The Rim Country offers a variety of trout fishing opportunities within an hour’s drive of Payson. One of the most popular is Tonto Creek, only 17 miles east of town on Highway 260. Because of its popularity, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has a weekly stocking program from mid-April until the end of October.
The majority of fish are rainbow trout in the 8- to 12-inch range which are considered catchables for the hundreds of visitors that frequent these waters on any summer weekend. These are the fish that are very easy to catch and will soon be dangling from a stringer of a proud angler who no doubt will return to the Rim Country for future trips. It is important to recognize that successful fishing outings encourage return fishing trips to the same area.
During the stocking season, each week there are always some incentive or bonus fish placed in the stream that will get any angler excited. What a thrill it is to peek over the next boulder on the creek and see one of those 16- to 18-inch or larger rainbows rising to the surface for insects in the next pool! I had that experience last week — and what a great fight on a fly rod as the fish raced from one hiding place to another in one of the newly created deeper pools. I do eat an occasional trout, but I let this “two pound plus” beauty go so that someone else could have the thrill of catching a trophy fish in a small stream.
Last winter more than 25 of these new pools were created on upper Tonto Creek by the Arizona Game and Fish Department with the assistance of numerous volunteer groups. Each one was strategically designed to hold fish and enhance the overall habitat of the stream. Huge boulders and logs were placed and secured to create new pools that have improved the habitat and will make for better fishing with each successive year, barring any major flooding on the upper Tonto.
Other local streams are on the planning board for future improvements that will certainly enhance the stream fishing in the Rim Country on waters like the East Verde River and Haigler Creek. These are waters that already have scheduled summer stocking programs for the crowds of weekend anglers from the Valley trying to escape the heat and catch a trout for the frying pan. When these waters receive the habitat improvement, the benefit will be far reaching with a better fishery with more places to fish for the crowds of weekend visitors. I might add, there are more places to explore for the locals during the week when there is much less foot traffic.
There are many other secondary streams that would benefit from this project and are perfect for the reintroduction of the Gila, Apache, rainbow, German brown or brook trout. All of these species of trout existed in the Rim Country from stockings that were done during the 1930s and before. A couple of these waters had thriving populations of brook trout that were very well adapted to the small creeks where it was possible to catch and release as many as 50 trout in an afternoon of sneaking from pool to pool! There are not many local anglers who are even aware that this fabulous brook trout fishery existed just a few miles from Payson.
All of these trout waters are valuable resources and the improvements are finally beginning to happen, thanks to the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the leadership of Natalie Robb, the area field supervisor for the department.
The obvious benefit is the enjoyment of stream fishing for trout in the cool Rim Country, in addition to the positive economic impact of the tourist dollars spent in Payson when these anglers visit our local trout waters.
This weekend enjoy the Arizona outdoors, God’s creation.
Remember, much of the Tonto National Forest is closed do to extreme fire danger.