In 1983, I moved to Lees Ferry to guide for a year or two as I pondered what I was going to do with my life. The fish were giant, the river was flowing at 45,000-cfs, and I lived in my boat. A couple years later I met the love of my life, Wendy Hanvold, who was waiting tables at Marble Canyon Lodge. She asked me if I would teach her how to fly fish…the rest is history.
Most of the 80’s, I spent the summers in Alaska and co-founded Crystal Creek Lodge. In 1989, I decided I had enough fun in Alaska and an opportunity to open a fly shop at Lees Ferry presented itself. Russell Sullivan, Wendy Hanvold and I decided to open Lees Ferry Anglers Guides and Fly Shop at Vermillion Cliffs Lodge. We leased a “sprawling” 300 square feet in an old gas station and proceeded to make a $15,000 opening order with Orvis (yes, we were originally an Orvis shop and Orvis endorsed outfitter). The day that the UPS truck arrived with our opening order the 3 of us were standing by with hand trucks to help unload the heavy boxes. The driver hopped out of the truck and carried 3 boxes which contained our entire opening order into the shop. We spread it out the best that we could over the 300 square feet and the shop still looked pretty empty.
Our first guide (besides Russell and myself) was Bill Shultz…Jeff English joined our staff a year later. We opened our business during the largest fishing down-turn in the history of Lees Ferry (experimental flows of 1989-1991) and despite the down-turn we survived and grew our business. During the 90’s the fishing got better and in the process we became one of the largest retailers of fly fishing equipment in the southwestern US. Our guide service became one of the largest guide services in the country employing 14 full time fishing guides. We expanded our fleet of guide and rental boats to more than 20 boats and Ted Welling invented the Bead Head Zebra Midge in our shop.
In 2000, Jeff English became a partner in our business. Jeff came from a real estate background and suggested that we needed to own our real estate. A short time later Cliff Dwellers Lodge came up for sale. The lodge was run down and in desperate need of way too much work. It took us a while but we decided that this was the best move that we could make for our business. We bought the lodge and went to work renovating it and moved our fly shop and all operations to Cliff Dwellers in June 2001. Our timing was great! The same year we moved in, the western US went into the worst drought in history and the Lees Ferry fishery began another decline that lasted for a few years. Once again we survived and our business has thrived, the fishing has experienced a dramatic improvement, we have done well in the lodging and restaurant business and our enterprise continues to grow.
Russell Sullivan retired from the business in 07 and is living the good life. Jeff English and I still guide full time. Wendy “Hanvold” Gunn, my wife of 13 years is general manager of Lees Ferry Anglers and Cliff Dwellers Lodge. What began as 300 sq. ft. has turned into 30 acres, with a fly shop, guide service, rental boats, rental equipment, gas station, convenience store, restaurant-bar and hotel. Our staff during our high season usually exceeds 40 people and we are proud to work with each and every one of them…it is because of them that we are where we are today. I have never had so much fun in my entire life as I have had watching this business grow and it has been a great ride. On behalf of all the staff of Lees Ferry Anglers and Cliff Dwellers Lodge we want to THANK YOU, OUR CUSTOMER, for making it possible for us to celebrate or 20 year anniversary.
Lees Ferry Anglers Fly Shop, Guides, & Rentals
Cliff Dwellers Lodge