This has been a strange year for weather, and the impact that it has had on streams in Rim Country. While some streams have really seemed to benefit from the monsoon, others have remained at risk for trout; and one in particular, the East Verde River, still continues to struggle.
Last year at this time, I fished the East Verde River sometimes three times a week. The water flow was fantastic, the water temperatures were great, and the Gila trout were a blast to catch. The East Verde River is really influenced by minimal snowpack and low summer flows. The bulk of the East Verde River’s volume depends on what is sent through the pipeline from the C.C. Cragin Reservoir. This is in contrast to other Rim Country streams like Tonto Creek, Horton Creek, and Christopher Creek, which are primarily fed by spring water that results from snowmelt that seeps down through the rock layers from the Rim to the springs that form their headwaters.
The East Verde River flows last spring, summer, and fall were phenomenal as a result of a full reservoir and the movement of water down the East Verde to the Verde and ultimately the Valley as SRP delivered water for Payson and Valley users. Fishers like me were happy to take advantage of the extra water, as were the Gila trout.
The flow from Cragin Reservoir down into the East Verde acts a bit like a tailwater. That is, the pipeline provided a large, cold supply of water perfect for trout from the depths of the reservoir. This is great when water is flowing strongly out of the reservoir, but if the flows are low, the intermittent nature of the East Verde River reappears. There are stretches under low water conditions that cause the river to dry up and go underground, then re-emerge further down the channel. The area above Third Crossing and Whispering Pines, for example, often goes dry under low water conditions.
Because snowpack was minimal this winter, Cragin Reservoir was down to just a little over 20% full for much of the spring and summer. That resulted in SRP only releasing a minimal flow of water through the pipeline to satisfy the water needs of Payson for about six weeks this summer. There was very little additional water that was released down the East Verde during that window, which did not benefit the flow of the river or help conditions for trout.
Even with the fabulous rains that we have received so far this summer, the East Verde’s pattern is to flow muddy and heavy during the storms, and then quickly return to almost the same low flows the next day or so after a heavy rain, and then drop to the trickle that has been characteristic throughout this summer. After heavy rains, the stream temperatures still continue to be too high for trout, so the East Verde River has not been stocked for well over a month. Since flow and temperature conditions remain poor on the East Verde, that has resulted in the Arizona Game and Fish Department making a shift in Gila stockings in Rim Country for the next few weeks.
Canyon Creek Hatchery, where these recreational stockings of Gila trout originate, will deliver Gila trout to Christopher Creek and Haigler Creek to compensate for the inability to stock the East Verde River. Christopher Creek and Haigler Creek have also both struggled a bit with temperatures and flows this summer, but have returned in much better shape than the East Verde River.
So anglers who enjoy fishing those two creeks will get a bonus of Gila trout for at least the first couple weeks of September, while a supply of Gila trout lasts at Canyon Creek Hatchery. Certainly flows and water conditions will continue to drive AZGFD’s ability to stock, but as the fall air temperature helps cool off the water temperature, things are looking up for trout and trout fishing. Remember that the daily bag limit for trout is four fish.
I do well with Gilas while fishing bead-heads or zebra midges under an indicator. They also will attack a wooly bugger stripped through a hole with great enthusiasm. In the right situation, Gila trout will also take dry flies or small hoppers.
They are most comfortable in deep holes, especially with cut banks. Gila trout will also utilize faster current that hides their profile. They like rock ledges, grass overhangs, sweepers, and boulders that provide a covered resting point while they feed.