Summer gets all the glory when it comes to fishing holes and trout stream riffles.
But fall has its own treasure trove of still waters and memorable moments.
Granted, the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery has finished stocking 146,000 fish into Rim Country streams and lakes and turned its attention to growing more trout for next summer.
The last batch of hatchery trout has gone into Woods Canyon Lake on the Rim, which this season received 87,000 rainbows.
That could explain why the store at Woods Canyon Lake sells more fishing licenses than any other place in the state. The second biggest seller of fishing licenses in Arizona is the Payson Walmart, said Tonto Creek Fishery Manager John Deihl.
However, plenty of fish remain in Rim Country lakes and streams — and fall fishermen are more likely to have a stretch of stream to themselves than the anglers of summer. Woods Canyon Lake remains a good bet right up until snow closes the road — and even then, ice fishermen can do well for themselves.
Without the weekly infusion of hatchery trout, catch rates on Rim streams and lakes will dwindle with the temperatures in stretches of water that have gladdened hearts all summer — with no more fish stocked into the East Verde River or Haigler, Tonto and Christopher creeks.
Fortunately, the competition from the hoards of Valley escapees has also dwindled — so local fishermen can still lower their blood pressure and savor the sound of running water, despite diminished, but inextinguishable hopes of hooking a straggler.
The Tonto Creek Hatchery labored all summer to use the fish raised in the course of two- and three-year cycles to turn Rim Country streams and lakes into the most popular fishing spots in the southwest.
The state’s roughly 255,000 fishermen spend an estimated $831 million on equipment and travel, according to a study by researchers from Arizona State University, based on figures from 2001. The study found that the state’s 135,000 hunters generate another $127 million. Combined, hunting and fishing generate $314 million in wages and $58 million in tax revenue annually, concluded the study. Fishing accounts for about 80 percent of the total.
In Gila County, fishermen and hunters spent $39 million — which generated another $47 million in related economic activity. Fishing and hunting in the county produced 769 jobs and $1.8 million in taxes.
The twice-weekly Tonto Hatchery stockings turned Tonto Creek and the East Verde and other smaller Rim Country streams into some of the top stream fishing stretches in the state.
Some of those streams have now dwindled to a trickle and even the larger waterways — like Tonto and the East Verde — now harbor only a few wary trout that managed to avoid the thickets of lures, flies and baited hooks flung upon the waters by the summer crowds. Some lunkers in those creeks actually make it through the winter, to face the gauntlet of summer hooks all over again.
However, the Rim lakes — especially Woods Canyon — still have a lot of trout. Although the numbers have fallen from the peak stocking period, local anglers who head for the Rim lakes will face less competition for trout much more willing to bite as the cold weather reduces the amount of other food.
Deihl recommended Woods Canyon, Blue Ridge, Knoll and Bear Canyon lakes.
Stream fishermen can also go looking for trout that evaded the summer rush, especially on stream stretches that require a hike to reach. Such streams often have naturally reproducing populations. The upper reaches of Horton Creek has a naturally reproducing population of brown trout — lurking in the tiny pools of a creek that all but dries up before reaching its junction with Tonto Creek.
The lower reaches of Tonto Creek, near Bear Flat, also have a good supply of fish, long after the fair-weather fishermen have given up on the summer-stocked reaches of the creek close by the highway.
But for now, the hatchery workers will start getting ready to grow another 150,000 fish for release next year, while nurturing the eggs that will produce the trout for the season after that.
They’ll also be keeping a wary eye on bald eagles, raccoons and anyone else who might have plans involving the big fish-growing ponds — especially the pond that harbors about 2,000 fish carried over for an extra year.
The hatchery doles out these 3- and sometimes 4-year-old fish, which can grow to 10 to 12 pounds in miserly fashion, but when caught, these monsters make the average angler holler and tremble and buy drinks for the house.
But fishing just ahead of the first snowfall on Rim lakes and the more remote streams with their wild trout populations can yield reliable emotional soothing and the occasional thrill of hooking a big fish.
The following information on fall fishing in Rim Country lakes has been taken from the Arizona Game and Fish’s online fishing report posted in early October. For up-to-date information go to http://www.azgfd. gov/artman/publish/cat_index28.shtml
CHEVELON LAKE: In early October, rainbows had started to feed more actively, but brown trout still seemed to be laying low. Anglers may also hook some of the 20,000 sub-catchable rainbows stocked in early September mostly for next summer’s fishermen. This is a hike-in lake on a steep trail without a lot of shore access. Try using a float tube, inflatable or canoe. The lake is open to artificial lures and flies only, trout between 10 and 14 inches may not be possessed, and the bag limit is six trout. The lake is open to electric trolling motors and/or up to 10 hp gas motors.
BEAR CANYON LAKE: Fishing in October was reported good, with recent stocking and little fishing pressure. This is a hike-in lake, down short, but steep and winding paths. The lake offers good shore access, but also works well from float tubes. The lake is open to electric trolling motors only.
BLACK CANYON LAKE: Fishing was good as of early October, with high water levels and a recent stocking. Angling pressure has not been great and the catch rate is decent.
BLUE RIDGE: No recent angler reports. This deeper canyon lake should be doing well. This long, narrow lake in a steep canyon has rainbows and browns. It is best fished from a boat, canoe, float tube and the like. There isn’t much viable shore access.
KNOLL LAKE: Not much word from anglers right now, but this lake has been consistently good all season and should get even better as the fish get hungrier as autumn progresses. This is also a great lake to hear bugling bull elk this time of year.
WILLOW SPRINGS LAKE: The catching has slowed a little here, even though the trout seem to be feeding heavily on insects at the surface. Trout have been active at the surface down to 15 feet during early morning and evening hours. The lake is open to electric trolling motors and/or up to 10 hp gas motors.
This is one of the largest lakes along the Mogollon Rim. As the nights get cooler than the water, you will often be treated to a fall mist on the water — bring your camera, especially at sunrise.