PBD Fish Reports
Most fly fishers would not even consider the possibility of fishing for wild trout in Arizona. They are missing some great fishing. Scattered across the top of the Mogollon Rim at 7,000 feet or more in elevation are a number of small spring feed streams that hold wild brown trout or Apache trout. These streams are not big, usually no more than a short cast across. Some have easy access and others require a hike. A couple are well known, most are only tiny traces of blue on the DeLorme Map. These treasures are well worth exploring.
One of my favorites is Canyon Creek. The road to the stream does not open until mid-March due to snow. I fished the creek for the first time this year on a clear April day. Canyon Creek is home to wild brown trout. Most are very small, 4 to 8 inches. However, scattered among these little jewels are fish of 16 inches or more. These big fish are rare but they ad intrigue to the chase.
I parked under a tall pine, donned my hip boots, grabbed my 4 wt rod and headed through the barbed wire fence and downstream. The water was crystal clear and cool, perfect conditions. Hiking parallel to the stream, I traveled downstream, crossing the water as necessary. In about a half hour, I reached a fence across the stream. In years past, I have continued downstream for another half hour. This lower section is in a narrow canyon and the structure of the stream is typical of western streams all over the Rockies. Excellent pools and very fishy looking runs. However, I did not have the energy that day to go that far. I stopped at the fence to fish back upstream.
I had not fished Canyon Creek last year because the State and the local TU Chapters were doing stream improvements. What had been done and would it improve the stream? This would be a day of exploring. The changes became evident immediately. The first run I reached was completely changed. The water was deeper, now about 2 feet deep, twice what it was. The flow was straighter too. It really looked good. Best of all, there was no real evidence that the flow had been changed. Knowing the spot, it was evident what had been done but if you were new to the stream, you never would know it had been reworked. It looked real good. The test was soon to come.
Tying on my favorite combination of flies, a #16 Coachman trude and a #18 beadhead flashback pheasanttail, I was ready to test it out. It didn’t take long. At the bottom of the run a small brown grabbed the beadhead. Great start. A bit further up the run, the current hugged the far shore. Bounders along the shore made some great looking pockets. Another small brown came to hand. At the top of the run, a drift right next to a boulder at the edge of the current yielded a smashing strike. A better fish. I admired a 10-inch brown as I quickly remover the dry from his lip and released him.
The next run was much the same as in past years, or so I thought. After a couple of casts, I noticed a big pine log that jutted out into the current a foot or so. It was not there in past years. Just below it was a new pocket and another 10 inch brown. Already there were two spots where subtle stream improvements had worked.
As I progressed upstream, I found many more subtle changes in the stream. Most created attractive fish-holding spots and usually a fish. The natural beauty of this great little stream had not been altered by the stream improvements, as happens in so many cases. Instead, the improvements were so natural they blended right into the environment. Time will tell how effective they will be in increasing the size and number of browns, but the initial indications are very positive.
Climbing out of the valley at the end of the day, I reflected on my experience. It had been very peaceful, nobody around. Birds and butterflies had flitted by. Tall Ponderosa pines and shoreline willows shaded the stream. If one were dropped here blindfolded, they would think they were in Colorado, not Arizona.
On my way home, I stopped off at Tonto Creek. This creek is stocked with rainbows every week during the summer and very popular among the catch-and-keep crowd. However, it also holds a population of wild browns. The rainbows are stocked at easy access points. Between these points are sections of creek buried in the trees and bushes that can produce some nice wild browns. You have to work to get to them and use bow and arrow casts, but the reward can be a very nice wild brown. Other heavily stocked streams like Christopher Creek and the East Fork of the Black River hold wild browns. I wonder what the brown trout fishing would be like if they were managed as wild trout streams, like Canyon Creek.
Directions: DeLorme Map page 45, B-8. Drive east from Payson on HWY 260. Turn south (right) onto Young Heber Road. Just as the road turns to dirt, turn left onto FR 188. Follow the signs to Lower Canyon Creek. As you reach the stream, park under the tall pine. Walk south to the stream. There are several additional access sites further along the Forest Road. Elk exclusions have been built with periodic access openings. There is good fishing everywhere.