Saturday, June 18, 2011

AZ Redux, Part I

Matt with his first ever Apache trout.
As good as the fly fishing in Montana is, I still miss the intimate little trout streams that I grew up fishing in Arizona. In an ideal world I'd be able to split my time between the two states, dwelling in the desert for most of the winter and heading north come summer; for now I make do with timely forays to Arizona.

The Grand Canyon State isn't an exotic, sexy fishing destination such as New Zealand, Patagonia or any number of saltwater flats, but it's good enough for this fisherman. During the brutal cold of a Montana winter, I can board a flight south and in three hours time be basking in seventy degree sunshine. For far less than it would cost to drive, a direct flight from Bozeman to Mesa in June will put me within easy striking distance of gin clear trout streams, while Montana's rivers are hopelessly mired in runoff.

And so it was this year, in late May my friend Matt and I left a cool, muddy Montana for a hot, dry Arizona. We had six glorious days of fly fishing ahead of us, and an ambitious itinerary that would have us fishing some of the state's best trout water within the Black, Little Colorado and White River watersheds.

Ants, beetles, hoppers... they all brought fish to the surface.
The trip began according to plan with my Dad accompanying us for a day at Christmas Tree Lake. This little high elevation lake is an excellent Apache trout fishery year in and year out. The lake is located on the White Mountain Apache Reservation and the tribe limits fishing pressure on the lake to twenty rods per day. Christmas Tree Lake's population of Apache trout is comprised almost entirely of hatchery fish, but they are big, beautiful representatives of the species - they also like to eat dry flies. Despite extremely windy conditions, we each managed numerous Apache trout in the 15- to 18- inch range, often by casting to sighted fish cruising the weed beds.

Wallow Fire, 6-1-2011
 As the wind howled that afternoon I watched the eastern skyline in horror. A human caused wildfire had started a couple of days prior in the Bear Wallow Wilderness Area, south of the Black River. By the following day the fire had grown from 6,699 acres to 40,509, the fire's towering smoke plume was a fearsome sight. Needless to say, our plans for the remainder of the trip were significantly altered. As I write this the fire is 38% contained and is still growing due to continued red-flag fire conditions. The Wallow Fire has now consumed a shocking 500,409 acres, making it Arizona's largest wildfire in modern history.

Canyon Creek, in all its post fire glory.
It was somewhat fitting that the last day of our trip found us fishing Canyon Creek, a Mogollon Rim trout fishery that was ravaged by the massive Rodeo-Chediski Fire of 2002. The R-C Fire annihilated the trout fishery, which was one of Arizona's best brown trout streams at that time. I fished the creek back in 2006, not long after it was re-opened to fishing after extensive post-fire rehabilitation work, it fished well, but was merely a shadow of its former self. Now, nine years after the fire, the restorative power of nature is on full display at Canyon Creek. This little stream is better than it ever was prior to the fire. Today it's an extremely fertile fishery that is chock-full of aquatic vegetation, insects and trout. With any luck the fisheries impacted by the Wallow Fire will come back as strong as Canyon Creek has.

I'll share some of the experiences from the rest of our time in AZ in an upcoming report.


  1. Glad you stomped around the old grounds... I know you dug that place!
    Looking forward to the upcoming...

  2. Have to love sight fishing dries at x-mas tree.

  3. Big - Yep, I miss Arizona. Part II coming soon...

    Alex - No doubt, those Apaches are fun on dries - to a point. At times it almost becomes too easy!