National Parks 7 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing in Grand Canyon National Park

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

July 25, 2020

Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park

Ever since Grand Canyon National Park first opened in 1919 it has been a must-visit destination for millions of Americans. Driving west to see the Grand Canyon has become a mythic pilgrimage and road trip rite of passage for each new generation of Americans.

What many who visit this wonder of the western United States may not realize is that it also offers some of the best fishing for trout and other game fish in the American Southwest.

Go and see the Grand Canyon for sure, but don’t miss out on the amazing fly fishing opportunities throughout the 1902 square miles of Grand Canyon National Park.

Fishing Around Grand Canyon National Park

Native cutthroat trout in Grand Canyon National Park

The majority of the park is in Arizona near the city of Flagstaff, just off the legendary Route 66. The Grand Canyon itself is north of the city, and there are quite a few excellent streams and lakes where you can try your luck year round for big rainbows and brown trout.

Some anglers also like to fish for pike and other types of big game fish in the lakes that are scattered throughout the park. Anglers who rent or bring their own boat will find that the local smallmouth and largemouth bass populations are excellent out in the warmer lake waters far from the banks.

While the park itself is public land and offers plenty of parking and public access, you do need a state fishing permit available from the Arizona Fish and Game website.

If you venture south of Flagstaff around Sedona there are also many wonderful streams and rivers that run outside the park where you can also try your luck for some real river monsters.

As always though, take a good local map and be aware of private property boundaries in the area to avoid trespassing while in search of your fishing trophy. 

Grand Canyon National Park Fishing Map

map of fishing access spots in Grand Canyon National Park

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish in Grand Canyon National Park

There are many rivers, streams, and lakes where you can try your luck in and around Grand Canyon National Park. Here are the top recommended fishing locations to visit:

Colorado River

Over 200 miles of the Colorado River flow through Grand Canyon National Park. Most of it is only accessible by boat.

This section of the mighty Colorado runs east west through the park, and has some of the fastest flows in the region due to the hydroelectric dam controlling the river’s flow throughout the year.

Stick to the upper region near Marble Canyon, as this 61 mile stretch that runs from Lee’s Ferry to the confluence with the Little Colorado River is definitely the most productive near the park.

Further downstream from this point the flow and water temperature are heavily influenced by the Little Colorado and fishing can be extremely unpredictable.

You can reach Marble Canyon from Route 89/89A north of Flagstaff about 2 hours drive, or you can stay over in nearby Bitter Springs and have a leisurely 20-30 minute drive.

Check out our DIY Guide the Fly Fishing the Colorado River for more information about this fishery.

Bright Angel Creek

For trout anglers, this is one of the best spots in the entire park for rainbows and browns. Runoff can be a problem when it rains, but if the weather has been clear and not too hot it is easy to find pocket water and riffles.

While Bright Angel Creek has been subject to a trout reduction program in recent years, there are still plenty of wild trout here, in particular near the confluence with the Colorado River. You will need to hike down to the bottom of the canyon to reach Bright Angel, but the trail is easy to follow.

Make sure you have an overnight permit and plan to camp out at least one night to really take advantage of the fishing in this out of the way corner of the park. Alternatively, staying at Phantom Ranch in the park itself is recommended provided you reserve a spot well in advance of your trip.

Tapeats Creek

Monster wild rainbows are the main attraction at Tapeats Creek, and while it is a smaller fishery, it is definitely worth a visit if you are planning a trip to Grand Canyon National Park.

You can access Tapeats Creek from the North Kaibab trailhead, but an overnight stay at the Cottonwood Campground is highly recommended. The creek itself is far from any populated area. This means plenty of wild trout that see very few anglers a year, but it also requires a lot of high elevation hiking along the North Rim.

Visiting during the summer is inadvisable due to the triple digit temperatures and extremely limited access to water along the trail. Careful planning and preparation as well as taking a guided trip to Tapeats is strongly recommended.

Shinumo Creek

Considered to be a world-class trout fishery for years, Shinumo creek is a fantastic spot to try your luck for prizewinning trout. There is a catch though: the creek’s mouth is divided from the main flow of the Colorado by a barrier waterfall, and you will need a way to cross the river in order to access the South Bass or North Bass trails.

Provided you can make the trip and flag down a passing raft or boat on the Colorado to give you a lift across the river, you are in for one of the most superb fly fishing experiences to be had in the Southwestern US. Head west along 89A from Bitter Springs, then south on 67 to start your hike to Shinumo Creek.

Taking a guided trip to this fishery is highly recommended due to the strength of the river rapids year round and the extensive hike over challenging terrain. 

Check the Grand Canyon National Park website for more information on how to get to these lesser known fisheries.

Best Time to Fish in Grand Canyon National Park

Most local experts agree that prime fishing seasons in Grand Canyon National Park are fall and winter. There is less chance you will be contending with torrential rains and flash floods, and the likelihood of triple digit temperatures during the day is also significantly reduced in the fall and winter.

The other problematic issue is that the dam flows on the Colorado and Little Colorado tend to affect the clarity of water throughout the year, and when it rains the water becomes incredibly murky and makes fly fishing virtually impossible. 

The other consideration is that the fly hatches are decent year round, but they are best in the late fall and early winter months throughout most of the park.

Due to the year round warm temperatures, there are few problems with finding a time of year that specific hatches are booming anywhere in the park, but most especially near Lees Ferry and Marble Canyon.

At any given time during the year, trout here are counted by the thousands per square mile, and the annual population shows no signs of shrinking for the past five years.

Definitely plan to visit in the fall or winter though if you are averse to extreme heat, as it can get unbearably hot in the late spring and early summer.

Grand Canyon National Park Fishing Tips

Just about every stream or fishing spot in the park is perfect for a 9-foot rod with a 5-weight line. This simplifies hiking for most anglers looking to enjoy the wild trout populations near the heart of the park itself, and the less gear you have to carry the better.

It is strongly advisable to take a collapsible or multi-section fly rod and use a durable fishing rod case for your trip to protect your gear. 

Pack some waders if you plan to fish the “walk-in” area at Lees Ferry. You can wet wade most streams inside the park.

Best Flies for Grand Canyon National Park

Here are some recommended flies that have proven effective for fishing in the Grand Canyon National Park region:

  • Midges (#16-24)
  • San Juan Worm (#12-18)
  • Caddis (#12-18)
  • Terrestrials (#8-16)
  • Shrimp (#14-18)
  • Eggs (#14-16)
  • Buggers (#4-6)

Grand Canyon National Park Fishing Reports

There are a number of area fly shops and guide services that can provide an update on current fishing conditions in and around Grand Canyon National Park. A few to check out are listed below.

Grand Canyon National Park Fishing Regulations

You must purchase a permit from Arizona Game and Fish to fish in the state.

If you will be hiking overnight in the park you need a permit from the National Park Service as well. Several of the best streams require an overnight hike, so definitely plan on reserving a permit in advance.

Be sure to follow best Leave No Trace practices, and respect the local fishing limits. Bag limit for trout is 6 fish per day of any species.

Trip Planning Tips

Anglers visiting Grand Canyon National Park typically fly into Phoenix or Flagstaff.

If you have time and want a bit more of an adventure you can take the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Kansas City and Chicago all the way to Flagstaff. It’s one of the best ways to see the American Southwest in comfort and style.

The drive is also shorter from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon itself, and its is more centrally located to the best fishing locations in the state.

As far as accommodations go, Flagstaff has numerous hotels and motels you can take advantage of via internet booking and various competing room bids.

There are campgrounds in Grand Canyon National Park you can or will need to use to reach your desired fishing destination, but permits are limited and require reservations.

Cottonwood Campground and Phantom Ranch are the two most popular, so if you plan to camp, plan well in advance.

Bitter Springs also has some limited accommodations in the form of smaller motels and hotels which often have bargain prices.

You can also stay at various places in Marble Canyon, though these options are also limited in number.

It may be worth checking into vacation rentals in the area as well, but given the sparsely populated area this may not yield as many bargain stays as other fly fishing destinations.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in America