As an angler, I am always happy to see winter snowstorms. Yes, I have been known to be out in heavy snows happily casting for trout. Sometimes it gets a bit more challenging and annoying when you have to chip the ice that has accumulated on your rod guides, but generally the silence that comes with a deep snowfall, and the solitude on the stream make it worthwhile.
Of course, it is important to have some hope for success during these chilling outings. This is often when I head up to a particular stretch of Tonto Creek. That is because road access is generally good, and the winter snows deliver brown trout to Tonto Creek from Horton Creek.
Let me explain. Horton Creek is considered an intermittent stream. That means that for stretches of the year, there is not a continuous flow for the entire length of the creek. The last half-mile or more of Horton Creek is usually dry as the water disappears into the ground somewhere upstream during the hotter and drier times of the year. During summer monsoons or winter snows, that bottom section of Horton Creek flows all the way to the confluence of Tonto Creek just above the bridge where folks park to begin their hike up the Horton Creek trail.
Trout in Horton Creek are subject to catch and release regulations, but once they enter Tonto Creek, can be kept, as are the holdover rainbow trout you may also encounter while fishing. The value of intermittent streams becomes apparent when they connect with perennial streams like Tonto Creek that flow all year. Whatever is upstream that has not had the opportunity to run down because of the dry creek bed, now does so during wetter times. With Horton Creek, that is good news as it results in the addition of wild brown trout to Tonto Creek that swim or are washed down during these flows. In some intermittent streams across the country, what gets washed down during these storms is not so pleasant. For that reason, intermittent streams are just as important as perennial streams to protect to keep our water clean and healthy for fish and for our use as well.
After a winter storm, I fish the area a little upstream from the confluence to Kohl’s Ranch. It is like fishing a new creek compared to what I remember from the summer. Instead of really shallow, clear water, the creek runs cloudy and fast.
The fish adapt to this change and find places to minimize the amount of work they need to exert to swim in this faster current. The heavier flows often provide a bonus of food as well. Bigger aquatic insects like crane fly larvae, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, and some caddisflies that are normally in the slower water along the stream edges are washed into the creek. Earthworms from the bank and aquatic worms also are in greater supply to trout during these flows.
If you decide to fish during these conditions, you must also make adaptations. You need to account for the faster current and how you present your fly to the trout. It will require more weight to get down to the fish, and I generally make my offerings bigger to match what the fish are hoping to find in the stream. I target slack water where trout can get out of the main current.
More important though are the safety adaptations you need to make. Be prepared for the cold, even to the point of having a change of clothes ready in the car. I do not get into the creek when the flows are cold and high in the winter. A wading staff or walking stick remains a critical tool during the winter. Even if I am not in the creek, it helps provide greater stability on slippery banks.
As a fisherman, I value the snow much more than just the winter fishing opportunities it provides me. The snow pack on the Rim is critical to the springs that feed our Rim Country streams and depend on the seepage of that accumulated snow pack every year.
The East Verde River’s flow is largely determined by the amount of water from snowfall accumulation that is able to fill C. C. Cragin Reservoir. Tonto, Christopher, Haigler, and Canyon Creeks were very shallow for much of the year because of the lack of snow and the very limited rainfall we experienced.
Besides the impact to the trout that are already in the creeks, minimal snow pack has a tremendous effect on our Rim Country hatcheries. The springs that deliver cold water to the Tonto Creek and Canyon Creek hatcheries had a reduced volume of the flow this past summer, making it tougher to raise the trout that we all enjoy catching.
So, bring on more snow. It improves fishing all year.