Where’S The Fish?

State budget impasse could prevent Tonto Creek Hatchery from releasing 5,000 fish


Bear Canyon Lake is a great place for fishing, although this man was not having much luck. A state budget impasse may keep Arizona Fish and Game from stocking Rim Country lakes before the busy July 4 holiday weekend.

Bear Canyon Lake is a great place for fishing, although this man was not having much luck. A state budget impasse may keep Arizona Fish and Game from stocking Rim Country lakes before the busy July 4 holiday weekend. |

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Tom Brossart/Roundup

Rim lakes draw some of the biggest crowds in the state on the July 4th holiday weekend. Fish and game crews managed to stock Bear Lake this week.

Something fishy going on here — and oddly enough it’s down in Phoenix, not at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.

Crews at the Arizona Department of Game and Fish hatchery yesterday delivered a load of fish to Woods Canyon Lake, but fear an imminent state government shutdown may prevent them from releasing another 5,000 fish into Rim Country streams before the big Fourth of July weekend.

The hatchery puts out at least 5,000 fish weekly, about half going to Rim Country lakes like Bear Canyon, Woods Canyon, Willow Springs and Knoll. The hatchery also once a week stocks thousands of fish into the East Verde, Tonto, Haigler and Christopher creeks.

The hatchery had planned to stock the East Verde on Wednesday, taking advantage of relatively high flows of cold water released by the Salt River Project at its pipeline from the Blue Ridge Reservoir that empties into the river at Washington Park.

However, hatchery manager Bruce Denova said the whole hatchery will shut down if the state can’t pass a budget by midnight on Tuesday. In that case, the hatchery won’t stock any more streams until the legislature and the governor strike an agreement.

In fact, the hatchery will have to scrounge about for a nonpaid volunteer to feed the growing fish for next year. It takes 18-24 months in the the hatchery’s protected tanks for a trout to get big enough for release.

“We’ve got a lot of turmoil going on,” said Denova of the state budget situation. “They’re threatening to shut down state government tomorrow, so this week is kind of iffy.”

Usually, the hatchery significantly increases the number of fish put into Rim Country lakes and streams prior to a big holiday weekend.

The Rim lakes draw more anglers than any other area of the state, especially on a torrid Fourth of July weekend. The hatchery crews even manage to stock fish into Bear Canyon Lake, taking a gated road down to the spillway at the dam to stock one of the less accessible and therefore most productive of the Rim lakes.

But this year, even the lower elevation streams have gotten a steady supply of fish.

Fortunately, this year, the release of Blue Ridge water into the East Verde has kept the temperatures below the 72- or 73-degree cutoff for stocking rainbow trout. Usually by now, the fish stockers will have abandoned the lower elevation spots like the big pool near the entrance to East Verde Estates. But the flush of cool water has extended the fishing season downstream in all of the roughly 25 spots on the East Verde the truck visits each week.

The hatchery releases a similar number of fish into Tonto Creek, which remains stockable all summer long given the altitude and the dense shading from pines along most of its course. The truck trundles all the way down to Bear Flat, which often has good fishing since most of the anglers hit the more easily accessible stretches of the creek north of the highway at Kohl’s Ranch.

The Game and Fish hauler also stocks at several locations along Christopher Creek, including one stretch near the store and near the campground at the end of the road.

Finally, the fish truck driver schleps buckets full of fish into hard-to-reach stretches of Haigler Creek, off the dirt road to Young.

“We carry buckets of fish down the cliff just for fishermen” on Haigler Creek, said Denova.

So, like many other state workers, the hatchery guys will wait out Tuesday, wondering whether this Fourth of July will be the one that got away.

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