With the return of intermittent monsoon storms, the national forests have reopened.
That is good news to be able to get back into the forests, but the creeks below the Rim are exceptionally shallow as a result of very little snowpack this past winter.
Even with these most recent rains, the ground is so dry that the amount of water that has gotten to the creeks has not been enough to help our lakes and streams in Rim Country which are still suffering.
The water is certainly clearer and the lower flows concentrate the trout in the fewer remaining pools, which would seem to lead to easier fishing; however, these low water conditions are extremely tough on the trout.
Trout need water that is cold, clean and with a lot of dissolved oxygen in it for them to thrive. When temperatures rise above 64 degrees, the trout feel the effects. If the water temperatures climb to over 68 degrees, they become stressed, and often the dissolved oxygen in the water is depleted under these higher temperatures. The trout will hunker down, seeking out any cool springs they can find, and will struggle until the water temperature cools again.
As a catch-and-release angler, I generally stop fishing when the water gets this warm and the trout in the streams may not be able to handle any additional stress. The conditions in the hatcheries are better than the streams, as Tonto and Canyon creek hatcheries are fed directly from springs just above their facilities. That provides them with the coldest and most well oxygenated water available.
When the hatchery trucks deliver fish to the lakes and streams, they first take readings to assess temperature, pH, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen to make sure that the water is acceptable to receive the fish.
Another consideration that is familiar to anyone who owns an aquarium is the need to have similar temperatures in the water the fish are currently in, and where they will reside. That works well when you buy a fish from a store for your aquarium, as the floated bag with the new fish gives the water in the bag a chance to slowly adjust to the aquarium water. Once that occurs, the fish can be released safely.
This poses a problem for the hatchery trucks during severely warm summer water conditions. If the temperature of the water in the truck’s tank is significantly colder than the stream’s water temperature, then the trout could immediately stress and die at the shock of the temperature difference.
Recent temperature readings on Haigler Creek approached 74 degrees and would be way too warm for stocking. Canyon Creek Hatchery has attempted to stock the East Verde River on a couple occasions recently, only to find that the stream conditions and temperature were not sufficient to receive fish. Instead of stocking the trout, they returned with them to the hatchery.
I appreciate this monitoring of conditions by AZGFD and their care in not stocking fish that could quickly succumb to poor water conditions. It is better to keep the fish, wait for better conditions, and stock the trout then. This summer, that might mean that certain streams might not get stocked during a particular week.
While Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes are feeling the effects as well, and their lake levels are impacted by minimal snowpack and rainfall, they at least have colder water immediately available to the fish, and their stocking schedule will most likely not be impacted.
As a fly fisher who fishes from shore, fishing for trout in these lakes during the summer is futile during the middle of the day. Anglers do well however, fishing depths of 15 feet or more, where the water is cooler and within the comfort range for trout.
I hope for a lot of rain during this monsoon to protect our forests, as well as to provide some relief for the trout in the streams; and I really hope for several big snowstorms this winter to refill the lakes and prime the springs that feed the streams for next year.