Last week, my longtime friend and fishing buddy, Dean Pedersen, made a trip to Sunrise Lake on a day that I couldn’t make the journey. I was anxious to hear the report, so naturally I called him a couple of times during the day while he was on the water. He chuckled during the call and said we just caught another rainbow that was shaped like a football and a little over two pounds. If you are accustomed to catching stockers in the 10 to 12 inch range, this report just makes a trout angler want to make the trip even more.
I called Jim Goughnour, owner of Rim Country Custom Rods and Repair, and we were off the next morning for a quick, half-day trip. We were on the road bright and early at 4 a.m. with the hope of getting in as much quality fishing as possible before the wind started to blow in the late morning. The 127-mile trip was less than three hours, which included a stop at McDonalds for breakfast and a stop at Hon Dah to purchase the permits for the day. The entire distance is all elk country, so driving less than the speed limit was a must as we saw several elk feeding along the road.
A day permit is only $5, which is certainly a bargain for a five-fish limit and the chance of hooking a trophy-sized rainbow or brookie.
Sunrise Lake is a very fertile body of water, with abundant food, which accelerates the growth of trout even at the elevation of 8,500 feet. A 15- to 16-inch trout is over two pounds in weight and may be some of the best fighting fish on the planet! When they are reeled in and see the boat, every fish made one last run, which often gave them their freedom from the hook.
According to the anglers we talked to, it was common to hook and maybe catch an 18- to 20-inch fish, which is an obvious holdover from the previous fishing season. There was little or no winterkill this past year, which improves the quality of fishing for this summer. A rainbow of this length will tip the scale at three to four pounds of fighting muscle, which is pure delight on lightweight gear.
As the sun rises, the fish go deeper and the best bite was at a depth of 5 to 10 feet below the surface. Fishermen that were using sinking fly line with a beaded fly were getting the best results. Most of these anglers were casting a woolly buggar in green or black, or a hopper with a very slow retrieve. We were using medium light spinning tackle with a variety of lures and spinners, which provided us with steady action until the wind started to blow at sustained speeds of over 20 miles per hour. It was time to return to the launch when the trolling motor would barely make any headway.
If you go, I would recommend cleaning your fish and packing them in ice for the trip home. There is a dumpster at the launch for this purpose. All the fish had bright orange meat, which is determined by their diet of freshwater shrimp and crawdads and the length of time they have been in the lake. It is well worth the trip and the nominal fee of $5 for a day of fishing and a $9 boat permit. Now is the time to go before the warm weather accelerates the growth of grasses, which are just now starting to spread in the shallower waters of the lake.
There are more than 20 White Mountains lakes that have excellent summer trout fishing in a high elevation, alpine climate. It is definitely a getaway from fishing the same waters. Plan a trip to the White Mountains, fish some new water, and enjoy the Arizona outdoors, God’s creation.