Stalking Trout In the Colorado

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 28, 2002

It all appears so wild and true. The water is big and cold and clear. The fish are the color of vacation sunsets. You can see them, shouldering into the current, ready, able and wily.

It's all a trick.

The lovely ecosystem at Lees Ferry, Ariz., is about as phony as the jungle ride at Disneyland.

But what do I care? I want to go fishing. I'd heard about this spot for years, the stretch of river where you can stalk rainbow trout with a fly rod in the Grand Canyon.

Pure gluttony.

So I don't really mind that the federal beavers at the Bureau of Reclamation dammed the Colorado at Glen Canyon back in the 1960s, and that the desert river now rises and falls each day with the push of a button, based on the scheduled operation of electric turbines needed to power air conditioners in Phoenix.

Or that the river here is dam-released tail water as clear as gin and 47 degrees year-round only because it decants from the bottom of the Lake Powell silt trap.

Or, finally, that the cold-water species of rainbow trout were planted here only for my enjoyment. That's kinda weird, isn't it?

The fish are here just to be caught. They're wild but not native. Chosen for their good genes, healthy rigor and fast growth, they were poured into the river by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, along with their fish food, the gammarus shrimp that serve as a primary resource for the trout.

Before the dam?

Before, the river was silty brown and warm, and there were catfish -- no trout -- and what is now Lake Powell was Glen Canyon, which the writer Edward Abbey compared to the Taj Mahal or Chartres Cathedral, before it was drowned and buried in mud.

Abbey's tough and poetic eulogy, "Desert Solitaire," is sold at the gift shop at the Foster family's Marble Canyon Lodge, and I bought a copy from the nice Navajo lady working the cash register. I booked a day on the river, ate an appalling haunch of fried steak under cruel gravy at the cafe, and went to sleep in the motel, reading Abbey and listening to the couple in the next room, who sounded as if they were bowling.

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