Sunday, July 10, 2011

AZ Redux, Part II

Bass water on the lower Black River.
Despite watching the smoke plume build on June 2nd,   Matt and I still weren't aware of just how large and dangerous the Wallow Fire had become. A couple of quick phone calls confirmed my worst fears, the fire had grown out of control and wide scale forest closures were being enacted. Over the course of twenty-four hours from June 1st to June 2nd the fire absolutely exploded, going from 6,699 acres to 40,509 acres. For months we'd been looking forward to spending a few days in the upper Black River watershed, but it wasn't going to happen on this trip.

Mouthful of feathers.
We poured over maps in search of a Plan B. After a couple of beers from the cooler and a great deal of deliberation we decided to leave the high country and head for the lower portion of the Black River. This proved to be a solid decision as the fishing was very good. The smallmouth bass were happy to hammer a black Circus Peanut all day long. We caught scores of bass, most in the one pound class, but a few of two pounds or more kept things interesting, as did the streamside rattlers.

The following day was the 5th day of the trip, and in a strange twist of circumstances, a cute Montana gal that my buddy is keen on was visiting family in Phoenix. We met her halfway and spent a fun day relaxing on the Salt River above Roosevelt. I left the love birds to themselves for a couple of hours and did some fishing, it was as unproductive as could be - hopefully Matt had a little more action.

Matt on spotter duty at Canyon Creek.
That afternoon we drove the scenic Young Road en route to Haigler Creek, where we fished for a few hours before camping along the creek for the night. We dined like kings that night, feasting on grilled rib-eye steaks and fresh, boiled crayfish from Haigler Creek. The morning found us on Canyon Creek, a day that was easily the highlight of the trip for me. I hadn't visited the fishery in a few years and it was great to see how well it has recovered from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire of 2002. The fishing proved very challenging, but that was simply a result of our limitations as anglers. We caught several trout, mostly on dries, but the big browns that were visible in the creek proved uncatchable for us. At one point we spent a couple of hours taking turns futilely sight fishing to a couple of 20"+ browns in a deep pool. We threw everything in our boxes at them, to no avail. On more than one occasion the person in the elevated spotter position confirmed that the caster's flies were in fact hitting the trout in the nose - how's that for tight lipped? 

We should have stuck around Canyon Creek until dusk, I'm sure the browns would have let their guard down a bit in the low light. Instead we headed back to the valley, arriving late and tired. We had plans to meet up with a friend, Cinda, for a little urban carp fishing the following morning.

A bit of urban action to close out the trip.
We got to the ponds early enough to leave us with a couple hours of fishing time before Matt had to catch a flight. The morning started off slow, our sight fishing efforts hindered by an algae bloom in the ponds. And then it happened, we got into a school of large, aggressive koi - within less than a minute we were tripled up... too bad there was nobody around to get a picture of that! The rest of the morning was spent focusing on getting into grass carp... Matt and I both had shots at large fish, but neither of us brought a grassie to hand.  It was a shame that we had to leave, as the carp were becoming increasingly active as the day progressed. Cinda stayed and fished after we left, and wouldn't you know it, I got a picture of a big grass carp via text message within an hour.

It was a great trip back to Arizona,despite the change of plans due to the Wallow Fire. We fished hard for 5 days and saw a lot of beautiful country. Matt was able to check a few species off his list and he got a taste of summer before heading to New Zealand - and more winter - to teach skiing for the summer. We're already planning another Arizona trip for the near future, possibly to some remote fisheries within the Grand Canyon, or to Lee's Ferry, or the upper Black, or Bonito, or Chevelon, or Lake Powell... so many places, so little time.


  1. Upper black? You better hurry before all the ash runoff kills it for years.

    The Bonito should be good, though.

  2. Alex - Probably wishful thinking on my part. The recent spike on the Pump Station gauge pretty much spells it out. Perhaps some of the river's fish will find refuge near the mouths of Bonito, Paddy, Pacheta and Reservation creeks, none of which burned.