Fishing for Apache Trout – Arizona

The White Mountains boast one of the only two trout species native to Arizona. The Apache trout (Oncorhynchus Apache) is presently only existing in the scenic mountainous lakes and streams of Arizona’s White Mountains.

The Apache trout is gold in color, faded coloring along it’s sides. Gold and red(certain times of the year) highlight the tips of the fins. Characteristics of the fish include larger fins than normally found on these species of sport fish with a very large adipose fin. Black irregular spots cover most of it’s body.

Adult fish typically range from 8 to 15 inches. However, trophy fish may range from 16 to 24 inches and weigh up to 6 pounds.

Fly Fishing Methods
Apache trout can be caught by a variety of methods, including wet or dry flies, small lures, or natural baits, in either lakes or streams. However, artificial flies produce the best results.

Wet Flies – Small hooks, in sizes 14 through 18, are usually better for Apache trout, especially throughout the day. Use patterns that have olive green, brown, or black coloring. Popular patterns include: Peacock Ladies; Pheasant-tail nymphs; Hares Ear nymphs; zug bugs; scuds; or stonefly, mayfly or caddis fly nymph imitations. Larger wet flies (size 6 to 8 hooks) that work well include: wooly buggers, wooly worms, streamers, and muddler minnows. Colors in purple, black, brown, and green work best.

Dry Flies – Again, use small hook sizes. Best fishing times are at dawn and dust, or any other time fish are rising to the surface to feed. Popular patterns include: Royal Coachman; Adams; Royal Wulff; Parachute Adams; or any gnat, mosquito, mayfly caddisfly, or stonefly adult imitations.

Terrestrial Patterns – Use any grasshopper, ant, or beetle imitation. Pay attention to size when fishing hopper patterns.

Where to Fish

  • State Waters(where a state fishing license and trout stamp are required)
  • Lee Valley Reservoir
  • East Fork of the Black River
  • West Fork of the Black River (campground)
  • Upper West Fork of the Black River (near Big Lake)
  • West Fork of the Little Colorado River at Sheeps Crossing (below Mt. Baldy)
  • West Fork of the Little Colorado River in Greer
  • Upper Silver Creek
  • White Mountain Apache Waters (where a tribal fishing permit is required)
  • Hawley Lake
  • Pacheta Lake
  • Christmas Tree Lake
  • Bog Tank
  • Hurricane Lake
  • Shus Be Tou & Shus Be Zahze
  • Earl Park Lake
  • Horseshoe Lake
  • Sunrise Lake


White Mountain Apache Tribe initiated Apache trout conservation efforts when the only known populations existed on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. On March 24, 1955 the tribe closed all streams within the boundaries of the Mount Baldy Wilderness Area to fishing. Subsequently, other streams deemed important to Apache trout conservation were also closed to fishing.

Early 1960s
Intensive fishery surveys were conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department in cooperation with the White Mountain Apache Tribe to determine the Apache trout status. A controlled propagation program was initiated as part of the federal and state Apache trout recovery effort. Apache trout stockings into streams began in 1963.

Starting in the early 1960s, fish barriers were constructed on several streams to prevent upstream migration of non-native trout. Several streams were renovated to remove non-native rainbow trout, brown trout, and/or brook trout. Pure Apache trout were stocked into streams following renovations.

Despite early conservation efforts, Apache trout were considered endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. Apache trout became federally protected with passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

The Apache trout was one of the first species to be down-listed from endangered to threatened after re-evaluation of its status. The down listing included a 4(d) rule that allows the state to authorize selective angling opportunities. Hatchery reared fish were stocked to establish angling opportunities.

The recovery team prepared an initial recovery plan for Apache trout. The plan was updated in 1983.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service developed a habitat improvement plan to install approximately 30 miles of riparian fencing to protect important stream segments from livestock and/or elk damage.

The U.S. Forest Service in cooperation with the Arizona Game and Fish Department began the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for implementing remaining recovery actions that would lead to delisting. The process was completed in late 2002.

Some stream renovations started. Subsequent challenges by various stakeholders postponed most planned recovery actions. The remaining proposed actions are currently being re-evaluated with the goal of implementing recovery

Thanks to Earl Troutback of for permission to reprint this article on