Big Lake - Big Fish

Dean Pedersen shows off one of several cutthroat trout he and columnist Dennis Pirch caught on a recent trip to Big Lake.

Dean Pedersen shows off one of several cutthroat trout he and columnist Dennis Pirch caught on a recent trip to Big Lake.


Summer trout fishing in Arizona is a popular way to beat the heat of the desert and maybe catch a few rainbows. High on the list for most anglers would be a trip to Big Lake, which is at 9,000 feet in elevation and situated at the base of Mt. Baldy. It is a long way from anywhere, but the paved road makes it much more accessible for trout fishing enthusiasts.

Dean Pedersen and I made plans for a quick day trip, because we had other conflicting responsibilities that made it impossible to camp and fish for two days. Neither of us had fished the lake in more than 20 years, so we just had to go. Sometimes I have to question my sanity, driving on the road at 3 a.m. dodging elk in hopes of being on the water to catch the early morning bite. It was certainly tough to not stop at Sunrise Lake where trout were dimpling the surface and continue for another 20 miles to our destination, Big Lake.

The 146-mile mid-week journey was worth it when we saw the lake with just a handful of boats on the water. We were fishing by 6:30 a.m., trying a variety of artificial lures and flies with very little success. We both like catching fish and it became apparent that we needed to try something different, so we broke out the new jars of power bait hoping to entice a bite. It didn’t take long for the action to improve.

Using ultralight spinning gear with 4-pound test line, every trout hooked made the drag sing and bent the rods in half as they put on an acrobatic aerial display. The thrill of fighting a two-pound rainbow trout on light gear made every mile of that trip worthwhile. These fish no doubt were holdovers from the previous years’ plant and had taken on wild fish tendencies including a bright pink flesh from their lake diet of various aquatic morsels.

Three of the fish we caught were 16 to 18 inches and had slightly different markings, which required a closer look. The prominent red slash below the gill plate on each identified these 2-1/2 pound fish as cutthroat trout. Big Lake also has a sizable population of Apache and brook trout, which certainly adds to the lake’s attractiveness.

By mid-day we had our limits and were ready to get off the water as a looming thunderstorm was brewing on Mt. Baldy. While it was over 100 degrees in Payson, I was fishing all morning in a sweatshirt, relishing the cool climate of 9,000 feet.

There is a “ state of the art” fish cleaning station near the store, which made the trip even better as we cleaned the fish and packed them in ice for the return trip.

The Big Lake store has a variety of camping and fishing products for sale, as well as a complete fleet of aluminum boats as daily rentals. It is worth the trip, but it is so difficult to pass by the turnoffs to Woods Canyon, Willow Springs and Black Canyon Lake right here in our Rim Country and continue to the White Mountains and Big Lake. But sometimes, one just has to be adventurous and fish a lake that is off the beaten path.

This weekend, take a child fishing so they can enjoy God’s creation.


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