Man, I’m flying.
Well, I’m not flying, exactly — but my little caddis fly dry pattern is whipping back and forth overhead with the insectish verisimilitude of Superman in 3-D.
I’m like, golden, dude, standing on the wet crossing of the East Verde with enough fly line unfurling overhead to make two first downs. I kid you not: I’m that good.
Rainbows rise on every hand, each setting off little ripples of hope.
Some hungry monster trout noses the water off to my right — daring me.
I let loose my long line. The imitation insect alights on the water just above my target. It floats sluggishly downstream — perfectly placed.
Float. Float. Float.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Recover. Recoil. Backcast. Let loose. Repeat.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
I stifle a riffle of stress.
Now, normally, I’d be perfectly happy just to have so much fly line in the air all at once, working a stretch of water that definitely has fish in it on a work day.
But I made a big mistake a couple of days ago. I stopped to chat with Dennis Pirch, our outdoor columnist. We quickly agreed to link arms in a crusade to promote the East Verde River as a trout stream. Arizona Game and Fish and the Payson Chapter of Trout Unlimited have already developed a plan to improve the trout habitat there. The timing’s perfect, since the Town of Payson has lots of heavy equipment up there to build the Blue Ridge pipeline, and an unused $250,000 in the budget for stream habitat enhancement.
But I digress.
I was going to explain how the seemingly benign Dennis Pirch complicated my effort to reach a higher state of consciousness with a fly line mantra. See, I made the mistake of bragging to Dennis about my last East Verde outing. He’s the outdoor icon I have ever aspired to become. He’s done things like water ski behind a sturgeon the length of Roosevelt Lake, train wolf cubs as bird dogs and teach grizzly bears how to break a double arm bar wrestling hold. So he’s a little intimidating for an outdoors duffer like me. But I don’t have that many wham-bam trout days, so I’d be jiggered if I wasn’t going to brag a little. Fortunately, I had the foresight not to reveal my tally: Which totaled three.
He congratulated me enthusiastically — seemingly sincere. He’s like that: Gratingly generous in spirit. He said he loves fishing the East Verde. Said a friend of his worked the creek last week. Said he caught and released more than 30 trout.
Thirty. THIRTY. As in three dozen. Thirty.
So here I am again, casting my fly upon the waters. I’ve never in my life had 30 nibbles, never mind, three dozen trout in hand. So, I’m like, feeling pressure.
Doesn’t help that I know I’m up against a bunch of clueless hatchery rainbows — and still not catching anything.
Turns out, hatchery rainbows are the aimless and stunted offspring of some pretty awesome wild trout.
Rainbow trout emerged as their own species in the ebb and flow of a sequence of Ice Ages some 40,000 years ago, as the advance and retreat of the ice sheets and glaciers created and then isolated a great network lakes and rivers.
The beautiful rainbows wound up in a series of streams along the Pacific Coast of North America.
They’re genetically almost identical to steelheads, which start off as little trout in headwater streams and lakes before migrating out into the great blue ocean. There, they live for 11 years and grow to 55 pounds. They eventually return to the rivers of their birth like salmon, swimming upstream to spawn. By contrast, the largest rainbow caught in Arizona came out of Willow Beach in the Colorado River — a 32-inch-long beast that tipped the scales at 22 pounds, 5.5 ounces.
Now endangered, mostly as a result of all our dam building, steelhead trout still haunt the oceans and swim to a handful of headwaters to continue the ancient cycle. One recent study by researchers from Oregon State University discovered that ocean-going steelheads continue to mix their genes (delicate phrase, that) with wild rainbows, which never venture out to sea. In fact, the study found that 40 percent of the genes in the struggling steelhead population came from the still-wild rainbows. Interestingly, the hatchery rainbows apparently mingle genetically very little with the steelheads or their wild rainbow cousins. The study suggests wild rainbows and ocean steelheads are really a single species, with a mysteriously diverse lifestyle.
That strikes me as very interesting — although not particularly helpful with my developing spiritual crisis.
I cast again. The fly floats down through a whole crater field of ripples left by rising trout. No bite. No nibble. No heart-stopping swirl below the surface.
At this moment, a giant trout — maybe a steelhead — launches himself from the stream, traveling in a graceful arch over my fly, before landing on the far side with a thunderous splash. In fact, the wave sinks my fly, like a fleet of garbage barges in a tsunami.
That’s it. I don’t have to take this. I’m gonna get my camera.
Just do me one favor: Don’t tell Dennis.
Arizona Game and Fish Weekly Fishing Report
High country trout hot spots include Crescent Lake, Big Lake, Nelson Reservoir and the Greer lakes in the Springerville and Greer areas, Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes on the Mogollon Rim, and Show Low Creek, Show Low Lake and Silver Creek in the Show Low-Pinetop area. James Goughnour of Rim Country Custom Rods reports trout fishing is excellent, with lots of anglers reporting good numbers and quality of trout. PowerBaits and salmon eggs reported extremely successful this past week. Small spinner baits such as a Super Duper, as well as Panther Martins, are working well on an ultra-light rod. Fly anglers continued to have success using Crickhoppers, which is a cricket imitation bait in the early morning and late evening. Look for ledges or overhangs that have a pool. Most every one of them will be holding trout. And don’t forget Green Valley Lake here in Payson.
Lake elevation is 2,106 feet, 52 percent full). Goughnour says Tonto Creek is flowing at 40 percent of normal, while the Salt River is close to 70 percent of normal. Shallow water temperatures in the mid-80s, with algae growth. Bass fishing was
considered good to excellent this past week. The top-water bite has slowed as bass move out to feed on shad schools, so watch for bass chasing shad usually in shallow water in coves or at the shoreline. Keep a rod rigged on the deck with a top-water bait such as a Rico, Zara Spook or a Super Fluke. As the sun gets higher, bass will seek deeper water so then try a weightless Senko, dropshot, Texas rig or Carolina rig in 15 to 25 feet of water.
Mogollon Rim Lakes
Note: Due to high and increasing fire danger, Stage 2 fire restrictions are in effect on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in Apache, Navajo and Greenlee counties. Stage 2 fire restrictions prohibit the following: any type of campfire (except gas stoves) even in developed campgrounds; smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle or building; discharging a firearm except while engaged in a lawful hunt; and operating an internal combustion engine (motor vehicles operated on designated roads are exempt).
Bear Canyon Lake
Fair to good with weekly stockings.
Black Canyon Lake
Fair, with reports of high catch rates — mostly stockers. The water level is 6.8 feet below spill, and the boat ramp may be getting difficult to use.
Good for boat anglers using lures and fair for shore anglers. The lake is full.
Willow Springs Lake
Good, with weekly stockings of 3,000 rainbow trout.
Woods Canyon Lake
Good. The store is open and boat rentals are available.
Bear Canyon Lake
Tonto Creek Bear Flat
East Verde River