This is great time to fish for trout in Rim Country. Even though I will always choose a stream over a lake to fish for trout, there are two times in the year that I make fishing Woods Canyon or Willow Springs a priority — spring and fall.
I had so much fun last fall before the ice restricted shore access that I couldn’t wait for a chance to get back this spring. The tigers often hit the fly hard and are great fighters once hooked.
As a fly fisherman who doesn’t own a float tube or a boat, I am limited in my lake fishing for trout to when they are close to shore. Last fall when the water temperature cooled, several of us had a ball catching tiger trout and rainbows with a variety of flies.
That is not to say that I didn’t have to work for the fish. On some days I probably changed flies 10 to 15 times trying to find out what they wanted. On other days, it seemed that many flies would do the trick. A white wooly bugger allowed to sink several feet before retrieving in short strips was often a great fly last fall. If the fish were closer to the surface, a stimulator dry fly with a zebra midge dropper about three feet below the dry fly would be very productive.
I had driven up to fish Canyon Creek earlier in the week with a friend and saw that the gate to Willow Springs Lake was open. So two days later I headed up to give the lake a try. It is full and the fish seem hungry.
The winter was tough on the dock. It is floating about 50 yards from shore, so if you are planning to use a boat, be prepared to load directly from the ramp.
The trout on my trip were cooperative. On the day I was there, they were interested in flies that were at least three feet down. Pheasant tail, prince nymph, and hare’s ear bead-heads or copper johns in size 12-14 under an indicator should work. You might also try white, green, or black weighted woolly buggers (size 8-12) stripped in short jerks a bit deeper.
There are multiple access points to Willow Springs to consider if the boat ramp area is crowded. As you drive down toward the boat ramp, there is a road and parking area a few hundred yards to the right shortly before entering the ramp parking lot. That parking lot offers great access to the lake and good fishing as well.
If both of those areas are crowded, then there is a small parking area further east on 260. This parking area isn’t real obvious, but if you are able to see the lake from 260, you will see that parking area as well. A short walk in from the parking area will bring you to a rather secluded part of the lake that is fun to fish.
Just a little farther east on 260 is the road to Sardine Point (FR 148) on the left. The advantage to fishing from this point is that there are two arms to the lake that can be fished avoiding the prevailing winds on the lake — which is always helpful to a fly fisher.
Temperatures on the Rim are still quite a bit cooler than in Payson, especially if the wind is blowing.
Woods Canyon Lake should be opening soon, however the gate to the 300 road was still closed when I checked on April 5. If that is your destination, I’d suggest calling the Apache-Sitgreaves Black Mesa Ranger District Office (928-535-7300) before heading to the lake.
Rainbows and tigers will be stocked in both lakes every week, so fishing should continue to be good for spin and bait fishermen through the summer. Fly fishers should take advantage of the cooler temperatures the next few weeks to intercept the tigers and rainbows patrolling the shoreline.