Awesome day on the Salt River Phoenix, Arizona fly fishing for Sonoran Suckers


Off to the Salt at daybreak only to find bait fishers had already arrived and set up before daybreak. That’s a weekend for you in Phoenix. My friend and I set out, we were lucky actually to get the spots we both wanted.


The day started fishing for rainbows, Dave at the bottom of a deep pool and me at the head water of the pool in shallower water. Both of us using different nymph rigs. Slow start but missed a few very subtle takes pretty frustrating!! Then a big hit and my reel was flying with a fish on heading down pool. Took off three or four times before I could wrestle in a nice Sonoran sucker. Who by the way, gets a lot of scorn from people who call them trash fish!


  In my humble opinion, they are excellent fighting fish, they are heavy on the rod, run a lot and generally do not want to come in, lots of fun on a fly rod. Also if you take the time to look at them, they have beautiful coloring, golden brown, yellow with even subtle hints of blue/brown around the scales. What’s not to like about that?


Dave in the meantime took on a big beautiful rainbow that in the middle of the fight ended in breaking off his tippet and gave him the finger on the fly bye!!! One big fighting Rainbow!

We fished on, me getting another Sonoran sucker, then it was time to go exploring the river bed further upstream. Dave had not been up there and wanted to look at the bottom, and different hold over pools before the water is turned back on. At the moment the flow is only eight cubic feet per second, so most of the river is dry with just a trickle running down. In about a month the flow will be turned back on to about twelve to fourteen hundred cubic feet per second.


It is a great time to scope out all the new spots that will open up on the flow and know what the bottom is and where the drop-offs will be when you cannot see later on. A good recce as the Aussies would say!


Hard work walking thru the bush and over slippery rocks it took time in full wading gear. Mission accomplished we made our way back to the trucks, Dave had to take off, but I decided to go back for one more try.

 The weather was warming up, and there was more activity on the river. I have been targeting the Sonoran Suckers for a couple of years and have had moderate success in the past. The Salt has a mixture of different bottoms, muddy, rocky rocks covered in green alga and in a few spots sandy gravelly bottoms that tend to be in the faster moving sections of the river. Also in the summer, we get a lot of grass weed which really makes it a challenge to find clear water. I have walked this river many times in full flow and with little flow, so I have come to know the different bottoms and holes pretty well.


On this particular afternoon, I walked back to a spot that has some flow and a sandy gravel bottom. Standing back to check out what was going on I could see groups of Sonoran Suckers moving up against the current on the bottom grazing the sand like hovers, with a few trout on the bottom and also in the middle column of water, great time to rig up!


I know from past what they tend to like so I put on the top nymph size eighteen black and silver with a tiny patch of white. Followed on the bottom nymph a red and black size sixteen. I have a pretty good idea of the exact depth here as I have waded that sections many times in the past. I put the bottom nymph about four foot under the indicator with the top nymph halfway up. Perfect I could see that my bottom nymph was about an inch off the bottom.

The trick to sight casting to these fish is to cast up away from them and drift down with the current right into them. Some subtle currents do weird moves on the fly on the bottom, but you have just to let it do whatever it wants with no drag on the line and keep the line pretty tight, but not too tight.

The water was pretty clear so I could see the fish most of the time. What was surprising to me was how many times my fly would drift right onto a fish that would completely ignore the fly, only to have a fish that was a good two feet or more away from the fly just drift over and take. When they take the indicator just disappears, and the line just start running away from you. Lift the rod really high above you let the slack line in your fingers run out with a controlled finger applying pressure until you are on the reel, then hold on baby, you are off to the races. Let them run then wind in like crazy keeping the line tight then wait, and they will go off again. In my experience they will fight for up to a good three to four minutes on the bigger ones, then they will finally come to where you can reel into almost the top of the leader then just guide them into the net. They are not concerned about the net like trout, they are very docile in your hands as you take out the fly. It is as if they know that fly fishermen are going to turn them loose.


On this day I just kept watching them come and go, sometimes they were there, and other time they were not. It did not appear to be related to if the sun was out or if the clouds were covering the sun. Very random, the bizarre part of my day was I did not catch a trout all day I changed up my higher fly many times tried all kind of weird and wonderfully flies just watch them look at then move on.

However, I landed nine Sonoran Suckers and many times I had to change rod hands as my wrist and arm were getting tired holding on, what a fantastic problem to have!!!


I know some of you out there are going to doubt this, but I pinky swear that is the truth and my best day ever chasing these, to me elusive fish!!!

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