Losing Lobo’S Respect On The Banks Of Haigler Creek

A fly-fishing challenged photographer faces a fateful choice

Haigler Creek doesn’t get nearly the attention of other spring-fed creeks flowing off the face of the Mogollon Rim, but it does harbor wild brown and rainbow trout — and may offer a refuge for the return of the Gila trout.

Haigler Creek doesn’t get nearly the attention of other spring-fed creeks flowing off the face of the Mogollon Rim, but it does harbor wild brown and rainbow trout — and may offer a refuge for the return of the Gila trout. |

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“This time, we’re going to fish,” I said flintily to Lobo, as he jumped down out of the Jeep at the Fisherman’s Point parking area off Colcord Road. He landed lightly on four paws, cocked his head, and studied me skeptically.

“What?” I said.

He made no reply.

“Oh,” I said, shrugging into my fisherman’s vest then slinging my camera bag over my shoulder. “You think just because I take my camera, I ain’t gonna fish.”

He sat down in the dust, trying to keep the judgment out of his enormous brown-gold eyes.

“I don’t know why I even bother talking to you,” I said. “Let’s go.”

So off we went, down the steep, short drop-in to Haigler Creek, which I’ve wanted to explore ever since attending a meeting in Payson about plans to reintroduce the endangered Gila trout into a mile or two of the beautiful, little-known creek, one of a cascade of spring-fed creeks running off the face of the imposing Mogollon Rim.

Each creek harbors secrets and offers delights –— Canyon, Chevelon, Christopher and Clear creeks — Haigler and Horton, Webber and Wet Beaver, the Salt and the Silver. And that’s not even counting the beloved East Verde, Fossil and Tonto creeks, the wet trinity of public renown.

But now I’d resolved to sample the least accessible stretch of Haigler. I’d been hooked by hearing a fellow with the kind of fly-fishing credibility I have only in luminous and fitful dreams talk about the giant wild brown trout of Haigler Creek.

Now, I’m not really much of a fisherman. I rely on well-stocked pools full of hatchery-dumb rainbows, used to fish food from orange buckets. Even then, I only succeed fitfully. I think I have a specialized form of ADHD that’s activated by late light, glinting off hidden pools. I cannot concentrate on riffles when I’m thinking about polarizers and wondering if the light will get even better in another 15 minutes.

So I trundled down the blocked off jeep trail leading down to the creek, deeply eroded and tumbled with ankle-turning rocks and shards.

The plunge brought me soon enough to Haigler. Hitting the stream, I paused and considered the options: a meander upstream through the forest or a turn downstream into a granite narrows.

Lobo didn’t hesitate — no doubt calculating that the narrows would hold far more deep pools and wild trout.

“All right,” I said agreeably — “downstream we go.”

Lobo looked back over his shoulder, his whole body flashing with the joy of wild places. Lobo’s got a lot of wolf in him, but also some kind of weird cross with a Buddhist on a reincarnation lark. He makes me want to be a better person.

He likes it when I talk to him. That’s why I do it. Honest.

So I followed Lobo into the narrows, my fly rod catching on every passing bit of brush. If Laurel and Hardy went fishing, it would look just like me making my way through the narrows — down to the water’s edge, back up the slope over boulders to avoid a swimming pool, then back down to the water — snagging a feisty oak bush every couple of minutes.

Lobo picked out a nice pool and waited for me there, marking my advance by the crackling of brush and the muttering of curses.

I stood beside him and surveyed his find: Nice spillover entering the 6-foot-deep pool, with a perfect overhang on either side.

“Good choice,” I said. “You’re learning.”

He offered the suggestion of a wag: Nothing overt. Couldn’t tell for sure whether he was pleased or just patronizing me.

So I pulled out my gear and threaded on a fly as he went dancing off downstream.

I experimented for about 15 minutes with catching various overhanging tree limbs. Practicing my flick, entangle and recovery. A casting challenged angler like myself ought to bring waders and stand in the middle of the stream, with nothing to the rear to catch the backcast. But I keep thinking I can sidearm the little bugger and drop it adeptly wherever I deem best. I also think I can write news stories twice as fast as I can actually write them — after 40 years of practice. I also think that my kids value my opinion and I still look 40.

I finally found a spot where I could actually get my fly wet and made six or seven acceptable casts with no sign of interest from the hidden trout.

That’s when I really noticed the shapely spillover that adorned the head of the pool. Idly, I wondered how the spillover would look with a one second shutter speed.

Two casts later, I noticed a nice rock perfectly position to serve as a tripod. I didn’t bring a tripod so that I could fish.

Next thing I knew, I had set aside my fly rod and made an ungainly leap for the rock, holding my camera high overhead. Very successful: Didn’t get wet more than about halfway between knee and butt.

Well, one thing leads to another.

A bit later, I looked up to see Lobo looking down at me, shaking his big, hairy head.

“What?” I said.

He just sighed.

“Get off my case,” I said huffily. “It’s not like I was going to give you a trout even if I caught one.”

He cocked his head and caught a whiff of something. He looked up the hill into a thicket — then went bounding off, leaving me damp and defensive.

I turned back to my rock tripod and started twisting the polarizer.

“Dumb dog,” I muttered. “What’s he know about photography? Don’t even have any fingers.”

So I used up the rest of the light fiddling with F-stops and shutter speeds.

And I got a couple of decent pictures: Keepers even.

But you should have seen the one that got away.

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