Oh, frabjous day. Oh, spring: The wafting breezes, the blooming flowers, the budding cottonwoods — the slosh of water in plastic buckets.
That most ardently awaited of moments for a certain passionate Rim Country subculture arrived this week – heralded by the sloshing of the Arizona Game and Fish Department truck, with its gloved acolytes — lining up to carry buckets of rainbows.
In short, the Tonto Creek Hatchery this week started stocking Rim Country streams, putting more than 1,200 sometimes-impressive trout into the East Verde, Tonto Creek and other streams.
The Game and Fish hatchery each year raises about 700,000 rainbow trout in a series of large pools fed by a Tonto Creek spring. Throughout the summer, Game and Fish tank trucks will trundle up dirt roads to dole out a bounty of about 2,000 fish weekly, distributed mostly in three lakes and 10 streams.
Normally, the Game and Fish guy drives his lonely rounds, and at about 10 spots along Tonto Creek and maybe 15 spots along the East Verde, he’ll distribute buckets full of fish — many pan size, but always with some authentic lunkers thrown in.
The poor solitary fish guy concentrates on big pools close to the road, since he has many stops and not enough time to go boulder-hopping with his buckets of fish to find a fishing hole that anticipated hoards of summer visitors won’t fish out in three days. About 80 percent of the fish put in the always-stocked roadside pools are hooked within a week. Few make it through the summer.
But on Thursday, Fish Culturalist Larry Duhamell had help from about a dozen members of the Payson chapter of Trout Unlimited (which doubles as Payson Flycasters). The volunteer fly-fishing enthusiasts proved positively beamish, with apologies to Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky.
Come to think of it — they were downright mimsy, galumphing through the borogroves.
The eager volunteers lined up with big plastic buckets as Duhamell climbed atop atop his fish tank on wheels, from which he disbursed 500 trout to pour into the East Verde. On Monday, the group had put 700 trout into Tonto Creek — one of the most popular stretches of water for fishermen in the whole state.
The volunteers disbursed the fish widely in hopes they can induce fishermen to spread out more. Maybe some of the stocked fish will even survive the summer fishing season and spawn to augment a small population of wild trout that provides unending fall and winter entertainment for local fishermen.
Fortunately for anglers, The Payson Flycasters have adopted the East Verde — chortling in their joy.
They’re working with the Forest Service and Game and Fish to improve the stream and create more trout pools and campgrounds. They also plan a major litter cleanup in June, for which they’ll be recruiting community volunteers. In addition, they’re planning fishing clinics and fishing education programs on the East Verde.
On Tuesday, they concentrated on stocking rainbows in normally neglected river stretches. In addition to stocking the dozen or so easily accessible spots, the volunteers lugged buckets upstream and downstream to stock likely looking pools from the East Verde Estates to the Washington Park trailhead.
They all but gyred and certainly gimbled, their heads dancing with the pleasure it would give them in the months to come to flick their flies onto the surface of a hundred little pools with overhanging rocks ’neath which the frumious lunkers might wait. Then their fly rods will go snicker-snack — although with the group’s devoted catch-and-release philosophy, they’ll have little use for the vorpel blade which dispatched the Jabberwocky.
In fact, big plans are gathering for the East Verde, which has the potential to build on Payson’s existing reputation as heaven for anglers. Fed by springs at the base of the Mogollon Rim, the East Verde runs beneath sinuous cottonwoods, through rocky pools and cascades, past several leafy settlements and on down past the outskirts of Payson.
The creek has a vital role to play in Payson’s water future. The Salt River Project operates a pipeline that takes water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir to Washington Park, a mile or so below the spring that feeds the East Verde.
Payson is building a pipeline to take about 3,500 acre-feet annually from that pipeline, which will run along Houston Mesa Road.
However, SRP hopes to move another 7,000 to 10,000 acre-feet annually from Blue Ridge to its reservoirs down on the Verde River near Phoenix. The only way to get that bounty of water into its reservoirs is to run it down the East Verde. And that could provide a much more reliable, nearly year-round water supply.
Advocates for the East Verde like Payson Flycaster President Bob Youst are now working with the Forest Service and Game and Fish to undertake projects to create more good pools for trout, especially on the upper reaches of the river.
The work on the stream would mimic a project already approved by Tonto National Forest officials to create more of the deep pools favored by trout and beloved by anglers along Tonto Creek. Wildfires atop the Rim several years ago caused floods and a buildup of debris on that creek. So the project would restore degraded trout habitat.
Advocates for the East Verde hope that their creek will be next in line for some fish-friendly remodeling. Some advocates also hope that Game and Fish will consider releasing once-endangered Apache trout into the stream. Moreover, Game and Fish is also considering reintroducing the endangered Gila trout on streams that feed into the East Verde.
If all that comes to pass, the Rim Country can build on its reputation as a fishing hot spot. The two top locations in the whole state when it comes to selling fishing licenses are the Payson Walmart and the store at Woods Canyon Lake.
Of course, this week as the members of the club sweated, grunted and teetered up the creek with their buckets of finny joy, they were mostly thinking about the long days of summer ahead — the hike to the hidden pool, the flick of the fly, the rise of the trout.
“It’s why we live here,” said Randy Loman, as he wiped the sweat away and prepared to drop a big old rainbow in the highest up pool anyone had reached. It was indeed, a perfect trout hole about 4 feet deep and 10 feet across, with a rock overhang offering a deep, dark shelter and a little waterfall to interject oxygen with a musical murmur.
Loman dumped his lunker into the hole — a 16-inch holdover after two years in the hatchery.
Lomen surveyed his work with satisfaction, the breeze sighing through the ponderosas overhead. It was a brillig day, without a slithy tove in sight. And as in uffish thought he stood, the trout swam across the pool and vanished beneath the rock.