bright Angel Creek was a fishery to behold in 1977. I was trying to survive on a graduate teaching assistantship in Geology at NAU ($224 a month). Big rainbows would move up from the Colorado river in the fall and pack every pool of Bright Angel Creek. There was a 10 fish limit, and starving graduate students saw that as a months’ supply of protein. I would run up there and do a round trip in a day. One ten fish pack I hauled up weighed 50 lbs.!

    I agree with the post of Rod Smith—Glen Canyon fundamentally changed the river. The NPS can’t electrokill it back to the original state, so they should let the new ecosystem thrive.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks for the comment Doug. It’s a beautiful creek for sure and I hope there will be trout in there for my kids some day.

      Ben

      Reply
  16. Greg

    Ben, that was a great read. I am in Az. currently and about to go visit the S. Rim. was looking for a ff opportunity.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Great to hear from you Greg. I’d hit Lees Ferry, or if you are up for it, Bright Angel at the bottom of the South Rim. Shoot me an email if you are going to be in the state for a a couple of days and we’ll get out.

      Ben

      Reply
  17. Steve

    Hi Ben,

    That was a great read – love the photography, too. I grew up in Phoenix and I’ve been backpacking to Bright Angel Campground every November/December with a group of friends for about 9 years now. Last year, I moved to the Seattle area and picked up a nasty fly fishing habit. I’m heading back to the Canyon in two weeks and I’ll be bringing a fly rod for the first time. I’ve been reading up on the fishing down there and I know the NPS is still actively trying to reduce the trout population, but there isn’t much current info available. I’m encouraged to see that you had a good outing just a couple of years ago. Any idea what it’s like now? Even if I don’t catch a thing, I’ll be happy just taking in the scenery, but landing a couple certainly wouldn’t hurt!

    Steve

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Steve,

      Great to hear from you and sounds like you have a great trip ahead of you. I’ve heard there are still trout in Bright Angel although I haven’t been down since this trip in the post. I know for sure that you can still fish for trout in the Colorado. The river should be in good shape at this time of year. I’d be real interested to hear how B.A. fishes if you get a chance to fish it. Best of luck.

      Ben

      Reply
  18. Shane

    Ben
    Everything about this post is just awesome. I myself have been planning a trip to this very place, but have been nervous due to the trout reduction project. Do you think it would be feasible to try to do this (and have success) in January/February of 2016? Or would there not be any trout left?
    Thanks,
    Shane

    Reply

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