As the Tonto Creek Hatchery winds up another year of dumping wriggling rainbows into Rim Country streams and lakes, local anglers are celebrating the dwindling crowds and tracking the last few big stocking runs — including the plan to dump some end-of-season lunkers into Tonto and Haigler creeks and the ever-reliable Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes.
“We’re pretty much at the end,” said Larry Duhamell, a fish culturist at the hatchery.
“We’ve got about 6,000 fish left” to put out in the next week or two.
The hatchery this year put out 160,000 pan-sized rainbow trout, a million tiny fingerlings and several thousand 2- and 3-year-old hatchery trout — each some two feet long and weighing maybe two pounds.
The last gasp of the stocking season will put fish in a few creeks, and the most accessible of the Rim lakes, but not in the East Verde, where it gets too warm for trout to thrive beginning in about August. Moreover, mud and ash washing into the creek downstream from the Water Wheel Fire has made the water nearly opaque and coated the bottom of miles of creek with a layer of soot-black mud.
“We’ll see what the burn did,” said Duhamell, noting that such burns can have an effect for a year or more.
“I assume we had a fish kill in there — there’ll be no oxygen and it’ll pretty much wipe everything out.”
Trout that escape the rush of summer visitors haunt the deeper pools upstream from Second Crossing all winter long, including wild trout that somehow live in small pools and riffles upstream from the pumping station at Washington Park.
Moreover, surviving trout remain in the less accessible portions of most of the Rim creeks through the fall and winter.
Local anglers all have their favorite spots and favorite creeks.
Next year, the hatchery plans to cater to those local anglers willing to work a little harder to find a fish by continuing to stock on into October.
“We want to hold over maybe 10 percent of our stock all year long so we can stock into the fall. Those avid fishermen who like to come up in the cool weather. I suspect that the people who fish in the fall are more likely to catch and release, whereas the people who just come up to fish in the summer they want to catch everything and eat it. I think you get the more serious fishermen in the fall and the early spring.”
He said the hatchery got a big response this year to its “incentive” program — the practice of holding 2 or 3 percent of one year’s crop through the winter so that they’d be twice as big — those two-foot-long monsters that can be the catch of a lifetime for some anglers.
“The incentive program worked out real well,” said Duhamell. “It’s been wonderful, on top of the normal catchables.”
The hatchery this year released 160,000 fish in the 12- to 14-inch range, each weighing maybe a pound.
The hatchery also put out a million fingerlings, a couple of inches long, to provide a basis for a population of wild trout even in the heavily stocked streams, including the East Verde, Tonto, Haigler and others.
Many of the hatchery-reared trout, however, go into a handful of lakes up on the Rim, including the 50,000 that went into Woods Canyon Lake. At least another 50,000 went into Willow Springs Lake, although those fish come from another hatchery.
“Woods Canyon Lake gets about 3,500 fish a week,” said Duhamell, who added that the lake will get another stocking this week and maybe next.
In addition, the hatchery may put a few thousand fish into Tonto Creek, which will likely provide fishing opportunities right through the winter.
“I have friends that come up and visit me at Christmas and they go out and catch a couple of fish — they just have to hike a little farther and work a little harder,” said Duhamell.
He noted the area between Kohl’s Ranch and Bear Flat often yields fish year-round, including big fish that have spent years getting fat in some of the deeper, more remote pools.
“If you don’t mind doing a bit of hiking, they do get bigger down there. I’ve seen some whoppers.”