With all of the trout lakes and streams along the Mogollon Rim that are so convenient, it is sometimes difficult to break the habit of fishing the same waters.
This past week, I did just that and ventured 90 minutes farther up Highway 260 to the White Mountains. It was tough not turning left on the Tonto Fish Hatchery Road, at Woods Canyon, and finally Willow Springs, but driving farther on the 260 toward the Pinetop-Lakeside area I was in the heart of another trout fishing bonanza.
There are 42 different lakes and numerous streams that range in an elevation from 6,500 to 9,500 feet, which create a variety of fishing habitat and overall scenic beauty.
The drive from Payson is very picturesque, with an abundance of wildlife so it is important to be alert, especially in the reduced light periods of dawn and dusk.
The trip was relaxing and full of anticipation of wetting a line in at least a couple of lakes during a long summer day’s outing.
The drive over, brought back memories of a multitude of wrestling trips to Show Low, Blue Ridge and Round Valley high schools where we had the fiercest of competition with school pride on the line every time. But, once the wrestling was done, the conversation among the coaches turned to fishing. There were stories of catching the big one, which always had to be backed up with a photo. Believe me, there were some “eye popping” pictures of the latest big trout that had come from one of the White Mountain area lakes.
Reminiscing about these past memories created even more anticipation of dropping a line into Sunrise, A-1, Horseshoe or Big Lake.
Mid-July ushers in the dog days of summer for trout fishing, so techniques may vary from dragging flies and spinners in the early morning and late evening to fishing PowerBait, corn, and worms during the heat of the day. I am not necessarily a bait fisherman, but if that is what does the trick to catch 14- to 18-inch football-shaped trout, then I am in!
There was no winterkill in these high elevation shallow lakes, so the carry-over fish were extremely healthy, with a two-pound fish being the norm. Once a fish was hooked, the fight was on. They never seem to tire and always made another run as they approached the boat.
Most of these trout left the hatchery a year or two ago and became permanent residents in many of these fertile lakes where trout can grow quickly. These rainbows adapted well and took on many wild fish characteristics.
Because of a trout’s changing diet to insects, crawdads and freshwater shrimp, the color of the flesh will eventually become an orange or salmon color, which makes for a delicious trout dinner.
With so many trout lakes within a radius of 30 miles of the Pinetop area, the fishing pressure is minimal at most waters, especially for a visit during the week.
If you choose to venture onto the White Mountain Apache Reservation make sure you purchase the $7 daily license. Many of their lakes and streams are heavily stocked with a wide variety of fish, and most of their waters have the unique Apache trout native to the eastern section of Arizona. Brook trout, German browns, and grayling are also found in certain lakes and streams in the area.
During the monsoon season the summer storms develop early over Mt. Baldy and a small, innocent looking white cloud at 9 a.m. will quickly build into a formidable thunderhead before noon. They are all accompanied by lightning, so keep an eye to the sky and make sure you have plenty of time to get to the safety of your vehicle. A boat and a fishing pole are definite lightning rods on these high mountain lakes. These summer storms pass quickly and are over within a couple of hours, which allows you to be safely back on the water in the later afternoon.
It is hard to beat the Rim Country, but you need to put the White Mountains on your summer fishing calendar. For a change of pace and a variety of species of trout to be caught by the angler, the 2-1/2 hour drive east is well worth the time.
This year many of these lakes have larger fish and a trophy-sized trout on ultralight gear or a fly rod is a real thrill.
This weekend, enjoy the Arizona outdoors — God’s creation.