When anglers consider stream fishing for trout, Arizona is not high on the list of blue-ribbon waters. The Rockies and high Sierras get most of the notoriety for quality stream fishing, where abundant water flow creates excellent angling for rainbows, cutthroats, brookies and German browns.
How does an Arizona stream fisherman satisfy the desire of outwitting a trout in his native habitat?
For 150 miles to the east of Payson along the Mogollon Rim are numerous creeks that feed the Salt River watershed. These small streams are stocked periodically during the summer months by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, as well as having some natural reproduction.
Within an hour's driving time of Payson are numerous creeks, which have a catchable population of rainbows or German browns. Most of these fish are reared in raceways at the Tonto or Canyon Creek hatchery complexes and are caught by fishermen within three or four days of their arrival into Tonto, Christopher, Haigler or Canyon Creek. Those fish that manage to make it beyond the weekend will actually take on some of their wilder instincts and assimilate to their natural habitat.
These fish will inhabit new areas of the stream, away from the obvious road crossings, where the stock truck began their creek existence. A little hiking away from the easy access can pay big dividends for the stream fishing enthusiasts. The fishing pressure decreases as you walk away from the nearest road. Here's a word of warning, however. The summer months in Arizona are the active time for rattlesnakes and especially in the cooler grasses along a creekbed. Always know where your next step is going to be and stay alert. I have come across more than a few snakes hiking the local streams of the Rim Country.
These semi-wild trout will generally face upstream waiting for their next meal to float by. Consequently, I prefer approaching the next fishable water from downstream and cast to the head of the pool or riffle. This will bring the small spinner or fly past any trout that may be hiding under a boulder or deadfall pine. When stream fishing, I spend much of my time in a crouch or hidden behind a boulder so that the fish will not see my movement or even my shadow on the water. Any movement can make a fish quickly disappear and not be interested in any bait because of impending danger. Remember, that alarm system has allowed trout to make it even though he was reared in the safe environment of the fish hatchery.
When fishing these Rim Country streams, I prefer an ultralight spinning rod of five feet six inches or less with a small open face Shimano Sedona reel with four-pound test line. Lighter and shorter is better with all the brush and deadfalls to navigate. These stream fish are generally small and ultralight gear makes the fishing experience more enjoyable.
I encourage you to practice catch-and-release in these more remote areas, so that other fishermen can experience the thrill of catching an almost-wild Rim Country trout.
Prior to touching the fish, wet your hands before releasing your catch, which will keep the fish healthier. When I catch a stream trout, I actually try not to handle the fish by using a Leatherman tool to extract the barb of the hook.
Before the summer is gone, plan a trip to one of our local streams of Tonto, Christopher, Haigler or Canyon Creek. A short hike will often pay big dividends in creating a fishing story worth repeating.
This weekend, take someone fishing and enjoy God's creation.