Catch, But Then Carefully Release, Rare, Wild Brown Trout

The brilliantly spotted German Brown trout found in many Rim Country streams are the wild spawn of fish stocked decades ago.

The brilliantly spotted German Brown trout found in many Rim Country streams are the wild spawn of fish stocked decades ago.


The trout-fishing season is in full swing with all the Rim lakes and major streams being stocked on a regular schedule. Bodies of water such as the East Verde, Tonto, Christopher, Woods Canyon and Willow Springs are stocked weekly with catchable rainbows. If the fish are biting, a six-fish limit is very likely for the more determined anglers. A fresh trout dinner, whether over the campfire or in the skillet at home, makes for delicious table fare.

On a rare occasion, anglers hook a trout other than a rainbow in one of the lakes or streams in the Rim Country. This fish will have a golden brown color with distinct red dots on its sides. When hooked, instead of going airborne like a rainbow they go deep and look for the closest cover.

I remember distinctly the first German Brown trout I caught back in 1967 in Barbershop Canyon, which are the headwaters of East Clear Creek. While fishing with a high school friend, Mike Foree, I hooked a 10-inch trout with those unique markings, so different from the rainbows. As I later learned, it was a German Brown.


Dennis Pirch photo

The brilliantly spotted German Brown trout found in many Rim Country streams are the wild spawn of fish stocked decades ago.

In the early years of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the agency stocked the wilderness waters with this species of trout. The German Brown can withstand the warmer summer water temperatures of many Arizona streams. The deeper pools of Tonto, Haigler and Canyon Creek were perfect for these fish to grow to trophy size. Of course, Chevelon Lake and Blue Ridge also grew famous for big browns.

Jim Barrett, longtime wildlife manager to the Payson area would often plant fingerling German Browns in some of the spring-fed stock tanks during the winter months. In 1991, Tom Lister and Dave Carrothers made one of the last plants of fingerling browns by mule into the wilderness area of Haigler Creek. Those fish have naturally reproduced and a remnant population of wild browns remains in that creek.

Because of lawsuits based on the Endangered Species Act and the plight of native fish, the cold-water fisheries program for Arizona has changed markedly in the past 20 years. Basically, the trout planting and stocking program is now predominantly rainbow trout. The surviving browns are descendants of German Browns stocked a generation ago!

I would encourage you trout anglers to do your part. If you catch a brown, take good care of it by keeping it in the water and wetting your hands before touching the fish. A needle nose pliers will remove the barbs from of the fish’s jaw while keeping the fish in the water. Take a quick picture, and release it to the stream or lake because natural reproduction is the only way a fishable population of this species of trout will continue to exist in the Rim Country.

Maintaining a variety of trout species will sustain the interest of anglers and may encourage more Arizonans to buy fishing licenses. If you enjoy a trout dinner, then catch a limit of rainbows; they are very tasty, fresh out of the water and into the skillet. When you hook a deep-running, hard-fighting rare German Brown, carefully release it back to the water so that natural reproduction will maintain a fishable population in the Rim Country.

This weekend, take a child fishing and enjoy God’s creation.


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