I look forward to this time of year to fly fish for rainbow and tiger trout in Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes. During the summer, fly fishing these lakes from shore is often hit or miss; but during a very short window in the fall, these fish are close to shore and hungry!
A friend, Dave Rozema, and I went to both lakes this past week and at one point we lost count of how many fish we caught because the action was so fast and furious. Initially, we were fishing rather deep with wooly buggers stripped at different speeds to try to gauge what the fish wanted. We both changed flies a number of times and Dave started catching fish on a cream-colored wooly bugger. I put on a white one and began to have success as well. In fact, I caught my biggest tiger trout so far, a hefty 15-incher.
The other aspect of stripping wooly buggers or streamers for trout at this time of year is the way that they chase the flies. Often, a fish would miss the first time, but as I stripped the fly closer and could watch it, I could actually see the fish aggressively attack the fly. The cooler water temperatures seems to have given them their energy back, and they are hungry.
Part of the challenge of fishing these lakes at this time of year is that it can be very cold and windy! That was the case when we were fishing. We kept shifting to spots that would make it a little easier to get our casts out, and be a bit more comfortable for us out of the wind. As the day got warmer, trout even began to surface feed.
When the action really peaked, it seemed that almost every second or third cast resulted in a hook-up. I was finding that about half of the fish I hooked were coming off after a short fight. Fly fishers like to call that a long distance release! I actually like long distance releases because I prefer to handle the trout as little as possible. Since I use barbless hooks, often when I net a fish it will come unhooked in the net and a simple lowering of the net results in a quick release and back to fishing.
I am a bit unusual when it comes to the flies I use. It is not uncommon for me to change from a fly that is working well, to try another one. My point in doing that is not to stop catching fish, but rather to do a little experimenting. I can always go back to the one that was working, but maybe the new one will work even better. I also typically fish with two flies at once, which is allowed in Arizona. The fish were still hitting the white wooly buggers, but also began taking our bead-head pheasant tails. I shifted to my typical rig that I use at Green Valley Lakes, which is an indicator with two bead-heads of different size and color about 18 inches apart. When I cast the flies out and let them sink, I would often get a strike. If I moved the flies a little after they had settled in short six-inch pulls imitating a rising aquatic insect, that too would elicit a bite.
I continued to catch trout on both flies. In fact, I had a number of strikes to my hookless foam indicator! With that information, I knew that I could make a third switch to dry flies and keep catching fish. I have caught trout in the past on dry flies in both lakes and really enjoy it. When I go back, which will be soon, that may be what I start with.
There are several access points to Willow Springs Lake that are still open. The boat ramp at Woods Canyon Lake is open, but the store is closed. The Spillway access at Woods Canyon Lake is also closed. I encourage you to head up to Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes while the trout are active and before the ice starts to form.