Marc and I headed off up into the higher elevations for a four-day fly fishing and exploration trip to find new waters for us! The Apache reservation is closed due to the Cov- 19 virus so we had to improvise.
We stayed in a small log cabin in Alpine AZ, elevation eight thousand feet, using this as a base. Rustic and costing only eighty-five dollars a night for two people, perfect! Originally, we had intended to fish some of the small trout streams that are in Arizona and then head East into New Mexico.
Unfortunately, the streams were running very low with little water so we decided to head into the higher elevation and rugged country of the white mountains that border the Apache reservation, truly breath-taking country!
We fished from approximately eighty-five hundred feet too as low as five thousand feet during the next days. Mostly streams with a lot of hiking into and a few small lakes just for the fun of it. The wind was blowing a gale the whole time, so we could not get out on Big Lake to chase cutthroat trout as we felt it would not be productive. Same with Becker lake. I have been to this lake four times now and have never been able to fish due to the strong winds blowing up white caps. Not to say you could not, but for us it seemed we had better options to catch fish elsewhere.
Many miles on the back roads all gravel that are well maintained we saw Elk, Deer, Wild turkey, Ospreys, rattle snakes the odd bear print to name a few.
Caught on the fly between us, Brown trout, Gila Trout, Apache trout, Rainbow trout, Grayling, Round Tail chub, sun Fish and Blue gill also the odd sucker.
We missed out on cutthroat, brook trout and Tiger trout!!
The lower elevations you get into a whole other bunch of warmer water species to Fly fish for that we will not talk about today as that was not our goal for this trip.
Of course, we both have a fish tale to talk about! Marc was fishing the head waters of this stream when he hooked a big nice size trout only to lose as it shook out the fly after a brief tussle!!!
I passed him at this point as I was going up river, he told me about this fish and he was staying until he caught it. Later that night he trudged back to the truck and I asked him if he ever caught that fish?
You will not believe this! I fished that run hard and a little later on as it was getting darker and more shadow on the run a huge missile came out took his small fly bent his rod in half and was gone just like that, it was huge!!! Very big fish, he just shook his head in disbelieve. I told him the good news is you now know he lives in that run so he will have another chance at him next time!!
My story is not as good, but I did hook a very nice rainbow easy twenty inches plus fought him and eventually brought close to my net.
The problem was I was in a position that I could not get low to the water and with my rod as high as I could go and my net as low as I could go, we just could not meet. I looked him in the eye, eye to eye he just gave one bigger shack of his head and my line snapped right at the knot on my brown woolly bugger and like that he was gone! Just two more fish tales to add to the memories!!
I have never been much of a hiker, but when I took up Fly Fishing again after a fifty-year hiatus, I became one! Arizona Fly Fishing does not exactly come to mind when talking of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado some of the great Fly-fishing streams of America.
For those that know, they shake their collective heads and laugh!!! Now we do not have the prevalence of huge trout everywhere I am only talking about streams here. The lakes are a whole different ball game and will be visited later in other posts., but they are here in lesser numbers, and occasionally you get really lucky in these streams and catch one. We have plenty of Brown, rainbow also Apache Trout, Gila Trout, Brook Trout, and tiger trout although I have only caught Tiger trout in the lakes. Believe it or not, but there are a few lakes that have grayling as well!!!
The key is getting out there into the wilderness, that is when you will see some of the most beautiful country anywhere in America. Some streams are easy to get too, most are not. If you really want to get out there, it will take effort and preparation as well as emergency supplies, depending on how far off the grid you go.
This tale is about a small stream starting at about three-thousand-foot elevation outside Phoenix. Not that high up when you consider we have streams here well over eight-thousand-foot elevation and higher in parts of the high country of Arizona.
I have fished this stream twice before at different times of the year with no luck, and I was determined this time would have a different outcome! Interestingly in the winter, it is so different with no overgrown growth to impede you also much more water flow a whole different world.
Compare that to the middle of summer. I had to fight my way into some of the runs and pools, always looking for the shaded run!! The water was also much lower with the fish spooky but hiding out, waiting for a tasty morsel to dash out and grab!
I spent the day working my way up fishing spots I knew, but also with an eye to go higher up as I know there are some great pools and runs much further up, but time was my enemy. There still was no grasshopper action and no surface action. I could hear cicadas now again, but they were not around the stream. So, it was an underwater fly time!!!
The fish in this stream are not big, so after a few leaches stripped with no luck, I went to an indicator rig. I had one fly I have been itching to use for ages, and for some reason, my gut was telling me this is the day. Now, this is a dry fly, but it is a beautiful big bodied black ant with a foam body and short stubby reddish-brown legs. ( Brian Foss, a local fly tier made for me, great fly fishermen, friend and maker of killer flies and rods!!! )
I rig my wet flies differently to most; my usual fishing buddy goes crazy watching me catch fish this way!!!! Right, Marc?? I have an indicator that is split, so it is very easy to move up and down the line to vary the depth. Two feet under, I put this deadly ant, then I put a small split shot right above the knot, so it looks like his head, then eighteen inches under that I went with a size twenty black and a silver zebra midge. Deadly!!!
The water is shallow in the runs, maybe a foot to four feet, so you have to adjust the indicator to the speed of the flow, so you do not hook the bottom. Take the time for every run and pool as they are all different.
I can not tell you how many times I have dead drifted through a run or pool with no luck then adjusted the depth up or down and bang fish on!!! So, take the time and fish the run or pool before you move on. It will increase your catch rate!!!
I had been standing in the water at the edge for at least twenty minutes stripping leaches with no luck, that is when I put on the ant. The second cast upstream drifting down bang nice rainbow that put up a crazy fight on my four-weight rod, great sport same pool different technique fish on!!!
I used this rig for the rest of the day. I also passed up a lot of water as I wanted to get to the water, I had not fished. About Four-thirty, I reached the beginning of new water for me and caught some beautiful colored rainbows, but time was running out. Looking upstream, it was like a siren calling me! Darkness was around the next corner, so it was time to head back to the truck, which would take a while.
On my walk back, I was reflecting on the day and how lucky I am to live so near so many beautiful spots, Breathtaking is the only word to use!! The day was productive, with about eight or so beautiful colored fighting rainbows, each gave me his best!!! They all lived to fight another day. I only fish catch and release, and I am for sure going back.
Only this time, I will hike past all the stream I have fished and start fishing the new virgin waters for me chasing those elusive colored up Rainbows, and who knows I may even catch one of those legendary Browns that live higher up, or so the tale goes!!!!
Slow start to the day arrived on the stream around eleven am, late for us, high desert elevation around seven thousand feet, air temperature very pleasant around seventy Fahrenheit. Water temperature still cool but warmer than the last time we were there.
This steam works well on hopper dropper combos during the summer when the grasshoppers are out and about. So far this year, we have not seen many hoppers, but still, I decided to give it a go—nice grasshopper with long spindly legs with a size twenty zebra midge underneath. Marc was stripping green-purple leeches.
The water was pretty low and very clear, stealth was the name of the game, long casts way up into deeper moving water was the order of the day. My first cast missed a brown who took my hopper but missed. Marc was further down, about an hour later we meet up, he had two small wild browns on his belt, me nothing, a fat goose egg!!!
We decided to go upstream for the rest of the day. Marc tends to fish faster than I do, so we did not see much of each other. However, when I did catch him up, I was about to pass him when he called me over, said there was a nice brown out in the open feeding on the surface about every three minutes. Sure enough, he was there. I did one perfect cast, by luck rather than skill, landed the hopper three feet above him directly in line with a green and black size eighteen nymph trailing about twenty inches underneath. I watched as my hopper went right over his head, nothing, not a flick, watching as my nymph literally hit him on the head. I was thinking about how to recast over to him when he just slowly swam up into the head of the water under a tree on the other side of the bank. Perfect for Marc to have a go. Several casts later nothing, then Marc hooked a branch and lost his fly. That was that. Just as we were leaving that run, Marc looked down, and there was a nice black woolly bugger stuck in a bush right in front of him. Nice swop out. As the Aussies would say, Fair dinkum mate!!!
After fruitless hours of no hits and not seeing any rises, I was thinking of changing tactics when in a slightly deeper pool, I had a flash nice brown, ok I am going to hunt you down bro! Thirty minutes later, time to change tactics and give this guy a rest.
Sitting away from the run and watching the water, I decided I was going to put on a small beaded copper john about 10 inches under a very small indicator, followed by a size 20 nymph that was red, blue, silver with a slight hackle another twelve inches down on a size six tippet, light and stealthy. Remember, this water is shallow and not moving too fast! Casting up into the faster moving headwater and getting a perfect drift, time, and again nothing. I was starting to think of moving on when he took the nymph, nice fat brown, jumped into the air ran way came back skating on the surface. Shouting to Marc, who was on the next run-up, Got the bugger!!! Reach back for the net, bringing him in across the shallow water dip the net and bam he shook the hook and was gone! At least Marc saw it, not a catch but close no cigar!
Most of you will know this, but I tend to get stuck in a rut when fly fishing on times. You have to mix it up. The point in Hand, stripping flies and dead drifts. Two different techniques, but you can mix the two together.
I was having no luck on dead drifts; Ok, I hear you; he must have had drag on his flies!!! Not the case. I am pretty good with this presentation, as I have done it many times successfully.
Towards the end of the day, I started stripping my indicator along the top water. Not too fast to cause a ripple from the indicator but defiantly fast enough to move the flies underneath through the water column. You can adjust the speed to see what works best, but having the flies under an indicator hanging at different depths then moving them it helps you keep the flies at different levels rather than just stripping without an indicator which will be at one level depending on the size and weight of your flies. I had the other hookups using this method.
We can always learn however. I was fishing with a guide at Lees Ferry AZ last year dead drifting nymphs, my guide came over and said you have some drag on your flies. I looked but did not think so; she re-rigged me with two indicators about eighteen inches apart and told me to recast. I did, and immediately I could see a slight drag on one, it took a while but pretty soon I had them moving in tandem I had eliminated the slight drag I could not see. You live and learn!
The rest of the day was a lot of casting and looking for signs of life. Marc ended up with four landed wild browns. I hooked up another three, but they were soon gone as soon as they took the fly. Never the less a beautiful day in the mountains out chasing wild elusive brown trout in the high desert.
Marc is an expert fly fisherman and knows his stuff, I generally muddle along, but there are days and streams when you need the perfect alignment to catch these spooky fish. I always like to remind myself on days like this, it is a badge of honor when you catch these guys, and it is earnt not given!
The Golden trout of Arizona, Gila Trout. Ken Wade and I had another successful trip up into the high desert of Arizona using Black Woolly buggers with a size 20 black & silver nymph.
For me each run was different, some I had more success letting the flies drop to the bottom then a slow strip back in other runs it was a slow dead drift under an indicator with the bottom fly just off the bottom. It was one or the other so if no luck with the indicator i went to stripping the flies and visa versa. On one cast i ended up with two Gilas on, how cool is that and lucky!! Both flies worked well.
Ken on the other hand was using a 7 ft 6 ” Bamboo fly rod and mainly hi sticking with a cotton ball as an indicator with nymph under that in the shallow water, then also striping flies in deeper runs.
After catching many fish i had just ordered a really colorful red and blue with silver sparkle size 20 nymph that looked so fishy.
Perfect time to try, not one fish did I catch with that fly that day!!! But they look great in my fly box! I know another occasion will present itself and they will do well!!!