Clifford Pirch makes his living as a professional bass angler on the Southeast coast, but his roots are fishing for trout in Rim country streams and lakes.
Since he was a toddler, Pirch has followed his father, Dennis, around the high country as the two searched for just the right hot spot where lunker-sized rainbows awaited them.
Among the stops the father-son team often enjoyed was Tonto Creek. This year, because of high runoffs caused by the winter storms and spring rains, Pirch predicts fishing in the creek could be the best it has been in a decade.
His favorite Tonto spot, he said, is the creek above Kohl's Ranch.
Another popular angling stop is Woods Canyon Lake, off Highway 260 east of Payson, because even in drought years, "you can always catch a few fish there," Pirch said.
The man-made 52-acre lake was created in 1955, and each year nearby amenities have grown to include a country store, campgrounds, boat rentals and boat ramp. Only boats with electric motors are allowed on the lake.
The lake is stocked weekly, May through October, by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The lake is most popular on weekends when desert dwellers eager to escape the searing summer heat flock to the mountain retreat.
Nearby, off Forest Road 149, visitors will find Willow Springs Lake, the first man-made lake on the Rim. Like Woods Canyon, the lake is stocked weekly and is a popular place for anglers hoping to land rainbows and German brown trout.
"There's also some bass in there," Pirch said.
Facilities include a boat ramp, toilets, dock and near-by camping and picnic groups. Boats are limited to motors of 8-horsepower or less.
Pirch said Woods Canyon and Willow Springs are by far the most popular, but Knoll Lake in East Leonard Canyon can also be a hot spot. The lake can be reached by driving east from Payson on Highway 260 to Forest Road 300. Go west on FR 300 for 29 miles to reach the lake.
Knoll is not as accessible as Woods Canyon and Willow Springs but the roads are usually well-maintained from April through October.
About 4.5 miles north of Knoll is the lake campground that features 33 units with fire rings, grills, picnic tables, garbage pickup and toilets.
Northeast of Payson at 7,000 feet in the cool pines of the Coconino National Forest sits the Blue Ridge Reservoir on East Clear Creek. It's a fun place to fish, but the steep walls of General Springs Canyon make access to the shoreline difficult. Finding a spot to fish on the cliffs can be difficult, so some choose to fish the lake by boat.
For angling purists who enjoy the challenge of fishing with artificial lures, Pirch's best advice is to visit Bear Canyon Lake. One of the most scenic and secluded lakes in the Rim country, the 65-acre lake is 46 miles northeast of Payson.
Fishing is restricted to lures only and there are no boat launch facilities.
In addition to rainbow and brook trout, anglers will find cutthroat and arctic graylings, which were planted there as fingerings. The limit on grayling is one fish at least 12 inches long.
Pirch said Chevelon Canyon Lake, northeast of Payson off FR 300 and 169 is another good angling choice.
Chevelon was named for a trapper who, in the 1800s, ate a poisonous plant and died. In 1988, a hiker ate the same poisonous water plant and died.
While in the area, visitors should exercise extreme caution in consuming any of the wild berries or plants that abound there.
In 1988, a slot limit was instituted at the lake. Any trout between 10 and 14 inches must be returned to the water. Also, baits are restricted to artificial lures and flies.
Chevelon has no boat launch facilities.
Further information on local fishing opportunities can be obtained from the Payson Ranger District at (928) 474-7900.
Pirch spends most of his time on the tournament trail, but between angling frays he can be found working as co-owner of the Tackle Box located one-half mile south of Punkin Center. Stop in and visit. Pirch is always willing to share his fishing secrets. The Tackle Box can be reached at (928) 479-2108.