Monday, December 12, 2011

Chub Love

The roundtail chub, AZ's equivalent of the Rockies' oft loathed whitefish.
They don't have pretty speckled spots along their flanks. They don't have an adipose fin. They don't get any respect.

They do have a beauty all their own. They do take dry flies. They do fight sportingly.

The roundtail chub is a species native to the lower Colorado River basin. The species is imperiled, and some of its most critical, currently occupied habitat is in Arizona. Anglers fishing waters within the Gila, Salt and Verde River watersheds are likely to incidentally catch the species while targeting trout. Few anglers specifically target roundtail chub.

Last week I found myself on Arizona's Fossil Creek in search of chubs... specifically in search of chubs. The creek is a perennial tributary of the Verde River with a base flow of more than 40 cfs (substantial by AZ standards). Over the past century the majority of its flow was diverted to supply the increasingly irrelevant Childs-Irving hydroelectric facility. As part of a transformative habitat restoration project on Fossil Creek, the facility was recently decommissioned and the diverted water returned to the streambed. Not surprisingly, the project has been of great benefit to the native fishes of Fossil Creek, including the roundtail chub.

The roundtail chub is a candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Any successful efforts to expand its currently occupied range will help reduce the likelihood of the species being listed. ESA mandates would potentially have far reaching implications upon the management of Arizona fisheries within chub habitat (i.e.: termination of non-native trout stocking, and the removal of competitive and predatory non-native fishes).

Fossil Creek: 16 miles of stunning, emerald-green watercourse.
Upon the project's completion the Arizona Game & Fish Department opened a portion of Fossil Creek to recreational fishing, they did so despite the absence of any species commonly considered to be sport fish. The department is making a valiant effort to change public perception regarding the roundtail chub and the widely held belief that it isn't worthy of classification as a sport fish.

The creek is Arizona's only designated roundtail chub fishery, complete with seasonal closures, and C&R regulations. The pools along the stream's course hold good numbers of chubs, including large representatives of the species, up to 18 inches or more. A small stream rod, a box of attractor flies, pant waders, and - perhaps most importantly - an open mind are all that is needed to enjoy this unique fishery.


  1. Is this tongue in cheek? Come on, chubs... it's gotta be a joke right?

  2. I am from Colorado, and I enjoy every whitefish I catch. In fact, in most cases, they fight harder than trout.

    There....I said it out loud.

  3. It's no joke. I doubt that the fishery is seeing much pressure, but it's the real deal. I was really into it... these weren't my first chubs on a fly, but it was the first time I'd specifically targeted them. Couple that with the fact that I was exploring a new fishery with my Dad and it made for a memorable day.

    Gary - I enjoy catching whitefish too. Every now and then I catch myself being disappointed after a hard fighting fish reveals itself to be a whitefish... but I'm usually quite happy to catch them.

  4. Interesting, I had no idea that a chub would rise to a fly. As to whitefish, I catch a lot of them on the Big Hole, and I can usually tell what it is within seconds. They do fight well, but below the surface, and their movements are more deliberate than trout. In my experience.
    I'm currently on walkabout, fishing the south Texas gulf. I've caught sea (speckled) trout the last few days, and they fight quite well.

    Much snow there? It was 83f here today.....

  5. I would rather catch a single roundtail chub than any trout in the world.

  6. Mike - They love dries. They'll even chase a streamer. No snow here... AZ and the SW are getting it all. Catching any other species in TX? Redfish?

    Corey - Your appreciation for roughfish is on another level!

  7. Awesome!!!

    When I was lucky enough to fish in AZ, I caught stunning Roundtails up to 20.5". They DID have awesome markings. Still some of the most beautiful fish I have ever caught.

    Such a great shame these fascinating natives are being pushed out by stocked, overrated invasives.

    It boggles the mind that anyone could find a simple troot more interesting than a species that's resided in that desert country since before us hairless apes first set our ruinous foot in it...

  8. Very cool Will, thanks for sharing. The natives all deserve respect and their own place to flourish.

  9. Awesome stuff!

    Roundtails are fun to catch, at least the bigger ones - over 12" or so. I caught quite a few when I lived in Colorado, they are a very under appriecated fish. If I ever make it AZ though, I will check out Fossil Creek for sure - quite the cool fishery.

  10. I'm camping there in a couple months
    should be fun
    did you guys do any serious hiking?

  11. I have been meaning to make it there each winter since they opened it, but it's just never worked out. Not this year...a day is already set aside after the new year.

  12. Brandon - Glad to hear it. The conditions that you find may be different than during my trip, but we had to cover quite a bit of water before finding any larger fish. We found two large pools that were full of big fish, aside from those locations most pools only held smaller fish. Good luck!

  13. Nelson - We didn't hike too far. We parked at the bridge crossing and worked upstream maybe a mile or so. It was slow going, the creek bottom is brushy and we often had to work our way up and around cliffs. We didn't bring waders, which would have helped considerably as it was pretty cold when we visited. It's an area that would be fun to explore more. I hope that they open the remainder of the creek to fishing soon.

  14. I love chubs. I've only caught Creek Chubs and Flathead Chubs though. If I'm ever down that way, I'll check this place out for sure.