Arizona Fly Fishing

Whether you prefer lakes, streams, creeks or urban fishing, a year long season and a wide variety of sport fish species provide Arizonian’s with plenty of great fishing opportunities…Although Arizona is a desert state, it is blessed with abundant opportunities for anglers. Of the 27 or so species commonly sought by Arizona anglers, eight are cool or coldwater fish, and 19 are warmwater species. There are more than 160 stream management reaches comprising 1,500 miles and around 80 lakes that are managed for trout.

Lee’s Ferry

Arizona’s Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry is an awe-inspiring fishery, in part because it’s at the gateway to the Grand Canyon and in part for what novice and experienced anglers can discover between the riverbanks. Shadowed by 1,300-foot red rock cliffs, the Lee’s Ferry water below Glen Canyon Dam holds an estimated 50,000 trout over six inches long (17,000 over 12 inches) per mile in over 15 miles of water, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. That might be the highest concentration of trout in any river anywhere in the world. It’s the kind of place where a 100-fish day is possible, if that’s what you’re after.

Lee’s Ferry fish are fat, nasty, and strong. They are mostly wild rainbows–a distinctive strain recognizable by its rich green-and-red coloring and high girth-to-length ratio. A 17-incher can show you the clean part of your backing.

Despite the great numbers of fish, Lee’s Ferry is one of the most technically challenging places for fly rodders in North America, demanding light rigs, tiny flies, and long casts. It is one of the best sight-casting rivers anywhere, a place where you can spend hours casting to big rainbows with tiny flies in shallow water.

Even with all its visual splendor and fishing excitement, what really impresses me about Lee’s Ferry is its fishing diversity. Fluctuating water releases from the Glen Canyon Dam change river geography and trout feeding behavior at the drop of a hat, forcing you to think quickly and change your approach from day to day–and even hour to hour. The river can be raging fast one minute or glassy slick the next; it’s like a spring creek on steroids.

No other river allows you to encounter so much in so little time.

Lee’s Ferry fishing today is different from any other Western tailwater. For example, while the fishing is technically challenging, you don’t have to constantly dig into your fly box to find different patterns in perfect colors or sizes. On many tailwaters, trout won’t look at your fly if it is ribbed with the wrong material. On Lee’s Ferry, the technical game is focused more on how you present your flies to fish, rather than what you show them.

Another difference between Lee’s Ferry and other tailwaters is how the water is reached. Anglers don’t use drift boats in Glen Canyon; they motor upstream, anchor on a gravel bar, then wade-fish along the banks or drift-fish nymphs beneath strike indicators as the boat floats back downstream.

Walk-in fishing is available right at the Lee’s Ferry boat launch, but steep canyon walls limit upstream foot access. The lack of wading areas is one of the area’s biggest drawbacks.

Powerboats can be rented by the day from local fly shops, but navigating the river at low flow levels can be dangerous. It’s a better idea to hire a guide to help shorten the learning curve and to safely reach the best less-pressured fishing spots upstream from the boat launch.

Finding Lee’s Ferry fish is never a problem. When the water runs clear, it’s easy to spot trout stacked up at the bottoms of deep runs or suspended in the shallows a step or two off the banks.

Figuring out what the fish are eating isn’t a major challenge either, because there are no mayfly hatches to match. Trout feed mostly on midges, scuds, worms, occasional snails, and some terrestrials. There are more than 50 species of midges that account for decent dry-fly action–the bonus is using #22 and smaller flies.

Streamer and terrestrial fishing are hit-or-miss propositions, effective only when the fish are seriously dialed in on foods such as hoppers, ants, and beetles.

The prime time for dry-fly midge fishing is spring, though fish feed on the surface year-round, particularly in calm river channels and backeddies. Smaller single midge patterns usually work best, though Griffith’s Gnats and Grizzly Clusters are also productive. In March, the trout key on a giant midge (#16), and the fish move into water as shallow as six inches deep and travel as much as five feet to take a fly on top.

Despite the decent dry-fly fishing, the best year-round action takes place subsurface, and Lee’s Ferry is famous for its nymphing and sight fishing with midge emergers.

When midging for selective trout in clear shallows, you might need to use a 7X tippet and a 15-foot leader (or more), but a typical Lee’s Ferry rig is a 9-foot 4X or 5X leader connected to 6X tippet.

Most guides use a 9-foot, 4-, 5-, or 6-weight medium- or fast-action rod for this fishing, though many anglers use 0- through 3-weight rods when they fish tiny midge flies in the back channels.

Lee’s Ferry water is usually gin-clear, so it’s a good idea to avoid bright fly lines that can spook fish. A reel with a smooth drag is needed for slowing down the river’s hot rainbows.

The best nymphing setup is a yarn strike indicator tied several inches below where your fly line attaches to your leader; micro-split-shot (the amount determined by the depth and current of the water you’re fishing) attached several feet beneath the indicator at the knot connecting the leader to the tippet; a large fly (#14-#16 orange or pink scud) tied to the tippet 12 to 18 inches beneath the split-shot; and a smaller “dropper” fly (#20 bead-head midge larva) connected by another strand of tippet tied to the eye of the first fly and tied off 12 to 18 inches below.

If you’ve mastered the art of high-stick (or short-line) nymphing, forget it when you come to Lee’s Ferry. You will need a presentation that provides longer dead-drifts, allowing your fly to be seen by as many trout as possible.

To full-line nymph effectively, you must make a long across- or slightly up-current cast, followed by an assertive upstream mend. At that point, the trick is to pile as much line as necessary at the indicator (using roll-cast mends) to eliminate as much drag and micro-drag as possible.

Dry-fly fishing is spectacular at certain times of the year, but most fishing at Lees Ferry is accomplished subsurface with midge and scud imitations.

Lee’s Ferry fish will move an indicator enough for you to detect a strike from a distance. You can set a hook on a 20-inch fish over 30 yards away, beginning a fight near your backing.

For fish in skinny water close to the banks, suspend a bead-head midge larva 18 inches beneath an attractor dry fly such as a #12 Adams Irresistible. The attractor serves as a strike indicator, but occasionally a trout will rise for it.

The best approach when using an attractor dry and bead-head dropper is to drive your fly line hard so the indicator fly hits only a few feet upstream from your target. A soft landing will spook even the most contently-feeding fish. A slight splash on the surface is better than the lazy flutter of a landing fly, because the water in Glen Canyon is usually so clear that shadow and movement are detected by the trout. By slamming your flies, you minimize the shadows.

Due to the cold water temperatures (a near-constant 48 degrees F.), and because many of the trout are not subject to multiple hookups on a day, the rainbows are tireless fighters.

Perhaps the toughest-battling trout are the “scud fish” that feed in the deeper, faster water. They are slightly more silvery in color and usually a bit fatter, ranging up to six pounds or better.

Be Careful

Due to fluctuating water levels below the dam, Lee’s Ferry can be a dangerous place to fish. Currents are strong and drop-offs are steep. Make safety a top priority.

Most of your casting should be done in ankle-deep water. By wading too deep, you spook trout and take unnecessary safety risks. You’ll find the biggest fish hugging the banks of the gravel bars that protrude into the bends of the river. Even drop-offs and ledges can be effectively fished by wading to within a modest striking distance.

Keep a careful eye on river levels, using a reliable marker every 15 minutes or so, because flows in Glen Canyon often change without warning. Most experienced anglers wear breathable waders with a strong wading belt and inflatable fishing vests.

Lee’s Ferry flows usually run higher on weekdays, when power demands of the dam are at their peak, and lower during weekends, when the demands diminish. Flows average between 12,000 and 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), depending on snowpack and electrical demand. The maximum is 25,000 cfs; the minimum is 5,000 cfs. The ideal range for sight casting is between 8,000 and 13,000 cfs. As trout streams go, it’s very big water.

A sudden rise in the water level might cool things for a bit, but it will not spell an end to productivity. In fact, sometimes the lowering and raising of the water level below the dam leads to the most interesting fishing at Lee’s Ferry–dry-fly scud fishing.

When water levels drop significantly, millions of scuds become stranded on the exposed gravel bars lining the banks. After two days of drying in the hot Arizona sun, the desiccated scuds are flushed into the current when the water rises again. As the dried shells float downstream, the fish go on a binge.

If You Go

Spring is the busy season at Lee’s Ferry, and finding the right place at the right time to cast a giant midge can be a challenge, especially on weekends. But Lee’s Ferry is far less crowded on average than the big name destination rivers. Guides and recreational visitors still adhere to a strict code of ethics dictating that a gravel bar occupied by another party is off limits. Thus, the early bird often gets the worm, and the wise set out for a day of fishing before 7 A.M. during the busy season.

If you visit, remember that you’ll be fishing in the shade of a deep canyon, which can get cold in winter. Though daytime temperatures climb into the 40s (F.) in midwinter, average morning temperatures are in the teens. To prepare for changing conditions, layer your clothing and peel away layers as the sun reaches its peak. Located in the desert, Lee’s Ferry can also be a very hot place. In the summer, air temperatures can reach triple digits, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

The nearest town of significant size to Lee’s Ferry is Page, Arizona, a 45-minute drive. Flagstaff is two hours south; Phoenix 41/2 hours south; Las Vegas 41/2 hours west; Salt Lake City six hours north; and the San Juan River four to five hours east. Great Lakes Airlines flies non-stop from Phoenix to Page and from Denver to Page.

 

About the White Mountains Fishery

The high country scenery would look right at home in Colorado or Montana but without all of the crowds. Fishing for the rare Apache trout on sparkling small streams remains somewhat of a solitary experience even with the increased exposure.

The drive from the Grand Canyon is just too far for most tourists and honestly, most folks just don’t know about the fruitful trout streams of the White Mountains. The gentle White Mountains rise from the desert floors (from searing heat to cooling breezes). Retreating glaciers carved out U-shape valleys with wide meadows and steep-sided canyons.

Rivers Born on a Volcano

The forests are thick with Engelmann spruce, white pine, ponderosa pine, aspen, fir and cork bark. The White Mountains aren’t as tall as many ranges, nor as rugged. The tallest mountains rise to 11,000 feet.

Four rivers (Black, Blue, White and Little Colorado) have their headwaters on the slopes of an ancient volcano, Mount Baldy (11,403 feet), the second highest peak in Arizona. Mount Baldy is a sacred place and off-limits to all but the Indians of the Apache Reservation.

Because of the geographic isolation, few anglers (compared to Colorado for instance) fish these waters. Trails and old forest roads lead deep into the backcountry past high-altitude riparian habitat, through vertical breaks, along singing creeks, and between big rock pinnacles.

This is remote but intimate country, a primitive place where an angler can drop a line in a stream where no one else has fished in a year or more, maybe longer. The hues of green and orange of the grassy hillsides and dark forests are cut clean by twisting blue rivers, dotted by turquoise lakes.

A Rare Opportunity

The state is stocking the rare Apache trout in headwaters. In some places, you can catch big fish in small streams, but most of them are in the 912 inch range. Some lakes and streams are fishable year-round, and you can fish in the spring before other states’ trout fishing turns on.

The big draws are the mountain lakes. They hold large fish in spectacular mountain settings. The streams are not grand by western standards but are worthy in their own right. But the big boys are holding in the stillwaters: big rainbows, big Apache trout.

The White Mountains offer perhaps the best trout fishing in the state, containing more than 600 miles of fishable streams and over 24 major trout lakes. Anglers can fish for rainbows, browns, brookies and cutthroats.

For those anglers who have a goal of fishing for every species of trout, this area is also home to the unique native Apache Trout. In one of the artificial lure/fly lakes you can even enjoy fishing for the aggressive Arctic grayling.

The trout waters of Arizona are underfished, underpublicized, and remote, making them the sleepers of the West. Twenty-inch trout are taken from relatively small streams (like the Little Colorado and White Rivers), and the lakes of eEastern Arizona produce many lunkers over 20 inches, more often measured in pounds.

Tribal Land

The White Mountain Area lies a little more than three hours east of Phoenix, and much of the best fishing is on private Indian lands, fishable to the public for a daily fee. And on reservation lands, you’ll need to purchase a tribal permit. The only private water I know of (and good water it is) is the X-Diamond Ranch, (520) 333-2286, on the Little Colorado River.

North Fork White River

The most famous section of the North Fork of the White, for fly fishers anyway, is the Ditch Camp area. In this three-mile-long catch-and-release area, the browns are strong and athletic, bigger than in other parts of the river. I have found this section to be spotty over the years, sometimes providing consistent strikes, other times dead.

Popular, but Still Pristine

Because the North Fork sees lots of anglers, especially in the area around the town of Whiteriver, the river is heavily stocked. Don’t let this fool or dissuade you. The river runs through pristine forests. All you need to do to get to the wilder areas is to hike up or downstream away from public access, away from where the road crosses the river.

Fishing is mostly put-and-take near Whiteriver, whereas wild browns and cutts thrive in the upper reaches. You make the call. The width of the river in its prime spots from Whiteriver to Ditch Creek varies from 15 to 30-feet wide, even 50 feetwide in the marginal lower stretches, a big river for eastern Arizona.

At times, when the Baetis or Caddis hatches are on, the river seems to boil with feeding fish. Other times, you’ll have to plumb the riffles and pools with a dropper rig, floating a big hopper or attractor on top, a lightly dressed generic beadhead below it (a Pheasant Tail is killer).

Smaller than its sister stream, the East Fork of the White River flows clear and cold for over 30 miles, chock-full of brown and Apache trout holding in foamy riffles, pocket water and deep pools. The river width ranges from 12 to 30 feet wide and is loaded with big rocks.

Seeing fewer anglers than the North Fork, the East Fork holds some surprisingly large brown trout, but you will want to avoid the easy access areas. Still, most of the trout in the East Fork are not huge, but tend to be heavy fish for their size.

Recommended Gear:

You’ll need nothing bigger than a 4-weight fly rod on this intimate stream. Wade wet or wear hip waders though lightweight chest waders would be fine.

Flies to Use:

Elk Hair Caddis (#12-#18), Quill Gordon, (#14-#18), Trico (#18-#22), Blue Winged Olive (#16-#20), Yellow Sally (#10-#14), Stimulator (#8-#12), Adams (#12-#20), Hare’s Ear Nymph (#10-#18), Caddis emergers (#14-#18), Pheasant Tail (#12-#18), Stonefly nymph (#8-#12).

Regulations: The North Fork of the White River runs through the Apache Reservation and is subject to its rules, regulations and permits. The river can be fished year-round but is only so-so in the winter.

Directions: From Phoenix, travel east on US 60 (also known as Superstition Freeway) through Glove to Show Low, then travel south on Highway 260. You’ll find access all along the stream.

Blue River

One hot summer day on the Blue, Kenny and I had thrown everything we had at the trout and came up empty. We sat on big streamside boulders reflecting on what factors conspired against us and were on reason 41 when we noticed in the distance a dark storm rising up from the afternoon swelter.

The storm was long, flat and rectangular, hanging over the high desert floor like a big black block of coal. Lightning flashed out in long silver lashes. With its weird shape and pitch blackness, the cloud looked surreal. It was an impressive sight, one that was moving toward us with increasing swiftness.

We sat in the car less than ten minutes later, the heavy anvil of the storm dumping rain on our truck, lightning dancing all around. In epiphany, I looked at my brother-in-law and exclaimed,”Darn. I should have gotten out my camera and got some shots of the storm as it moved toward us.”

Kenny thought for a minute and said, “You know, the storm will always be more vivid in here,” as he tapped his head with his finger. And he is right. I can still see the powerful weird storm over the Blue River today. This is wild country and you will take some of it with you always.

Wild Trout Country

Technically, most of the Blue River runs through the Blue Range of far eastern Arizona, but enough of it runs through the White Mountains to deserve inclusion here. The Blue River always seems to run shallow when I fish it, and suffers from many problems including overgrazing and erosion, sediment buildup, warm summer temperatures and the fact parts of the upper river can dry up in lean snowpack years.

The river hasn’t been stocked with trout the last few years so it’s up to the wild trout to reproduce in adequate numbers (and they will, as wild trout will always do when returned to a natural cycle on lightly fished rivers). The fishing is so spotty in the Blue that without a guide or local advice on current conditions, it’s a crapshoot on whether or not you’ll have success.

But the Blue does boast more than 50 miles of trout water running through stunning mountain scenery. You won’t run into another angler all day. The brown trout are stream-bred. And in places, for instance the upper Blue near the New Mexico border or near the Strayhorse Creek confluence, the fishing can be phenomenal.

The Blue River is best fished in the spring and fall when the heat of the summer and the low flows can make fishing inconsistent at best. You will mostly catch brown trout but might catch an occasional rainbow trout. And if you walk past the herds of cows and find a beaver pond or a section with deeper water, you have a good shot at getting into some heavy-bodied fish.

Be respectful of private property, which tends to be well-marked. My suggestion is to pencil the Blue into your plans before you make the trip and only write it in permanent ink if the White Mountains are in a wet year. If that’s the case, stick to the Blue and its numerous tributaries and stay away from the crowds on the White River.

Gear:

You’ll need nothing bigger than a 4-weight on this intimate stream. Wade wet or wear hip waders or wade wet.

What Flies to Use:

Elk Hair Caddis (#12-#18), Quill Gordon, (#14-#18), Trico (#18-#22), Blue Winged Olive (#16-#20), Yellow Sally (#10-#14), Stimulator (#8-#12), Adams (#12-#20), Hare’s Ear Nymph (#10-#18), Caddis emergers (#14-#18), Pheasant Tail (#12-#18), Stonefly nymph (#8-#12).

Regulations:

On the Blue River, near the border, a New Mexico fishing license is required for the upper two miles of the river.

Getting There:

From Phoenix, travel east on US 60 (also known as Superstition Freeway) through Glove to Show Low, then southeast on Highway 60 to Springerville, then south on 180/191 through Alpine, then south on Forest Road 281. The Blue River runs alongside FR 281, also known as Blue River Road. The Blue is easily accessible from a crisscrossing of roads from Alpine to Pigeon Creek. The Blue River Road parallels the river for most of its run. With this much access, you’d think the river would be inundated by anglers but it’s not. Even with the road beside the river, I always feel like I am secluded, out away from it all.

Black River

This gem of a trout stream forms the border between the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache lands and requires a special daily permit for fishing and camping. Most of the best fishing on the Black River is to be found in the spruce and fir forests in alpine settings in the White Mountains.

One of the side benefits for the angler is that the Black River is one of the best smallmouth streams in the state. The trout fishing ain’t bad either.

The Black River runs through some of the harshest, loneliest and most scenic country in the West. You have a good chance of seeing deer, elk, bear and even bighorn sheep. In the summer, the two forks, the East and West Forks, are usually low and clear.

Apache trout inhabit the upper stretches of the rivers, rainbows and browns in the middle sections, brown trout in the lower mountain stretches, and a mix of bass and trout in the lowest stretches.

The East Fork is the most popular and in stretches, you will feel relatively crowded. Hit the upper reaches of the East Fork to get away from it all and fish in pristine water. The East Fork is brushy in spots and is punctuated by riffles and pools, some long, still pools, and lots and lots of rocks.

The West Fork of the Black River is a mountain headwater and is brushy, sometimes difficult fishing for spooky rainbow and brown trout. Some Apache trout are found in the upper area.

Recommended Gear

A 3- to 5-weight rod. Wade wet or wear hip waders.

What Flies to Use

Elk Hair Caddis (#12-#18), Quill Gordon, (#14-#18), Trico (#18-#22), Blue Winged Olive (#16-#20), Yellow Sally (#10-#14), Stimulator (#8-#12), Adams (#12-#20), Hare’s Ear Nymph (#10-#18), Caddis emergers (#14-#18), Pheasant Tail (#12-#18), Stonefly nymph (#8-#12).

Regulations:

The Black River has sections that are subject to catch-and-release regulations. A tribal permit is required.

Directions:

From Phoenix, travel east on US 60 (also known as Superstition Freeway) through Glove to Show Low, then southeast on Highway 60 to Springerville. If you want to access the West Fork, take a look at the national forest map or DeLorme. You can take several routes but one way is to travel south on FR 273 to FR 116. Access is by way of dirt roads and a four-wheel drive vehicle is the only way to go. Forest Road 116 is the easiest way. If you want to access the East Fork, continue south from Springerville on 180/191. You can then access the river easiest from Hannagan Meadow or from Alpine on several forest roads. You can also reach the East Fork as it crosses Forest Road 249, and as it parallels Forest Road 276 further south.

Mountain Lakes

The variety and number of lakes in the White Mountains are staggering. This area is blessed with so many great trout fishing lakes, it would take several summers for the ambitious angler to effectively fish them all.

On these lakes try Muddler Minnows and wet dressings like the Hare’s Ear, Brown Hackle and Peacock Lady. For most of these lakes, typical lake patterns like Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers in black, yellow, olive and brown work well. Zonkers in various sizes are popular, and so are Peacock Ladies.

The insect hatches are mayflies, caddis, damselflies and midges. Attractor patterns are successful but at times you will need to match the hatch. Local shops sell a lot of strange-looking, black, orange-butted flies and claim they do well on most of the lakes.

Plan to fish very early on the lakes.

Using a float tube is the best plan; cast into the weed beds using a sinking tip or slow sinking line and stripping a Zebra Midge, Killer Caddis or Mosquito Larva.

Here are thumbnails of some of the White Mountain’s top lakes:

A-1 Lake

This high-altitude lake (8,900 feet) on the White Mountain Apache Reservation provides good fishing for rainbows and brookies in its 24 acres with easy roadside access. Located about 20 miles east of Pinetop, this is a good option to cruise in your personal watercraft (rafts, bellyboats, kickboats, canoes). Anglers can fish from the shore and have easy casting room.

Becker Lake

This 85-acre irrigation impoundment lies in the middle of grassy plains two miles northwest of Springerville. The lake opens in the spring, closes at the beginning of winter, with this time-out creating a trophy trout fishery for rainbow and brown trout. The lake’s not much to look at but a spring helps keep the water clear and the temperature steady, and as a result, the trout in Becker Lake grow rapidly and to impressive sizes.

Big Lake is a 500-acre lake in the White Mountains, 9,000 feet above sea level. That’s a pretty big lake for such a high elevation. Big Lake holds rainbows, cutts and browns, and is best fished by boat or float tube. The lake can get windy, so be prepared. Big Lake is an extremely fertile fishery. Dry flies are useful in the shallows and sinktips are handy to get down to the fish when they aren’t looking upward. Anglers do hit the lake in great numbers and is popular for campers and families. Despite the pressure, the lake is one of the best producers in the region.

Christmas Tree Lake

This 40-acre impoundment five miles south of Hawley Lake on Route 26 holds obscenely fat native Apache trout and some brown trout, but has a daily fishing fee and a limit of 20 anglers per day (first come, first served). Christmas Tree Lake has good dry-fly fishing especially at the inlets of Moon and Sun Creeks. If you want a chance to catch a monster trout, a record trout, Christmas Tree Lake is the stillwater choice for you. Just get up early.

Earl Park Lake

Fly fishermen love this tree-lined lake. The scenery is spectacular, the large Apache and rainbow trout rise willingly in shallow water to dry flies and the regs say you must release all fish you catch. Why wouldn’t they like this lake? Located near Hawley, anglers can fish this 47-acre lake from the shore but the best method to fish for lunkers is from a float tube or other personal watercraft.

Horseshoe Cienega Lake

This 120-acre lake is popular, and one of the most fished of the reservation lakes. In the summer, the lake becomes weedy but don’t let that discourage you — weeds mean a haven for insects especially damselflies, Baetis and Callibaetis. The state record brown trout of 16 pounds, 7 ounces was caught here. Horseshoe Cienega has some great dry fly fishing at times. The hogs are finicky and most of the trout you’ll catch are on the smallish side.

Lee Valley Reservoir

This picturesque 35-acre lake is restricted to lures and flies, and has a possession limit, so check regulations. Anglers fish here for rainbows and Apache trout, brook trout, and for a change of pace, grayling. Lee Valley Lake lies at the foot of Mount Baldy and is one of the most scenic lakes in the state. The lake can be reached along Highway 273.

Mexican Hay Lake

There’s a reason the word “hay” is in the name of this lake. The lake is often so dry it is just a hay field in a meadow. Even when the snowpack is heavy, the lake is only about 10 feet deep. Located about 15 miles from Springerville on Highway 273, Mexican Hay Lake doesn’t hold any trophy trout but plenty of catchable-size rainbows. Shore fishing is almost impossible for the weeds so you’ll need a float tube.

Sunrise Lake

This is big water, some 900 acres when full. Sunrise Lake is perhaps the crown jewel of the White Mountain lakes, complete with high altitude (9,100 feet) and big fish — lots of them. Sunrise holds big rainbow trout and the average size runs from 11 to 15 inches. The lake is also stocked with graylings, some of notable size. Even the brook trout can reach two pounds here in this fertile lake. Sunrise is located 30 miles east of Pinetop. Since the lake isn’t ringed by trees like other lakes, the wind can be a problem at times.

Other productive lakes in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and reservation lands include Greer, Lyman, Mexican Hay, Hurricane, Luna, Nelson, Scotts, Concho, Rainbow, Show Low, Drift Fence, Fool Hollow, Pratt and Crescent Lakes (and these re just a few of the quality lakes).

The Fish

Apache trout, rainbow, grayling, brook and brown trout. The draw here for most lakes are the big Apache trout but several lakes have chunky rainbows and fat squaretails. Fishing for grayling is more of a novelty.

Recommended Gear

8½ to 9-foot for 5- or 6-weight fly line. I recommend sinktips and sinking line in addition to a weight-forward line. The best way to get to the big fish is from a float tube or other personal watercraft. Few of the lakes are intensely cold but if you plan on fishing for long, especially in the spring, wear neoprene waders.

Flies: Adams (#12-#20), Damselfly nymphs (#10-#14) in various patterns, Crayfish (#4-#10), Bunny Leech (#6-#10), Hare’s Ear (#14-#18), Pheasant Tail (#14-#18), Peacock Lady (#8-#12), Woolly Buggers (#2-#10), Callibaetis Emerger (#12-#16), Midge patterns (#18-#22), Scuds (#16-#20). Make sure to visit an Arizona fly shop to take a look at the incredible selection of local fly patterns including the Sunrise Special, JR’s Mayfly, the Ugly Bug, Possum Bug, Diamond Bugger and so on. You’d be surprised how many variations on a damselfly nymph a madman fly tyer can invent.

Salt River

Can you imagine how it feels fly fishing with air temperatures near 100 degrees? Try fly fishing the Salt River just 25 miles east of Phoenix on any given day in June or July and you’ll quickly find out.

And if you’re wondering how a stream in the sweltering Valley of the Sun can hold trout, the answer is Stewart Mountain Dam. Authorities added a bottom release to it and the water flowing out comes from the bottom of 125-foot-deep Saguaro Lake.

Because of that bottom release this tailwater holds trout even in summer. Fish a mile or so below the dam, even in October, and you’ll catch some trout planted the previous spring. Yes, the Salt does boast some holdovers.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department has stocked the Salt in summer since 1974. Winter plantings of trout didn’t begin until 1991, when Tom McMahon and Jim Warnecke, both with the Game and Fish Department, came up with an idea: Why not stock trout in the tailwater below Saguaro Lake for winter fishing?

A Capital Idea

The area had two things going for it, said Tom McMahon:”We’ve got water and it’s next to a huge sprawling urban area.” Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tempe are less than an hour away. So the department surveyed anglers using the river; most favored a cold-water fishery.

Winter plantings began. But Arizona trout fishing has many problems. Just about every drop of water flowing in the Verde and Salt Rivers ends up in one of the canals that line the Phoenix landscape. Because water is so precious in this desert, the two rivers serving the area suffer. On many winter days I’ve seen only a trickle of water flow in the Salt River below Saguaro Lake.

Indeed, civilization has been extremely unkind to this once proud river. Walk the riverbed just below Granite Reef Dam and you’ll probably find only rocks — the river’s path nothing more than a dry bed.

After periods of high runoff and heavy rains are usually the only times that you’ll see any flow beyond that point. During November and December you’ll often find the river flowing below Saguaro Lake at a measly 8 cubic feet per second (cfs).

Recently the Salt River Project (SRP) has also severely limited flow in January, February, and March. In the past the SRP allowed 300 to 400 cfs to flow out of the lake, so you can see that a trivial 8 cfs causes problems with this river as a trout fishery.

If the Salt had a more constant flow, it would greatly improve.

Anglers who have fly fished it since it received its first planting of trout talk about a great season of trout fishing they experienced a few years ago; because of a constant release from the Stewart Mountain Dam, they’ll tell you, many anglers caught holdover trout in the 15- to 16-inch category.

Several years ago Berkley Power Bait stocked the river with about 200 rainbows over 15 inches long; many measured 18 to 20 inches long. For two weeks Gordon Brick, Fred Brauburger, and I caught some of these lunkers. Then authorities lowered the flow to 8 cfs and the fly fishing was gone.

What happens when there’s a constant flow in the Salt all year long? About four years ago Arizona received more than its normal amount of precipitation. The lower Salt River had continuous flows for more than 18 months.

Fisheries Chief Joe Janisch and Public Information Officer Rory Aikens said that some of the employees in Game and Fish caught 2- and 3-pound trout that year — even when the daytime temperatures soared above the century mark.

Unlimited Potential

I believe the Salt River could rise to the national prominence if it had a good flow all year. First, the coldest temperature I’ve ever recorded on the Salt was 52 degrees. With minimum temperatures like that trout grow rapidly throughout the year.

Also, it’s very fertile and holds several prolific hatches in midwinter. Even in December, January, and February you’ll see tricos on this water. One New Year’s Day I fished the lower section of the river, just above Granite Reef; that morning I saw a few hundred tricos in a mating cluster.

And at this same time of year the Salt also boasts a hatch of little blue-winged olives each day. Near dusk in January and February you’ll find the spinner of the little blue-winged olive, the rusty spinner, falling to the surface. Arrive at the Water User’s Recreation Area around 5:30 p.m. in January and February and you’ll find trout rising to spent spinners. Can you imagine how heavy the trico and little blue-winged olive duns hatches would be if a more constant flow occurred year-round?

Can anything be done about the inconsistent flow on the Salt River? Gary Yamaguchi thinks so. Gary has organized a group of interested anglers in the Phoenix area to work with Arizona Game and Fish and the Salt River Project to create a more constant flow throughout the year. Support his effort by contacting G. Yamaguchi Flyfishing, PO Box 51375, Phoenix, AZ 85076. If you’re even thinking of fishing the Salt River, you’ve got to become involved.

Hot Spots

You can access the Salt easily from the Bush Highway (204). I prefer fly fishing the river at the Water User’s Recreation Area, about a mile below Stewart Dam.

You’ll find a lot of anglers in this area, but it also holds a good number of hatches, trout, and deep pools and riffles — that is, when authorities allow enough water out of the dam. In this area the Salt reminds me of dozens of other western trout rivers.

A mile downriver you can readily reach the Salt from the Bush Highway bridge. Locals call this area Blue Point. Game and Fish usually plants trout in this area. Here I prefer fly fishing a few hundred yards above the bridge. Other access spots (and camping areas) downriver include the Phon D. Sutton, Coon Bluff, and Goldfield.

Coon Bluff is almost a mile upriver from the Phon D. Sutton. In another mile beyond that you’ll find the access road (204A) to Goldfield. Fish the rapids just a couple of hundred yards below the parking lots at Goldfield and Coon Bluff. Here you’ll find some deep, fast water and some great hatches.

Look for the little blue-winged olive in the afternoon and its adult, the rusty spinner, to fill the air just above the rapids just at dusk from December through February. At the Coon Bluff area I caught several trout in the 5- to 8-inch class that almost looked like they were holdovers or streambred.

Worth the Pressure

At Phon D. Sutton you’ll find some fishing pressure but, again, plenty of planted trout. At this access spot, the Verde River enters the Salt. From this point downstream the Salt takes on the appearance of the Verde — a typical desert stream.

If I fly fish in the Phon D. Sutton area, I usually hike downriver a mile, where there are some productive riffles. At the Phon D. Sutton near dusk you can experience some good match-the-hatch opportunities for downwings in March and April.

And just ask Tom Heatherington of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about the caddis hatch in late March. Tom was fly fishing the stream one March when, late in the evening, caddisflies returned to the surface to lay their eggs.

In less than an hour he landed four trout on a dry fly. As he landed the last fish, just at dusk, the Hale-Bopp comet appeared over his shoulder. What a fitting way to end an excellent hour of fishing to rising trout!

Don’t overlook the Granite Reef Dam section of the river. (All together, there’s about 10 miles of fishing from the Granite Reef Dam upriver to the Stewart Mountain Dam.)

You’ll find plenty of tubers floating near Granite Reef Dam during summer, so plan to fish just before sunrise.

If the flow isn’t too high you can wade across the upper end of this small impoundment and fish a fairly deep channel. If all else fails I usually end up at this section of the river. Fish the upper end of the dam where there’s still some movement to the water.

Jay Whitmore of nearby Mesa fishes this section frequently and catches a lot of trout. With a flow of 300 cfs or more the Salt River ranges from 40 to 60 feet wide in its upper end, and 50 to 80 feet wide below Phon D. Sutton. With the flow reduced to 8 cfs the Salt averages 20 to 30 feet wide.

You’ll see lots of fish rising on an average day on the Salt River — but watch closely and you’ll find that nearly 99 percent of them are desert suckers and roundtail chubs. Look for trout rising at dusk, especially when the rusty spinners fall in January and February.

Whither the Salt?

What does the future hold for this tailwater in the Valley of the Sun? If the SRP and Arizona Game and Fish can reach an agreement, the future looks bright.

For the next several years Game and Fish will check the effects of a continuous flow in winter, which should benefit the aquatic insect population. In a few years the river could hold tremendous trico and little blue-winged olive dun hatches throughout the year.

In a few years you could find holdover trout in the upper few miles of the river; finding streambred rainbows is not out of the question. And Game and Fish could make a catch-and-release fly-fishing-only area in the first mile of the river below the dam.

Wouldn’t it be a great idea to make the next couple of miles an all-tackle catch-and-release section? Authorities could study both sections to determine the effects of both tackle and releasing trout.

If plans progress the Salt River has the potential to become one of the Southwest’s top tailwaters.

Positives

Some holdover trout, tailwater fishery below Stewart Mountain Dam, well stocked, a good little blue-winged olive dun hatch, fantastic weather all winter, easily accessible.

Negatives

Becomes a warm-water fishery in summer a few miles downriver from the dam; Salt River Project often limits water flow to 8 cubic feet per second in winter, severely limiting trout fishing; crowded on weekends, lots of tubers in warmer months, water flow varies considerably.

Best Times to Fish the Hatches

November 1  to December 31

  • Trico: morning, size 24 (spotty)
  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: morning and afternoon, sizes 20 and 22

January 1 to April 30

  • Trico: morning and afternoon, size 24 (spotty)
  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: morning and afternoon, sizes 20 and 22
  • Blue Quill: morning and afternoon, size 18
  • Pale Evening Dun: evening, sizes 16 and 18
  • Green Caddis: evening, size 14
  • Black Caddis: evening, size 16
  • Little Rusty Dun: afternoon, sizes 22 and 24
  • Rusty Spinner: evening, sizes 22 and 24

May 1 to June 30

  • Trico: morning, size 24 (spotty)
  • Blue Quill: morning, size 18
  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 20
  • Little Green Caddis: evening, size 16

 

Verde River

Awesome red rock scenery—that’s what you’ll see in the Sedona-Cottonwood area, in North-Central Arizona. And to top it off, you’ve got fly-fishing there all year.

Hit the upper Verde River in early March and you’ll see tricos falling and trout rising. You’ll also find trout rising, on Oak Creek, the West Fork of Oak, and Wet Beaver Creek, to little black stoneflies and quill gordons in late winter and early spring. On late-March days these aquatic insects emerge throughout much of the afternoon. Most of the streams I’ll discuss here can be fished all winter—another advantage. During much of the season you’ll see little blue-winged olive duns appearing in the afternoon. Don’t fish any stream in the state, especially Oak Creek, without a good supply of size 20 and 22 Little Blue-Winged Olive patterns.

The Verde Valley trout waters have all this going for them and they’re only 90 miles north of Phoenix. And guess what? The area also has something for the entire family, even those who don’t fish. You’ll find the Lazy Horse, Jerome, Slide Rock, Red Rock, and Fort Verde State Parks interesting and educational. Just about every town here maintains a museum, and the town of Cottonwood includes a historic area called Old Town. And if you haven’t visited Sedona then you’ve really missed something. The splendor of this area’s red rocks draws thousands of tourists annually.

Spring fishing on the Verde River

If area streams receive adequate snowfall during the winter months, be prepared for major runoff in March or early April. I’ve seen days—no, weeks—when all these Verde Valley streams and rivers ran high and muddy. Contact the Cottonwood or Sedona Chamber of Commerce for more information on water conditions.

Upper Verde River

  • Positives: Great trico hatch from late February through April, well stocked with trout, easy access
  • Negatives: Warms up in summer, put-and-take river, heavily fished after every stocking, gets muddy from runoff in March.

Craig Josephson had just landed at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. He had a few days to spend with me in the land of the sun before he had to return to snowy Syracuse, New York. I planned to take him 90 miles north of Phoenix to fly-fish the upper Verde River near Cottonwood, Arizona. Weather forecasters predicted a great day for Phoenix—temperatures on that mid-February Saturday were to rise into the mid-700F range. Even Cottonwood was expected to peak out near 700. It took us just two hours to travel up I-17 to Dead Horse Ranch State Park (exit 1-17 on AZ 260). When we arrived at the river we were amazed at the number of anglers out on this Saturday morning. The upper Verde does indeed get plenty of angling pressure—especially on weekends.

Shortly after we arrived at the water we saw small mayflies emerge. At first I thought they were little blue-winged olives. But by 10 am hundreds of these insects were emerging in the pool in front of Craig and me, so I quickly grabbed one and blurted out to Craig, in amazement,”these are trico duns!” Trico duns in mid-February? A winter trico hatch? I had seen a few tricos appear on the Salt near Phoenix in December and January, but never in numbers large enough to bring trout to the surface. By 10:30, however, trico spinners began to fall onto the surface and a half-dozen trout rose to this early-season feast right in front of me. Craig and I hurriedly tied on Trico Spinners and began casting. I missed the first trout that rose to my pattern—but hooked the second. I wanted so desperately to land that fish. When I did it was a first for me—a trout caught on a Trico pattern in midwinter.

We headed upriver to the next pool and found two pods of 20 to 30 trout in each, rising to spent spinners. Trico spinners continued to fall onto the surface for two more hours that morning. Craig and I continued to match this hatch and landed more than a dozen trout. What a midwinter day of fly-fishing! That’s one that will go down in my memory, and Craig’s, too. Was that intense trico hatch in February an aberration? I returned to the upper Verde two weeks later, in early March, and I didn’t have to wait long to get my answer. By 10 am a heavy swarm of trico spinners formed a sphere 10 feet above a riffle in front of me. The trout seemed to know that the spinner fall would soon appear, and they began feeding almost as soon as the first trico hit the surface. The spinner fall again lasted for more than two hours, with dozens of trout breaking the surface to feed on these tiny egg layers.

Arizona Game and Fish stocks the upper Verde every other week from November through March. I’m undecided as to what happens to these trout after they’re stocked. I’ve seen pools near Dead Horse Ranch State Park that held 50 to 100 trout shortly after stocking—but when I returned to the spot a week later I neither caught nor saw a trout.

By April or May water temperatures in the upper and lower Verde River rise into the 70s, and the river becomes a warm-water fishery. Trout leave the main stem for one of the cold tributaries.

You’ll find good access at Dead Horse Ranch State Park (which charges a fee for parking). You can also access the upper Verde at Tuzigoot National Monument, a couple of miles upriver from Cottonwood. I’ve seen tricos here in late February, and you’ll find parking and good fishing. Here look for a long, slow pool; fish this pool from its western or southern side on a March evening and you’ll find plenty of trout rising to midges and caddisflies. Another access point is between Cottonwood and Camp Verde at Thousand Trails. Turn at Thousand Trails onto a poor dirt road before you get to the Thousand Trails Resort. Two other locations in the Camp Verde area are the White Bridge (AZ 260) and Beasley Flats (off Salt Mine Road). The latter has a developed picnic area.

If you fish the upper Verde for any length of time you’ll probably catch plenty of Verde trout—a type of chub found in the river that likes to take a fly. These chubs readily feed on trico spinners. The river gets warm in the summer and doesn’t hold a resident population of trout; it depends totally on its stockings, which usually begin in the Wet Beaver Creek tributary in April and continue until July. The stream warms considerably in summer, so often stocking isn’t resumed until October and November. Oak Creek enters the Verde between Cottonwood and Camp Verde. Beaver Creek enters at Camp Verde, and West Clear Creek a few miles downriver. East Verde River, also stocked with trout, flows into the Verde 10 miles below West Clear Creek. All of these, along with one of Beaver Creek’s tributaries, the Wet Beaver, hold trout.

Best Times to Fish the Hatches

  • November 1-January 30
  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 20
  • Trico: morning, sizes 20 to 24
  • February 1-April 30
  • Trico: morning and early afternoon, sizes 20 to 24
  • Black Caddis: afternoon, size 16
  • Dark Olive Caddis: afternoon, size 12
  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 20
  • Blue-Winged Olive Dun: morning, size 14
  • Gray Drake: afternoon, size 12

Wet Beaver Creek

  • Positives: Easy access, deep pools and riffles, fishable much of the year
  • Negatives: Warms in summer, heavily fished where it’s stocked.

As you approach this 20- to 30-foot-wide stream you’ll see huge piles of rocks, moved by previous episodes of high water. Towering sycamores and other hardwoods line both banks of the stream. Once you arrive at the Beaver Creek campground, take a look at the stream itself; you’ll see plenty of productive riffles, tree falls, and deep pools. You’ll get the feeling you’re fishing one of a hundred similar streams in the West. You certainly won’t think you’re just 100 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona.

Wet Beaver flows a few miles south of Sedona and 12 miles southeast of Cottonwood. And the beauty of this trout stream is that you don’t have to hike far to reach good fishing. Just a few feet from the parking lot you’ll find hatches and, often, rising trout. The Game and Fish Department stocks more than 6000 trout in the area—starting a couple of hundred feet below the bridge and continuing upstream for a mile. If you travel upstream far enough you might even find some holdover fish. Access grows limited up here, though, so plan to hike along the stream if you’d like to fish very far above the bridge.

Wet Beaver receives plenty of snowmelt and discolors quickly. I’ve been shut out on many March trips because of high, muddy waters. Before making a trip in March or April check with someone in the area. You can usually fish Wet Beaver by mid- to late April.

To reach Wet Beaver from Phoenix, take exit 298 off Interstate 17. Turn right at the end of the exit and proceed for several miles on a blacktop road. Go to the camping site and you’ll find a parking lot on your right.You’ll see hatches in early spring on Wet Beaver like the little blue-winged olive dun and some caddis. This stream even holds a limited trico hatch in June and July.

Best Times to Fish the Hatches

March 1-May 31

  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 20
  • Little Black Stonefly: afternoon, size 16
  • Tan Caddis: evening, size 16

June 1-August 31

  • Tan Caddis: evening, size 16
  • Green Caddis: evening, sizes 14 and 16
  • Trico: morning, size 24
  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 20
  • Olive Caddis: evening, size 16
  • Little White Mayfly: evening, size 26

Oak Creek

Positives: Spectacular scenery, streambred brown and rainbow trout, great hatches, plenty of productive pools and pocket water
Negatives: Dangerous to fly-fish because of rocks, cliffs, and deep pools; some fishing pressure, weekends often crowded.

As Virgil Bradford and I drove along AZ 89A north of Sedona we closely paralleled Oak Creek and the Oak Creek Canyon. Spectacular—awe inspiring—picturesque—none of these words does justice to this indescribable piece of landscape, one of nature’s greatest accomplishments. None of these adjectives even comes close. The farther north we traveled, the more excited we became to fly-fish this spectacular trout stream.

We finally left our car at one of the parking areas just north of Sliding Rock State Park and looked for a place to get to the water. First we hiked downstream next to the highway, but we saw no reasonable way to access the stream. Then we hiked north and found a steep path heading down to the bottom of the canyon. After sliding the last few feet, we finally arrived at Oak Creek. In front of us was a deep pool with a high cliff on the far side.

Oak Creek near Sedona

On this top-notch trout stream you’ll find plenty of productive riffles, deep pools, and pocket water. I immediately checked the water temperature; on a late-February afternoon, it was 42 degrees. Probably few hatches today, I thought—and no rising trout. Not with such a cold water temperature. But no sooner had I replaced the thermometer in my vest than Virgil pointed to several stoneflies struggling to take flight.

We fished for several hundred feet without luck, and then found it impossible to continue upstream. Ahead of us was a high cliff on the far side, a boulder choke on the near side. We had to hike back up the narrow trail to the road, then head upstream to look for another access to the canyon. About 100 yards upstream there was an easier, less dangerous descent to the stream and we continued our barren fishing trip. In a fairly deep but short riffle the dry fly on my tandem sank and I set the hook. A heavy rainbow fought for a minute or two in the cold February water before I landed it.

In Oak Creek’s next fairly deep pool, in a feeding lane between two boulders, Virgil saw a trout rise. He pointed it out to me and I cast a foot or two upstream. On the sixth or seventh cast I drifted over the feeding trout it struck—it took my Beadhead and headed deep. It was a heavy fish. Virgil, upstream a hundred feet, reminded me not to horse it. After a five-minute battle I landed and released what looked like a 17-inch holdover brown trout.

Oak Creek holds some good hatches, including the little black stonefly hatch I just mentioned, and an early blue mayfly hatch in late March and early April. You’ll see plenty of these insects emerging shortly after noon. You’ll also find little blue-winged olives on this stream just about any time of year. Look for them to be especially heavy in April, May, and again in September and early October.

I recently fly-fished in early April on Oak Creek with Rick Thomas, who has fly-fished on this creek for more than 13 years. He and his wife, Perry, know many of its hatches. Rick especially looks forward to the tan caddis hatch in late June and early July. He ties some highly innovative patterns to match both this tan caddis and the many other hatches that the stream holds.

Rick ties commercially and supplies local stores like the Canyon Market, located right on the creek, and John’s shop, Arizona Flyfishing, in Tempe. The day Rick and I fished Oak Creek it was running extremely high from the heavy snows of the past winter. Water temperatures remained in the mid-40s. At 1 pm thousands of”early blues” emerged. Locals say this hatch lasts for almost a month on the stream. No trout rose to this early bonus in the cold water.

Arizona Game and Fish plants trout from the Page Springs Hatchery upstream to Pine Flat Campground (a short distance below Pumphouse Wash and very visible from AZ 89A). The lower end of the stream, from the hatchery upstream to Grasshopper Point, warms considerably in summer, and temperatures in the mid- and high 70s Fahrenheit are not uncommon, so the best time to fly-fish this section is in spring, fall, or winter. Here trout fishing is put-and-take. The section from the Page Springs Bridge downstream usually holds some lunker trout. Above Grasshopper Point (about 2 miles above Sedona) you’ll find planted and holdover trout, and an occasional wild fish. The state also stocks trout where the West Fork empties into Oak, but upstream from that point the West Fork depends on natural reproduction. In the past few years the Game and Fish Department has annually planted around 70,000 trout in Oak Creek. Stockings usually take place from March through December, but you’ll find fish from Sedona upstream all year long.

Take the time to visit the Page Springs Hatchery. Water from the springs remains at 68 degrees year-round. In the Page Springs area Oak Creek ranges from 40 to 60 feet wide. This lower section does warm up during summer. Still, access to this section is much easier than in the canyon. You can reach the lower part of Oak Creek by driving south of Sedona on 89A and taking Forest Road 119 (Cornville Road), then Page Springs Road. Take your time and explore this entire productive watershed.

If you enjoy fly-fishing over rising trout, fishing for holdover trout—even a few streambreds—and experiencing spectacular scenery, then you’ve got to spend a couple of days fly-fishing Oak Creek. I often have said that there’s more to fishing than just catching trout. It’s the total experience—and Oak Creek’s got it all. Watch your step and enjoy the fishing. Just try to avoid Oak Creek on weekends.

Best Times to Fish the Hatches

February 1-April 30

  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 20
  • Little Black Stonefly: afternoon, sizes 16 and 18
  • Early Blue (Baetis tricaudatus): afternoon, size 16

May 1-June 30

  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 16 or 10
  • Tan Caddis: evening, size 16
  • Green Caddis: size 14, evening
  • Little Golden Stonefly: evening, size 16
  • Pale Evening Dun: evening, sizes 16 and 18
  • Trico: morning, size 24

July 1-September 30

  • Little White Mayfly: evening, size 26
  • Trico: morning, size 24
  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: morning, size 18
  • Yellow Caddis: evening, size 6 or 8

West Fork of Oak Creek

  • Positives: Fewer anglers than the main stem, good pocket water
  • Negatives: Extremely small.

If you like to get off the beaten path and hike in for your fishing, try the West Fork of Oak Creek. You can leave your car at the Call of the Canyon parking area directly across from the stream (a fee is charged for parking). Once you cross Oak Creek there’s a trail along the stream. When Rick Thomas fishes the West Fork he usually does so on its lower 3 miles.

The West Fork loses much of its flow in midsummer, and the trout in this small stream get extremely skittish.

The West Fork enters Oak Creek from the west, near the Cave Springs Campground.

Best Times to Fish the Hatches

April 1-May 30

  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 20
  • Blue Dun: afternoon, size 16
  • Pale Evening Dun: evening, size 16

June 1-September 30

  • Trico: morning, size 24
  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 20
  • Little White Mayfly: evening, size 26
  • Tan Caddis: evening, size 14 or 16

West Clear Creek

Positives: Plenty of trout, little pressure (except for the campground area), some good hatches
Negatives: Extremely difficult to access in its upper end, lower end warms in summer.

When would I ever get into West Clear Creek to fly-fish? For more than two months the stream ran high and off-color. El Niqo had played a trick on me, and I’d just about written this stream off. Finally, in early May, I got my opportunity to fish West Clear Creek.

Ryan Gildhaus, an excellent fly-fisher from Cottonwood, had promised to take me into the upper end of this stream. He said that part of the stream, accessed by hiking down a canyon, had a good number of streambred trout. In fact, a study by the Arizona Game and Fish Department indicated that more than 22 miles of the upper end holds trout. But hiking in, fishing, and then making the steep hike out of the canyon takes the better part of a day-and I didn’t have that much time available. The upper end would have to wait for another day—maybe another year.

I opted to fish the lower end of the stream, about 12 miles east of the town of Camp Verde. The Bull Pen Campground site had plenty of visitors that Saturday afternoon, but few of them were fishing. I headed upstream from the campground to get away from the sounds of civilization. In this area you’ll see a stream about 20 to 25 feet wide with some fairly deep pools and productive riffles. It didn’t take me long to pick up three planted trout on a Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymph.

If you enjoy fishing during a hatch you might want to try the trico hatch on West Clear Creek. Look for it to come off in the morning, from late May (even earlier some years) through September. On hot days hatches end shortly after sunrise. On cool, overcast days the same insects might not fall spent on the surface until 9 am.

Stop in at Culpeppers Bait and Tackle in Cottonwood for the latest information on West Clear Creek and other local streams. Herb and Jim Jackson will go out of their way to help you.

To reach the lower end of the stream take AZ 260 five miles east of Camp Verde. Turn left onto Forest Road (FR) 618, then right onto FR 215-a rutted road that can become greasy in wet weather.

The upper end of West Clear is another story. Take AZ 260 east to AZ 87 north. Turn left onto FR 122C. You can also stop in at the gas station/store in Clints Well to ask for the best way to access the upper creek. Make certain you’re in good shape; it’s a hike.

Best Times to Fish the Hatches

April 1-May 31

  • Little Brown Stonefly: afternoon, size 16 or 18
  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 20
  • Quill Gordon: afternoon, size 16
  • Black Quill: afternoon, size 14

June 1-September 30

  • Tan Caddis: evening, sizes 14 and 16
  • Green Caddis: evening, sizes 14 and 16
  • Pale Evening Dun: evening, size 16
  • Trico: morning, size 24
  • Little White Mayfly: evening, size 24 or 26
  • Little Blue-Winged Olive Dun: afternoon, size 20

Arizona Resources & Articles

Arizona Local Lakes, Rivers and Streams
Nice overview of fishing opportunities on the Sonoran Deserts prestigious waters.
www.thehookupoutfitters.com/lake.html

Arizona White Mountains Online
Brief descriptions of the many trout streams in the White Mountains
www.wmonline.com/streams-creeks-and-rivers-in-eastern-az/

Desert Fly Casters
www.desertflycasters.com

The Arizona Flycasters
The Arizona Flycasters Club is a local non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion, preservation and improvement of fly-fishing.
www.azflycasters.org

Marble Canyon Outfitters
Good information on Lee’s Ferry from a local guide
www.leesferryflyfishing.com

The Hookup Outfitters
www.thehookupoutfitters.com/

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