Before the streams get crowded with visitors, March is an ideal time to try for wild or holdover trout.
Depending on the water and road conditions, the Arizona Game and Fish Department will begin stocking the streams and lakes in Rim Country the first week in April. As much as I look forward to these first stockings, I also know that they will bring more folks to the creeks, which I have had pretty much to myself all winter.
There are a few streams that are relatively easy to access in the early spring that offer some great trout fishing. These wild fish are always a fun challenge to catch, and this time of year is perhaps the best time to try for them.
During the summer, the creeks these fish inhabit are very clear and become quite shallow. When that happens, these wild fish are extremely skittish and will quickly dart under cover unless you are incredibly stealthy in your approach.
In early spring, the water may be cloudy and certainly higher, so the fish are more approachable. Since the water is faster and much colder than during the summer, it is important to remain out of the water as much as possible and take care on potentially slippery banks.
Road conditions are a factor in selecting where to fish in the spring. Even though Canyon Creek and Haigler Creek have wild and holdover populations of trout in them, the roads are often muddy and can be rutted. I avoid these streams at this time of the year.
Instead, I focus on streams where road conditions are better. The easiest stream to access wild brown trout is Tonto Creek. Horton Creek has a well established wild brown trout population that is separated from Tonto Creek for much of the year because the last half mile or more of Horton Creek dries up to where the water disappears into the ground.
During winter snows or rains and summer monsoons, Horton Creek will flow above ground and several of those wild trout are transported down into Tonto Creek.
Horton Creek would be a great place to target wild brown trout, but if the water is running fast and cold, cross it at the beginning of the Horton Creek trail. Generally, I don’t start fishing Horton Creek until I get to where it remains above ground all year, which is about three quarters of a mile upstream. If you fish Horton Creek, remember that it is a catch and release stream that requires single point barbless lures or flies. No bait is allowed.
Tonto Creek does not have those restrictions and bait fishing is allowed. At this time of year, I look for wild brown trout where Horton Creek flows into Tonto Creek just above the Horton Creek bridge and all the way downstream through the Kohl’s Ranch area. I still catch an occasional holdover rainbow in this section.
The East Verde River also has some holdover rainbow trout, but at this time of year I like to fish the Upper East Verde River by Washington Park that has a wild rainbow trout population. These fish are not big, but beautiful. My largest catch ever was an eight-inch trout, but most of the fish I catch here are in the four- to six-inch range. The Upper East Verde River is a catch and release stream that requires single point barbless flies or lures only. No bait fishing is allowed.
The pools in this stream during the summer are often only a little more than a foot in depth. In the spring, the pools are deep and the stream is often more clouded, so the trout are less panicked with your approach than they are in the summer.
Another fun creek to fish this time of year for both holdover rainbows and wild brown trout is Christopher Creek. I particularly enjoy traveling north two miles up the dirt road (FR 284) off the Christopher Creek loop to the See Canyon trailhead. Upper Christopher Creek is fairly open by Rim Country small stream standards, so fly-fishing is a great option. They stock this section with rainbows in April and May until the water gets too shallow, but the wild brown trout are there all year.
Because this stream allows room for backcasts, dry flies or a dry/midge pair are fun to fish with. There are no catch and release restrictions on Christopher Creek, but I love seeing wild trout in a stream, so I always use barbless hooks and take special care releasing them.
This is a perfect time to enjoy great water conditions on our small Rim Country streams. They are all beautiful at this time of year and are a lot of fun to fish.