Fishtouring the Southwest


By Bruce James

I’ve always been a traveler. It probably came from my mother’s side of the family. While some are more inclined to fly to some exotic destination, I’m more likely to put the camping gear in the car and head out on some long fish camping trip. In this part of the country, that type of trip is a definite reality, allowing you to combine fishing, hiking and sightseeing in a part of the world where the scenery varies more than any other. The surrounding states of Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Montana have so much fishing and variety of places to see that I doubt one person could cover much of it in a lifetime. Often I head south first, probably because I get so busy in the summer that I don’t get the time to do any hiking. I’ve found that the Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and southwestern Colorado area give me a bit of both.
This interesting river has been mentioned in magazines as least as much as some of the more famous ones. Even though it gets hit pretty hard in the summer, it’s a bit quieter in the fall, especially if you stay away from the weekends. In fact, this is my favorite time to fish here, especially when they cut the water back to 600 cfs flows. At that level you can actually get out into the river and fish some of the structures without the fear of getting washed away. Most days both drys and nymphs will work, but be prepared to fish small flies.
There’s a nice campground which sits right on the river and it’s rarely filled in the fall.
Tucked away in the southwestern part of Colorado the Dolores is neither as famous nor crowded as the San Juan. Being a tailwater fishery, its flows are controlled by the dam at McPhee Reservoir and are generally fairly low in both the early spring and fall. During the off season it’s common to have only a handful of fly fishers in the ten miles of special regulation water just below McPhee. To me that’s very special and I often go down there in the fall. Although there aren’t vast numbers of trout, many of them are large and stalking them in the shallow crystal clear water is a great experience.
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Most of my trips south start off with a day or so fly fishing the Green. This beautiful tailwater fishery comes out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir and is located just below the Utah / Wyoming border. From Jackson it’s only about a 250-mile drive, so you can leave early in the morning and still get down there and be fishing by 11 a.m.. Even if you didn’t catch a fish, the scenery of the canyon and the reservoir are enough to make a stop worthwhile. However, with about 7,000 fish per mile it’s hard to not have at least some luck, and it’s great to see these beautiful big fish in the crystal clear water. There are several campgrounds in the area and sometimes I will stay in them, depending on the time of the year I am coming. Otherwise, you’ll find accommodations at Flaming Gorge Lodge. For those who like to lake fish, the lake has a good reputation of having some large trout in it.
Although I won’t debate the wisdom of creating Lake Powell, damming the river has certainly created a great recreational lake which more than a million people enjoy every year. Located in southeastern Utah, this 125-mile long lake has more than 2000 miles of shoreline, created by the vast numbers of side canyons. A variety of fish can be caught here including bass, walleye, brown trout, crappie and stripers.
One of the greatest ways to enjoy the lake is to rent a houseboat and tow a small skiff behind it. With this as your home you can cover a large amount of water and travel to many spots just to far to reasonably hit in a day. Although it can be expensive, it’s well worth it to really experience this beautiful lake.
There are several areas of the lake you can base out of. There is Bullfrog, Hite, Halls Crossing and Wahweap. Of these 4, Wahweap is the only one not entirely in Utah. In fact, much of that area is right along the border of Arizona and Utah. Whether you stay in motels or camp really
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depends on where you want to fish. If you’re going to fish in Wahweap you can either stay there or stay in Page, Arizona. Wahweap has both campground and some motel accommodations.
Most of my fly fishing has been out of Bullfrog, which is in the upper part of the lake. You’ll find a gas station, marina, marina store, motel, laundry, showers and campground all in the area. For those who desire a more rustic camp area near Bullfrog (6 miles away), you can stay at the wilderness campground at Stanton Creek. I like this area a lot, but you need to realize that you need to be totally self contained. There is nothing there but a few outhouses. One of the draws of this area is that there are a huge amount of bays, so you can effectively fly fish from the shore. Not all areas on the lake are like this.
Hite is the most undeveloped area on the lake and the farthest north. Whether you fish there or not will depend on how much water is in the lake. In some drought years, it is mostly dry there. Don’t expect to find much at Hite. There is a primitive campground, tiny store, some gas and a boat launch. Bring everything you need with you.
Although I’ve been over to Halls Crossing a number of times, I’ve never fly fished over there. I didn’t see many areas that looked good from the shore and I didn’t have a boat with me.


Although I haven’t spent as much time fishing “Rosy” as a number of the local have, I really enjoyed what time I have spent. Although Arizona is certainly not a place you consider for fishing, it is far better than many have ever dreamed. I grew up in Arizona, but didn’t fish the waters there a lot until I had moved away.
Roosevelt is sort of in the center of the state, tucked between the large metropolis of Phoenix and the small resort town of Payson. It’s a fairly large lake with a good population of bass. The fishing definitely depends on the water level. At some water levels the fly fishing can be great in the spring. When the water drops it may be better to use lures. Although you can do some fishing from the shore, you are best off to have some sort of a boat.
There are well developed and well kept campgrounds at both ends of the lake. You won’t find any motels around this lake but there are a couple nearby.
Some of the best fly fishing occurs in the spring. When things heat up it is not unusual to have surface activity. There are a lot of damsels and dragonflies and the fish feed on both. Several years I had good luck on a Brown Chernobyl, which nicely matched the brown dragonflies which were buzzing around.