Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: By week’s end, we’re gonna have some fish in the creek sufficiently wide-eyed and innocent for me to catch.
And I’ve got all my flies — wet and dry — fit to be tied and waiting in their little foam padded plastic boxes.
I’ve got flies so lively they’ll make a lunker laugh.
I’ve got lures so luscious they’ll make a lunker linger.
I’ve even got a raccoon-approved backup plan, thanks to Tonto Creek Hatchery co-manager Bruce Denova: A pocket full of pebbles.
But then, I’ve buried the lead.
Because here’s the deal: This week my very best favorite public servants in all of public servantdom will start putting fat, innocent, trout-farm dumb fish into the East Verde, Christopher, Haigler and Tonto creeks — most likely starting Wednesday.
Thus inaugurates my very best favorite go-to-work-late, leave-work-early season of the year: Fishing season.
Now, most days I merely amuse all those riffling rainbows, floating my fluff flies over their upturned noses, prompting finny nudges and piscine amusement.
But this year’s different: This year Bruce told me how the raccoons that slip through the fence at the hatchery fish for trout swirling about in the fish runs.
The Arizona Game and Fish hatchery crews will load up water trucks full of those selfsame trout this week for the first stocking of the year. That means putting more than 300 fish in the three northern creeks — Haigler, Tonto and Christopher starting tomorrow. Then Thursday or Friday, they’ll dump another 600 trout in the East Verde River at a more than a dozen highly classified sites between Whispering Pines and East Verde Estates.
This alone would make me love them. But they’re going to do it every week all summer — unless the frightening fire danger forces a closure.
Mostly, I’m happy because trout fishing remains the most socially acceptable way to waste an entire afternoon I’ve yet discovered.
But, of course, it also supports Rim Country’s poor, battered economy.
Fishermen pump about $47 million annually into Gila County’s economy, according to a 2001 study by economists from Northern Arizona University commissioned by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The study showed that the 414,000 days folks spend fishing in Gila County supports about 800 jobs, $7.5 million in wages and $1.8 million in taxes.
Statewide, anglers have an economic impact of $1.3 billion, which supports 17,000 jobs and generates $58 million in tax revenue for the state.
The Tonto Creek Hatchery provides all the trout stocked into Rim Country streams and many of the fish plopped into the lakes along the Rim.
The hatchery also hatches the eggs of a passel of native Apache trout, grows them to about three inches in length and then ships them to another hatchery near Show Low. That hatchery grows them big enough to be put into lakes and streams — mostly cold, high-altitude streams in the White Mountains. The fish hatchery program has not only snatched the golden, native Apache trout from the spillway of extinction and sustain a unique, native fishery.
But mostly, the hatchery grows rainbows for the thriving put-and-take fishery that helps drive Rim Country’s vital tourist economy.
The good-hearted, Santa Claus hatchery guys also kept about 1,200 fish from last year, so they could grow into the monsters of my dreams — and my “he-snapped-off-the-tip-of-my-pole” stories for the debriefings back at the Buffalo.
Denova says everything looks good for the first release of the year this week.
“I haven’t heard anything about closures, but no doubt it’ll be a dry year. We just haven’t seen the precipitation we should. But we’re going to assume we’re going to have enough normalcy we can stock all summer.”
Ah. Normalcy. Let us hope.
Either way: This year, I’m gonna nail it for I know the secret of the raccoons.
Turns out, fish-filching raccoons’ regular raids are among of Denova’s biggest headaches at the hatchery. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to deal with sushi-loving river otters — like the poor smoodlahs at the Pipe Springs Hatchery on the Verde River.
Moreover, he’s roofed over the runs, which helps keep out riffraff like bald eagles and great blue herons.
The raccoons, however, are another matter. Wearing masks, they come and go freely. They’ve even learned how to fish for hatchery trout.
“They’ll drop a pebble in the water,” said Denova. “The fish think it’s feeding time and come over in a bunch, so the raccoons can grab ’em.”
So now I got pebbles in my pocket and a song in my heart: I’m ready.