The longer I live, the more I reminisce about fishing trips and memorable moments catching trout with friends. Many of those episodes happened right here in Rim Country well before becoming an educator at Payson High School. It was always hard to balance schoolwork, athletics, and my enthusiasm for the outdoors. Believe me, my priority list was seldom in that order. I guess that has helped me over the years to understand when families took their kids out of school for a hunt or fishing trip.
I received a bundle of old Arizona Wildlife Views that dated back to the 1960s and I started to recognize many of the cover photos. Last Saturday morning with a cup of coffee in hand, I began to re-read some of the articles that I first read about 50 years ago! Being a transplant from Iowa, big game hunting and trout fishing were new adventures that needed to be explored. Arizona Wildlife Views had numerous articles that talked about places in Arizona to hunt and fish.
The first to be read was Fishing in Arizona, a guide to available waters published in 1960 by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Places where trout had been stocked that were established fisheries provided some very interesting reading and many memorable flashbacks. Many of these listed streams had been places I had fished during high school and college, which were the origin of some great fishing stories.
Under the Mogollon Rim are several spring-fed creeks that flow for a maximum of two or three miles. They are listed in the angling guide as good fishing waters for various species of trout. The list was lengthy, mentioning Pine Creek, Dude, Bonita, Myrtle (Ellison), Webber, Dick Williams and Gordon as places to visit and catch trout. Most of these I frequented with an ultralight fishing rod, trying to outsmart the wild trout that had initially been planted many years before by pioneer Game and Fish employees.
These places have basically gone away as fishing destinations because they now have no trout or very few left from the remnant population that may have been blown out by floods or were proven unfishable because of fire damage for a few years. I have since visited many of these spring-fed streams and realize they all have perfect water temperatures and the pH readings are well within the range for optimum trout growth and reproduction. The real tragedy is that trout were not reintroduced after some of these natural disasters and these fishing locations quietly went away.
Each one of these small streams could have a self-sustaining trout population provided they would be reintroduced. Many of these creeks and others not named incurred no damage by floods after major forest fires. Consequently, habitat improvement is not necessary to make a successful transplant of reproducing trout in a variety of species.
Each potential trout water improved adds to the attractiveness of the Rim Country as a destination for new trout anglers who may be interested in a true wilderness fishing experience. There are a growing number of avid anglers who travel far and wide to match wits with wild trout that may be named Brookie, Apache, Gila, and yes, even the German Brown. The economic impact would be substantial for Payson as it is in many other small towns in the high mountains of the West, which highlight their natural resource of trout fishing.
By hearing the stories from long retired Game and Fish employees and viewing the photos taken of successful transplants of fingerling trout, one can only wonder if these waters could again have trout for the angling public. The more fishable waters available may equate to increased sales of fishing licenses to a new aspiring generation of outdoor enthusiasts who might read an article for the first time about trout fishing. The uniqueness of catching a particular species of trout attracts attention nationwide in the trout fishing fraternity. Fishing interest is generated by successfully catching fish!
Instead of reducing the fishable trout waters in the Rim Country as has happened in the last 40 years, it seems logical to increase the opportunities by examining every possible favorable habitat for expanded cold water fisheries. Catching fish, catches on. Not only will more fishing licenses be sold, but fishing stories are generated to encourage someone else to buy a fishing pole and head to the nearest lake or stream.
Good luck on your next fishing adventure and enjoy God’s creation, the great outdoors.