It is mid May and the Rim lakes have been producing limits of rainbow trout to the anglers who have already made the short trip. Water temperatures have gradually increased after the long winter and that has made the holdover trout more active and willing to bite.
These trout, which have been in the lake since last fall or before, adapt to their surroundings very well and actually take on wild trout tendencies. Their length can vary from 12 to 14 inches with a few approaching the two-pound range. Of course, the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery truck has already made a couple of stops at the more popular waters such as Willow Springs and Woods Canyon Lake and that also improves the fishing.
The harder to reach Rim lakes of Blue Ridge, Knoll, Chevelon, Bear Canyon and Black Canyon often produce the real lunkers during the springtime. The window of opportunity is determined by water temperatures after the ice is gone and the active feeding time when water temperatures rise into the 50s.
All of these lakes are near or above 7,000 feet in elevation and the trout fishing is excellent with the current optimum water temperatures. The early mornings and late afternoons with the reduced light will also trigger a very active bite. Being on the water during the early mornings and late afternoons requires an extra layer of clothing or maybe even a heavy jacket. The proper clothing will always increase the comfort and pleasure of being on the water on those cool mornings.
In the White Mountains, with lakes at higher elevations between 8,000-9,000 feet, the water will take a bit longer to warm up after ice-out, which means excellent trout fishing is just beginning. The driving time is a bit longer, but it may be well worth the trip to the alpine waters of Sunrise, Big, Reservation or Crescent Lake. Besides these more popular fishing destinations there are over 20 other smaller trout lakes in the area.
There are many techniques for spring fishing, but it is hard to beat a fly rod casting a wooly buggar to feeding trout.
Another popular method is to use a light to medium spinning rod with 4- to 6-pound test and trolling a size 1 Panther Martin or the old reliable Mepps spinner with a bucktail.
Pat Haynes and Tim Daugherty are two accomplished anglers from the Payson area who are highly successful at catching big trout in the spring. Each has a very different technique. Pat uses a spinning rod with a number 7 Rapala countdown in a shad or rainbow color. He casts the shoreline of the harder to reach coves, hunting the big ’bows and browns that are looking for their next meal.
While Tim, an avid fly-fisherman, has three favorite patterns that continually produce big fish in the spring. His fly box will always have various colors of a wooly worm pattern and a cicada look alike, which will be matching the hatch of late May and June.
Now is the time to make the short or long trip to your favorite trout lake on the Mogollon Rim or in the White Mountains. The springtime provides excellent trout fishing with a good possibility of hooking a trophy-sized rainbow or brown.
Enjoy the dawn or sunset on your favorite trout lake in the Arizona high country, God’s creation.