A Day Hike For Wilderness Stream Fishing

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This past week, I made a trip into one of the many wilderness streams of the Rim Country in hopes of catching a rainbow or German brown that could be classified as a wild trout.

Longtime friend, Dean Pedersen persuaded me to join him and his son-in-law, Ben Leninger, who was on leave from the Air Force for another of the “bucket list” destinations that we are always talking about. We picked one of the hottest days of the year for the mile-hike and a 700-ft. descent that would get us to the water’s edge. On the hike down the faint, steep trail, I was thinking that this could be brutal about 3 p.m. on the return with the Arizona sun heating the canyon walls.

When we reached our destination, we scanned the water with our polarized sunglasses and saw a number of fish, but they did not appear to be trout. They were very susceptible to a size 0 spinner and we quickly caught a number of 5- to 8-inch fish that are known as roundtail chubs (Verde trout). They are long, slender fish that are brownish green in color and their fight on ultralight fishing gear is about one level above reeling in a crawdad! Each new pool revealed many more of the same, ranging from fry to the biggest being about 8 inches and finally, we saw a brightly colored wild rainbow.

After many casts, he finally fell for the spinner and the fight was on. The trout leaped and darted as it zigzagged the pool many times before it was caught and released back into the water. We all agreed that with so few trout in this section of the stream, catch and release was necessary, in hopes that it would find another trout of the opposite sex and reproduce during the spawn. We did catch a few more rainbows, but the overall ratio was about 10 to 1 with the roundtail chubs having the advantage.

This creek was considered a great trout fishery not too many years ago where rainbows flourished and a few big German browns lurked in the deep pools. I know this body of water was stocked periodically so that this stream would produce trout for the wilderness adventurer. For the angler who wanted the challenge of a tough hike, with the chance of not seeing another person and maybe getting wet to your waist, this Rim stream was the perfect place.

I was certainly disappointed by the fishing, but the scenery was spectacular in every direction including looking up at shear rock walls and seeing only the footprints of an occasional elk or bear.

Many of these wilderness streams, which once were stocked with trout, are no longer a destination for the familiar hatchery truck that would aid in keeping these waters healthy trout habitat. These areas were stocked prior to the 1930s and during the Great Depression the Civilian Conservation Corps worked the creeks to improve the fish habitat and actually hand-bucketed fish to the new pools created. This is part of the early history and fish stocking that produced creeks that teemed with brookies, browns and rainbows. Hatchery stocking of various species to enhance Arizona trout waters continued well into the 1980s, then a number of federal legislation and bureaucratic decisions drastically changed cold-water sport fishing in our state.

These waters were slowly strangled with the onslaught of the Endangered Species Act and the determination that game fish like the previously mentioned trout were not indigenous to the Rim waters so they should not be placed into our streams and lakes. One might actually think, since there are so few German browns in our local waters that it could be considered an endangered fish in the high mountains of Arizona! Believe it or not, it wasn’t too many years ago when there was a fishable population of arctic grayling that inhabited Bear Canyon Lake in addition to landlocked kokanee salmon in Willow Springs, Ashurst and Long Lake.

Now that Arizona has an exclusive stream, Fossil Creek, which will soon be open for those anglers wanting to sport fish for roundtail chubs, it seems logical that other waters should be restocked with cold-water game fish that we know as the real trout. I have a hunch if these game fish were reintroduced in some of their old waters, there would be an increase in the number of licenses purchased. A diverse trout fishery in the Rim Country would be an even greater attraction to the weekend angler. The other advantage is that the fishing pressure would be more widely dispersed by the numerous lakes and streams that would hold trout.

These mandates under federal jurisdiction with additional laws and actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife continue to have a negative impact on fisheries and big-game animals in the West. In Arizona, where all the money generated by outdoor sportsmen through licenses to fish and hunt plus big-game tags goes directly to managing the state’s wildlife, maybe local control is the best answer. The wildlife managers who are in the field are the “boots on the ground” who are the experts and should know their jurisdiction the best. Something is wrong when I need to send a letter or e-mail my concerns when the address is Arlington, Va., which is very much a part of the beltway mentality. We can make a difference one angler and hunter at a time.

This weekend, enjoy the Rim Country and all the wildlife, God’s creation.

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