White mountains, Apache reservation and Silver creek Fly fishing in the higher elevations of Arizona.
Winter in the mountains is fast approaching, so it is with urgency we are trying to get in some last-minute fly fishing before the lakes get snowed in. The weather forecast last weekend was not good, but beggars cannot be choosers!!! Off we went, little did we know what mother nature would throw at us the next four days!Week last Friday we got to the first lake it was still low but the wind was down, nice change. There was only one other fisherman on the lake, in a small one-man inflatable tube fishing not too far from us. He was catching fish on the fly so a good omen.
This lake never lets us down it usually fishes well, but we were on the hunt for big browns that we have caught in the past there. No luck, but we did catch several nice fighting rainbows. For some reason at this particular lake they fight really well, they are good size with muscular shoulders. Nymphs do well anything with a green flare. The bottom nymph about six feet down, as do green and olive leeches stripped. It was cold and the wind did start to pick up. We left just before dark, having done ok on rainbows.
The next day was blowing hard and raining really heavy must have been around 28 degrees Fahrenheit at best. The wind made it even colder! We had a particular spot that we wanted to hike to on this lake so it was time to wrap up really warm. Fleece leggings under waders, with two sweaters then layered on a hoodie jacket then a rain jacket over that. Felt like an Egyptian mummy walking slowly but at least to start, warm.
Off we went fly casting here and there along the way catching a couple of small rainbows loosing one big heavy fish that I never saw, but it was heavy and fighting deep then gone. He took a nymph with a gold body and green hackles. The wind was now howling and the rain was horizontal to the water!! Freezing. However, I wanted to fish along this bank towards our destination. Casting two flies, split shot and an indicator in howling wind can be a recipe for disaster. If you are not a proficient fly caster don’t bother, look for a sheltered spot as you will end up with nothing but tangles.
Working along this bank in weeds, rushes, muddy sucking mud howling wind freezing hands is not easy!! However, if you can use the wind down wind to cast sideways out and walk along the drift you can catch fish. Marc had gone ahead of me so we finally caught up with each other as we sheltered behind a big pine tree out of the wind. At this time, we had been on the water for about five hours we were both soaked thru, hand shacking so much neither of us could tie on flies. A few fish between us a few big fish lost, he looked at me and said what do you think? I said let start walking back. We fished back along the way we had come, Marc caught a nice brown trout and I a few more rainbows. As we got to the truck Marc said let’s go to the dam on this lake it will be sheltered from the wind. We were both soaking wet but what the hell off we went!
On arrival we found two other fly fishermen there doing well, I thought we were the only mad buggers out there in these conditions! They left after we talked about what was working, they had caught enough and were more sensible than us. Marc and I re rigged, me using an indicator and two nymphs at first, Marc just stripping leeches we caught some small rainbow. I then changed to a black top woolly bugger with a green woolly bugger below stripped. I hooked a big fish never saw it had him tight to the line for a moment or two then he was gone. We caught some more rainbows with the wind now going into gale force mode with dark fast approaching. We called time out stumbling back to the truck and warm car seat warmers to try and defrost out our bodies!!
That night the storm winds hit hard, were we were staying in Springerville, only could guess as to how strong it was up on the lakes!!! The next morning, we found out, our plans were derailed big time! We set off, got onto the log roads on the reservation about eight miles from our first lake there was a tree down across the road blocking it. Luckily for us the top thinner end of the fur tree was long enough that we were able to snap off some branches and drive my four-wheel truck up and over it, just!! A few miles on we came to another downed tree across the road, this time it had hit with so much force that part of the tree had snapped and bounced off the side of the road leaving a space for us to squeeze by.
Finally, at out first lake we fished catching a lot of small rainbows, same rigs as the night before. It was windy and cold but not too bad!! After a few hours it was time to drive to the next lake, looking forward to what it would have to offer us. A few miles further on our plans came to an abrupt end. This tree was big it had snapped off about three feet from it base and fallen straight across our road. It was at least 3 to four feet high lying there with no way around it. I would hazard a guess if we had been able to get around it, we would have come across many more downed trees the wind was that strong that night!!
Now what? Well we thought after looking at the map there was a small road that we could use to cut thru down to the Black river and the East fork. A few miles into that we came to a gate that was locked blocking further access down. There was another way so we turned around looking to do that, along the way we would pass Big Lake.
Big lake at this time was white capped and the wind was howling, we drove along spotted an area that was sheltered along the shoreline. This was our third or fourth time to big lake having never bothered to fish it as the wind was always just too strong. What the hell lets give it a go! Again, we layered up, I had my nymph rig on and was too lazy to change. Glad I did not as we both ended up catching some very pretty small Bonneville Cutthroat trout! Both Marc and I had not caught any Bonneville cutthroat trout before in Arizona so that was fun! Why no pictures you ask? Neither of us could at any time feel our fingers and the thought of undoing all our clothes to get to our phones it was just not worth the effort. So, you will just have to trust us on this!!! In conversation Marc mentioned to me that if you use surgical gloves, they will keep your hands warmer and you can still tie flies! Great!! Why did we not have any with us?
Marc and I over the course of the year have been able to catch these trout in Arizona. Apache, Gila, Brown, Rainbow, Brook, tiger and now Bonneville cutthroat, not bad plus I also have caught some graylings, Marc as I rub it in has yet to catch a grayling in Arizona, not to say he has not caught some big ones when he was guiding back up in Alaska a few years ago!!As the day was coming to an end we packed up and headed back to our hotel and hot showers. The forecast was for snow higher up.
The next day we woke to light snow on our truck and dark heavy clouds shrouding the mountains higher up from us. Enough is enough, so we headed down to Silver creek for some easy fly fishing we hoped!
It was snowing on and off and bitterly cold, on arrival we wrapped up again. I had fished here three or four times in the past, Marc had not. I put on an orange and yellow egg on the bottom fly with a red San Juan worm above. We walked over the small bridge first cast I caught a nice rainbow, so easy!! Right, we then had to fish hard the rest of the day to get them to bite. We constantly changed flies until my old and trusty size 18 black and silver nymph took control. We found out that day they just wanted small flies’ size 18 to 20 nymphs’ different colors did the trick.
Slowly fishing up in the deeper runs we got separated. I had mentioned to Marc, that I was going to walk up to the top of the stream where there are some big pools with some very big trout in and I wanted to try for one of those. I set off in a snow storm, getting there I had changed to a purple and white nymph as my higher up fly. The snow was coming down hard and the wind was whipping up small waves on these deeper pools. The light was dull, so it was hard to see into the water and get any feel for the depth.
My third or so cast I hooked a big fish; very heavy he came up on the surface then was off running all over. I just was hanging on. After a few minutes I was beginning to think that if I got him in close, I would have to cut him loose as I could not net this fish on my own. The banks were very slippery and muddy, no way I could do both with out going into the water and it was too deep. Just at that moment I heard a voice behind me. Shit that is a big fish!! Marc had arrived just in time. It took awhile but we brought the fish in, netted quick photo and straight back in where he gave me a wet tail slap and was gone!!! What a fish!!
We fished on catching a few more but nothing like that monster what a great ending to my trip. I was just crossing my fingers Marc would get so lucky!! The end of the day came we had done well! As darkness descended, we trudged back to the truck. What a trip! Hopefully we can squeeze in another one or two before they are closed for winter.
Fishing is addictive as Marc commented to me after we had been on the road for an hour or so. I almost said to you as we were packing up let’s stay another day I have to go back and sight fish those monsters as I have not caught one there yet! My reply was, what the hell, you should have said earlier on I was game for that!!!